The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector: Arena

I have to be honest and admit I am a bit hit and miss with my musical history. I have always known that Phil Spector is kind of a huge deal in the history of music, but I always seem to flick past that particular type of arduous Uncut article. The only other tit-bit of knowledge I knew about the producer was that he was arrested and tried for someone’s murder.

I caught Arena‘s (compulsory BBC documentary viewing) The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector tonight and was left in awe of both the production style and the character of the subject. Spector is interviewed in a very traditional, relaxed style (in front of Lennon’s famous white piano, no less) by Vikram Jayanti. This takes place whilst Spector is still awaiting retrial after a jury couldn’t decide if he fatally shot nightclub waitress Lana Clarkson in 2003. He gives his version of events, from troubled Bronx upbringing to his present public demonising.

The style of the documentary was fascinating, although I am not sure if Phil would appreciate its artistic direction as he seems ironically unaware of the power of the edit. This traditional interview mostly fact-files different chronological stages of his astounding career using interview, music and text juxtaposed with the seemingly boring shots of Spector’s recent courtroom appearances. These include evidence tapes, witness statements and endless footage of Spector sitting, afraid and ashamed like any man would during that experience. Did he do it? Who knows. I sometimes worry that you can only reach the heights of such brilliance with that type of personality with all its eccentricity and bitterness and controlling, unusual behaviour.

First and foremost this was a celebration of Spector’s work – I didn’t quite realize just how much I owed to one producer. I grew up listing to my parents ’60s pop and Motown and have a special love for that particular sound. That very particular sound which, according to Spector sent Brian Wilson insane as he endlessly tried to recreate it. Spector takes claim to a lot of things during the interview, telling charming anecdotes such as the time Lennon called him up and took him to an early screening of Mean Streets because then unknown student filmmaker Martin Scorsese had taken ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes for the film without permission. Spector claims to have held the careers of everyone involved in the film in his hands that day, and you know what? He probably did.

Watch on BBC iPlayer.

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One Response to The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector: Arena

  1. danhartland says:

    I watched this, too, and initially found the style distracting. To be honest, I’m still not sure it was more than a way to spruce up what would have otherwise been two slightly dull footage reels and some standard analysis of Spector production techniques. But then, the art was, as you say, in that sprucing. Also the hairpieces.

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