Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olde Review: The Phantom of the Paradise

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a bit of a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"The Phantom of the Paradise" (Brian DePalma, 1974) Too few people know about Brian DePalma's "Phantom of the Paradise." Too few people know about Brian DePalma. He is one of the best of the young, young crop of film-makers--the under-30 branch*--and he is quite taken with great directors of the past and their great movies. And so, very often, he will borrow a scene from these directors.

Foremost among the borrowees is Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, DePalma has made two films almost totally Hitchcockian: 1973's "Sisters,"** and this year's "Obsession."*** "Phantom of the Paradise" came between them, and although it lacks the total Hitchcock commitment, and the many beauties that commitment brought about in "Obsession," "The Phantom" is an altogether enjoyable musical-comedy/horror-satire about the rock industry (kinda whets your interest, doesn't it?) It takes the old "Phantom of the Opera
" story into the 20th Century glitter-rock scene, as a young man (William Finley) disappointed in love and betrayed by a rock entrepreneur names Swan (Paul Williams)****, finds himself deformed and deranged, haunting Swan's Paradise Rock Emporium

Swan is played by Paul Williams, and before you make some expectorating noises, I should say he is properly sinister and comic in the role. He also wrote the songs for the film's exemplary score, which covers a variety of rock-styles, none of which sinks to his regular lonely-introspection fare. William Finley, who played a mad doctor in "Sisters" plays the deranged "Phantom," and Jessica Harper,***** who with Diane Keaton participated in the send-up of Bergman's "Persona" in Woody Allen's "Love and Death" (see how all these films tie together?), portrays a young and naive innocent who wants to be a "star(!!)" As "Obsession" borrowed from almost all its ideas from different Hitchcock films, "Phantom" borrows a lot of plots from success-stories of the past, and incidental scenes from "The Godfather," "White Heat," and "Psycho." But DePalma manages to make this pastiche of film totally his own and in a perverse way, totally enjoyable. Go see it. You may just become a Brian DePalma fan.******

Next weekend, The ASUW film series devotes itself to "The Thriller" as interpreted by such cinema staples as
W.S. Van Dyke, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski, and Lina Wertmuller.*******

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on November 5th and 6th, 1975

Man, I was a big Brian DePalma fan back in the day. Fortunately, he rarely disappointed with his movies. Oh, there are the duds in his CV--"The Fury," "Home Movies" (which he did with a class he was teaching), "Wise Guys," "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (compromised by studio and DePalman cold-feet), and he would grow out of his "Hitchcock" obsession, and just sneak some of the Master's craft into his pictures (like "Dressed to Kill," "Blow Out," "Body Double,""Mission: Impossible," "Femme Fatale," and "Snake Eyes"). He is still a fine film-maker, who pushes the envelope as far as subject matter and technique. His most recent film--"Redacted"--was a raging film against the Iraq War that scared its distributor into quietly burying it in theaters (it opened locally at The Crest, usually the last stop before video). As of this writing, his next film is a long-in-the-works prequel to his very popular version of "The Untouchables"--written by playwright David Rabe this time, instead of playwright David Mamet.

But enough about DePalma! What about "The Phantom of the Paradise?" I have fond memories of it, and was impressed with the soundtrack--Williams did some wicked parodies of song-styles that scored satiric points as well as the film. It was inevitable that someone would take the era of Glam Rock and mix it with Gothic Horror. Across the pond Richard Sherman's "Rocky Horror Show" opened in June 1973, and it's not inconceviable that DePalma might have heard of it. But "Phantom" is rooted in "Faust" and "The Phantom of the Opera," while "Rocky Horror" takes its cue from the RKO horror films and "Frankenstein", and, more importantly, "The Bride of Frankenstein." The fact that both came out on the tails of the "Glam" era were the big influences, with "Rocky" being its step-child, and "Phantom" using it for texture--and "Phantom" is more concerned with the phony excesses of the music biz, while "Rocky" embraces them.

One could make the case that "Phantom" was influenced by "Rocky," but the timing's off--"Rocky Horror" wasn't that huge a hit at the time of "Phantom's" creation (right after DePalma directed "Carrie") and wouldn't be filmed until a year later. So, though they have the same roots, any resemblance is a very specious one.

* DePalma is now 67.

** After "Psycho.

*** After "Vertigo."

****No, really, he's good. Very good. So are the songs he composed for the film.

*****For awhile, Jessica Harper seemed to be in every good movie that came out, and a few bad ones, too. She's still acting, but she's doing more singing and writing for kids. her last movie role to date was in
Spielberg's "Minority Report."

****** Just don't go see "
Bonfire of the Vanities" after it...

*******Should this cause any confusion, we'll do two next week, and other two after that. (I need to go to "Office Max" and get more asterix's!)

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