“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
What a telling comment from guitarist David St. Hubbins, one of the three aging Brit rockers on a downward career slide in Rob Reiner’s still-gutbusting 1984 mock documentary This is Spinal Tap, which plays twice on Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theatre Summer Classics series.
The joke, of course, is that despite the dimwitted revelations that flow from the lips of St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) – insights like, “I believe virtually everything I read… that’ s what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything” – the fact remains that This is Spinal Tap is a wickedly clever film. It’s not just glammed up ‘80s nu-metal getting skewered, it is all things rock ‘n’ roll – the personalities, the egos, the banal stage productions, the even more banal music and the seeming implausible bits of dumb luck that play into stardom.
While it is most reflective of the ‘80s, there is also a gentle, almost reverential swipe at Beatlemania, especially in the Yoko Ono overtones of Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), St. Hubbins’ girlfriend who takes over managerial duties for the band by booking one dismal show after another.
“If I told them once, I told them a hundred times,” she says after seeing the marquee billing for a humiliating gig at a children’s zoo. “Put Spinal Tap first and put Puppet Show last.”
Reiner gets in on the fun, too, inserting himself into This is Spinal Tap as filmmaker Marty Di Bergi. In essence, a director playing a director, he presents interview questions within what had to have been a heavily improvised script that are as vacuous as the band’s replies. A typical exchange:
Di Bergi: “Do you feel that playing rock ‘n’ roll music keeps you a child? That is, keeps you in a state of arrested development?”
Smalls: “No. No. No. I feel it’s more like going to a national park or something, and they preserve the moose. That’s my childhood up there on stage. That moose, you know?”
Di Bergi: “So when you’re playing you feel like a preserved moose on stage?”
There are cameos galore by the likes of Anjelica Huston, Bruno Kirby, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Paul Shaffer, Fran Drescher and others. But the film belongs to McKean, Guest and Shearer playing heavy metal lightweights as deliriously clueless to the star turns defining their celebrity status as they are, in one of the film’s most famous scenes, to directions to a concert stage from backstage.
All that plus an under-sized Stonehenge, albums with titles like Smell the Glove and Intravenous De Milo and pod-shaped stage cocoons that require blowtorches to open make up the world of This is Spinal Tap.
It’s only mock ‘n’ roll, but you’ll like it.
‘This is Spinal Tap’ shows at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Call (859) 231-7924.