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Trading Card Set of the Week – This Is Spinal Tap (2000, Canal + D.A.)

December 12, 2014


Can I raise a practical question at this point? Do we do “Stonehenge” tomorrow?


It’s perhaps one of the great tragedies of human history that Spinal Tap didn’t have a contemporaneous bubble gum card release on the heels of their hit 1984 documentary, This Is Spinal Tap. Wax packs with Nigel Tufnel’s dopey face on them would have been so grand they might have cured cancer, and would assuredly have joined the hallowed ranks of cardboard classics like Alien and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But we’ll settle for self-published cards issued in 2000, during the millennial re-release of that film.

The mockumentary has become such a standard genre in the American movie scene, it’s easy to forget that it was largely untapped (sorry) before Rob Reiner’s  — pardon, Marty Di Bergi’s — classic about a (faux) washed-up metal band. But it wouldn’t be afterward, and star Christopher Guest, along with his usual troupe of quick-witted improvisors, has come out with any number of worthy successor films: Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, etc. Even celebrated TV comedies of the past decade, such as The Office and Arrested Development, have played off the conceit that the bumbling fools at the center of things are real and worthy of film documentation. Spinal Tap was the singular triumph, though, and remains the gut-bustingest.

The best thing about the film was how much truth it contained — outside of drummers dying of spontaneous human combustion, of course. As Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert noted in their At the Movies review, it, though eminently fake, felt so real it became a perfect send-up of rock band pretensions in general. There was a degree of veritas to the insipid talking head interviews with the band members, the bickering and empty-headed philosophizing in hotel rooms — anyone who’s watched even fifteen minutes of any dopey hair band’s VH-1 Behind the Music can tell you that. So even when the stars were blathering on about the Isle of Lucy or the gigantic size of the armadillos in their trousers, there was a grounding that kept things from getting cheap and silly.

This set of 36 cards was originally available on the official Spinal Tap website back when the film got a nice big 2000 DVD release, and now they can be found quite cheap on eBay. They’re good for a laugh or two for anyone familiar with the movie and the endless Tap reunions through the years, maintaining the conceit that the band is real, and with text on the backs that has a delightful deadpan perfect for the subject matter. Subject matter like, for instance, Mr. Tufnel blasting your face off with a vicious riff:


Here’s one of the better backs, describing the band’s visit to Graceland:


The definite highlight is a three-card run towards the end that chronicles a couple of the best moments of the movie. There’s the megalith for their performance of “Stonehenge” (No one knows who they were, or what they were doing…), comically undersized thanks to a hastily scribbled napkin diagram:


Then there’s Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls getting caught in an airport not with a gun or some drugs, the usual accoutrements of traveling rock stars, but an aluminum-foil-ensconced cucumber:


And then the disastrous Stonehenge-themed performance, where the band first gets a look at the misbegotten prop and the dancing little people hired to make it look bigger:


The cards are a nice artifact, on thicker card stock than you normally find. Though the photography is a little unclear at times and the images are often cropped a tad too tight, they’re about as solid as you could ask for a brilliantly dumb movie about a dumb as dirt band. We should all be glad they even exist.

But really, even if it made it too small a set — shouldn’t they have capped the number of cards at eleven?


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