Great Scene: “This is Spinal Tap”
“These go to 11.”
With news this week that a lawsuit involving This is Spinal Tap, arguably the greatest mockumentary of all time, which may mean we may see more of the band in action, I figured it was a perfect time to revisit one of my favorite scenes from the movie.
Since most of the movie’s dialogue is improvised, I also thought it would be interesting to see the script, written by Christopher Guest & Michael McKean & Harry Shearer & Rob Reiner, from which the cast worked. The entire script is written this way, so it’s only 60 pages long.
Here is the famous “Ours go to 11” scene featuring documentary director Marty (Rob Reiner) interviewing rocker Nigel (Christopher Guest) amidst all the guitars and amps he’s acquired over the years.
INT. DETROIT CONCERT VENUEDuring the soundcheck, Nigel is showing Marty
DiBroma his large collection of guitars, including
a cordless model which plays through its amp by
means of a tiny radio transmitter. It's like
watching a kid show off his toys. He points out
that he has his amps customized with special dials.
Unlike most amps, whose highest volume level is
indicated by a "10" on the dials, Nigel's dials go
up to 11.
Here is a transcript of the last part of the scene’s dialogue from the movie:
Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten.
You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go
from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don't know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.
And now the scene as it plays in the movie:
My movie Alaska was a Castle Rock production, so I was hanging around their offices doing rewrites when Christopher Guest and company were shooting Waiting for Guffman. As a bonus, I got to see some of the dailies and read the script. Guest uses pretty much the same approach with every one of his movies which include Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration: Work out the story with each scene’s beginning, middle and end, cast the movie with skilled improvisational actors, try out a variety of takes, edit the best story possible. Spinal Tap was in effect the proof of this particular concept — and it has proven to work wonderfully.
For more Great Scene articles, go here.