Phil Spector, the mad genius record producer in prison for killing a Hollywood B-movie actress, is, you know, nuts. So nothing like an incoherent documentary about him to make things even nuttier.
Over the weekend, Vikram Jayanti showed his “Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector” at the Hamptons Film Festival. Apparently it was shown by the BBC (which produced it) last year at least once. It’s also available for free download on a sanctioned site called veoh.com.
This part seems problematic since the documentary includes full length audio by the Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison and other artists whom Spector produced. It’s unclear that the music was actually “cleared” for use since Beatles recordings are usually not allowed in movies. And now it’s free on the Internet to underscore Spector’s ramblings. But I’ll have leave that up to lawyers since Jayanti professed no knowledge of the situation.
His film is, indeed, as incoherent as its subject. I’ve rarely seen such bad filmmaking from a professional filmmaker. It does look like Jayanti made some kind of deal with Spector to make him look good in exchange for exclusive interviews. The director denies it, but really, who’s kidding who? At the Q&A after the screening, Jayanti said he believed there was “reasonable doubt” that Spector did not kill Lana Clarkson. I’ve got some land to sell him in New Orleans.
Spector is obsessed with Tony Bennett. He doesn’t like him, and uses him as a refrain in the movie, referring to Bennett’s long ago drug problems. Spector thinks Bennett’s problems are more egregious than his own. Ha! He also compares himself to Galileo, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Why not? They never had hit records, so he may be wrong.
Jayanti is well known for the Muhammad Ali film “When We Were Kings.” But in “Agony and Ecstasy,” he either was obsessed with Spector or just lazy. The film is long on odd, with full length versions of Spector’s produced music playing over disjointed videos of his first murder trial in 2007. It’s really weird. There’s little context for anything. Is this a film about Spector’s music, or his first murder trial, or what? Or all of it? And through it, poor Clarkson, a great girl by all accounts, is demonized.
There is a lot of grandiosity at work too. Spector claims credit for all his Brill Building recordings, from “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” to “Spanish Harlem.” There is zero mention of the writers of the songs — Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It’s all Phil, Phil, Phil. He did it all, even the Wall of Sound. (Were there musicians? Not in this story.) Further, Jayanti doesn’t include any reference to Ronnie Bennett and the Ronettes, who made Spector, and just a scant one to Darlene Love.
Spector, of course, is a megalomaniac, and it comes across clearly. There is a particularly fascinating segment about the Beatles in which he attacks Paul McCartney and George Martin. He takes credit for all of John Lennon’s post-Beatles career. There’s also a bit about recording “My Sweet Lord” with George Harrison but no mention of the plagiarism suit that haunted the hit. The record was deemed similar to the Chiffons‘ hit “He’s So Fine,” which was not produced by Spector in the ’60s but certainly came from his world.
So do watch “Agony and the Ecstasy” to see and hear Spector — it’s probably the one and only time, whether accurate or not. And the video archival material of the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, the Ronettes is all beyond gorgeous.
P.S. There’s a much better actual documentary about Spector here.