Phil Spector (film)

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Phil Spector
Phil Spector (film) - poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Written byDavid Mamet
Directed byDavid Mamet
ComposerMarcelo Zarvos
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers
ProducerMichael Hausman
CinematographyJuan Ruiz Anchía
EditorBarbara Tulliver
Running time92 minutes
Production companyHBO Films
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • March 24, 2013 (2013-03-24)

Phil Spector is a 2013 American biographical drama television film written and directed by David Mamet. The film is based on the murder trials of record producer, songwriter and musician Phil Spector and premiered on HBO on March 24, 2013.[1] It stars Al Pacino as Phil Spector, Helen Mirren as defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden, and Jeffrey Tambor as defense attorney Bruce Cutler. It focuses primarily on the relationship between Spector and Linda Kenney Baden, his defense attorney in 2007 during the first of his two murder trials for the 2003 death of Lana Clarkson in his California mansion, and is billed as "an exploration of the client–attorney relationship" between Spector and Kenney Baden.[2]

The film was controversial for fictionalizing aspects of the case and for neglecting significant evidence presented by the real life prosecution, leading to accusations that the movie was created as an advocacy piece in Spector's favor. Spector was not involved with the film and disputed its historical accuracy. Although it is based on real people and an actual event, it opens with an unusually worded disclaimer that states, "This is a work of fiction. It's not 'based on a true story.' ... It is a drama inspired by actual persons on a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome."




In an interview in 2013, Phil Spector's writer and director, David Mamet, explained that, although he enjoyed Phil Spector's music, he knew nothing about Spector and paid little attention to the murder case against him until 2010, the year after Spector's conviction for murder in his second trial, when he viewed Vikram Jayanti's 2009 BBC documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector.[2] The documentary included a compelling interview with Spector that took place just before his first trial in 2007 and news footage of the trial itself,[2] and Jayanti said he intended it to leave the audience with the impression that the charges against Spector were unproved.[2] Mamet said that the documentary gave him an idea to dramatize the story of Spector's first trial by depicting Spector as "a mythological character"[2] and "a man avowed by all to be a monster"[2] like "the Minotaur."[2] Mamet also said he found it challenging "to take an irrefutable proposition – the guy's obviously guilty – and see if I could refute it"[2] by writing a drama about Spector's case. In a 2013 interview, he described the resulting film as "not a documentary...It's basically a fable. It's the fable of the Minotaur, or the fable of beauty and the beast. It's the attraction and repulsion between the young virgin, Helen Mirren, and the Minotaur, Phil Spector."[3]

Mamet drew on court transcripts for portions of the film, and the movie discusses key pieces of evidence that actually were used at Spector's trial. In 2013 interviews, Mamet asserted that "none of the facts in the case have been misrepresented...none of the testimony has been misrepresented"[2] and that the film quotes actual court documents verbatim.[3] However, Mamet also claimed that Phil Spector is otherwise "purposefully hypothetical,"[3] that in the film "almost everything is hypothetical,"[3] and that "the reason it's not a true story is that that didn't happen."[2] He explained that Phil Spector is "a fiction about what might happen backstage at the defense team if I were the lead defense attorney. I would say, okay, here are the facts, here's what I think we should do; here's an alternative version that makes sense to me."[2] Mamet said his script addresses the question, "'How might the facts suggest reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 people?' Which is very, very different, of course — and this is the point of the film — from innocence."[3] Both Mamet and Mirren said that Phil Spector is a mythological story,[4] which Mamet said is about the fictional version of Linda Kenney Baden "coming to grips with the notion of what is reasonable doubt and what is prejudice."[4]

Mamet called Spector "a fascinating speaker, and like a lot of us autodidacts, he was very interesting to listen to, because his mind ranged wide and unfettered by any system." The dialogue he made up for the fictional Spector in the movie represented Mamet writing in the way he believed Spector spoke.[3]

Cast and crew

Phil Spector originally was supposed to star Bette Midler as Linda Kenney Baden, but Midler left the project two and a half weeks after filming began[3] after suffering a back injury and, according to Helen Mirren, having to be carried off the set.[5] Mamet recalled that the loss of Midler put completion of the film in jeopardy, as it could have led to the loss of Pacino and of the locations and sets as well,[3] and that Mirren's willingness to take on the role on short notice saved the film.[3]

In a December 2002 interview with Spector biographer Mick Brown, Spector stated that he had a lifelong dream that his favorite actor, Al Pacino, one day would portray him in a film about his life and career.[2] In an article in The Daily Telegraph written at the time of Phil Spector's premiere on television in the United Kingdom in June 2013, Brown noted the irony of Pacino later portraying Spector, but in a film about his murder trial rather than about his life and career.[2]

Linda Kenney Baden served as a consultant for the film,[6] and Mamet said in a 2013 interview that he discussed the Spector case with her at length during production of Phil Spector to ensure it depicted legal thinking and procedures accurately, although she declined to discuss her conversations with Spector, which were protected by the attorney–client privilege.[2] Mamet also said that he attempted to visit Spector in prison before filming began, but Spector refused to see him.[3][2]

Mamet and Barry Levinson both were executive producers for Phil Spector.[4]

Historical accuracy

Although Phil Spector is based on real people and an actual event, it opens with an unusually worded disclaimer that states "This is a work of fiction. It's not 'based on a true story.' It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome."[6][7][8] In reviewing the movie, NPR's David Bianculli wrote that opening disclaimer demands attention and, given Linda Kenney Baden's role as a consultant for the film, that "... even though her [Kenney Baden's] exchanges with the real Phil Spector are protected by attorney-client privilege, you get the feeling — at least I do — that Mamet may not be winging it as much as he claims to be with that disclaimer."[6]

In an article in The Telegraph written at the time of Phil Spector's premiere on television in the United Kingdom in June 2013, Mick Brown, author of Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, addressed issues related to how fictional – and how historically accurate – the film's depiction of people and events is. In Brown's view, the movie selectively included evidence supporting Spector's defense and glossed over or ignored prosecution evidence.[2] Specific examples of inaccuracies that Brown cites are:

  • The fictional Bruce Cutler's assertion at the beginning of the movie that a magazine article – a real-life article based on an interview Brown had with Spector in December 2002 – that appeared in the Telegraph magazine had been faxed to Spector on the day of the shooting and had "set him off" is incorrect.[2] The article was not published until after Clarkson's death.[2]
  • The fictional Cutler's assertion in the film that Spector had been "cold sober" for ten years prior to Clarkson's death is incorrect.[2] Spector began drinking again two months before her death.[2]
  • The fictional Linda Kenney Baden declares in the film that she will not "attack the girl," i.e., Clarkson, in court to defend Spector.[2] In fact, Kenney Baden's defense of Spector did include attacking Clarkson in court,[2] and the real Kenney Baden showed a video of Clarkson in blackface imitating Little Richard during the trial, unlike the fictional Kenney Baden, who rejects it.[2]
  • The film emphasizes the defense's real-life argument about how Spector pulling the trigger in Clarkson's mouth would have created a massive blood spatter on his clothes and that no such blood stain occurred, and this was a major part of Kenney Baden's defense. However, the movie ignores the prosecution's ballistics evidence that Spector pulling the trigger at arm's length would instead have resulted in a misting pattern of blood stains that was found on both Spector's and Clarkson's clothes, consistent with Spector pulling the trigger.[2]
  • In real life, the defense countered the prosecution's evidence that Spector told his chauffeur that he had just killed somebody by arguing that the chauffeur simply misheard Spector. In the movie, the Nick Stavros character introduces a fictitious theory that corrupt detectives were coercing the chauffeur into his testimony about Spector's statement, but in real life the chauffeur never wavered in his statements about what Spector said.[2]
  • Brown claims that the film's depiction of Spector's arrival at his trial in an outlandish wig is a "distortion," but he declines to give a reason for this opinion.[2]


The film has received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator site Metacritic has given the film a score of 60 out of 100, signifying "mixed or average reviews".[9]

In his June 2013 article in The Telegraph, Mick Brown wrote that "Phil Spector is a masterfully executed piece of drama. The dialogue crackles in vintage Mamet fashion, and the performances are uniformly excellent. In his jittery, trembling demeanour, and his flights of self-aggrandising, wounded rhetoric...Pacino seems to be channelling Spector, albeit a Spector possessed of Mamet's considerable erudition and articulacy."[2] Reviewing Phil Spector for TimeOut, Ben Keningsberg wrote that the film makes "an essentially Socratic argument about the legal system's potential to try someone on perception," and that the real pleasure in watching the movie came from seeing Pacino and Mirren deliver Mamet's dialogue, which he described as including many "treasurable retorts."[10] NPR reviewer David Bianculli wrote that Mamet's dialogue is "crisp and thought-provoking" and that Paccino and Mirren "make the most of it," and that he was "impressed and entertained" by the movie, although he warned that no viewer should trust it for its depiction of events, saying that the movie's opening disclaimer might as well have been Mamet saying, "Don't anybody sue us. I'm just making stuff up, using names and a few bits of court testimony that are in the public record."[6]

In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley had a more negative impression, saying that in the film "there isn't much to provide dramatic tension" between Pacino and Mirren, although it is a credit to them that "they can sustain a story with so little traction," adding that the scenes between Pacino and Mirren seem "a lot like a revisionist re-enactment and maybe even absolution" for Spector, with "the facts of the case and characters...molded to allow viewers to doubt Mr. Spector's guilt," although "there is not much anyone can do to make the audience care."[11] Stanley describes Pacino as playing Spector as "palsied, choleric, and monomaniacal, but not entirely repellent," with "an occasional flash of self-awareness in his eyes and a glint of humored reason in his grandiose diatribes," and that Mirren's portrayal of Linda Kenney Baden, while "refined and regal," is nothing like the real-life Kenney Baden, who Stanley described as a "bleached-blonde scrapper."[11] Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd found the film's opening disclaimer that it is not based on a true story "disingenuous, if not absurd, given the movie's title, its sprinkling of true facts, and a cast dressed and coiffed to look like the characters whose names they bear," and declared the film "a vexing piece of work" that is "well-crafted, with interesting Big Talent attached," and "better than most films of its kind, even as it remains unsatisfying as historical re-creation, philosophical meditation, or pure drama."[12] Lloyd felt that Phil Spector "plays as a brief for the defense, a one-sided argument for Spector's probable innocence" that makes Clarkson "look pathetic" with no one speaking for her,[12] and that "Pacino doesn't attempt an imitation of his real-life counterpart...this Spector feels more Al than Phil."[12]


Spector's wife Rachelle said that the movie was "cheesy."[4] She complained that the movie depicted Spector inaccurately[4] as "a foul-mouthed megalomaniac."[2]

In his June 2013 article, Brown claimed that when Phil Spector premiered on HBO in March 2013, "it achieved the rare feat of offending or upsetting just about everyone"[2] and that unspecified critics have termed it a "moral mess."[2] Brown wrote that "Mamet ignores the evidence that doesn't fit his thesis, so that in the end Phil Spector becomes less an 'exploration' [of the relationship between Spector and Kenney Baden] than an act of advocacy,"[2] and he described the movie as "dishonest."[2]

Asked in 2013 whether he thought Spector shot Clarkson, Mamet responded, "I have no idea. And see, the point of the legal system is that nobody has any idea. That's why the opposite of a guilty verdict is not 'innocent,' it's 'not guilty.' In the wisdom of the American jurisprudence system, the onus is on the state. And if the state cannot prove its case, you've got to let the guy go free, whether or not, in the back of all our minds, we think that he actually did it."[3] Addressing his own view of the Spector case more specifically, Mamet told The Financial Times in 2011, "Whether he did it or not, we'll never know, but if he'd just been a regular citizen, they never would have indicted him."[11] When Mick Brown asked him in 2013 what he thought about the case, however, Mamet replied "It's nobody's business. That's what the movie is," although he addressed his 2011 statement by adding, "I do think there's reasonable doubt. But that's very different from saying he was railroaded."[2] When Brown asked him why he had given so little attention to the prosecution's case in his script, Mamet replied, "Well...I'm not making a film about the prosecution."[2] Mamet also dismissed Brown's concern that the film would mislead many viewers, who would assume it was an accurate depiction of history and would never bother to look up the facts of the case, saying, "I'm entitled under the First Amendment to write whatever the hell I want, and if someone's fool enough to put it on television that's their problem. But the right is moot if there's going to be some overriding authority that at some point says, 'Aha! But what about x, y and z?' Well that's a problem between me and God, you know...I don't give a shit about the facts."[2]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for eleven Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for Al Pacino, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Helen Mirren, and Outstanding Directing and Writing for a Miniseries or Movie for David Mamet.

The film has also been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film (Pacino) and Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film (Mirren).

The film has also been nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie (Pacino) and Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie (Mirren), with Mirren winning.

Pacino was also nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Movie/Miniseries Actor at the 3rd Critics' Choice Television Awards.

Year Association Category Nominee Result
2013 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie/Miniseries Actor Al Pacino Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie Patrizia von Brandenstein, Fredda Slavin, Diane Lederman Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or Special Debra McGuire, Lorraine Calvert Nominated
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Stanley Hall, Cydney Cornell, Michael Kriston Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Al Pacino Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Helen Mirren Nominated
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie Chris Bingham, Hildie Ginsberg, John Caglione, Jr. Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie Gary Alper, Roy Waldspurger, Michael Barry Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special David Mamet Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special David Memet Nominated
Outstanding Miniseries or Movie Phil Spector Nominated
2014 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Al Pacino Nominated
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Helen Mirren Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Al Pacino Nominated
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Helen Mirren Nominated
Best Miniseries or Television Film Phil Spector Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Helen Mirren Won
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Al Pacino Nominated


  1. ^ Elan, Priya (February 5, 2013). "Al Pacino's Phil Spector moment: HBO's film still deconstructed". The Guardian. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Brown, Mick (June 29, 2013). "David Mamet on Phil Spector: 'I don't give a damn about the facts'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on June 25, 2018. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Pond, Steve, "David Mamet on ‘Phil Spector': It's Not About Phil Spector,", March 22, 2013, 9:45 a.m. Retrieved June 26, 2018
  4. ^ a b c d e Dinsmore, Jef, "CONTROVERSY AND DEBATE OVER HBO FILMS: PHIL SPECTOR,", March 22, 2013. Retrieved June 26, 2018
  5. ^ Lloyd Grove. "Phil Spector's Jersey Girl Lawyer: Meet the Real Linda Kenney Baden". Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Bianculli, David, "You Can't Trust HBO's 'Phil Spector,' But You Can Enjoy It,", March 20, 2013, 3:34 p.m. EDT. Retrieved June 23, 2018
  7. ^ Steve Pond. "HBO's 'Phil Spector' Issues Odd Disclaimer: 'We're Not Based on a True Story'". Retrieved April 5, 2013.
  8. ^ Brian Lowry. "TV Review: 'Phil Spector'". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
  9. ^ "Phil Spector - Season 1 Reviews". Metacritic. 2013-03-24. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  10. ^ Keningsberg, Ben, "Helen Mirren and Al Pacino spar in David Mamet's HBO legal drama,", March 19, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2018
  11. ^ a b c Stanley, Alessandra, "Gone Gone Gone (Woah Oh Oh),", March 23, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2018
  12. ^ a b c Lloyd, Robert, "Review: 'Phil Spector' a vexing re-invention of case,", March 23, 2013. Retrieved June 24, 2018

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