The Arty Semite

Haunted by the Specter of Phil Spector

By Eitan Kensky

Getty Images
Spectral Vision: Al Pacino plays the title character in David Mamet’s HBO film “Phil Spector.”

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.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Phil Spector, Helen Mirren, David Mamet

Phil Spector, By Way of Al Pacino and David Mamet

By Jill Serjeant (Reuters)

Phil Spector’s life could be summed up in four words — musical genius, eccentric and murderer.

Courtesy of HBO

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.’”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Television, Phil Spector, HBO, Film, David Mamet, Al Pacino

'Glengarry Glen Ross,' Now With Estrogen

By Renee Ghert-Zand

YouTube

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.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ivan Reitman, Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet, Renee Ghert-Zand, Theater

The World's Top 10 Jewish Films

By Nathan Abrams

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

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.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Steven Spielberg, Sandra Goldbacher, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Verhoeven, Mathieu Kassovitz, Larry Charles, Henry Bean, David Mamet, Coen brothers, Agnieszka Holland

Out and About: David Mamet on 'A Life in the Theater'; the Big Band's Big Comeback

By Ezra Glinter

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
A puppet from an exhibit at Holon’s Puppet Theater Center in July.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Patrick Stewart, Out and About, Milken Archive of Jewish Music, Mike Leigh, Loyalty Oath, Holon, Louis Henkin, David Mamet, Broadway, Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Belva Plain, Albert Murray, A Life in the Theater, Tel Aviv

Out and About: PEN Literary Awards; Schwartz's Deli, the Musical

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons/LOC
Today would have been George Gershwin’s 112th birthday.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Schwartz's, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Pen American Center, Out and About, Michael Scammell, Martin Cohen, Jewish Manuscript Project, Jeremiah Lockwood, Jazz Talmud, Jacob Siskind, JBooks, Howl!, George Gershwin, Fantasia, Eric Drooker, Eliot Spitzer, Eddie Fisher, Don DeLillo, David Mamet, David Lehman, Allen Ginsberg, Antonina Pirozhkova, Arthur Koestler, Breslov, Client 9




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