This Sunday HBO debuts its quite literally wiggy movie about Phil Spector and his conviction in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. It's high profile fare, starring Al Pacino as the man in question and Helen Mirren as his lawyer. The whole thing is written and directed by David Mamet.
But while Phil Spector itself is piquing interest for its performance and quality, it's also getting critiqued by people who were actually involved in the case, setting to motion yet another debate about what responsibility filmmakers have when portraying versions of real life events.
After actress Lana Clarkson was found dead in Spector's home in 2003, shot in the mouth, Spector was finally convicted of second degree murder in 2009. There were two trials in the case, the first ending in a mistrial. Mamet made clear in an interview in 2011 that he doesn't think Spector is guilty, and argued that he would not have been "indicted" if he were a "regular citizen." The film is billed as an "exploration of the client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), who represented Spector during his first trial for murder." It's described on a card at the beginning of the film as a "work of fiction," which is, as is to be expected, making those whose emotions are still raw from the real-life events angry.
Here's a guide to who is taking what issues with the film.
The Trial Journalist
In a piece today for the Los Angeles Times, Harriet Ryan, a journalist who covered both Phil Spector trials blasts the movie. While Ryan explains that HBO does include a disclaimer, claiming that the movie is an act of interpretation rather than recreation, she argues that in its looseness with the facts it contradicts itself:
What's especially galling is that the film commits the very crime it condemns. "Phil Spector" argues that a famous eccentric can't get a fair trial because the bloodthirsty, ignorant public is willfully blind to the facts. But the movie supports its thesis by ignoring, misrepresenting and soft-pedaling the evidence.
She argues that the movie disregards that fact that Spector did have blood on his jacket, dismisses the women who testified that Spector had pulled guns on them, and chooses to gloss over his actually happy marriage during the trial. The movie, she says, tries to be about the "nature of celebrity" but:
In shoving Spector's case into an ill-fitting argument, so much of what made his case fascinating is lost. The movie depicts Spector as a music industry Miss Havisham, shambling through his mansion's endless rooms of musty memorabilia and muttering about John (Lennon) and Lenny (Bruce).
Ultimately, she says she wishes Mamet has just written fiction: "Distorting the Spector case serves only to undermine the public's faith in the jury system."
Reports about the reactions of Rachelle Spector, Spector's wife, to the film have been contradictory. In an Entertainment Tonight interview she said: "It literally brought tears to my eyes. … They have him as a foul-mouthed megalomaniac and they depict him as a minotaur -- like he draws people into his labyrinth and he locks them in and won’t let them out." As Ryan notes, Rachelle's presence isn't a factor in the movie, and she said: "[HBO] wanted to show no female support. No supporters at all." But on the other hand she told Rolling Stone that she thinks the film can help her husband, despite how he comes off: "Regardless of how I feel about the cheesy portrayal of my husband and the gun-waving, the yelling and the crazy stuff, what they did get right was the forensic evidence that could set my husband free." He may look like a loon in the film, but at least he looks like a possibly innocent loon.
The Friends of the Victim
The victim's friends—including her publicist—protested a screening of the film earlier this month, and are attempting to prohibit it from winning any Emmys, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The publicist, Edward Lozzi, and "two other men stood outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art holding signs reading: 'HBO’s ‘Phil Spector’ murders the truth. No Emmy for the film that hurts people alive today.'" Lozzi called the film a "slap in the face," and argues that it focuses too much on the defense's assertion that Clarkson's death was a suicide.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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