September 3, 2014

Will the real Phil Spector please stand up

Review of HBO’s Phil Spector written and directed by David Mamet
Rating ***

spectorSo David Mamet decides he wants to tell the story of Phil Spector and the murder, or suicide, or accidental death of Lana Clarkson. David believes that Phil is innocent. He lays out a convincing argument for his case. He enlists the help of the defense attorney who defended Phil Spector in his first trial. He casts two talented actors — Al Pacino and Helen Mirren. But rather than take the evidence that he so skillfully lays out and present it in a more factual manner such as a documentary or a dramatization of actual events, he takes a shortcut. A documentary involves research. It involves an investment in time and effort. The same is true of a dramatization based on facts. Instead of spending the two to three years that it would have taken to do the story right, he drafts a screenplay based on the bits and pieces he is able to cobble together. The end result is an interesting film that doesn’t serve either Phil Spector or Lana Clarkson.

At the very least you would have thought that David Mamet would have taken the time to actually speak to Phil Spector. You would have thought that Al Pacino would have met with the man instead of relying on news media portrayals. But all of that requires time and effort. Why do that when you can just make it all up using whatever facts you care to use?

Then to make sure that no one is sued and to make an excuse for the fact that they really didn’t put a lot of effort into the project, they put a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that basically says that this film is about real people and real events, but we didn’t have time to make sure we got it all right.

Despite these flaws, I enjoyed the film. I really would have liked to have seen more about the evidence that David Mamet lays out. This would be a great subject for a documentary. Even though there is no way to know what was real and what was not, the little that I do know seems to indicate that maybe David Mamet may be right. The news media, trials, and lawyers rarely get it right. They all shape the story to fit their needs.

Phil Spector’s current wife Rachelle Spector is right when she characterized the film as a blown opportunity. There is a great story to be told here. But the real story involves real people. In this case the filmmakers marginalized the real life tragedies of two people simply for entertainment’s sake.

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