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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Video Beaverhausen: Phil Spector According to HBO

When I discuss the Phil Spector murder case, as when I discuss Mommie Dearest, let me say I am most distinctly neither a defender or apologist for either the abuse of women or child abuse. But, as I have reasonable doubt about the Christina Crawford book (and the cult film based upon it),  I have the same regarding music producer Spector's guilt regarding the death of Linda Clarkson that has sentenced him to jail for life. (Ironically, Ms Clarkson had a role in Pacino's Scarface.)

The David Mamet-directed and -written HBO telefilm, Phil Spector, ends with Helen Mirren, as defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden, saying, "I believe Phil Spector is not guilty." To which "Are you sure?" is the response. Mirren offers the last line in the film with the reply: "No. But I have reasonable doubt."

And so I felt precisely that way after watching the British documentary, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, to which this dramatization makes a great companion piece. I'm not confident in Spector's innocence but feel he was convicted with very reasonable doubt outstanding.

Ms Mirren stepped into the role of Spector's attorney at the last minute after original cast member Bette Midler suffered a back injury “and had to be carried off the set," according to the real Ms Baden (who, like moi, is a Jersey Girl). That might explain why the ubiquitous Ms Mirren, emotionally real in the part, slips back and forth from a British to a neutral American accent but never nails the Jersey nasality. (I was roundly lampooned when I went to University of Colorado amongst the Northwesterners with their contrasting open vowels.)

Phil Spector opens with the disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction. It's not 'based on a true story.' It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon on the trial or its outcome." I.e., "Don't sue!" ("Not based on a true story"??!!)

Al Pacino's Phil Spector is a brilliant performance, wigs, prosthetic teeth and all! He speaks like Phil,  gestures like him, and even has something of the unfortunate watery mouth on display (as seen in The Agony)! I thought Spector's famous though tragic "Jewfro" was meant to make him look like Beethoven, but it turns out he was going for Jimi Hendryx. Go figure.

Yet Pacino humanizes the hermetic eccentric especially in his bravura explosion during an arranged rehearsal of the trial meant to prepare him for his court appearance.

He flies into a rage at the video testimony of Ronnie Spector  (shabbily portrayed by Linda Miller), calling her a "psychotic bitch." This scene is classic Pacino and absolutely riveting. (Of course, the real-life Ronnie has her own version of all this.)

Early on, Mirren enters the Spector mansion, a recluse's scary Gothic air-conditioned labyrith within a guarded compound, where even some of the doorways aren't real. The film's focus is on the two characters' growing sense of trust and affection. Though moments of this movie have a very Law & Order feel, there are certainly flashes of brilliance that set it apart.

Obviously, Spector permitted HBO to use his songs "Be My Baby," "He's a Rebel" and "When I Saw You" in the context of this film. Below, HBO's trailer:


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