HBO's 'Phil Spector' Kicks Up Controversy, Protests

Sarah D. Bunting

Star Al Pacino's crazy wigs alone make "Phil Spector," the upcoming flick from HBO, look like a must-watch -- but key figures in Spector's life and murder trial strenuously disagree, from Spector's wife Rachelle to friends and family of Lana Clarkson, the woman Spector is convicted of murdering.

Spector is presently serving a sentence of 19 years to life for his role in Clarkson's death, which took place at Spector's Alhambra, California home in 2003. Written and directed by David Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross"), "Phil Spector" centers on Spector's relationship with his attorney, Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), during the 2009 trial. His third wife, Rachelle, is appalled at the portrayal of her husband. Rachelle told Brooke Anderson of "Entertainment Tonight" that the film's version of her husband "brought tears to [her] eyes." HBO's Spector, Rachelle said, is "a foul-mouthed megalomaniac" and "a Minotaur, like he draws people into his labyrinth and he locks them in and won't let them out."

Rachelle isn't depicted in the film, an absence she also objected to: "[HBO] wanted to show no female support. No supporters at all." She went on to say that HBO didn't do their homework -- they didn't want to meet Phil, "know what he thought, how he acted, anything about the music." Neither Spector, she says, was consulted.

[Related: Why Pacino Didn't Want to Meet Phil Spector]

The film comes with a disclaimer stating that it's a work of fiction, "inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the outcome" -- probably to circumvent exactly this sort of opposition to the project.

...It isn't working. Friends of Lana Clarkson, the victim of the 2003 shooting, are equally disgusted with the finished product -- and they've planned a protest outside of tonight's Los Angeles screening of the film to make their unhappiness known. The group Friends of Lana Clarkson has scheduled a silent vigil at the L.A. County Museum of Art's Bing Theater -- because, they claim, the movie is "an inaccurate and hurtful portrayal of historical events at the expense of people still alive today who were friends of Lana Clarkson." Worse, they allege in a press release, "Phil Spector" paints Clarkson as "responsible for her own death" in a manner "totally unacceptable to decent society, law enforcement, the L.A. Court system, legitimate forensics, and the L.A. District Attorney's Office."

The FoLC aren't afraid to name names, blaming HBO; producer Barry Levinson; and Mamet, "the writer and personal friend of Phil Spector," for what they call a biased account featuring "the stench of artificial doubt that Spector was innocent." They, like Rachelle, complain that the production "ignored the pleas of Lana Clarkson's friends" to consult on the script and the events of the trial. As a result, they say, the project "murders" the truth of what happened.

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They're not afraid to use names, either: actors Judd Nelson and Brett Clark ("Bachelor Party") are expected to join Clarkson friend and publicist Edward Lozzi in holding up signs outside the event. Mamet, Linda Kenney Baden, and cast members are also expected to attend. (Pacino may appear as a "surprise guest.")

Monday night's New York premiere of the event was attended by Pacino (and his 33-year-old date), Allison Williams of "Girls," Christine Baranski of "The Good Wife," rock legend Lou Reed, and others. The Gotham arrivals carpet was apparently untroubled by protesters; things will go differently on the opposite coast tonight.

Will you be watching? Should Mamet et al. have consulted with the family and friends of Spector and/or Clarkson? Will a protest do much good? Sing it loud in the comments.

"Phil Spector" premieres Sunday, 3/24 at 9 PM on HBO.