Reviews

Review: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector

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Schadenfreude. Pleasure in the misfortune of others. Those of us who deny its existence are clearly fooling ourselves, as we’ve all laughed at someone in pain. Sure, chuckling as someone gets a softball bat to the nuts is different from mocking a man who has lost everything, but the principle is the same.Â

Music producer Phil Spector, currently serving time in prison for a murder conviction, is easy to laugh at in this film. Though The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is a documentary focusing equally on Spector’s successes and his tragedy, all of his misfortune in the film is framed by Spector’s incredible awkwardness, vanity, and insanity. It’s a very strange experience, and at times, there’s nothing you can do but laugh awkwardly.

However, the strangeness factor goes far beyond the level of comfort, comedy, and sympathy. With each subsequent incoherent rant, Spector himself turns the documentary into more and more of a mess, and by the end the viewer is left with little other than, “Wow, this guy is crazier than I thought.”Â

Schadenfreude. Pleasure in the misfortune of others. Those of us who deny its existence are clearly fooling ourselves, as we've all laughed at someone in pain. Sure, chuckling as someone gets a softball bat to the nuts is different from mocking a man who has lost everything, but the principle is the same. 

Music producer Phil Spector, currently serving time in prison for a murder conviction, is easy to laugh at in this film. Though The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is a documentary focusing equally on Spector's successes and his tragedy, all of his misfortune in the film is framed by Spector's incredible awkwardness, vanity, and insanity. It's a very strange experience, and at times, there's nothing you can do but laugh awkwardly.

However, the strangeness factor goes far beyond the level of comfort, comedy, and sympathy. With each subsequent incoherent rant, Spector himself turns the documentary into more and more of a mess, and by the end the viewer is left with little other than, "Wow, this guy is crazier than I thought." {{page_break}}

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector has a fairly compelling setup, combining the music of Spector with clips of the filmmaker's lengthy interview with him, interspersed with some courtroom clips and filmed musical performances. Vikram Jayanti attempts to make connections between Spector's life and his songs with varying results. Occasionally, lyrical passages match up well with the point that Jayanti is attempting to make, though some connections are lacking in conviction. 

Perhaps the best part of the film for someone unfamiliar with the full sum of Spector's work is learning about his musical history. There is a great deal of Spector's music that is still truly legendary, and the way that the music is organized does a good job of showing the progression of his career. However, a more complete view of his career only would have helped the film. As it stands, it feels like only an acceptable record rather than a comprehensive one.

As for Spector's life, some detail is given, but it all feels rather superficial. The glimpses provided by Jayanti's questions to Spector produce little in the way of actual revelation and instead serve more to give Spector a chance to rant vainly about his career. His style of answering questions typically involves him repeating the same thing over and over or prattling ad nauseam. In any given segment, the most insight you'll get is either that the guy really likes to talk or that he is remarkably strange.

In all of this, it's easy to miss what the point is. While the film typically follows a linear progression from his early career to his conviction, the actual meaning of any given section can easily be lost in the endless ranting. Spector's rants are initially entertaining simply because they give the audience an opportunity to realize just how crazy he is, but the novelty soon wears off, and we're left just wishing he would stop. Unfortunately, the level of editing seems fairly low, so most rants really do go on for far too long.

As far as serving as a cinematic biography of Phil Spector, this documentary falls short. It contains a whole lot of Phil Spector's talking, but far too little in the way of true wonderment and excitement. Still, the film is entertaining enough, at least for a while. It's strange to say that Spector ruins his own documentary, but in large part, this is true. While the filmmaker could have taken more steps to keep things moving and asked tougher questions, only so much revelation can come from the mind of someone so disconnected.

Overall Score: 6.10 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector succeeds in demonstrating the insanity of Phil Spector, but doesn't reveal nearly enough original detail about either his ecstasy or his agony. The film provides some entertainment, but as a comprehensive view of Spector's life and career, it falls short. Don't bother unless you have a particular interest in Spector.