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David Mamet's "Phil Spector": A Moral Morass

Lana Clarkson, April 15, 1962-February 3, 2003, the day she was murdered by Phil Spector.
I watched David Mamet’s “Phil Spector” on HBO the other night. I knew next to nothing about Phil Spector, the record producer—the Ronettes, the Beatles—now serving a 19 year sentence for the second degree murder of Lana Clarkson. In the hype surrounding Mamet’s brilliant, irresponsible screenplay, and the equally brilliant performances of Helen Mirren, as Spector’s attorney, and Al Pacino, as Spector, few remember Lana Clarkson or her grisly murder. She was found shot in the mouth in Spector’s hallway with one of Spector’s numerous guns. Yet Mamet chose to channel the prosecution’s argument that there was a reasonable doubt and that her death was an “accidental suicide.”

“I don’t give a shit about the facts,” Mamet said to Mick Brown, a UK journalist who writes for the Telegraph and is the author of a well-researched biography of Spector, “Tearing Down the Wall of Sound; The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector.” There were numerous insulting Mamet expletives in his answers to Brown’s questions. I was admiring of this well regarded, sober journalist; he didn’t lose his cool. “The colorful invented drama became the historical version,” Brown wrote in The Telegraph on June 29, 2013 just before Mamet’s film was released in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

Where is David Mamet’s ethical compass? Like most of the facts, it is swirling in a vortex of ambition, egomania, and celebrity entitlement, if not altogether absent. In a conversation I had last week with a record producer who knew Spector during his glory days, I learned about Spector’s alcoholism and cocaine addiction, barely mentioned in the screenplay. “He must have been on blow when he killed Lana Clarkson,” this young man said. “That generation wrecked themselves on drugs. Spector had started drinking again big time two days before Clarkson’s murder and everyone in LA knew it.”

Now 73, Spector will end his life in jail, an irrefutable fact. As for Mamet, one can only hope that his fame will not destroy him, or his talent, as it has so many others.
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