Details on HBO’s Phil Spector from Writer/Director David Mamet

Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in 'Phil Spector'
Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in 'Phil Spector' - Photo: Phillip V. Caruso)
HBO has set a March 24, 2013 premiere date for Phil Spector, a dramatic film inspired by music producer Phil Spector (played by Al Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden. Kenney Baden, played by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, was Spector’s lawyer during his first trial and the relationship they developed is what writer/director David Mamet explores in this HBO production. The cast also includes Jeffrey Tambor as the original lead defense attorney and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a mock prosecutor.
 
Kenney Baden, who served as a consultant on the movie, said this about Mamet’s take on the story: “David Mamet has brought a unique perspective to this case, and it’s been fascinating to watch the process. Al Pacino and Helen Mirren give such amazing performances.”
 
Mamet explains his approach to Phil Spector: “Like any dramatist, you’re just basically a thief, and you take things that you’ve thought, and things that you’ve heard, and things that you’ve seen, and try to apply some structure to them, so that what you’re doing is kind of like a psychiatrist – you take these dreams which are seemingly random, and re-order them so that they make dramatic sense.”
 
“This is the first trial of Phil Spector – when he is first accused of this heinous crime,” says Al Pacino. “It’s all new to him in terms of the media – their reaction to it – and his introduction to Linda, who is played by Helen Mirren. And it’s their relationship, in the course of their preparation for the trial.”
 
And Helen Mirren added, “David sees this story in a more mythological way than as a documentary or docudrama. It’s certainly not a docudrama. We are not saying, ‘This is what happened, and this is what didn’t happen.’ We are not saying that. It’s a mythological story more than anything. I think whenever you have as extreme a personality as Phil Spector was with the kind of history that he had, he is already vilified. He is made into a monster before any trial begins, so I think that was very much the case with Phil Spector, and it does happen in other cases.”
 
The Plot:
 
Los Angeles, 2007. The trial of music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) for the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson is fast approaching. Attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) arrives at a makeshift command center to meet with a team of defense lawyers, paralegals and assistants presided over by lead attorney Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor). Kenney Baden, who is battling flu-like symptoms, agrees to give her assessment of the case, though she seems convinced that Spector, accused of putting a pistol in Clarkson’s mouth and pulling the trigger, is guilty. Cutler debates her opinion and tasks her to use her expertise to find reasonable doubt about Spector’s guilt. Kenney Baden agrees to join the defense team but asserts, “I won’t attack the girl.”
 
After reviewing case details, Kenney Baden settles into her hotel room to relax, but within minutes is summoned by P.I. Nick Stavros (John Pirruccello) to ride to Spector’s mansion to meet the accused, who is out on bail. Passing through a phalanx of reporters and police, Kenney Baden heads into the mansion, a dark, forbidding fortress surrounded by a chain-link fence and ominous signage about sentry dogs. Inside, she walks through a foyer filled with stuffed owls, a suit of armor, ornate portraits and ancient weaponry, and steps into a room devoted to Abraham Lincoln.
 
As she takes in the peculiar decor, Spector enters, rambling a bit before explaining that he picked Cutler to defend him because he was the lawyer who got John Gotti off. The two move to a bedroom that contains a barred cell, on whose walls are the outlines of dozens of handguns removed after Clarkson’s death. Asked by Kenney Baden why he had so many guns, Spector replies, “How many pairs of shoes do you have?”
 
Cutting to the chase, Kenney Baden asks “Phillip” (as she calls him) whether he killed Clarkson. At first, the producer is elusive, changing the subject as he points out his prized possessions: the white piano on which John Lennon wrote “Imagine,” the place where Lenny Bruce used to rant about the Fourth Amendment. Pressed about the killing, in particular his chauffer’s damning testimony that Spector said, “I think I just killed somebody,” he responds that the man barely spoke English, and that what he actually said was, “I think I should call somebody.” Kenney Baden disputes his description of Clarkson as a “hophead” with the fact that the autopsy results revealed Clarkson was definitely not high on drugs.
 
After likening his plight to that of Christ and T. E. Lawrence, Spector adds that he can’t even play piano anymore because of severe hand tremors and doesn’t understand how anyone would think that he could hold a gun. Kenney Baden is intrigued by Spector and the challenges of the case, and decides to continue working with the defense team to take another look at the evidence.
 
The scene outside is a madhouse, chaotic with police, media, angry protesters and onlookers. Spector is unnerved by the crowd as he is taken into the courtroom. However, as the prosecution outlines its case, he seems lost in musical thought, scribbling notes to an unheard song on a legal pad.
 
Back at the defense team headquarters, Kenney Baden watches through a one-way mirror as Dr. Fallon (Rebecca Pidgeon) shows members of a defense focus group video of testimony that emphasizes Spector’s proclivity for erratic, gun-wielding behavior. Cutler and Kenney Baden deliberate how to get a jury to consider the possibility that reasonable doubt exists.
 
While exploring the forensic evidence in the case, Kenney Baden’s team organizes an elaborate demonstration to test a theory that might work towards showing Spector’s innocence. However, Kenney Baden realizes the judge will not allow such a demonstration inside the courtroom. Kenney Baden and Cutler rehearse a forensic expert, Dr. Gerhardt Spitz (Matt Malloy), to testify about the gunshot wound.
 
At the mansion, Spector tells Kenney Baden that he wants to tell his story on the witness stand. “I was drunk,” he insists, adding that when he took Lana home, she asked to see his guns, claiming that they excited her, which led to the gun going off accidentally. Later, Kenney Baden tests Spector’s claim to determine if there is any plausibility to his version of the events that happened that fateful night.
 
Despite having given his prior consent, Spector is livid when he learns that Cutler is leaving Kenney Baden to handle the final trial preparations. She considers the merits of putting Spector on the stand to testify and stages a dress rehearsal, complete with a badgering mock prosecutor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who presents video testimony of Ronnie Spector, Spector’s onetime protégé and former wife, describing his repeated cruelties and assaults. Unhinged, Spector erupts and abruptly puts an end to the faux trial, eventually calming down enough to assure Kenney Baden he’ll be fine during the real thing. But the experience is enough to give her pause as to whether she should allow her star witness to testify in his own defense.
 
On trial day, when Spector shows up at the courthouse wearing a huge, over-the-top Afro wig, Kenney Baden realizes she cannot put him on the stand, despite the knowledge that Spector’s silence could spell defeat for the defense team and prison for her client.
 
The cards at the end of the film read:
 
“On September 26, the jury reported itself deadlocked, ten to two in favor of conviction, and incapable of reaching a decision. The Judge declared a mistrial. On October 3, the Prosecution announced that they would retry the case.
 
Due to her illness, Linda Kenney Baden was unable to participate in the second trial, whose jury, on April 13, 2009 found Phil Spector guilty of Second Degree Murder and sentenced him to 19 years to life in Corcoran State Prison, where he resides today.”
 
Watch the trailer:
 

 
Source: HBO

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