Skip to main content

Phantom of the Paradise


You can hear about a movie dozens of times before you ever get around to seeing it. This is especially true of films that are tiny cult movies, and hard to track down. My high school weekends were spent watching, sometimes over and over again, that granddaddy of all cult movies, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” But there's a film that pre-dates Rocky by a year that deserves to have just as much attention as it has, a film that I had often read about in tiny snippets online, but never had the chance to see. That film is 1974's “Phantom of the Paradise.”

"Phantom of the Paradise" is one of those unique films that Hollywood studios used to be wiling to spend money on. It was, in many ways, destined to become a cult classic. Now is a perfect time for the film to be discovered by new fans. I first saw “Phantom” earlier this year, when my curiosity required the rental of the film from iTunes--something I do only when I can't resist seeing a particularly hard to find film. The film is now back in a new super deluxe, two disc blu-ray treatment, which was recently released by Scream Factory (a horror only sideline from those masters of all things awesome, Shout Factory).

An early work from writer/director Brian De Palma, "Phantom of the Paradise" is a wildly enjoyable, funny, mash up of "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Picture of Dorian Grey," with a splash of "Faust" thrown in for good measure. All of this filtered through the lens of the world of mid 1970s Rock and Roll, with a healthy dose of glam. The horror/rock/glam mash up, with it also being a musical is why the film has always floated around outside of the Rocky Horror wheelhouse. Anyone who is a fan of Rocky, is bound to like this movie.

William Finley stars as Winslow Leach, a nerdy songwriting hopeful that is working on a pop cantata based around the "Faust" tale. Leach hopes to make it big, but can't seem to break into the music scene, which is largely ruled by Swan. Swan is a mysterious music imprisario, a Phil Spector-esq analog, played by singer/songwriter Paul Williams. Williams was best known at the time for being a hit making songwriter, cranking out tunes left and right at A&M records, and for us who missed the 1970s, we might know him best for writing songs for "The Muppet Movie" with Kenneth Ascher.

Not only playing Swan, Williams also provides the songs for this film, and they're absolutely wonderful. The music touches on song styles from all throughout the rock and roll universe. Much in keeping with the "Opera" source material, "Paradise" unfolds as Swan steals Leach's music in order to open his new rock venue, the aforementioned Paradise. Swan frames Leach on drug charges, and has him imprisoned. Leach breaks out, breaks into Swan's record HQ, Death Records, and attempts to sabotage the pressing of his stolen music. Instead of being scared by acid, our Phantom receives his damage from his head falling into a record press. A move that not scars his face, but destroys his vocal chords as well.

Leach then takes to the underground of The Paradise, donning a owl mask/helmet combination, and begins to terrorize the theater. There's a love story as well, Winslow fell for a young female singer named Phoenix (Jessica Harper) prior to his "transformation." In at attempt to sabotage the first rehearsal at The Paradise, by putting a bomb into a prop car on stage, Swan catches up with Winslow, and offers to put him under contract. He gives Leach a voice box, tells him he wants him to finish his pop cantata. Winslow insists that only Phoenix can sing the music, which Swan agrees to, but in reality changes his promise and gives it to a drug addicted Glam head named Beef, in a brilliantly funny portrait by Gerrit Graham.

It's a crazy good film. A wild movie, smart, quickly paced, with really great songs, and a satirical overtone that has hardly aged. The film is one that I can highly recommend, the new blu-ray set from Scream Factory is overflowing with extra features and goodies. "Phantom," much like "Rocky Horror," was a huge bomb when it was first released, but over time it's cult following has blossomed. Were you curious as to why Paul Williams worked with Daft Punk on their latest album? Why he accepted the Album of the Year Grammy on their behalf? Daft Punk are fans of "Phantom of the Paradise."

As much as I can tell you why you should see it, as much as the original trailers and TV spots failed to market the film, it is one of those films best experienced by seeing it. Long out on print on a no frills DVD issued years ago, "Phantom of the Paradise" is back in the first edition to seriously appreciate the film with the respect it deserves. It's never been easier to see the film, and it's absolutely worth doing so. You won't even have to sign a contract in blood to do it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Convincing Yourself You're Good.

I have Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is that feeling that what you do isn't good enough, and that someone is gonna eventually figure out how woefully unqualified you are and kick you to the curb. One of the traits of my personality that I dislike is that I am way too hard on myself. Seriously, give my mind an inch and I will somehow figure out that I am the sole person responsible for the world's troubles.

Having Imposter Syndrome is kind of like playing the game Werewolf. My friends and I play a version of the game called One Night Ultimate Werewolf, in the game each player picks a card that gives them a specific role, either a villager or a werewolf, and the villagers all have distinct roles that they play on top of that--special abilities and the like. The object of the game is two fold, if you're a werewolf, you don't wanna be caught. If you're a village, you wanna catch the werewolves. Imposter Syndrome makes you feel like you're always in the role…

Where The Blues Are

I come to you again this week with another pair of blu-rays from those master celluloid handlers at Warner Archive. First up we have 1960’s “Where The Boys Are,” a defining teen picture of the era by MGM, and the film largely responsible for kicking off the whole cycle of 1960s beach films. The other is 1955’s “Pete Kelly’s Blues” a film starring, produced, and directed by Jack Webb--TV’s Joe Friday. Part of a deal Webb had made with Warner Brothers when he was setting up the original big screen version of “Dragnet” in the ‘50s. 
“Where The Boys Are” was set for the screen before the book it was based on had been released. Producer Joe Pasternak snatched up the rights to the book by Glendon Swarthout, which was originally titled “Unholy Spring.” Pasternak, strongly feeling “Where The Boys Are” would be the better title, persuaded Swarthout to change the book’s title. Pasternak also felt he could use the film as a starring vehicle for one of the stars of MGM’s record label, Connie Franc…

Twelve-Nine-Three

Picture it! Scilly, 1922! OK, actually Andy Ross’s Childhood Bedroom 1993. I had been given as a gift the dream attachment for my beloved Sega Genesis, the amazing Sega CD. For those of you young children who have only grown up in the era of XBox and Playstation, it may seem strange that there was once a time when the idea of playing a video game off of a compact disc was mind blowing. But it was, and I was fully ready to have my mind blown. To use a slogan of Sega’s ads of the era, I was ready to enter “The Next Level.”

The Sega CD model I had was the second one, the smaller model designed to go with the slimmer Genesis that had been introduced to the market. I had the first Genesis, the larger one, but the Sega CD came with an extension block that allowed it to partner it on the original model. You attached the Sega CD to your Genesis by a special connector on the side of system. The Sega CD came with a game to get you going, as was the norm with gaming systems at the time. The game …