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To Know, Know, Know Him….

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To Know, Know, Know Him

After the release and subsequent unprecedented success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975 it did some irrepressible damage. Not to box office, ticket sales or any real harm in a physical sense. Quite the opposite there, it broke all kinds of records and became the first “summer blockbuster.” No, it did lasting damage to the people that saw it. It put people into the mind-set that great white sharks were flesh hungry beasts and if you swam in the ocean, you were likely to stumble across one, and would wind up in a mouthful of teeth. In short, Jaws turned Great White Sharks into, as far as the public were concerned, bastards.

I cannot claim to have swam with or met any Great Whites, but I have heard of more people being run over on the roads than eaten alive by Great Whites. What I’m getting at is if something is painted in a certain light it is left like that. In short, shit sticks. And if someone is painted out to be a mental case, chances are he is probably capable of a grievously dastardly deed. And so we come to Harvey Phillip Spector, or as you know him, Phil Spector.

I can see your mind working. Yes, that Phil Spector that rose from humble working class roots, deprived of a father at the tender age of six through suicide to become one of the most influential music producers of all time. He would go on to record one of the most successful singles of all time, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling by The Righteous Brothers. He would also famously produce The Beatles’ Let It Be. As a result he would fall out with McCartney because he plastered his infamous “wall of sound” over the sparse, mainly acoustic tracks on the album.

Indeed Spector was to become notorious for going to extremes with his artists and prone to temperamental outbursts in the studio, frequently shooting a gun off to illustrate a point or simply to garner some form of an emotional response. William Friedkin used similar techniques while filming The Exorcist. He was never charged with murder, now that I come to think of it. Before we go any further, my personal opinions on the case are just that, my own and I do not presume to believe Spector is either innocent or guilty.

This brings us to David Mamet’s Phil Spector, a little gem of a film that despite dealing with the death of Lana Clarkson and the fallout from it does not presume to determine guilt or innocence in any way. It is a film that focuses on the relationship between Spector (Al Pacino) and his defence attorney played by Helen Mirren. But more importantly it asks the question, do we create monsters or are they created in the media through pictures, sound-bites and caricatures?

Indeed Mirren’s character asks that very question very intelligibly, “Why does the monster live in a castle? Why does the minotaur live in a cave?” This is just one of the brilliant exchanges between characters in Mamet’s trademark dialogue in so much as it is terse, to the point and smooth. Spector does little to protect his image as a “monster” by living in a walled off mansion with sentry dogs and barbed wire littering the perimeter.

Pacino is surprisingly restrained and plays Spector as a rambling, intelligent eccentric man. He focuses on the obvious mental illness that Spector suffers from and this comes out in his involuntarily shaking hands, his foaming mouth and roving eyes. He also portrays Spector as a frequently empathetic, genuine person when he gives Mirren’s character a blanket as she is cold and whispers to her, “I know how sick you are, and how much this is costing you. I have met some insane people in my time, but very few sane ones. Even fewer that I could talk to.”

Mirren plays her defence attorney with a level of empathy, compassion but never sympathy. She treats it as just another case, but is somewhat worn down by Spector’s eccentricities and sometimes good humoured nature. The film has one major flaw. The court-room scenes are woefully short and given Mamet’s penchant for long, rewarding exchanges these opportunities seem wasted ultimately. But as I said earlier, the film is a character study and does not attempt to presume either innocent or guilt so I’m just nit-picking.

I can highly recommend this film and it runs a neat 92 minutes. Go get it!!!!

4.5 / 5

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Written by thepanch

May 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

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