Spector is gnomish, unstable and grandiose: "Extraordinary accomplishments," he says, meaning his own, "transform the grateful into an audience – and the envious into a mob."
So he's a problem for his lawyers. He says he didn't kill the girl, but who's going to believe him?
His lawyers know that, in the mind of the modern-day public, he is not the music wizard who created the girl-group sound in the early 1960s, co-wrote "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" for the Righteous Brothers, and produced records for the Ramones and the Beatles. Instead, by 2007, he's generally regarded as a creepy, homicidal has-been who hides out with his dozens of guns and his dozens of outlandish wigs — a pint-sized wacko too big for his britches.
As Mamet portrays it, that's the lofty challenge facing Spector's legal team.
But "Phil Spector" makes no claim to uncovering the true facts of the crime, or of Spector's guilt or innocence. Quite the opposite. The film opens with a flat-out disclaimer that it's NOT "based on a true story," that it's a work of fiction "inspired by actual persons in a trial," but unconcerned with depicting those actual persons or the case.
"That's why it's set in trial preparation," says Pacino. "We weren't there. No one knows what happened in the trial preparation." Or no one, anyway, who will talk about it. Which makes the inside story ripe for invention by Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer whose many works include the play "Speed-the-Plow" and screenplays for "The Verdict," ''The Untouchables" and "Wag the Dog."
"Here's the thing," explains Mamet by phone from Los Angeles. "I'm a gag writer. That's how I make my living. I don't want the audience saying, 'That's the most accurate thing I ever saw in my life.' That's what we have dictionaries for."
But there are a few inarguable truths about Spector. One is that in 2009, he was convicted of second-degree murder and, at age 68, sentenced to 19 years to life.
In recent years, Mamet became fascinated with Spector and the 2003 shooting and the murder case, especially the many loose ends (like: did Spector do it?) that may never be resolved.