Before the currently lauded--though paled in comparison to this documentary's subject--music producers of recent decades (Timbaland, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, William Orbit, Stephen Street, Mirwais Ahmadzai, Feadz, Brian Eno, Dr. Dre, et. al.), there was the unworldly genius of Phil Spector. And he is an incontestable genius. This is one instance where music is not subjective. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is simultaneously intimate and impersonal. It does not rehash the events of Phil Spector's life, so much as it interweaves footage from his trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson with sound bites and video footage of the music he produced, along with filmmaker Vikram Jayanti's (who loses just a shred of artistic integrity by having directed another music documentary called Britney Spears Saved My Life) interviews with Spector while he was on trial the first time in 2007.
Phil Spector's openness and ability to discuss some of his greatest collaborations (The Ronettes, John Lennon, The Beatles, The Righteous Brothers, and The Crystals) stem from the mindset of facing a possible conviction and sentencing. He is unafraid to malign, among others, Tony Bennett (the person he regards most as overrated it would seem), Paul McCartney (when discussing how Spector felt about McCartney re-releasing the Let It Be album without Phil Spector's production and arrangements, he said, "He has me mixed up with somebody who gives a shit"), and Yoko Ono (on producing her music, he asserts, "I had to pass on that").
The reason the film can be both agony and ecstasy for viewers is because of just how bluntly it portrays the bleak and lonely existence of being a genius. And while Spector may claim that loneliness is a state of mind, you can either choose to be lonely or not, I imagine he is someone who has been misunderstood from the very beginning. Case in point being his first hit song, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by The Teddy Bears. The song is automatically interpreted as the lament of unrequited love, though it is actually, Spector confirms, about his father. That is in fact the epitaph on his father's grave, who committed suicide when Spector was ten years old.
Regardless of Spector's inner turmoil, he has always been able to turn his pain into solid pop gold, as he did with The Righteous Brothers' classic "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (immortalized in cheesy goodness by Top Gun). "Imagine" and "God," two of his finest John Lennon songs, are also indicative of a very despairing, yet hopeful person. That tinge of hope would ultimately be obliterated in the decade that followed John Lennon's murder. Additionally, the death of his son, Phil Spector Jr., in 1991 didn't fortify his faith in spirituality. He notes that it merely reiterated to him that there is no god, but there must be a devil.
The purpose of this documentary is not to create a bias about the guilt of Phil Spector in the murder of Lana Clarkson (although I have difficulty believing that someone with such a tremulous, unsteady hand could aim a gun that well), but to give an honest portrait of a man who has lost everything in spite of giving so much to the world of music, and, resultantly, to the world as a whole.