Monday, March 25, 2013

David Mamet's Phil Spector

I watched David Mamet's Phil Spector. I thought it great.

The difficulty of formulating of a defence theory and the lavish celebrity trial preparation, easily afforded by the ghoulish Spector, set the context for the evolving lawyer client and person to person relationship between Spector and his understated lawyer.

Pacino, 10 pounds ham to 90 pounds real character, is tremendous as Spector, illuminating his psychic fragility, his utter whacko creepiness, his manic brilliance, his hermetic wealth, his musical accomplishment, his unwieldiness, and generally his spectacular, irresistible (partly as in you-can't-turn-away) outsizedness.

The crazy finally overwhelms the brilliant in Spector when he shows up for trial wearing a Jimi Hendrix wig, (which he claims isn't a wig.) His lawyer decides that that day she can't put him on the stand. ( I haven't been able to find out if he ever testified at either trial.)

Mamet is exceptional in extrapolating the tension from two bookends of the facts-of-the-case spectrum: the sheer outlandishness of the notion that Lana Clarkson would that particular night kill herself or even put a gun in her own mouth and the mysteriousness of the lack of blood splatter on Spector given the prosecution's theory of the case.

In that tension, within what is depicted in the film, I was left with reasonable doubt.

I thought Mirren really effective in her subdued playing of Spector's lawyer. And while Mamet initially makes a strong point of how expensive she is, we see her, payment having presumably been made, working the case agonizingly slowly, deliberately, self-questioningly, and conscientiously, all sotto voce to Spector's (via Mamet) Shakespearean, larger than life presence, a continuous mix, as noted, of brilliance and craziness.

That mix is shown particularly in the powerful scene when Spector breaks down in rage at the mock cross examination, understanding the rehearsal for what it is, as he keeps saying, while regardless of that understanding being unable to control the mock affront he perceives. In that we see what a ticking time bomb he embodies.

His lawyer's calm quieting him down, almost as if talking to a child, punctuated by Spector needing to gloat, even here, that he was right, Lennon was wrong in that particular orchestration of Lennon's record, and Spector's regaining, temporarily, his self possession are simply amazing film making, a great tribute to Pacino, Mirren and especially Mamet.

There's a lot of great meat in this film, all underlain by Spector's music and I'll be thinking about it and wanting to talk about it for some time to come.
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Some Thoughts On Ray Charles's Genius Loves Company

This may be slightly contrarian.

The tremendous Ray Charles's best selling record was his last, posthumously released, so close was it recorded to his end, a series of duets nicely titled Genius Loves Company. Joining him are such stalwart singers as Norah Jones, Michael McDonald, Diana Krall, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, a few others. 

Some singers lose their chops with age and Ray Charles, sick at the end of his years, lost his. The sad result is that to a singer his duetting partners tend to carry him. He just, understandably , didn't have it anymore. So why is it his best selling record: nostalgia , sentimentality, genuine reverence for Charles, the popularity of his duet partners, hyping of the record, wanting one last bit of Charles, lack of discernment? Likely all of these reasons and others along their lines. 

When I bought it a few weeks ago, downloaded from iTunes, I had no idea it was Charles's last record. I had never heard of it before, but heard one track of it that I liked and decided to get it, only to be disappointed musically by it overall. 

Still had I known how the entire record played, had I found it musically unprepossessing, I would've bought it in a heartbeat regardless for most of the reasons I briefly just speculated about, save, I hope, for lack of discernment, so much do I love Ray Charles.

One final thought: I'm often in mind of Billie Holiday's last record, Lady In Satin, recorded near the diseased end of her drug shattered life, with only raspy traces of her voice left. But hers is a record of astonishing emotional power, owing, I think, to her channeling her fraught experiences and fraught state of being into her interpretation of what she sang and conveying all that emotionally and dramatically. You feel her pain. 

Not anything close to that in Genius Loves Company. There, at best, we get Ray Charles trying hard to sing up to the songs, but sounding light voiced, not quite up to them, and, as noted, needing the help his duetting partners give him, as though he were leaning on them while they walked together.