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'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,' After Music Clearance Issues, Finally Gets U.S. Release on BBC America

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by John Anderson
April 1, 2013 4:26 PM
2 Comments
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"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector"

“The problem with being a fookin’ gun nut is that sooner or later somebody gets shot,” said Ringo Starr to filmmaker Vikram Jayanti, the subject of their conversation also being the subject of Jayanti’s sensational documentary, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,” which finally gets a national U.S. release Tuesday night -- on BBC America.

For some reason -- natural British reticence, perchance? -- the Beeb hasn’t been exploiting the obvious ties to David Mamet’s “Phil Spector,” recently shown on HBO and roundly blasted for its treatment of victim Lana Clarkson, the somebody (see Ringo) who got shot in Spector’s Alhambra mansion back in 2003 (and whom Spector was convicted, in 2009, of murdering). It was, in fact, Jayanti’s film that inspired Mamet, and which first raised the questions about Spector’s guilt that Mamet took to another level entirely. Jayanti’s film, a celebration of Spector’s epic legacy to popular music, and only incidentally a crime expose, was built around interviews Jayanti conducted during Spector’s first murder trial, which ended in a hung jury, and during which the director got verbal permission to use the 21 Spector-produced records and live performances used in the film.

Jayanti, a long time Angeleno who’s lived the last few years in London, wrote about his Spector experiences recently for the Daily Beast and told TOH “I’ve just finished my new feature doc, ‘The Secret Life of Uri Geller - Psychic Spy?’ Another primo piece of frontier madness.”  The Geller flick will be the latest in a filmmaking career regularly devoted to dwellers on the fringe of pop culture and sanity, including Ken Kesey (“Tripping”), James Ellroy (“Feast of Death”), Gary Kasparov (“Game Over’) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (“The Golden Globes: Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret”).

The reason that “The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector” never got picked up for U.S. release was likely the fact that Jayanti didn’t have written clearance on the music rights from Spector, who admits during the film, “I never give permission for anything!” But the BBC lawyers, with a backup plan to plead fair use, gave the project a green light and there’s never been a peep out of the Spector estate -- or BBC America, for that matter, which has a terrific piece of entertainment on its hands tomorrow night and should be doing a bit more self-promotion. Alas, those Brits …

2 Comments

  • jim emerson | April 1, 2013 6:59 PMReply

    Actually, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF PHIL SPECTOR was shown on BBC Two's ARENA back in 2008, and has been available in its entirety on YouTube for some time. In it, Spector takes credit for Martin Scorsese's career, and Robert De Niro's, because he says Scorsese used "Be My Baby," which starts the film, without permission and Spector was persuaded by John Lennon and Scorsese not to block the film's release. He says something like (I'm paraphrasing): "Without 'Be My Baby,' there's no movie. And without the movie, no Scorsese -- and no De Niro, for that matter."

  • Jeffrey Mehlman | April 1, 2013 6:01 PMReply

    I directed a short film-"A SENTIMENTAL ENCOUNTER" from a short story by Joyce Carol Oates and I used one of The Ronettes Christmas songs. ABKCO would not give me the rights to the song so my brother, Peter Mehlman-writer on Sienfeld for 9 years (who wrote The YADA YADA) mailed a really nice & funny letter to Phil Spector along with an autographed Sienfeld script.
    Spector wrote back " I'm a sucker for brotherly love and will give you the rights. Please,do not judge the record business by me. Best, Phil Spector.

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