You don’t need a degree in music theory to realize that rock & roll pioneer Phil Spector is a genius; you simply need a copy of “Be My Baby” and a pair of ears. Concurrently, you don’t have to be a legal eagle to find it plausible that someone with a history of violence and a starlet’s corpse in his house could be a homicidal maniac—the same conclusion a 2009 jury came to when it sentenced Spector to life imprisonment for killing Lana Clarkson.
That’s the duality of the “tycoon of teen”—musical messiah and convicted murderer—and documentarian Vikram Jayanti (James Ellroy’s Feast of Death) refuses to favor one side over the other. This portrait of the eccentric artist provides ecstasy via singers performing his greatest hits, and agony as Spector glowers through his original 2007 (mis)trial. In between, there are egomaniacal interviews and an explanation for his notorious Jewfro. (It was a tribute to Einstein, Beethoven and former Detroit Pistons forward Ben Wallace.) Jayanti offers compelling proof that Spector’s he’s-a-rebel history and lyrics have long hinted that he’s a danger to himself and others, though access and anecdotes trump analysis here. We don’t need onscreen fanboy-academic text to tell us that John Lennon’s “Imagine” sounds fantastic. A little more in-depth insight into a person who both produced that song and pulled a trigger might have been nice.—David Fear