20 February 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

Fantasy, Horror, Comedy
Arrow Video
Rating: 15
Brian DePalma
Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper
Buy: Phantom of the Paradise Steelbook [Blu-ray]

Phantom of the Paradise came out after Brian De Palma’s Sisters which was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock and Georges Franju. It also predated the glam rock meets horror film musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show in which comparisons can easily be made. It’s also one of De Palma’s finest films to date; only some of the later films like Carrie, Blow Out (his masterpiece) or his most widely known film Scarface transcend it.

It’s partly inspired by Phantom of the Opera, but what’s probably a more noticeable inspiration is the old tale of Faust. Cinema has been retelling the story of Faust since the early days of film- from Murnau’s film of Faust to Terry Gilliam’s Dr. Parnassus. It’s also a biting satire on the music business with the Devil incarnated as Paul Williams, the record label boss of Swan, who also wrote all the film’s songs.

William Finley - who has been working with De Palma since his student film days - plays the Phantom. The Phantom starts out life as a Randy Newman, an Elton John type character or indeed any early 70s singer/songwriter type named Winslow Leach. Swan likes Randy’s music, and in turn decides to steal it because he needs a catalyst to open his new venue The Paradise. Winslow objects and is thrown into jail but escapes and attempts to destroy the record label's pressing of the cover of his song. Following Winslow's disfiguration from his accident, he becomes the phantom and begins to seek revenge.

It would be unfair not to mention Gerrit Graham’s stellar performance as Beef; the ridiculously camp rock n roll diva who is set to headline The Paradise. One of the film’s greatest gimmicks are the band’s that Swan manages, changing names and styles throughout - from the Juicy Fruits (50s nostalgia band) to The Undead (Alice Cooper esq. rock) – they are all the same band. Jessica Harper, who actually starred in the quasi sequel to Rocky Horror Shock Treatment, plays the young singer the Phantom is trying to pursue.

Jack Fisk, who is one of the most well respected production designers in the business, designed the film. He is married to Sissy Spacek (who is credited as a set dresser on the film) and has worked with Terrence Malick, PT Anderson, David Lynch et el. It’s beautifully designed with bright colourful sets, and it’s also one of the best shot films of De Palma’s career with great use of fish eye lenses, long takes and split screen - all techniques of which De Palma made his name, while it even includes one if not the best on-screen parody of the shower scene in Psycho.

Phantom of the Paradise was very ahead of its time, coming out before Glam Rock became big in the US due to massive success of Kiss, who have been accused of ripping off the Undead’s makeup. Over the years it’s gained a rabid cult following with notable fans including Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro. It’s also one of the most scathing attacks on the music business in film history. The reception and the film’s lack of commercial success may be due to the its tone, which is extremely zany in a Sam Raimi-esque way, but the next scene can be a slice of gothic horror.

The disc includes a great documentary on the film, which was previously only available on the French special editions (where the film was a big hit). The biggest new extra is a fantastic 70-minute interview with Guillermo Del Toro interviewing Paul Williams. Typically of Arrow, the transfer and sound is top notch.


Ian Schultz

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