I was supposed to write a blog about our next showing of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE this coming Monday, but after checking out our friend Stephen Jannise's post at Austin Cinephile I realized I could not say anything nearly as eloquently as he could.
"It has always been a mystery to me why Brian De Palma is so often discussed as an inventive and unique filmmaker, mostly because I know him as the guy who made MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, CARLITO'S WAY, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. These were all solid entertainments that showed an appreciation for and firm grasp of classical and well-established modes of cinematic storytelling, but none of these films seemed particularly groundbreaking.
However, I’m told that SCARFACE, playing next week at the Alamo Village, is more than simply a tired retread of the 1932 classic, and I can definitely now report that PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a gloriously insane mish-mash of literary and cinematic references that was in many ways ahead of its time.
Cinematically, De Palma pays tribute to past masters, including a shower murder that recalls Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and a few images taken directly from THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. Otherwise, though, De Palma plays with the medium in a number of interesting ways. There is a great split-screen sequence, in which we see a Paradise rehearsal through the usual series of camera angles on one side and entirely from the perspective of the prowling Phantom on the other. In addition, we get several fourth wall-breaking glances directly into the camera lens, some nice roving camera movements, and a couple revolving shots.
The style of the songs is fitting to the burgeoning rock opera movement of Andrew Lloyd Webber and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, but where ROCKY HORROR had several undeniably catchy tunes and a standout performance from Tim Curry, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE succeeds largely due to De Palma’s cinematic shenanigans.
This is a rock opera, sure, but it’s also got a little backstage musical, a little horror, even, believe it or not, a little taste of the Mafia madness that had been started two years earlier by THE GODFATHER. Not only does De Palma mix film genres, but composer Paul Williams also attempts nothing less than to journey through the history of rock and roll from the 1950s to the 1970s. From Beach Boys surf rock to Ziggy Stardust, Williams reminds us of these various sounds and of the tendency for these and all the genres in between to resurface during periods of retro nostalgia, hip once again if only for a moment.
And a moment is about as generous a measurement as you can give to the rock opera. Really, the main reason to see this film is simply to remember a type of music, a type of musical, and a general kind of nightlife atmosphere that proved to be not nearly as important as many who were involved with it thought it would be.
Even the more frequently acknowledged artifacts from this moment, like ROCKY HORROR, are mostly treated in mocking tones, as a great excuse to put on a costume and go get drunk at midnight on a Friday. Still, you can’t say that this film didn’t beat the more critically beloved NETWORK to predicting that television ratings would one day be so coveted that a man might kill for them. And you also can’t say that this film doesn’t have a great opening credits performance by fictional band The Juicy Fruits."