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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Dedicated to the Me I Love
by Donald Levit

With players in the Court TV first 2007 hung jury footage identified only by function, the lone talking head here remains Harvey Philip Spector’s, seated in teddy boy pinstripes in his incongruous “castle” in Alhambra, Ca. His self-absorption would crowd anyone else out of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, in any case, as he relates to his persona a laundry list of educated references, past and present sacred cows, and important, less important and ephemeral celebrities of the last half century.

He could have gone on and on to other names left out, but his point is made. Whether one believes him is a different matter. A second jury did not, when two years later the short, palsied near-septuagenarian got nineteen years to life for murder in the second degree and “illegally discharging a firearm” from his obsessive collection.

Apart from a couple of voiced leading questions, director/co-producer Vikram Jayanti anti-Michael Moore-ishly absents himself and allows his heretofore reclusive, acidly humorous subject to hang himself or not. Dozens of additional anecdotes could not be fitted in, but the hundred-two minutes is still jammed with musical and popular history, trivia tidbits, forensic evidence (or lack thereof), surveillance camera shots, b&w TV and color concert performances; the iconic white “Imagine” piano (which might have been another), pompous Mick Brown comments on revolutionary Wall of Sound productions, and Spector’s musings on his father’s suicide and his own ostracized youth and outsider adulthood.

If anything, there remains almost an overwhelming too much. For example, the mostly muted trial with the famous hits dubbed over and the highfalutin analyses printed like so much broadcast crawl.

Prosecution contends that the forty-year-old aspirant actress-comedienne victim was depressed but not suicidal and that the accused had a history of violence usually against women, as against defense insistence on lack of compelling proof and the Golden State’s vendetta to atone for O.J. and Robert Blake. Miscarriage of justice or not, the verdict of the screen audience will depend more on its reaction to the legendarily eccentric and arrogant personality of the accused/condemned.

He makes no bones about his genius, unalloyed by Poe’s “two fifths sheer fudge,” and several deep animosities -- prefaced by “I love [Whomever]”-- clearly are rooted in comparisons between forgiving public embrace of Whomever as opposed to animosity towards himself, who sought merely to live apart. Applicable if not brought in is acerbic Swift’s litmus test of genius in “all the dunces [who] are in confederacy against him.”

Spector anticipated and did much to create today’s teen-, or pre-teen-, dominated culture, with “little symphonies for the kids” sounds decades before Queen’s Wagnerian pomp rock. His argument is that he (and he alone) brought race music-slash-r&r to art-form fruition through meticulous production standards and busloads of instrumentalists. Historian Carlyle saw genius in such “transcendent capacity for taking trouble,” and Spector further theorizes that any individual vehicle, i.e., singer, is subservient to the totality of the work of art.

The vintage clips are not simple nostalgia but, mini-skirted go-go dancers throbbing, showcases for the classic twenty-one songs given in splendid, short entirety, with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” allowed its full four-minutes-plus (listed as three to get air time) splendor. But these successful groups were not the commercial Vegas live total package needed. Ike and Tina Turner and Ikettes and revue were, and the producer-promoter-songwriter-singer (“To Know Him Is To Love Him” from his father’s tombstone) had a Tina ideal in mind six years before he actually found her. With many industry enemies and the failure here (though a U.K. No. 3) of “masterpiece” last Wall of Sound single, the Turners’ “River Deep, Mountain High,” Spector retired into seclusion and rumors of erratic behavior, then reappeared to resurrect Let It Be and produce individual efforts by Lennon, Harrison, and, among others unmentioned, Leonard Cohen and the Ramones.

Two almost fatal automobile accidents are not mentioned, either; embittered ex-second wife Ronnie appears only on 1963 TV with the Ronettes, the twenty-three-room “castle” is unexplored and a dead adopted son alluded to in passing seconds. As Jayanti elsewhere has it, you can’t tell the dancer from the dance, so Spector and his creations come together, separate and then lock again, oldies but goodies. 

(Released by BBC Arena; not rated by MPAA.)

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