PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) Directed by Brian De Palma; Starring William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper
In just the past year I’ve become the biggest Brian De Palma fan. It’s been a slow road, as in the past the only two De Palma films I had ever watched were the horror classic Carrie (1976), and the incredibly overrated Scarface (1983). So I’ve always had trepidation when approaching his flicks.
Then I saw Blow Out (1981), and that pretty much changed everything. It was such a revelation of De Palma as a filmmaker, that I can guarantee that Phantom of the Paradise will not be his first appearance in this challenge.
I should also make it known that I don’t like musicals. We have a tumultuous past primarily due to my ex-wife’s love of them. It’s just something I’ve generally steered away from.
This is a masterpiece of filmmaking.
It features everything I love about De Palma at the height of his game. Sweeping camera moves, split-screen, voyeurism, and a worldview that is slightly askew.
This all is used to effect to tell the tale of Winslow Leach, who has been writing a sweeping musical epic based on Faust, and has his life’s work stolen by the satanic Swan, head of Death Records. Swan can make or break a person’s career, and he sees something of himself in the material that Winslow is producing.
Leach can think of nothing but revenge and retribution for what Swan has done to him. But in the course he finds himself mangled and mutilated by a record press, which disfigures part of his face, and takes away the use of his voice (nods to Phantom of the Opera, obviously).
De Palma does a wonderful job of weaving the songs in and out of the picture so they never feel out of place within the narrative. My singular complaint with musicals is that it takes me out of the film when a character is talking one minute, and then suddenly, with no motivation, breaks into song. That’s probably something that doesn’t bother most folks, but it’s the reason I find myself having trouble watching them.
I also love that De Palma manages to take things from other places (Hitchcock, Phantom of the Opera, Faust, etc.) and create his own story out of what has influenced him. Much like Quentin Tarantino now, De Palma has been accused of ripping things off from other places (specifically from Hitchcock), but I find that when someone who is a master craftsman can distill that which they’ve seen, read, heard, etc. they make it their own. Sure, when a character is confronted by Leach, ala the shower scene in Psycho, you know where it came from. It feels natural in this film is all I am saying.
I loved this film, and while I can say that if you are a fan of cinema, I think you should check it out, this isn’t for everyone.