I don’t review documentaries. I just wouldn’t know how. Generally speaking, the world of film production can be split into two career paths: documentary and narrative. The difference is actually pretty big since it is the role of the narrative filmmaker to tell a cohesive narrative story with a plot, whereas the documentary filmmaker has to find an interesting way to document history, which generally includes a story of sorts. Because of this, a documentary can be done in many different ways, and most of them are valid, just as long as the information being conveyed is accurate and/or expressed effectively. To me, that makes a documentary harder to judge. Add this to the fact that the writers have limited control over the story since it’s based on reality, and the fact that a lot of documentaries are made for television (while I only do theatrical releases), and it should be pretty clear why I can’t bring myself to review the docs I watch.
Then there’s This Is Spinal Tap, which is a scripted story with fictional characters, making it more like a narrative, but it’s done in a documentary style. Those in the know refer to this as a mockumentary, although this film calls itself a “rockumentary” because it concerns the lives of members of a hard rock group in the 1980s. There’s actually very little story, and it seems more like a compilation of SNL-like sketches than a real movie, but that’s where the documentary style really helps. When I watch a documentary – especially one that’s largely just following musicians around – I don’t expect plot. I just expect to learn about interesting characters, which is what this film provides.
One of the rules I have for movies is that it should be difficult to watch broken up over a span of days. Ideally, I should hate to pause the movie for a second (if I’m seeing it first viewing). If I wouldn’t mind pausing it to go watch something else, coming back to the film to watch the rest the following week, that’s usually a sign that the story isn’t right. This film, which I felt fine with pausing, can get away with it because it’s simply understood that the story isn’t the point – the only goal is to get laughs. Thankfully, the film meets that goal, although I did not laugh as much as I wanted to. Instead of laughter of various degrees throughout the film, I actually had a few really big laughs during specific, spaced out parts of the film. Most of the times when I was not getting a good laugh felt like filler, but I may have just been missing the parody of other music documentaries at the time. Either way, this mockumentary is a good time, and I highly recommend it to fans of documentaries, rock music history, or comedy in general.