A Small Observation Re: Spinal Tap

Yesterday was 11/11/11, and to celebrate the august palindromic occasion, a local theater pub was playing This is Spinal Tap at 11:11 last night. I and several of my friends went to see Nigel and company’s rocking misadventures, and a fun time was had by all. Spinal Tap is an utterly intelligent and hilarious film. While watching it last night, though, I noticed something that I hadn’t before: Nigel and his rocking compatriots spend the entire film sober.

Watch for it the next time you fire up Spinal Tap. There are no shots of them doing lines of cocaine, shooting heroin, smoking joints, or even swigging on bottles of whiskey. There are a few oblique references to drugs, but there is nothing explicit. For a band that’s supposed to be bombastic and over the top, they spend a remarkable amount of time not getting high, drunk, or both.

This actually works in the movie’s favor- had the guys in the band been constantly inebriated, they wouldn’t be nearly as likable. As much as it’s about a heavy-metal band all of the musicians in the movie are, as a friend of mine put it, big softies. Their slack-jawed expressions and general doofiness become endearing personality quirks, rather than a side effect of rock ‘n roll excess. It also liberates Spinal Tap from having to confront any issues regarding, say, heroin or alcoholism, and allows the film to retain it’s light-hearted tone. It certainly would be a nastier movie if we were to see Nigel drowning his sorrows in a bottle or sticking a needle in his arm.

As much as I don’t like whitewashing issues or self-censorship, I thought that this was a very deft choice on the part of the filmmakers. Spinal Tap, after all isn’t really about sex (though there’s a hint of that) or drugs. It is, first and foremost, a hilarious movie about rock ‘n roll.

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