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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.