Just about any moment in Phil Spector’s life could be made into a captivating movie: the years when he invented the Wall of Sound, wrote some of the greatest, most successful songs of all time, and turned the anonymous record producer into an artist, even a visionary; the time he spent with George Harrison and John Lennon recording their first solo albums; his tortured relationships with Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen; and his retreat from public life in the late-1970s, when Spector became a kind of Charles Foster Kane, alone in a castle of his fortune. (How audacious would it be to make a movie now, with Spector serving nineteen-years-to-life in a California prison, about his rise to fame?)
The events of HBO’s “Phil Spector” (written and directed by David Mamet) are the behind-the-scenes preparations for the first of his two murder trials: witness depositions, meetings with ballistics experts, and, above all, twisted conversations between Spector (Al Pacino) and one of his attorneys, Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren).
Yet it’s not entirely clear that “Phil Spector” is actually a movie about Spector’s life, or even a movie about the trial. The movie begins with a disclaimer announcing “Phil Spector” as a “work of fiction… neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.” This initially seems like a legal notice, a way of averting a lawsuit, or an attempt to skirt public criticism for making Spector sympathetic, but the disclaimer turns out to be much more interesting. “Phil Spector” is a movie about the bizarre reverb of life and storytelling, of life and biography, about the way that performers get trapped in their performances, and the way that those legends make it impossible to see the core person–if that person is even still there.
In particular, “Phil Spector” calls back to Russ Meyer’s 1970 cult classic, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” In that camp parody of the sexual revolution (co-written by Roger Ebert), a Spector-manqué named Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell adopts and corrupts an all-girl musical group, tightly controlling their career. They ultimately drift away from Z-Man and try to regain their lost innocence, but not before a spurned, jilted Z-Man traps them in his castle-mansion and explodes in a psychedelics-fueled murderous rage.
Phil Spector’s life could be summed up in four words — musical genius, eccentric and murderer.
Playwright David Mamet’s HBO film “Phil Spector,” which airs March 24, makes the most of all of them but his take on the 2007 murder trial of the record producer has split opinion as much as the crime itself.
Al Pacino plays the bombastic, multi-wigged, gun-obsessed creator of the 1960s “Wall of Sound” recording technique in the weeks before his first trial in Los Angeles for the 2003 shooting death of struggling actress Lana Clarkson.
The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. Spector, who pleaded not guilty and never took the witness stand, was convicted of second-degree murder after a second trial in 2009.
The 73-year-old is serving 19 years to life in prison and did not collaborate on the project.
Neither documentary nor pure fiction, Mamet’s film begins with a puzzling disclaimer saying that it is “a work of fiction … not based on a ‘true story.’”
If one were to think back to “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the 1992 film with an all-male cast based on the award-winning 1984 David Mamet play about desperate real estate salesmen, what words would come to mind? Probably ones like “profanity” and “testosterone” — never “femininity” or “estrogen.”
But what is it they say? Never say never. It’s now 21 years later and Jason Reitman is staging a live read of “Glengarry Glen Ross” with an all-female cast. If he could put an African-American twist on a live read of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” last year, then he can likely pull off this double X challenge with aplomb.
The stand out cast will certainly help. Present at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on February 21 for the one-night-only presentation will be Robin Wright, Catherine O’Hara, Maria Bello, Allison Janney, and Mae Whitman. Blake, the terrifying motivational speaker character played by Alec Baldwin, has yet to be cast.
After he reviewed Lawrence Baron’s “The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema,” we asked contemporary Jewish film scholar Nathan Abrams for his choice of the best recent Jewish films. Below are his choices (in no particular order) of films over the last few decades that have made a significant impact in challenging stereotypes worldwide.
“La Haine” (France), Mathieu Kassovitz
A French goy playing a Jewish skinhead; a French Jew playing a goyish skinhead. What’s not to like?
“The Big Lebowski” (USA), Coen brothers
“I’m shomer f**kin’ shabbes.” ‘Nuff said.
“The Governess” (UK), Sandra Goldbacher
That rare creature: an excellent British Jewish film. Beautiful and lyrical with a strong female Sephardic heroine at its heart.
“Black Book” (Netherlands), Paul Verhoeven
Verhoeven does for the Jewish heroine what he did for female serial murderers in Basic Instinct.
“Inglourious Basterds” (USA), Quentin Tarantino
Not quite the “Jewish porn” Eli Roth promised it to be, but his portrait of Shoshanna is superb.
The once-seedy Tel Aviv suburb of Holon has become a major tourist destination thanks to its arts scene.
The Milken Archive of Jewish Music has launched a virtual museum.
A Jewish big band in New York’s East Village is attracting jazz talent from all over the Tri-State Region.
British Jewish filmmaker Mike Leigh has canceled a trip to Israel on account of the loyalty oath.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in contrast, is celebrating its 70th anniversary in Tel Aviv.
How a machinist named Martin Cohen became the pre-eminent photographer of New York’s Latin music scene.
Montreal’s Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen is set to be turned into a musical.
Is it time to update the Hebrew alphabet for the Internet age?
Read an interview with Allen Ginsberg collaborator and “Howl!” illustrator Eric Drooker.
The trailer for “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” is now out.
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