Call me a traditionalist, overly narrow, or anything you want but great mockumentaries are the domain of one man and one man alone, Rob Reiner. Reiner brought to life something we had never really seen before with a cast of actors that was so star laden it could qualify as a galaxy. His follow up effort was just as strong in many regards. Number one on the list of great mockumentaries is and can only be the incomparable “This Is Spinal Tap.”

Released in 1984, This Is Spinal Tap became an instant underground sensation chronicling the decline of what was supposed to be the loudest heavy metal band in the world. The cast was assembled by picking out actors that were not just great comedic talents but actual musicians. No other mockumentary has ever spawned actual albums that sold, guest appearances as the Saturday Night Live band, The Simpsons, Hear N’ Aid, and been so convincing people actually believed this was a real band! Spinal Tap became a standard favorite on tour buses for most of the major bands of the era all the way through to today, each rolling their eyes always pointing out snafus they too experienced.

The band consisted of Michael Mckean (David St. Hubbins), Sir Christoper Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), David Kaff (Viv Savage), and R.J. Parnell (Mick Shrimpton). The band manager Ian Faith was brilliantly played by Tony Hendra, and Rob Reiner, who to his credit encouraged ad-lib exchanges played the “mockumentarian” Marti Dibergi. The laundry list of stars hardly ends there though with appearances from Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Howard Hessman, Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher, Ed Begley Jr., Vicki Blue, Paul Schafer, Fred Willard, and the always lovely Anjelica Huston just to name a few. That’s correct, just a few!

You’ll see the Tap embarking on their North American tour, in which everything simply goes wrong. Interviews give you a glimpse of the bands history along the way which are brilliant, and that’s an understatement. The performance clips and music are indescribable. Honestly, this has to be watched to be understood, and more than that you can honestly watch this dozens of times, laugh, find new things to laugh at, and then watch it another dozen times and still be entertained. You’ll see food problems, equipment problems, the challenge of fitting 9 people in a king leisure bed, makeup snafus, Stonehenge being trampled by dwarfs, and the ever puzzling deaths of drummers.

What made This Is Spinal so great is the wide spread impact it had on basically everyone. It’s catchphrase “But this one goes to eleven” was shortened to “up to eleven” and added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. “None Blacker” actually became a point scientists debated and worked on trying to see who could create a surface that was actually the blackest known! This is the grandfather of every mockumentary out there, it was so convincing people honestly believed they were real. It was so accurate real bands thought they had their horror stories from the road stolen. It was so entertaining it spawned albums, tours, and television appearances. Watch This is Spinal Tap and just laugh yourself silly. It goes to eleven.

The Return of Spinal Tap released in 1992 chronicles the Tap’s return after a decade of self imposed isolation. You’ll see the band as in tact as possible, don’t worry the big three return, and as soon as Sir Bob Geldolf utters the words “Live from hell it’s Spinal Tap” the Sir Albert Hall swings with “Tonight I’m gonna rock ya!” you know this is something special. See the band back at home giving you a glimpse at their roots the way only they can.

You’ll see clips of the Tap sandwiched in between their actual live performance of all their “hits.” Rob Reiner is again simply brilliant and seeing him discuss the rift between him and the band over the “hatchet job” he did portraying them in This Is Spinal Tap is priceless. You’ll see Lady Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Short, and Robin Williams all making appearances to testify to the staying power of the Tap, in their own unique way of course. Don’t think for a second everything runs smooth, the band is still plagued by problems you’ll see at every turn, even a mini golf tragedy with singer Kenny Rogers and a major chakra ball problem that can’t be explained with words.

The appearance of so many gifted musicians like Graham Nash, Paul Shaffer, Jeff Beck, Mel Torme, and Les Claypool made even more new initiates to the Tap believe this was a real band! What is amazing about this is where most sequels get weaker this stays as strong as the predecessor. The manner the cast works employing a free flowing ad-lib style with only a minimal outline to follow makes this feel just as real as This Is Spinal Tap. The cinematography is vastly improved, the sound quality is top notch, and this looks like a major budget feature but still feels very indie. Any lover of comedy, especially if they are a music fan simply has to have this in their library.

What makes these in my opinion the two best mockumentaries ever made isn’t just that they are among the first ever, but their staying power. Here we are 24 and 14 years later respectively still discussing them. The band that began as a joke is still performing at major benefits to this day including such massive events as Live Earth. These mockumentaries set the standard for every one that has followed and they have yet to be knocked off their pedestal. You can walk up to almost anyone under the age of 45, spout a Spinal Tap line and it’s likely they not only know it, but know where it’s from. That’s as big a testament to the massive audience these reached globally as anything as to why these are the best mockumentaries ever.

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