Monday, March 25, 2013

Phil Spector: My verdict

If David Mamet had made LINCOLN, the official cause of the president’s death would be boating accident. There’s creative license and there’s saying Japan won World War II. The most authentic thing in this HBO biopic of record producer/marksman Phil Spector is his clown wig.

Yes, there’s a disclaimer at the beginning that says it’s “not based on a true story” but that’s bullshit. Writer/director Mamet is using the names of real people and recreating a real trial. By not adhering to the facts he’s purposely misleading the audience.

And if the entire piece is fiction, as he claims, then none of the arguments or evidence presented in this film mean shit. So even if he’s right in his contention that Lana Clarkson accidentally put a loaded gun in her mouth and shot herself, there’s no reason to believe him.  And the arguments are all one-sided. 

Here’s what I think happened. Mamet was fascinated with Phil Spector. Why not? He’s a larger-than-life genius psychopath who dressed like Hollywood Montrose in MANNEQUIN and discovered Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. If you’re a writer, who’d you rather write – him or Al Gore?

A showy part attracts a showy actor and who better than Al Pacino who has left teeth marks on every piece of scenery he's ever encountered? It’s the perfect marriage of writer/director, actor, and subject who all think they have more talent than God.

There’s just one problem. There’s no twist to the story. Spector is known for waving loaded guns around and threatening women. He goes too far and shoots one. Oops. (Where's Harvey Keitel from PULP FICTION when you need him?)  The evidence is overwhelming. He’s convicted and is now serving 19 years in prison. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the bombshell evidence at the eleventh hour? Where’s the surprise confession when Cher breaks down on the stand? (“Alright! I did it! I killed her! I killed her! Don’t you see? She threatened to tell my age!”) Mamet wrote THE VERDICT. He knows all about this genre. A lawyer must be faced with insurmountable odds and somehow miraculously gets his client off. Phil Spector loses. It was in all the papers (back when there were papers). So he couldn’t write THAT.

David Mamet is famous for saying (and I don’t disagree) that an audience has only one question when they’re watching a dramatic piece: What happens next?

Well, if they KNOW what happens then you got no show.

So you have to find things the audience doesn’t know… even if that means making them up. And that’s what Mamet did. Everyone was happy. He could write his signature crackling dialogue, Pacino could treat the scenery as if it were a Hometown Buffet, and HBO would have something to promote. The only downside of course, is that the actual murder victim is being blamed for her own death, but hey, so Clarkson’s family and friends unsubscribe?

The production values of this TV movie were slick and shimmering. And it moved along at a zippy pace. Other than being irresponsible it was very well done.

And the best thing in the feature was Helen Mirren as Spector’s attorney. She apparently was a late minute add for Bette Midler. Mamet had to cut the scene where Phil’s attorney concluded her impassioned closing argument to the jury by singing “He’s a Rebel.” Fellow attorney Jeffrey Tambor was also good (as always) although I was hoping for a courtroom scene where instead of calling out “Objection!” he’d yell “Hey now!”

Also worth noting: I saw that Grim Reaper Q played Bodyguard #1. Checking his resume on IMDB (and you’re welcome to check yourself) he has also played Bouncer, Burly Man, Teammate #3, Paranoid Giant, and Head Goon. But now he can tell his pals, “Yeah, me and Pacino did a thing together.”

Overall, I'd say don't bother with this film.  It's not an autobiography.  It's an alibiography.  Your time is better spent listening to a Ronnettes album.   

31 comments:

John said...

Phil was scaring the hell out of the stars of the CBGB punk rock scene in the 1970s with his gun-flaunting ways. So for him to finally use the thing on someone 25-30 years later shouldn't be a big shock. But Mamet always had a soft-spot for those intimidating, in-your-face types (be it with or without a loaded weapon), so it's also not a shock he'd be on Spector's side here.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Would have been great if it had the line "Taste the black sperm of my revenge!"

Mike Botula said...

We tuned out after the first few minutes. We stayed long enough to reach the belief that Mamet didn't have any flashback to Martoni's during the "Wall of Sound" heyday.

Mac said...

If Mamet was going to make stuff up he should have gone all the way. Like Spector's hiding an AK47 inside that humongous wig, he shoots his way out of the courtroom and makes it to freedom.

Larry V said...

I was planning to watch this solely for Al's hair. Maybe I'll skip it now.

Thanks for watching so that we don't have to.

wren said...

Interesting how he and Harold Pinter both became radicalized in their old age. Pinter calling America the Nazis and Mamet becoming a Nazi.

Bob O'Brien said...

Love the alibiography term. Brilliant!

Dave Mackey said...

It's as much a biography of Spector as "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" was a biography of Frankie Lymon.

cadavra said...

I must take slight issue with your belief that knowing what happens kills interest. Any movie based on a historical incident (LINCOLN, TITANIC) or on best-selling literature (LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY POTTER) will automatically have its conclusion known to most moviegoers. The trick is to make the journey itself so interesting that viewers won't notice (or care) that they already know how it will end.

Jake Mabe said...

Damn. I'm passing on this one, even if I do get a free HBO preview this weekend. Thanks, Ken.

Oh, and by the way: Hollywood Montrose. Just went back nearly 30 years on that one. Meshach Taylor's best role. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

"Hollywood! Hollywood! Come and get me, Hollywood!"

Which led to this memory of G.W. Bailey's line when he sees Andrew McCarthy's Switcher cuddled up with Kim Cattrall's Emmy in mannequin form:

"Oooooh, Switcher. You are one sick puppy!"

Anonymous said...

Ken - the only thing I'd disagree with is if you knew the outcome, it would be boring. Zero Dark Thirty wasn't boring (in my opinion)... Argo was not boring in the slightest. I knew the endings in both cases, and knew (relatively) a lot about the story (or in the case of Argo, at least the context). What should be celebrated are the writers who took stories with known endings and still made them compelling.

Dan

Eleanor said...

Thanks, Ken. It had to be said - this film is bullshit. How could anyone sign on to this production? They can't be that hard up for cash.

Let's remember the victim in this case: Lana Clarkson.

Johnny Walker said...

The worst idea for a project since the OJ Simpson book, "If I did it"? Certainly sounds like it.

The only possible defence for something like this (which I don't agree with), is that it's just an excuse for a good story. The problem is that it's an extremely poor excuse for a good story, and in the worst possible taste.

Never-the-less, I am interested if people thought it worked as entertainment, if only to learn if Mamet still has his skills.

Anonymous said...

Elegible for parole at age 88. Maybe I'll care by then...but probably not.

Johnny Walker said...

Mac: That made me laugh!

lady schick said...

Permit me to posit that Mamet could only get the rights to Spector's story by promising he would play him as innocent. Just saying...

Laconic said...

Wren,

To call anybody a Nazi because they left the groupthink of the leftist world diminishes you as a commentator and insults the memory of millions of those killed by real Nazis.

I was banned from my favorite restaurant in LA for awhile after Taking a Mr. G.Clooney to task when I overheard him call President Bush a Nazi. I AGREE with his low assessment of Bush in so many ways, but THAT one was not and never will be an acceptable appendage . Yes it was worth it.

Johnny Walker said...

@lady schick: That's very interesting to learn! He really should have walked away, then. I can't understand why he'd take on a project like that where he'd be so compromised. What's the point? What's the lure? Weird.

jonc said...

>>" Your time is better spent listening to a Ronnettes album."

Ain't that the truth!

Breadbaker said...

Pacino didn't really chew the scenery in the first two Godfather movies, but considering his role, his age and fame at the time, and that the films were so well directed and art directed, that's the exception that proves the rule (and the third one is the rule that overcomes all exceptions).

I've seen Witness for the Prosecution numerous times. Obviously after the first time, I knew the ending (which is not the same as in the play). I enjoyed it as much each time. If you can't make a film interesting without insulting the audience and disrespecting the dead, you aren't as much of a writer as you think are, David.

Gut yontif, Ken. I hope you had a pleasant Seder.

GePop said...

Spector had been infamous for his gun-waving threats and actual physical violence toward women for decades (ask his ex-wife, Ronnie Spector). Back when he was producing records for John Lennon, he once fired a bullet into the studio's ceiling. Shortly thereafter, he pulled his pistol out and aimed it straight at Lennon, who called his bluff and told him to either pull the trigger or stop wasting his time. Spector backed down, but shortly thereafter went MIA on Lennon (along with some of the tapes they had recorded) for good.

Johnny Walker said...

The guy clearly had some serious issues -- which fame and fortune apparently only made worse.

You'd think he might have gotten some therapy with all that money, but I suppose if your issue is that everyone is against you, you'd only put up with a therapist who agreed.

Sounds like Spector should have been a much darker, and real life, modern-day Sunset Blvd.

Barry Traylor said...

Someone would have to pay me a lot of money to watch this pile of crap. I am a bit disappointed that Helen Mirren would sign on to something like this. Didn't she read the script?

Josh said...

Ken, your a hoot! No wonder you're a comedy writer. That being said, I watched this last night, and I loved it. All Mirren/Pacino fans (and who isn't?) need to see it. You can tell it was written by a playwrite because the dialogue is beautiful.

Jerry Baylor said...

The trouble with films like these are that they become the definitive version in peoples' minds of what actually happened, and all the disclaimers in the world won't change that. I'm dumbfounded by the number of people I've met who parrot the "facts" of Stone's conspiracy theory fantasy "JFK" as if they were the carefully uncovered truth. The Clarkson murder is a recent event, and many of the involved people are still alive. Her family will have to watch the details of their loved one's murder be twisted into something that it wasn't, all for the sake of "entertainment". It's even worse in this case, since this version isn't really being presented as an alternate theory; it's clearly marketed as a work of fiction. This may seem like a tasty and dishy tale of twisted and tortured genius, but don't forget that Clarkson was a real person, and that was a real person lying dead on the ground thanks to Spector. David Mamet is an ass; he may be supremely talented as a writer, but in this case that merely makes him a supremely talented ass.

Hollywoodaholic said...

I think John and Lady Schick are right - it was an irresistible character for Mamet, and he only got access to him dependent on telling the alternate universe story where he's a victim watching this 'horrible accident.' Not to send the gun lovers frothing, but it's a lot harder to have a horrible accident if there aren't any guns around.

Which reminds me, Ken, what did you think of Carrey's video Cold Dead Hand?

D. McEwan said...

Well, good news. The Pacino-Spector movie tanked in the ratings. Considerably less than a million people saw it.

Mike said...

People didn't have problems promoting JFK as a great film despite the revisionism. Fahrenheit 9/11 said Bush went to war in Afghanistan to build an oil pipeline for a particular corporation.

Louis said...

Did you complain when HBO produced a movie claiming that the West Memphis 3 were innocent? That only got some child killers out of jail.

I think this movie deserves making just for Al Pacino and the wig. He should wear that in every movie.

gian carlo said...

Gian Carlo said......

IT'S A MOVIE. Not a documentary. Don't care fact or fiction. It's well directed and produced, fine acting, Al as always, a bit "thuggy" but always fasinating and belivable. "Phil Spector" brought back some wonderful musical scent of that period. Respectfuly, it's a movie, but with a very sad ending. Nevertheless thought provoking and entertaining. Thanks HBO. Thanks Div for recording. gcc

Dale said...

Americans and guns.


Look up insane in the dictionary. There is a photo of an American with a gun. I like Americans. But think most of them to be crazy. How many Newtowns will it take.

Oh well, not my country. Not my responsibility. Not my business.

Carry on.