[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”B00JHH1YQG”]An imaginative updating of the Phantom of the Opera (with a liberal dose of Faust thrown in) set in the business of Rock ‘n roll, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise didn’t make much of an impact at the box office when it was released in 1974, but gained cult status through the midnight-movie circuit. The cult status is well deserved; cynical, clever and creative, De Palma leaves no one unscathed—the performers, the promoters and the audience are all targets in his satirical game of darts.
Slimy music impresario Swan (Paul Williams is set to open a new music venue called the Paradise, and he needs a fresh, new sound for the occasion. When he hears the haunting melodies and heartfelt lyrics of Winslow Leach (William Finlay) he decides he needs the songs but not the nerdy guy who sings and composed them. Swan sends his associate Philbin (George Memmoli) to steal Winslow’s sheet music, than has Winslow framed on a drug charge and sent to prison. When Winslow hears one of Swan’s bands butchering his “Faust” cantata on the radio, he escapes prison and tries to blow up Swan’s record presses, only to slip and fall into the press, mutilating his face. Not about to give up, Winslow finds a mask to cover his face—that of a giant robotic bird—and makes his presence known with a destructive explosion. Swan decides to negotiate a contract that ensures Winslow’smusic will become famous while keeping the disfigured composer far from the spotlight.
The music is supposed to be sung by Phoenix (Jessica Harper), a woman he feels is perfect for his work and with whom he’s besotted. Bad guy that he is, Swan has other plans. He decides to have Phoenix sing backup for his new star, garish glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham). When Winslow finds out, he manages to clear the stage for Phoenix to have her moment in the spotlight. Unfortunately for him, she’s quickly bitten by the fame bug, and joins Swan in his evildoings.
In the midst of parodies and visual fireworks, it’s surprising how straight De Palma plays the romantic angle. In the midst of the parodies and visual fireworks, Winslow’s love for Phoenix is both touching and effective, with an ending featuring a crane shot which is repeated in several of De Palma’s later films. While it could be argued that the love affair is too brief sketched to truly be convincing, given that much of the desire is one-sided it seems appropriate. After all, Winslow’s love for Phoenix is based on what he thinks she is, rather than any real; emphasized by the fact that they only meet twice in the film.
De Palma uses various directorial techniques and revels in the opportunity to work on such a large canvas. Like the rest of the film, the colors are unapologetically gaudy; subtlety is nit the order of the day. De Palma trademarks—crane shots, screens within screens and lengthy takes are used in abundance. While all this seems like a haphazard way to make a film, it suits the material rather well. Written by De Palma, the script is both funny and sardonic in its attitude toward the music industry. Paul Williams’ score is perfect for the film—largely parodies of various rock genres. While some work better than others—“Goodbye Eddie Goodbye”—is the ultimate in nostalgia rock, Williams was one of the decade’s most honored songwriters and clearly understood what De Palma wanted for material.
If Phantom of the Paradise has a weakness, it’s in the casting. Frequent De Palma collaborator William Finlay makes a good nerdy villain, but he doesn’t have the charisma to be at the center of such a chaotic story. Paul Williams is fun as Swan, but he also lacks the charisma to be totally believable. Almost adorable even at his most evil, I couldn’t help but giggle on occasion. Williams’ expressions often suggest that he is giggling at the absurdity of it all. Jessica Harper does a better job, providing the genuine emotion that helps make for a better than expected ending. However, she doesn’t have the vocal chops to be the singing godess the story would suggest. Even so, Phantom of the Paradise stands as a fun, highly bizarre satire of ‘70s era rock.
Phantom of the Paradise comes as a 2-disc set, with one Blu-ray and one DVD. However, this is not a dual-format edition. The film is on the Blu-ray, while the DVD contains additional extras.
Presented in the 1.85:1, Scream Factory has provided an excellent transfer. While no one would mistake it for a film shot today, the numerous colors are vibrant and well saturated and the blacks are deep and inky. The film grain is tight, with no obvious digital compression. Skin tones look fairly natural, though a few shots do fluctuate a bit.
The film offers both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix. While both sound really good, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix gives the music quite a welcome boost. I would definitely suggest using the 5.1 mix, but it’s wonderful to have the stereo mix available for purists. Dialogue and effects sound wonderful in both tracks.
English subtitles are included.
- Audio Commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and The Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, and Harold Oblong AKA Peter Elbling): A look at the film from the actor’s point of view, recorded in three separate settings and then spliced together. Very giggly and chatty, Harper shares some thoughts about working with Williams and Graham touches on cinematography and lightning. Around the 70 minute mark, there’s an overlap at the end of Harper’s comment and the beginning of Graham’s. It lasts about 20 seconds.
- Audio Commentary with Production Designer Jack Fisk: Fisk discusses doing the job on a very limited budget, and working with his future wife, Sissy Spacek as set dresser.
- Brian De Palma Backstage at the Paradise (HD, 33:07) A new, in depth interview with the writer/director in which he shares his thoughts on nearly every aspect of the film. He’s appears a bit grouchy when discussing certain things, but anyone familiar with De Palma knows, he’s not particularly laid back.
- Paul Williams Soul Inspiration (HD, 34:54) The film’s star and composer discusses how the film allowed him the opportunity to do things he wasn’t ordinarily able to.
- Behind the Mask with Tom Burman (HD, 4:09) The film’s special effects supervisor discusses the mask Leach wears after becoming disfigured.
- Alternate Takes (HD, 26:21) eleven different sequences, shown in split screen showing how they appeared in the final version of the film as well as different angles and/or coverage for selected scenes.
- Swan Song (Outtake Footage) (HD, 7:27) A featurette that illustrates places in the film where Swan’s company name “Swan Song” had to be covered up, due to legal threats from Led Zeppelin’s new record company with the same name. The original, unaltered footage is also shown.
- Still Gallery (HD, 13:50)
- Paradise Regained (SD, 50:10) An in depth look at the production of the film, featuring interviews with various cast and crew.
- Interview with Paul Williams Moderated by Guillermo del Toro (SD, 112:16) del Toro is clearly a fan of the film and Paul Williams. Conversational in tone, the two cover all aspects of the film. Paul Williams has long known how to give a good interview and he shines here.
- Interview with Costume Designer Rosanna Norton (SD, 9:34) She’s got a few interesting tidbits, but the quality isn’t great.
- Interview with Producer Edward R. Pressman (SD, 19:03) Pressman discusses his long-time relationship with De Palma and his feelings about the film.
- Interview with Drummer Gary Malaber (SD, 17:05) A member of Williams’ touring band, he discusses ending up as part of the onscreen band.
- Alvin’s Art and Technique: A Look at the Neon Poster (SD, 11:36) A look at the film’s poster designer, John Alvin, featuring an interview with his widow.
- Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham (SD, 9:32) Graham reading a biography/record review he wrote for the film’s press kit.
- William Finley and Toy (SD, 0:33) Finley shows off a Phantom action figure.
- Radio Spots (2:34)
- TV Spots (SD, 5:19)
- Theatrical Trailers (SD, 5:07)
- Still Gallery (SD)