I’m watching the BBC documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, and you can too, for free:
It’s interesting more for the historical anecdotes than the Nancy Grace-style murder-narrative at its core — and I say that before reaching the point where they’ll talk about Spector threatening Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan with a crossbow over the final mix of “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on.” For example, the notion that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s careers could have killed by an injunction, and that only special pleading by John Lennon saved them intrigues me as a film scholar (40:40). But even more interesting is Spector’s discussion of “Be My Baby,” Brian Wilson and an “edit record” (44:28), which for him means a song that suffers because its seams are showing. “Good Vibrations” isn’t a good song because it’s
got a lot of edits in it, like Pyscho, which is a great film, but an “edit film.” Without edits, it’s not a film. With edits, it’s a great film. But it’s not Rebecca, it’s not a great story the way Alfred Hitchcock could make a great story.
I suppose this would make Rope Spector’s favorite Hitchcock film, what with all its invisible edits — or maybe that would make Rope Spector’s least favorite Hitchcock film, being that it’d be his most dishonest. Which is another way of saying that Spector seems to believe that a work in which a professional can ascertain the hand of an auteur is less valuable than one in which an amateur can. Because anyone can see the edits in Psycho, whereas it takes a trained eye to find them in Rope. At least that’s how I’m reading Spector’s aesthetic philosophy here: Wilson’s production of “Good Vibrations” is lacking because Spector can hear tracks end or overlap that the average person can’t. Except that doesn’t make any sense, because he’s basically arguing for his own insignificance, i.e. the greatest artists are the ones whose labor is imperceptible to the audience.
This criteria strikes me as counterproductive if you’re trying to claim that producers are artists. Just consider this excellent video about the production of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B.” I’ve queued it up to where Wilson’s editorial oversight becomes evident instrument-by-instrument, and I’ll admit that it’s clearly a highly edited song, but why would that make it less interesting to a producer than one like “Be My Baby,” which was recorded in a take, pumped into an echo chamber and transmitted into a studio? Spector seems to be arguing at cross-purposes here, fetishizing the act of capturing a sound in a moment instead of valuing the artistry required to combine various sources in order to match some ideal a composer only hears in his or her head. To muddy the waters further by introducing another medium, this seems like the equivalent of valuing Dubliners over Ulysses because the artistry is more evident in the latter than the former even though it abounds in both.
This may be one of those simple matters that only confuse me because I’ve studied aesthetic theory — only the learned can be so easily confounded — but I’m having a difficult time understanding what Spector means here. Because he seems to be saying that the best producers are really just building Rube Goldberg machines and recording the results, but that can’t be right, can it?