This Is Spinal Tap at 35: the faux-rockers reunite at Tribeca film festival

Director Rob Reiner and the stars of the cult mockumentary came together for a special event reminiscing about their comedy that wasn’t always quite so loved

As Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer stood on the stage of New York’s Beacon Theater, basking in waves of deafening applause from their rabid sold-out crowd, one might have forgotten that their masterpiece began as a failure.

There was a palpable undercurrent of “look how far we’ve come” to last night’s grand salute to This Is Spinal Tap at the Tribeca film festival. Reiner, a skilled deadpan, knew to underplay it; walking out after the screening, he chuckled: “I haven’t seen this in twenty-five years. It’s pretty funny!” It’s been thirty-five years in total since its less-than-lucrative original release, and the stupidly clever (or is it cleverly stupid?) rock mockumentary can pack a tony Manhattan concert hall, the sort of gig that the fictitious Brit rockers would have once killed for. But the team of gifted comedians that put together an almost purely improvisational classic remember it as it began.

“The first time we screened the film in Dallas,” Reiner reminisced, “they asked us why we’d make a movie about a band no one had ever heard of, and one that’s so bad. And it was a good question.” Guest jumped in, adding: “Michael and I went to get some popcorn at the Dallas screening, and we heard two girls at the counter saying, ‘These guys are so stupid.’ They were right!” The early days of This Is Spinal Tap sound like the early days of Spinal Tap itself, as a group of idiot-savant visionaries brought their vision to a world not quite prepared for it. Shearer’s best anecdote took the temperature of the initial reception.

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