Monday, March 25, 2013

HBO & David Mamet's Tele-Play on Phil Spector History

 Phil Spector prison booking photo.  
This is how Spector really looks.
If you think that, the disclaimer that was placed at the beginning of Mamet's film is all that's needed to inform the public that the movie is totally a piece of fiction,  you are mistaken. A few moments ago, the following Google® search hit my blog:

"how did the prosecution deal with the bloodless white dinner jacket in the second Phil Spector trial"

Do you see how this film twists the facts regarding the evidence presented at both trials?

There was backspatter found on the front of Spector's jacket.  There was also a tiny spot of backspatter that was found on the edge fold of the end of the right jacket sleeve, indicating that fold was pointed directly at the source of the spatter.

During the first and second trial, the defense tried to tell the jury that if Spector had been in the vicinity of when Lana Clarkson was shot through the mouth, his white jacket would have been covered in blood.  The truth is, bloodstain analysis experts testified that backspatter from a high velocity event (gunshot wound) does not travel very far at all.  Backspatter droplets will be tiny, mist like.  And because of their size, they rarely travel more than 2-3 feet from the source (injury).  Sprocket.

UPDATE: 3/26 Corrected link to Harriet Ryan's article.

I had hoped to get this post up last week, but alas, real life responsibilities to Mr. Sprocket’s business kept me from writing.  HBO’s Spector movie aired Sunday, March 24th, 2013. My apologies. Sprocket.

It began over a week and a half ago. It seemed like every other email, tweet and Facebook posting I received, was about the upcoming release of David Mamet’s Phil Spector movie on HBO.  Sprocket!  Did you hear about the movie?  Rachelle is going to be on CNN’s Piers Morgan!  Are you going to see the movie?  Did you see Rachelle?  What do you think?  You have to write about it and tell the truth. The film totally trashes Lana.

Lana being Lana Clarkson, the tall, strikingly stunning woman who was murdered in Spector’s mansion in the early morning hours of February 3rd, 2003.  She had been shot through the mouth while sitting in a foyer chair, her purse on her shoulder, waiting to be driven home.  Spector was convicted of second degree murder on April 13th, 2009.  He is serving 19 years to life.

Some people consider me an authority on the Phil Spector case because I'm the only journalist who attended most of the first trial and every single day of the second.  It's the case that launched T&T and started me on my journey of attending murder trials and writing about them.

For me, the movie is old news.  I’ve known about the HBO film since it was announced that Al Pacino would play Spector back in October 2010. That’s how long it’s been.

I first reported on Mamet's film  when it was announced that Bette Midler had joined the cast. Midler had to drop out six days into filming due to an injury and Helen Mirren took over the role of defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden. As you can see, Mamet’s film has been in production for a long time.  Since the film was announced, I covered two first degree murder trials, Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder and Los Angeles County elected a new District Attorney.
Mamet has given interviews discussing the focus of his film as far back as June 2011.  I wrote about Mamet’s comments that he gave in a article not long after that.

I’ve known from the very beginning that Mamet --who never followed the trial-- based his movie entirely on watching filmmaker Vikram Jayanti’s documentary, The Agony and the Estacy of Phil Spector, which was basically a love-letter account of Spector’s life and the murder charge, from Spector’s point of view.  (If you read any of the reviews of Mamet's film, most don’t mention this important fact.)

Although there are archival clips of other people in the documentary, Jayanti interviewed a single subject for his film, Spector --which begs the question, how objective could Jayanti’s ‘documentary’ be? Jayanti spent several months with Spector, much of it during the first trial.  Jayanti would come into court and hug Spector in the gallery.  Everyone who was there saw the public displays of affection. It was all part of the “show” if you ask me.  Jayanti was courting Spector, even during his murder trial.

So, if you can keep all that in context --that the film is not based on any of the facts presented at the trial-- then tune in to watch Al Pacino give an over the top performance as the maniacal Spector, and Helen Mirren in the role of sickly, mothering defense attorney, Linda Kenney Baden.

The Trial Bride

I can’t write a piece about Spector without mentioning his gold lamme-clad supporter and spouse. Phil Spector’s trial bride (Rachelle) recently appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan talking about the film.  From what I read on Gary and Louis Spector’s Facebook pages, she was not invited to the start-studded premiere (although former prosecutor Alan Jackson was).  According to Rachelle, the trial bride and Spector were not consulted for the film.  As far as catching the Morgan show, I saw enough of the convicted murderer and the ‘screech she tries to pass as singing’ misses during two trials to last me ten lifetimes, which is why I took a pass on watching.


Back when I first heard about the film I thought for certain I’d watch it, just to see what Mamet would do with his limited knowledge of the trial that convicted Spector.  But as more information came out about the film (Linda Kenney Baden inaccurately presented as Spector's lead attorney, Lana Clarkson’s character trashed, etc.) I decided it wasn’t worth my time.

Alan Jackson, who prosecuted both cases appeared on CNN 7AM weekend show on March 16th to talk about the overwhelming evidence that convicted Spector.  Unfortunately, I missed seeing Alan talk about the case of his career.

The LA Times’ Harriet Ryan wrote a very good piece  on the film.  During the first trial, Ryan worked for CourtTV and was in the courtroom every day that I was there.  She knows exactly what evidence was presented at trial.  She dropped in on the second trial a little over a dozen times.

Ken Levine’s review hit the nail on the head. It is a must read for the comparisons he makes and how Levine puts the film in context. Levine starts off his piece by stating: “If David Mamet had made LINCOLN, the official cause of the president’s death would be boating accident.”

My friend, historian and lecturer Barry Bradford saw the film and wrote a review titled, David Mamet Is A Murderer.  In Bradford’s view, Mamet committed two murders. Mamet “murdered the truth” and then “murdered the reputation of Lana Clarkson.”

All I can say now is, I’m glad it’s finally aired and reviews about the film are informing people about the incredible amount of creative license Mamet took in telling this story. If you would like to know more about the film, here are a list of reviews.

Robert Lloyd, LA Times TV critic
Robert Bianco in USA Today
Mail Online 
Ed Siegel in The Artery 
Tim Appelo in The Hollywood Reporter 
Matt Zoller Seitz on Vulture
Vikram Jayanti in The Daily Beast “My Dark Days With Phil


Janice said...

WOW Betsy... I totally agree with Barry Bradford. Even though I'm a huge fan of Al Pacino, there was no way I wanted to see the movie.

As you said, we hung on every word through both trials... I would not watch something that I knew NOT to be true.

I think it's a crime that David Mamet plagiarized the entire story. He had to "know" the truth. How could he smear Lana's memory and put her family through such lies?

I think the whole thing was disgusting. Luckily I haven't heard anyone discussing the movie. Maybe it didn't receive much attention after all.


Anonymous said...

I saw the movie Sunday night. I'll make a few observations.

After about five minutes, Al Pacino didn't make much effort to give a characterization of Phil Spector. You always knew it was Pacino giving the rant and rave performance he's been giving for years.

I read an article about Linda Kenney Baden. She was ecstatic about being played by Helen Mirren. LKB probably hopes people will think she looks like Helen Mirren.

Many times I've met young people who believe everything they saw in Oliver Stone's "JFK." I was worried something similar would happen with Mamet's "Phil Spector." Probably not. Even a pro-Spector film can't make this fellow look good to anyone with half a brain.

Many of the kind of people who green-light films like Mamet's theme of the "little people" (which is what, I'm told, the super-rich call ordinary citizens) wanting to see a Wealthy Artist like Spector sent to prison.

As for Mamet's claim that "an ordinary citizen would not have been indicted," an ordinary person would now be in San Quentin doing Life Without Parole or possible reside on Death Row after being convicted of first degree murder.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

I could not watch it either. There is something about knowing the truth as it unfolded during the investigation and trial and this fantasy screen play that sticks in my craw. It's as if Mamet took Phil's "version" ( we know by the evidence that it was his & his attorney's fiction) and tried to present it as a truth.
I wonder what Domminic Dunne would have to say about this one?

Ginger. Ill

ritanita said...


It's just as well we don't even have HBO. After seeing the entire first trial with you and following the blog for the second, I would probably have a stroke watching this disaster!

Anonymous said...

Glad you were able to comment on this, Betsy. I don't have HBO and would likely get high-blood pressure watching it if I did.

I loathe these "fictional docu-dramas". The worst ever--as mentioned above--was the "JFK" movie, which attempted to railroad a man who was eventually found innocent of the JFK conspiracy cooked up by a rather unstable District Atty in New Orleans back in 67-69. For True Crime lovers, the book "American Grotesque" is prime reading. Then compare the book to the movie mentioned above, you will see the license these films take. It is outrageous!

Yes there are numerous poor reviews out there, Miami Herald and others. I have always found Pacino's style of hollering and spitting and whatever to be suspicious as to acting talent, and so, no, I don't care to see it. Have not cared for him since forever. And we know that there is no HBO in prison because the National Enquirer article found online tells us so! BTW, A. Jackson was on Bill O'Reilly last nite, 3/25, letting viewers know the fiction that this film is. He has aged a bit, just to say, he looked like a middle-aged Dick Clark to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed that Pacino and Mirren signed on to do this joke of a film. I've lost my respect for them. This was not a film they had to do, there are not struggling, hungry actors. No excuse.

Sprocket said...

Anon @ &7:13 PM

Usually actors take roles because of personal relationships, or the actor has a desire/interest to work with a particular director. Some directors choose to work with the same set or group of actors. (Think M. Night Shyamalan, and his films.

Mamet is still considered a big name in the movie/tv industry, which is why I think HBO threw money at him to do whatever he wanted.

As an example, think of all the people that wanted and still want to work with Woody Allen, even after all the information about his inappropriate relationship(s) with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter.

I read one review that indicated Pacino and Mamet were friends.

Mirren was not the first choice for the role. I don't know if she has any connection to Mamet before this film or not.

Anonymous said...

Mamet and Pacino worked together on "Glengary Glen Ross" in 1992 and have remained friends and fellow New Yorkers ever since.

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that Spector's 'people' (if not Spector himself) were involved in this picture at least to some degree.

Exhibit 1: I know that Spector's 'life rights' were being explored by more than one film producer in early 2010. I also know that, since the 1970s, Spector has fantasised about being played by Al Pacino in a film. Since Pacino was cast before a script had even been written, my guess would be this was a stipulation in the transfer of rights to the successful party (either life rights and/or music rights).

Exhibit 2: They plastered Spector's back-catalog all over the soundtrack, something he has been notoriously protective of (eg. Spielberg swore to never work with Spector again after the trouble he had licensing one of his tracks for the movie 'Gremlins'). If they weren't aware of the film, hadn't been consulted, didn't at least broadly approve, the music wouldn't be there.