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THIS IS SPINAL TAP

A

In conjunction with the DVD release of the flick, M-G-M is reissuing the granddaddy of all recent mockumentaries to theatres in selected cities. Rob Reiner’s portrait of that great British band Spinal Tap, whose equipment goes up to 11 rather than just 10 and whose Stonehenge routine is world-famous, is justifiably a classic, as sharp and funny now as it was upon its first appearance sixteen years ago.

Is there any reason to see it, even in this splendidly refurbished form, on the big screen rather than on video or DVD? Well, it’s a scraggly little piece, to be sure, and there are no big special effects or awesome visuals to savor. But there’s a unique pleasure that comes from viewing it in an auditorium filled with like-minded souls and hearing the waves of laughter the picture still elicits, even from those who have seen it many times.

And seeing “This Is Spinal Tap” writ large, as it were, enables you not only to enjoy the main quartet of Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner (the latter doing a great impression of the eager-to-please documentarian/fan), but to catch clearly the cameos from a wide variety of recognizable faces. And this time around, make a special effort to appreciate the nuances of Tony Hendra’s performance as the simultaneously unctuous and pompous band manger Ian Faith. He’s really hilarious.

There have been plenty of mockumentaries since 1984, but with the exception of “Waiting for Guffman,” none has come close to matching this one. Nor has Reiner made its equal, despite his many successes. In an era when every over-the-hill rock band in existence seems to be emerging from mothballs for just one more reunion concert, certainly there’s room for the ultimate survivor, Spinal Tap. So go and raise those lighters once again.

BLOOD SIMPLE

Grade: A-

For its fifteenth birthday, the brothers Coen have put together
a recut and refurbished version of their first feature, a
deliciously decadent, delightfully twisted and masterfully
macabre tale of death and double-dealing in a remote Texas
town. “Blood Simple” remains a nifty modern reworking of the
conventions of film noir; and though it was shot in only
eight weeks on an obviously meagre budget and doesn’t have
the technical sheen of later Coen productions like “Miller’s
Crossing” (1990), “Barton Fink” (1991), “The Hudsucker Proxy”
(1994) and “Fargo” (1996), it nonetheless boasts a host of
stylistic flourishes that still grab the eye and tickle
the funnybone. (The cinematographer was Barry Sonnenfeld,
who’s since gone on to directing duties in his own right, of
course.) The final confrontation, for instance, is staged with
such icy precision that it remains staggeringly effective. And
the whole thing is shot through with a streak of mordant humor
that, once experienced, won’t easily be forgotten.

The plot is the old stand-by about the older fellow who suspects
his young wife of being unfaithful to him. In this case the
suspicious spouse is Marty, a wonderfully sleazy bar owner
played with malevolent relish by Dan Hedaya, and the wife, Abby,
is portrayed, in her screen debut, by the plain, gawky Frances
McDormand; Abby’s paramour–for Marty is, indeed, right about
her–is dim but good-natured Ray (a career pinnacle for John
Getz), whose hapless attempts to do the right thing make him a
typically imperfect hero. Marty hires a supremely odious
private detective to prove his mate’s guilt, and then to bump
off both her and her lover; this utterly rancid fellow is
played with seedy glee by M. Emmet Walsh. But the dick,
as it turns out, has sneaky plans of his own, and his
duplicitous schemes lead all the characters into a lusciously
serpentine plot involving multiple deaths, deceptions and
misapprehensions. Following the strands, especially when
they’re presented with such style and dark humor, remains a
joyous cinematic experience, not unlike the thrill one gets
watching a first-rank Hitchcock film.

The improvements the Coens have made on the reissued “Blood
Simple” involve some tightened edits, an enhanced sountrack
and sharpening up the images; apart from a marvelously
tongue-in-cheek intro by restoration “expert” Mortimer Young,
nothing new has been added to the mix. But then, no additions
were needed. “Blood Simple” remains as seductively nasty a
bit of business as it was back in 1984. What the sparkling
new print makes even clearer than before, however, is exactly
how sanguinary the picture is; even by contemporary standards,
it positively oozes with the titular red stuff. If that
bothers you, be forewarned; otherwise, don’t miss this
chance to see the Coens’ cheerfully perverse classic once more
on the big screen.