The Science of "Spinal Tap"
Ever wonder if an amp could go to 11? Find out on Monday when the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Science on Screen series presents “This Is Spinal Tap,” the classic mockumentary about a fictional British heavy metal band. The film will be paired with a presentation on the science of sound with Christopher A. Shera, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who focuses on hearing and sound.
The “Science on Screen” series started in 2005 as an attempt to bring together science and art in a way that entertains and enlightens. “Our then-associate director, Elizabeth Taylor-Mead, had thought about doing some sort of science-film series, and, serendipitously, we had a long-time member by the name of Richard Anders, and he approached the Coolidge [Corner Theatre] with the idea of doing a series that paired science speakers with movies,” says Cheryl White, director of outreach and publicity at the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation. The program has now expanded: the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has awarded grants to 20 independent, nonprofit cinemas all over the country to bring Science on Screen to other communities, with another 20 grants to be awarded late this summer.
Monday’s presentation will follow “This Is Spinal Tap” with a foray into the mechanics of hearing presented by Shera. When he was contacted by the Coolidge Corner Theatre to speak, Shera had never attended a Science on Screen presentation, but soon after went to the Coolidge’s showing of “It Came from Beneath the Sea.” Shera’s particular interests involve understanding the ear’s enormous dynamic range and the mechanisms through which we are able to hear.
He finds the movie fascinating for other reasons as well. “‘This Is Spinal Tap’ is also very interesting from the point of view of its being one of the first mockumentaries, so when you’re watching it you’re never quite really sure what’s true and what’s partially true and what’s completely false,” Shera says. “And actually, that’s sort of a lot like doing science, because when you’re trying to discover new things, you don’t know what’s true and what’s false.”