THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF PHIL SPECTOR 4/4
BBC/Arena/ VIXPIX Films, Unrated
Whether a work of art should be viewed solely on its own merits or in the context of the artist and his life has always been a contentious and unresolved talking point, but with Vikram Jayanti’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, there’s a whole lot of both perspectives and more.
Nearly replicating the famed creative genius producer and imprisoned felon’s flamboyant collage memorialized in the annals of song, Jayanti mixes metaphors, music and murder trials while managing a distinct neutrality as to Spector’s actual guilt or innocence.
Filmed between the elderly Spector’s original 2007 mistrial in the handgun murder of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson at his Alhambra mansion and a second trial when he was convicted and imprisoned on a 19-to-life sentence, the documentary is less about factual challenges than emotions and personality. It revolves around the logistical choice to allow the film’s real-life protagonist unfettered self-expression while tempered with the agony of the public accusations against him, juxtaposed with his personal ecstasy of now-legendary musical creations.
Sitting beside the white piano where he worked with John Lennon on “Imagine,” Spector rants against a jury he claims “all voted for Bush” and viewed him as guilty or insane, while intimating he can’t get a fair trial because of his outcast status within the music industry. But it’s far more astonishing to learn his first release, “To Know Him Is To Love Him,” wasn’t a love song at all but rather a tribute to his late father, who blew his own brains out when Spector was just a boy (the song title is taken from the inscription which appears on his dad’s tombstone). And though asserting a powerful identification with creative genius martyrs in history including Galileo, Bach, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and more recently Woody Allen, he oddly bypasses mention of the more timely case of Roman Polanski.
And whether sitting in court with out-of-control hair or rambling on at home with wild-eyed tales, Spector comes across as an immature child who doesn’t seem to understand the consequences of his acts, and at the same time a wrinkled old gnome.
The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Phil Spector (a play on words of the Michelangelo book and screen bios), however worshipfully one-sided or legally scornful, is without a doubt a musical treasure trove of the withdrawn eccentric’s immense, innovative creative outpouring, and a landmark documentary chronicling the breadth and depth of popular music in the 20th century