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

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood April 1, 2013 at 4:26PM

“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.
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"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector"
"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 …

This article is related to: Features, News, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, BBC


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.