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“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,” a “Defeat Lap” for the Legendary Producer

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,” a “Defeat Lap” for the Legendary Producer  (photo)

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If most recent documentaries assaying ’60s and ’70s rock and roll are any indication, filmmakers expect viewers to approach pop music history not with open minds but with empty heads.

Case in point: the curiosity that led me to watch “Stones In Exile,” a recent non-fiction film on the making of the Rolling Stones beyond seminal LP “Exile On Main Street,” was rewarded by supposedly contextualizing input from a young man in a band called Kings Of Leon who appeared in his choice of comments to have never heard of either the Stones or their 1972 album.

No offense to anyone’s record collection, but the complete absence of Bono, Jack White, Sheryl Crow and the rest of the rock doc talking head usual suspects in Vikram Jayanti’s new film puts it in the winner’s circle right out of the gate. That film is “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,” a documentary on the legendary producer, songwriter and, now, convicted murderer.

Instead of assembling footage of collaborators and celebrity “experts,” Jayanti’s film places Phil Spector’s greatest and most infamous critic, fan and apologist front and center — Spector himself. In a series of interviews shot by the extravagantly talented cinematographer Maryse Alberti (“No Direction Home,” “Happiness,” “Velvet Goldmine”) Spector appears rheumy-eyed, bewigged and candid to a fault.

06302010_agonyecstasy5.jpgHe expounds on the long and winding road that led him from a Bronx childhood scarred by paternal suicide, to life as a Los Angeles high school social outcast, to music industry teenage hit-maker status, to architect of the lush “Wall of Sound” recording style, to Beatles producer and confidante, and eventually accused murderer.

Just scoring an interview of this length and breadth with a man as notoriously privacy-obsessed and reclusive as Spector is a non-fiction filmmaking coup of the highest order. But the fact that the interview subject was at the time of his sit-down in the midst of his first (ultimately inconclusive) trial on the charge of killing actress and waitress Lana Clarkson with a pistol from his own collection turns the film’s Q & A into something else.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector” becomes a kind of confessional and accusatory spoken word aria that wanders into the documentary borderlands. In light of its subjects subsequent conviction and sentencing to 19 years to life for killing Clarkson, this sympathetic portrait (produced for BBC’s excellent Arena series) might best be described as a “defeat lap.”

06302010_agonyecstasy6.jpgLike Dixon Steele, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in Nicholas Ray’s LA anti-romance “In A Lonely Place,” the Phil Spector on view here appears to have spent his entire life inadvertently grooming himself for trial by both jury and public opinion. Segments in which Spector casually compares his work to that of Leonardo da Vinci, dishes on what ingrates most of the performers he made into stars ultimately were and rues the outcome of court proceedings left in the hands of his intellectual inferiors jockey for screen time with lengthy Court TV excerpts of the first trial.

The latter appear designed to capture the tedium of American justice as much as evidence for conviction (a parade of ex-girlfriends testifying to Spector’s serial physical abuse) and against (legal and forensic experts questioning the identify of finger on the trigger itself). There are also excerpted moments from a comparatively grim 1977 camera sit-down also staged in Spector’s LA mansion (excuse me, “castle”) in which the interviewee was apparently quite drunk, and audio and vintage filmed performances of the songs under discussion.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.