11 facts to turn up your ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ experience
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The next movie to be screened free at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is “This Is Spinal Tap,” the 1984 mockumentary often hailed as the best film ever about rock ‘n’ roll. Its satire still holds up beautifully 30 years later, when concert tours are no less excessive and some musicians no less vapid, and now there’s the added bonus of enjoying its eclectic cast and knowing what was in store for them.
When “Tap” was released, its biggest star was the director, Rob Reiner, coming off his Emmy-winning run on “All in the Family.” Of the actors playing the core Tap members, Michael McKean was the big name, having played Lenny Kosnowski on the hit “Laverne & Shirley,” while bandmate Harry Shearer had done a stint (the first of two) on “Saturday Night Live.” Reiner also landed famous faces for a few supporting roles: label boss Sir Denis Eaton-Hogg (played by Patrick Macnee of “The Avengers”), Chicago promo man Artie Fufkin (David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer) and a mime waiter (Billy Crystal of “Soap”).
For other bit players, bigger things were ahead. Fran Drescher (label exec Bobbi Flekman) would go on to be “The Nanny.” Dana Carvey (Crystal’s fellow mime) would land on “SNL.” Anjelica Huston (Stonehenge set builder Polly Deutsch) won an Oscar two years later for “Prizzi’s Honor.”
Before England’s loudest band returns to the screen at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, here are 11 “Spinal Tap” tidbits:
1. As Reiner recently recounted to “Sound Opinions” hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot (hosts of Tuesday’s screening), Black Sabbath was touring with a Stonehenge prop in 1984 and fumed that it was being mocked in “Tap” — an impossibility since the movie had been filmed months earlier.
2. Strangely for a film based on comic improvisation, “Tap” made little use of actors from Second City. One exception: Fred Willard, memorable as the lieutenant trying to make the band at home at an Air Force base.
3. Another Second Citizen, J.J. Barry, is briefly glimpsed as some sort of label operative in the hospitality suite, uttering one line: “Yeah, it’s a provocative title.” Barry had been well known in Chicago for his Richard J. Daley impressions in the late 1960s.
4. Also at that label party, the camera makes a point of zooming in to reveal cold sores on the lips of David (McKean) and Nigel (Christopher Guest). They were meant to be part of a running gag about a rampant STD, but the scenes setting that up ultimately were cut.
5. Many “Tap” actors would become part of the repertory company of Guest’s later series of similar, largely improvised movies beginning with “Waiting for Guffman.” Among them: McKean, Shearer, Willard, Ed Begley Jr. (seen in “Tap” as the ill-fated Thamesmen drummer) and Paul Benedict (the flustered hotel clerk).
6. The rival rocker who excites screaming fans in the hotel lobby is a real-life musician, Paul Shortino, who sang lead for Quiet Riot in the late ’80s. He now wails in a Las Vegas revue called “Raiding the Rock Vault.”
7. Also tied to real rock ‘n’ roll is the spacey fan who talks about “becoming one with the players.” She’s played by Jean Cromie, the wife of Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit.
8. June Chadwick, cast as David’s meddling girlfriend Jeanine, followed up “Tap” by playing an alien invader on NBC’s sci-fi series “V.”
9. Tony Hendra, the former National Lampoon editor who played band manager Ian Faith, faced scandal two decades later when his daughter accused him of molesting her as a child, a claim Hendra denied.
10. In his memoir “We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives,” Shaffer admits his portrayal of Fufkin is not far removed from his “Saturday Night Live” impressions of ’70s pop music impresario Don Kirschner.
11. Nigel, in keeping with the classical ambitions he professes while playing his poignant piano composition “Lick My Love Pump,” later embellishes “Heavy Duty” with a bit of a Luigi Boccherini minuet, thrash guitar style.