You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Christopher Guest Remembers ‘This is Spinal Tap’ 30 Years Later

When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These guys are so stupid. Why would they make movie about them?’”

But the world caught on and a genre of comedy was born. Thirty years later it’s considered a bonafide classic and will be honored in a screening Oct. 8 (followed by a Q&A with Guest) at the New York Film Festival.

Directed by Rob Reiner and starring Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, “Spinal Tap” isn’t just a send-up of pompous metal bands, it’s an unblinking portrait of awkwardness and a masterpiece of improvisation.

“(McKean) and I had been playing music for 20 years,” says Guest. “And we liked doing characters. We were gonna write this, and then we figured we couldn’t write it … so we just started shooting it.”

Reiner filmed 20 minutes of improvised material — meanwhile, their original funder folded. “We took the 20 minutes around to various studios,” Guest says. “They all said, ‘I don’t understand what this is supposed to be.’ We said, ‘It’s supposed to be a comedy.’ They said, ‘Well, it isn’t … so please leave.’ ”

Producer Norman Lear saved the day, and (for $2 million) Reiner and company made their film — full of sincerely delivered songs like “Sex Farm” and “Big Bottom” performed by the cast. They gathered 50 hours of completely improvised footage, which Reiner whittled down to 82 minutes.

“Someone coined the term ‘mockumentary’ against all our wishes, because it’s a little cheesy,” Guest says. “It’s a movie done in a documentary style. And somehow it holds up.”

More Film

  • Amanda Fuller's Thriller 'Fashionista' Bought by

    Film News Roundup: Amanda Fuller's Thriller 'Fashionista' Bought by Freestyle

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • Sundance 2018: Where Are the Masterpieces?

    Sundance 2018: Where Are the Masterpieces? Sorry, There Are None (Opinion)

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • EDITORIAL USE ONLY / NO MERCHANDISINGMandatory

    Bradford Dillman, Star of 'Compulsion,' Dies at 87

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • Duke Nukem

    John Cena in Talks to Star in 'Duke Nukem' Movie

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • 'And Breathe Normally' Review: Sundance Film

    Sundance Film Review: 'And Breathe Normally'

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • Baby Driver

    'Baby Driver,' 'Dunkirk,' 'Shape of Water' Lead Golden Reel Nominations for Sound

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

  • The Guilty

    Sundance: Magnolia Buys 'The Guilty'

    When it came out in 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap” convinced many people they were watching a genuine documentary about a clueless heavy metal band. “We showed it in Dallas,” recalls Christopher Guest, who played fictional axe man Nigel Tufnel. “There were these two girls in front of us, who said to each other, ‘These […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content