Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by Karen Murphy
Written by Christopher Guest
Starring Rob Reiner
Music by Christopher Guest
Cinematography Peter Smokler
Editing by Kent Beyda & Kim Secrist
Distributed by Embassy Pictures
Release date March 2, 1984
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States
Many people claim that This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest movies of all time and that it was the first ever mockumentary, yet in my mind it is one of the most overrated films ever made.
Even though Spinal Tap is at times a very funny movie it cannot live up to the hype that its’ fans give it. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt as over the years we have seen many of the best jokes over and over again and the more I hear them the less funny they are.
The thing that irks me about This Is Spinal Tap is how it is hailed as the first ‘mockumentary’ yet it was preceded by Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash by five years. This would have been known to at least one of Spinal Tap’s creators, Harry Shearer, who was a cast mate on Saturday Night Live in 1979. The Rutles movie was partly financed by SNL’s producer Lorne Michaels and features cameos from SNL’s (then) cast members John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, Al Franken and Bill Murray.
Still, This Is Spinal Tap does feature Squiggy as one of the band members, whilst Nanny Fran acts as the bands publicist. This is one of those movies which I guess everyone has to watch once, but if you watch it anymore than that it quickly wears out its welcome.
I am currently trying to write up a post on This Is Spinal Tap, which I watched the other day. This got me to thinking about the genre of Rock ‘N’ Roll movies and in particular those that for some reason or another you rarely get to see.
One movie that I have always been curious to see is The Beatles’ Let It Be, as this is a film that shows the greatest of all rock groups disintegrating on film. I’ve heard that the film isn’t that great but I have always been curious to see it. Unlike The Beatles’ other feature films, A Hard Days Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine and the TV special The Magical Mystery Tour, Let It Be has never been officially released on home video or DVD or screened on television. A DVD release was imminent a couple of years ago but this was vetoed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr because it was thought that its release could tarnish The Beatles global image as well as reopening some old wounds. Apparently some bootlegs of the film are available but these are not official releases.
The Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues is a film that was made of their 1972 North American tour. It was going to be released to cinemas BUT as the finished film features lots of images of sex and drugs without the Rock ‘N’ Roll. There was no way that this film could ever be released and it can only be screened with director Robert Frank present. Naturally enough the censored version is available to view on Youtube.
Another Rolling Stones film that rarely is seen is the documentary Gimme Shelter, which focuses on their 1969 tour and the disastrous free concert at Altamont. This film captures the murder of Meredith Hunter by a member of the Hells’ Angels, who the Stones chose to be security, on film. Jagger has since said that he feared for his own life whilst performing that night as well.
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Produced by Ernest D. Glucksman, Arthur P. Schmidt & Jerry Lewis
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (story)
Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond (screenplay)
Starring Jerry Lewis
Music by Walter Scharf, Les Brown and His Band of Renown
Cinematography W. Wallace Kelley
Editing by John Woodcock
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 4, 1963
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
The Nutty Professor is Jerry Lewis’ masterpiece and undoubtedly his best known work. Many people think that the film and specifically the character of Buddy Love, is a stab at Dean Martin but Jerry has denied this vehemently. Instead he says that Buddy is a conglomeration of every nasty son of a bitch he’d ever met and that he loved Dino like a brother and would never do anything negative against him. Besides, Dean was a genuinely nice guy according to Jerry.
It is easy to forget just how brilliant that Jerry Lewis is. We take for granted the goofy, funny characters that he created as he made it all look so easy. He perhaps does not receive the acclaim that other screen comedians have received but he has always taken his comedy seriously. In fact this ambition to be a better comedian is the reason, partly, why he and Dean Martin broke up their successful partnership. Dino was happy just to turn up and for the two of them to do their thing whilst Jerry always wanted to do things better. Dean in fact apparently asked Jerry why he wanted to concentrate on that “Chaplin shit”, in that he thought that Jerry took his comedy a bit too seriously. That is not to say that Dean was not a professional, rather that he just wanted to turn up, do what was asked of him and then go home or to a party while Jerry wanted to be creative. This is the difference I suppose between an actor and a comedian.
One interesting scene is the transformation scene which takes its cues from the Frederic March version of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, although Jerry said that he was inspired by the Spencer Tracy version.
One of the things that I found striking about watching The Nutty Professor is the bright, vibrant colours that were used. There is quite a liberal use of purples, greens, reds and other colours that you don’t usually see in films. It showcases the Technicolor film process effectively and is one reason why I prefer films that have been made in Technicolor as opposed to the now standard Eastmancolor.
The Professor Kelp character that Lewis created for his film is iconic and has been imitated by The Simpsons‘ Professor Frink. Unlike Eddie Murphy in the 1996 remake Jerry didn’t just put on a fat suit to play Kelp. Apparently Kelp is based on a real person that Jerry met one day. That this one character has become so memorable, like Sellers’ Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp, despite featuring in just one film, is a testament to Lewis’ work here. It may be a little dated now, but it is a fine piece of 60s film making.
Here’s Jerry Lewis being interviewed by Dick Cavett in the 1970s. It’s quite enlightening and shows that Jerry was quite serious about his comedy.