David Mamet, the "anti-liberal" US playwright who this week accused the British literary establishment of entrenched anti-Semitism, has become embroiled in a fresh row over his controversial new film about the jailed music producer Phil Spector.
Spector, 70, was sentenced to 19 years in 2008 for shooting struggling American actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. But Mamet, who is writing and directing a forthcoming film about Spector's life starring Al Pacino for US television network HBO, has angered Clarkson's family by suggesting that Spector is probably innocent of the actress's death at Spector's home after a drinking session.
The Hollywood website TMZ reported yesterday that Clarkson's friends and family are terrified Spector will be portrayed "with some kind of sympathy" in the new project, describing Mamet's comments as "mind-boggling and wrong in so many ways".
According to the website, the main concern of the unnamed group of friends and relatives is that the "loathsome, lying, gun-abusing convicted murderer of our friend Lana Clarkson will be portrayed with some kind of sympathy". They have written to the playwright to remind him of Spector's conviction and beg him to "refrain from rewriting history for creative licence".
"I don't think he's guilty," Mamet told the Financial Times last week. "I definitely think there is reasonable doubt. They should never have sent him away. Whether he did it or not we'll never know, but if he'd just been a regular citizen, they never would have indicted him."
Pacino will play Spector in the upcoming project, with Bette Midler starring as his lawyer Linda Kenney Baden. "He [Pacino] just saw a very interesting character to play and he likes the sensibility of David and Barry [Levinson, the project's executive producer]," said John Burnham, the Hollywood agent who represents Pacino, Mamet and Levinson.
Spector, famous for his "wall of sound" production technique, was convicted of second-degree murder. As recently as last year, Spector's lawyers were arguing in court for his release but his 19-year term still stands.
In the same interview, Mamet, famous for plays including 1984's Glengarry Glen Ross and films such as 1997's Wag the Dog, said many liberal British authors produced plays, books and essays full of anti-Jewish "filth". "There is a profound and ineradicable taint of anti-Semitism in the British," he said. "The paradigmatic Brit as far as the Middle East goes is [TE] Lawrence. That's just the fact. Even before the oil was there, you loved the desert. It had all these wacky characters... But there is a Jewish state there ratified by the United Nations and you want to give it away to some people whose claim is rather dubious."
Mamet announced his political movement towards the right wing in a 2008 article for The Village Voice entitled, "Why I am no longer a Brain-Dead Liberal".
A spokesperson for Mamet refused to comment on the fresh correspondence.