‘Spector’ examines the disturbing legacy of music icon Phil Spector and pays tribute to murder victim Lana Clarkson
Phil Spector was one of the greatest musicians of modern times, creating timeless teenage symphonies and creating the archetype of the producer as an artist. He was also a violent misogynist whose reputation as an eccentric was a smokescreen for his usual misbehavior. The duels of his life collided catastrophically in the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. The new 4-part documentary series Showtime Spector tries to make sense of his complicated legacy and also serves as a tribute to his victim.
We begin with the fateful night in February 2003 when Spector’s driver, Adriano de Souza, called 911 from Spector’s palatial mansion in Alhambra, California. “I think my boss just killed someone,” he tells the operator. Police recordings of their first meeting with Spector find him defiant, claiming he did nothing wrong and that the dead woman in his precedent committed suicide. In stark crime-scene photos, Clarkson is spread out on a chair. You’d think she was sleeping without the blood on her torso and the gun on the floor under her legs.
From there we travel back in time to Spector’s childhood. His idyllic childhood was torn apart by his father’s suicide when he was 9 years old. Mental health issues are said to haunt his family, both Phil and his sister Shirley. The family moved to Los Angeles, where Spector’s charm and talent won many admirers, yet he says, “I felt hated.” In 1958 he wrote and performed his first hit, The Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is To Love Him”. The title came from the epitaph on his father’s tombstone.
“I was motivated by a sense of destiny,” Spector said in an interview with journalist Mick Brown, recorded weeks before Clarkson’s murder. The hits came quickly as he settled into the producer’s chair, choosing songs for singers and guiding recording sessions with a unique musical vision. Not yet 21, he sued his mother for access to his earnings and won and founded his own record label. He signed with girl groups and then replaced the singers at will, sparking the ire of managers who sent guys to turn him on. His sense of persecution would increase with his success and he surrounded himself with bodyguards and started carrying a gun.
In The Ronettes, Spector found perhaps his greatest musical vehicle and the second of four women in singer Ronnie Spector née Bennet. They would move to a 23-room mansion in Beverly Hills from which she would later flee barefoot in 1972, believing her life was in danger. Though Spector settled into the Beatles’ orbit and produced several solo records, tales of his drunken gun-wielding antics became a rock legend and his star began to crave. “He seemed like a man walking his last mile,” Dee Dee Ramone said of the controversial recording sessions for Ramones’ 1980 album. End of the centuryone of the last he produced.
While Spector disappeared into his castle, Lana Clarkson built a career as a model and actress. Born in 1962, she, like Spector, had lost her father at a young age and had a tireless work ethic, humiliating type of casting, professional disappointments and personal injuries. Tall, blonde, and beautiful, she went from supporting roles to leading roles in grindhouse movies from some of the genre’s most respected names. In interviews with her devoted family and friends, a fully fleshed out picture emerges of a respected entertainment industry professional turning her media role as a failed “B-movie actress” and Hollywood supporter on its head, something that would make Spector’s defense team upside down. to do. later try to exploit it to their advantage.
While SpectorThe first two episodes mainly focus on Spector’s life and career, the last two deal with his murder trial and its aftermath. The local law enforcement officers, reeling from the acquittals of OJ Simpson and Robert Blake, were wary of losing another celebrity murder case, where public emotion and media frenzy had an inordinate influence. Forensic evidence told conflicting stories, but the prosecution brought forward a parade of women who shared similar stories of Spector’s physical and sexual abuse and stories of his being held at gunpoint in his home. His A-list legal team helped facilitate a mistrial in 2007, but Spector was convicted of second-degree murder when he was tried again in 2008 and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. He died of COVID-19 in January 2021 at the age of 81.
About SpectorIn director Sheena M. Joyce’s four episodes, director Sheena M. Joyce seamlessly combines interviews and footage from various sources to create an immersive viewing experience that blurs the lines between music documentary, biography, and true crime investigation. Her sensitive treatment of the subject extends not only to Clarkson, but also to Spector herself, whose defenders seem sincere in their testimonies of his better side. The series ends up wondering if we can still enjoy Spector’s music, knowing of his appalling behavior, though the man himself remains its strictest critic. “I have devils in me fighting me and I am my own worst enemy,” he said weeks before the murder. “In all respects, I’d say I’m probably relatively insane.”
Benjamin H. Smith is a New York-based writer, producer, and musician. Follow him on Twitter: @BHSmithNYC.