New York Film Fest: Christopher Guest Recalls Odd 'Spinal Tap' Fans, Fun of Making Movie

Spinal Tap at Premiere 2000 - H 2013
Chris Weeks/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Spinal Tap at Premiere 2000 - H 2013

At a 30th anniversary screening, the man behind Nigel Tufnel also revealed how the movie's running joke of drummers having freak accidents continued in real life

Although 1984's This Is Spinal Tap is one of the most quoted movies of the past few decades, star Christopher Guest hadn't seen the cult comedy in almost 15 years before he appeared at a special 30th anniversary screening on Wednesday night at the New York Film Festival.

But while he's gotten some distance from the film, fans haven't, repeatedly reminding him of memorable lines like his character's specially designed amps that "go to 11."

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"People say things if they're walking past that are from the movie, and it takes me a moment to know if I'm hallucinating … it's odd," Guest told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Wednesday night's screening when asked about some of his strangest interactions with Spinal Tap fans.

Guest later watched the movie with an enthusiastic Lincoln Center crowd, including many superfans of the mostly improvised faux documentary about a pretentious British band on tour in the U.S. They howled with laughter and applauded at some of the film's best-known scenes, including the amps bit, the "black album" cover reveal ("It's like how much blacker could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."), the band getting lost backstage and onstage mishaps involving a comically small Stonehenge prop and a pod that won't open.

The actor-writer-director, who plays Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, said he enjoyed watching the movie, which surprised him because he thought seeing the film again would freak him out.

"I remembered what it was like to make it, which was fun," he said in a postscreening Q&A. "We had no idea what was going to happen to it. We just thought, 'Here's this little movie. This was fun to do.' "

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While he said he couldn't pick a specific scene that he enjoyed the most, he particularly appreciated the ones in which the bandmembers are interacting and improvising more than they were able to in the interviews with Rob Reiner's documentarian.

"I liked the scenes where we're all interacting because it's improvised, and you see people kind of playing music with each other as opposed to when you're set up. If I'm being interviewed by Rob Reiner, it's a slam dunk because you're basically being set up. … With other people, it's more of a musical group playing and weaving in and out," Guest explained.

Guest also told several behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the movie, including a few lesser-known anecdotes.

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He revealed that the film's running joke of the band having several drummers who all had freak accidents came full circle eight years after the film was released when Guest and bandmates Michael McKean and Harry Shearer were touring as Spinal Tap and their drummer, Ric Parnell, who also appears in the film, broke his leg when he fell running down the stairs at the L.A. amphitheater where they were scheduled to play. Although Parnell went to the hospital and came back with a full cast up his thigh, he went on to play that night's show and 20 other dates.

Indeed Spinal Tap has toured for more than 30 years, even playing some shows to test out material before they started filming the movie, and Guest told THR that if Spinal Tap were a real band, they'd still be playing today, either on reunion tours or on regular tours.

"They'd have to to make money because they couldn't do anything else," Guest said.

Guest said in the postscreening Q&A that he still has a piece of paper with various spellings and styles of Spinal Tap that he, McKean, Shearer and Reiner tried when they were working out the band's name.

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Despite repeated (and sometimes very specific) questions about whether Spinal Tap was inspired by real bands or musicians, Guest insisted the fictional group wasn't. They were just poking fun at the genre of pretentious rock music.

But he did reveal that there was an encounter with a real band that planted one of the seeds for Spinal Tap.

"In the '70s I was in a lobby waiting for a friend at a hotel, and a British band came in. This was probably '76 or something. The manager went up to the desk and he just turned, and one of the musicians was just standing there. He says, 'Where's your bass? … Where'd you put your bass?' 'I don't know. I think I left it at the airport.' 'You left your bass at the airport?' 'My what?' 'Your bass.' 'So you're saying you left your bass at the airport?' 'Well, I don't know.' 'It's your bass,' " Guest recalled, pointing out that the exchange went on for 20 minutes. "I guess somewhere in my head this lodged something like a bizarre one-act play."