Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

What an odd little film. I didn't think I'd get the chance to catch up with this one, but thanks to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, well, here's a review for GGG. It wasn't what I expected, I thought it would be a darker, more sinister little mood piece from Brian De Palma, but it turned out to be something quite different.

The plotline follows the Phantom of the Opera story pretty closely, bringing it to modern times, well 1974 in America. Unstable composer Winslow Leach (William Finley) wants to be showcased at the Paradise, a rock venue owned by the evil Swan (Paul Williams). Using his henchman Philbin, Swan steals Leach's music. Attempting to retrieve the music, a rock opera based on Faust, Winslow befriends a struggling singer called Phoenix, played by Jessica Harper of Suspiria fame, in her first film. Beaten by thugs and framed for drugs by Swan, Leach is carted off to prison. Hearing his music played on the radio, Leach breaks out of prison and attacks the Paradise, but in the process, has his face mangled in a record press. Disfigured, he adopts a bird mask and costume and along with an attack of bombings, becomes the Phantom of the Paradise.

Tricked by Swan again into writing the end of the cantata for Phoenix, Swan is again betrayed by Swan, who has sold his soul to the Devil to attain eternal youth. Causing more death and destruction, the Phantom is heartbroken to see Phoenix fall in with Swan, and kills himself. But an earlier deal with Swan proves to be binding, and the Phantom rises from the grave to finally exact his revenge.

This all sounds pretty grim stuff, but the actual watching of the film is kind of like a cross between a Woody Allen movie and the Rocky Horror picture show. Performances, especially Williams and Finley, are all seemingly aimed at high camp, and De Palma directs at a frenetic, almost comedic pace. There are some typical De Palma touches in there, like split frames and homages to Hitchcock, but generally the filming is plain but effective. Paul William's score is knowingly aimed at mocking the whole rock opera concept, and the various bands that Swan trots out are blatant send-ups of the Beach Boys and the heavy metal styles of the time. Viewing it now, it's a dated sort of piece but still fun. The Phantom costume is particularly impressive and should be appreciated as more of an icon - it reminds me of a relative of Darth Vader, maybe even an inspiration to old George? They share a synthesised, metallic voice as well.

All in all, good viewing as an odd piece of nostalgia that didn't really inspire any filmic trends, except maybe some of the general feelings of Rocky Horror. Fun, nonetheless, especially if you have a thing for Brian De Palma. It's also the only film with Paul Williams in it, that I know of!

© Boris Lugosi 2002.


Review written: 10/10/2002 20:11:08