About every couple of months, somebody with a movie web site "discovers" the 1974 Rock/Satire PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. The articles are generally positive with the critic feeling surprise by how much they enjoyed the film.
I first saw PHANTOM about 15 years ago. I was into THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, and the film looked to be in a similar vein. (Boy is it ever!) I was also into Brian De Palma, who wrote and directed the film. Even though it wasn’t one of his suspense/thrillers, I figured I should watch it for completeness sake. I've seen the film about a dozen times since, bought the DVD, and purchased the soundtrack.
It's a tale of a talented composer whose music is stolen by an evil record tycoon so that it may be used to launch the next music superstar. Framed, jailed and horribly disfigured (in a record press accident), the composer finds shelter in the tycoon’s ultimate rock palace, The Paradise. From there he plots his revenge, and falls in love with the one person worthy to sing his music.
The 70’s rock scene supplies a fresh world that suits this combination of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and FAUST. De Palma, even at his most talented, relies heavily on rip-offs and cheap camera tricks. But you’ve got to give the devil his due here. By making a parody, the familiar story and scenes take on a fresh perspective. (And this movie steals the very best, swiping the famous shot from TOUCH OF EVIL and the shower scene from PSYCHO.)
The music is by 70’s icon Paul Williams (who also plays evil impresario, Swan), and it’s some of the most creative work he’s ever done. The style ranges from the opening Sha-na-na style “Goodbye Eddie” to The Beach Boys, Glam Rock, Goth Rock, a little Janis Joplin and some old-fashioned ragtime piano. This is a full out musical, much like ROCKY HORROR or TOMMY, and it’s easily the equal of those better-known films.
The film is exceptionally cast and except for Gerrit Graham’s glitter-rock freak named Beef, they all do their own singing. William Finley (who looks remarkably similar to William Fichtner) doesn’t have the skills or looks to big a big movie star, but he gives both the Composer and the Phantom an exaggerated theatrical style that fits De Palma’s vision splendidly. Williams’ stunt casting, and size make him the perfect foil. And 70’s cutie Jessica Harper (in her 2nd film) finds a perfect combination of innocence and star-craving desire. (There’s a beautiful, quiet moment near the beginning when the composer and singer first meet.)
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is definitely a product of the 70’s, and many of the bad things about Brian De Palma films are here too. (Split Screen?) But it’s bold and clever in its presentation, has a lot to say about the entertainment industry, and is a lot of fun to watch. If you like films like ROCKY HORROR and MOULIN ROUGE, chances are you’ll like this too. And if you think De Palma’s style is only good for suspense pictures, you owe it to yourself to check this out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Williams (Swan's) Website:

3:31 PM  

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