Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
Article 2803 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2009
Posting Date: 4-16-2009
Directed by Brian De Palma
Featuring William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper
Country: USA

When his rock cantata is stolen by a legendary music impresario, a musician seeks revenge, but gets horribly mutilated in a record pressing machine. He dons a mask and haunts the rock palace constructed by the impresario, but gets drawn into a pact with the devil when he seeks to have a female singer perform his music.

Given my general dismissive attitude towards musicals, my ambivalence about the oeuvre of Brian De Palma, my dislike for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, and the fact that I have little use for singer/composer Paul Williams, one might well be expected to conclude that I would dislike this one intensely. Well, surprise of surprises, I really liked this one for the most part. I’m not particularly taken with the music (to its credit, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW wins out in this regard), but I think De Palma keeps his most irritating habits in check with this one; the style underscores the comedy quite well, it uses split screen effectively, and the Hitchcock references don’t seem forced. In fact, the reference to PSYCHO is one of my favorite laughs in the movie. Furthermore, I like speculating on who might be the models for the various characters in the story; I suspect Swan is Phil Spector, the group The Juicy Fruits is Sha Na Na, and Winslow Leach is (at first, anyway) a take on Elton John. There’s also a general parody of the shock rock/glam rock world of Alice Cooper and David Bowie thrown in. Unlike THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, it has a story; it’s a mutated cross between the Faust story and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. And however I feel about Paul Williams’s music, he gives a hell of a performance as the narcissistic Swan. Still, I did say “for the most part” above, and I have to admit that the movie starts to unravel in the final reel; it loses its comic edge and becomes just weird. Nevertheless, I think ultimately its strengths win out, and this goes under the list of De Palma films I really like.

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