Book Review: Music On Film: This Is Spinal Tap by John Kenneth Muir

The fact that This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is considered an iconic film today is almost a miracle, given the circumstances in which it was produced. The movie seemed doomed from the start, and only a series of fortunate coincidences allowed it to be made at all. This and all the background one would ever need about the picture comes from the excellent new book Music On Film: This Is Spinal Tap by John Kenneth Muir.

The Music On Film series is a new line of books from Limelight Editions – an imprint of the Hal Leonard publishing house. Each pocket-sized edition focuses on every angle of a particular musical film – the backstory, the creators and actors, the musical numbers, etc. This Is Spinal Tap has been “tapped,” as it were – as the first entry in the collection.

The editors made an brilliant choice with Spinal Tap, because the story behind it is so fascinating. Muir details the backstage friendships that had developed between principles Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Rob Reiner – which led to the concept of a “rock mock-umentary” in the first place. But the hurdles to actually get the film financed and made were enormous. Had it not been for All In The Family creator Norman Lear’s blessing, the movie never would have seen the light of day.

One of my favorite chapters is titled “Beyond Doubly: The Top Eleven Reasons This Is Spinal Tap Endures.” It is obvious that Muir had a great deal of fun with this essay, which allows him the opportunity to discuss the film’s ongoing impact in a somewhat serious manner, as well as with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Although Music On Film: This Is Spinal Tap is relatively concise at 138 pages, there is something in it for any fan. Be sure and check out the other three entries in the Music On Film series now available as well: West Side Story, Cabaret, and Amadeus. All four of these initial titles make nice additions to the film lover’s library. I for one, wish Limelight Editions well with this series, and am looking forward to the next installments.

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Greg Barbrick

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