These Go to Eleven: Christopher Guest Talks About Spinal Tap, Best In Show, and How Many Fingers He Has On His Right Hand

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Is there a more quotable movie than Spinal Tap? Maybe, but if so, it was also probably the work of Christopher Guest aka Nigel Tufnel aka Corky St. Clair aka the Six-Fingered Man. But never mind those films for now, because only Spinal Tap was celebrated by the New York Film Festival on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, and only Spinal Tap can turn things up to 11 and make you think you’re seeing armadillos in the pants of every man you walk by. 

Following a screening last night of what might not be commonly known as Fran Drescher’s best movie (though it is, in fact, Fran Drescher’s best movie), Christopher Guest—who as Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap is responsible for the justly celebrated movie’s most oft-quoted scene—took some questions from the audience, which turned out to be an exercise in patience for Guest as many of the questions were of a rather esoteric bent. Which, perhaps you’d expect nothing less from the type of people who are slavishly devoted not only to Spinal Tap but also to Guest’s other work, but it was still a little surprising how closely at least one querying audience member was called out by another audience member (under his breath, of course!) as resembling nobody so much as Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

And so! What kind of things were asked? What was revealed? Do we know definitively who it was that gave both Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins one of the worst cases of Herpes Simplex I that we’ve ever seen on film? Well, the answer to that last question is “no,” but we did learn some interesting things.

1) Guest does not like the term “mockumentary” and refuses to classify Spinal Tap or any of his other films as such. This makes sense with Spinal Tap in particular, because it is clearly supposed to be known as a “rockumentary.” It says so right at the beginning! Pay attention, people.

2) Yes, the entire film was improvised. The only scenes that had real preparation beforehand were the ones that involved props, like the amplifier that turns up to 11 and the mini-Stonehenge.

3) Improvisation is a hard concept for some people to understand! One audience member (admittedly, it was a child of about 12 and his question was clearly asked in a half tongue-in-cheek/half “gotcha!” manner) asked whether or not the band members had really gotten lost in that arena basement in Cleveland or whether that had been staged. Guest handled that question as best he could, by looking at his phone for the night’s sports scores. Guest does not pity children, is my point.

4) Spinal Tap was not—we repeat, NOT—based on any already existing bands or people. Including Uriah Heep. No, really! Sorry, Comic Book Guy, but it doesn’t matter how many times you invoke the not-at-all hallowed name of Uriah Heep, Guest will NOT fall into your trap: Spinal Tap is not about Uriah Heep.

5) Guest has kept some movie memorabilia, including Nigel Tufnel’s Les Paul guitar (which, well, was already Guest’s guitar), a piece of paper upon which band names for what would eventually be Spinal Tap were brainstormed, and the 6-fingered glove from The Princess Bride.

6) While most of the movies Guest has written have characters and plots that center around music or performing, there is one notable exception: Best in Show. So what was the inspiration for the dog-centric film? Guest says that one day he and his wife (actress Jamie Lee Curtis) were with their dog—a mutt—in a dog park when a woman with a pure-bred dog approached them and asked condescendingly, “Oh. What is that?” Guest replied, “That’s Henry. His name is Henry.” And thus, inspiration for the best movie about dogs and dog-owners was born.

7) Christopher Guest is not amused when you ask him how many fingers he has on his right hand. Which makes perfect sense when you think about how many times he’s been asked that question in  the past and will undoubtedly be asked that question in the future.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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