Fridays Rock!

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Director Brian DePalma
Year 1974
Starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper,
Rating PG
Run Time 107min
Age Policy

18 and up; Children 6 and up will be allowed only with a parent guardian. No children under the age of 6 will be allowed.

More Info IMDb

Some combinations were never destined to work out. Peanut butter and mustard. Michael Jordan and baseball. Lily Tomlin and John Travolta. And, in the mid-1970s, Twentieth-Century Fox and rock 'n' roll movies. A year before the studio lost a bundle on a bomb called THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, Fox took an expensive bath on director Brian DePalma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, an attempt to transplant "The Phantom of the Opera" into the era of glam-rock. Like ROCKY HORROR, PHANTOM would find an appreciative audience years later -- but when it opened nationwide on Halloween 1974, audiences went trick-or-treating instead.

They missed out on a smart, stylish, funny and imaginative horror-comedy-musical that reminds us how truly demented the 1970s were. Criticized in its day for its "shocking" send-up of the music scene, PHANTOM turned out to be amazingly prophetic: The acts in the film that are supposed to represent the bottom of the rock barrel are not too far removed from the scores of New Wave, Goth and punk groups that would be crawling out of the woodwork only a few years after PHANTOM faded from theaters. And what about the Phantom's first scene, in which we see what he sees and hear his raspy breathing as he stalks the streets? That's exactly the point-of-view shot that would become a staple of the teen-slasher films that would invade cinemas in the 1980s.

Introduced by Rod Serling in classic "Twilight Zone" style, PHANTOM begins by extolling the career highpoints of the singularly named Swan ("He brought the blues to Britain, he brought Liverpool to America, he brought folk and rock together!"), who his preparing to open "his own Xanadu, his own Disneyland -- the Paradise: the ultimate rock palace." Immediately, we are assaulted by the ditzy doo-wop of The Juicy Fruits, a Sha Na Na-style group that Swan has sent to the top of the charts. Winslow Leach (William Finley), the Juicy Fruits' pianist, has aspirations of being a composer -- he's working on a cantata inspired by the legend of Faust -- and performs one of his pieces during the intermission. Swan (Paul Williams) and his talent scout, Philbin, overhear the number and decide they want the song but not the singer. Philbin promises to sign Leach to Swan's label, Death Records, and make him a star.

Things don't go as planned, Swan steals Leach's music and the luckless Leach eventually has a run-in with a record press that leaves him facially scarred and ravenous for revenge. Faking his own death (the Variety headline declares MAD TUNESMITH BITES BULLET) Leach dons a metallic mask and takes up residence in Swan's new club, where he helps young Phoenix (Jessica Harper) on the road to success and sends several of Swan's associates down the highway to hell.

Throughout PHANTOM, DePalma can be seen perfecting his style through clever use of split-screens, photographic tricks and the sort of showy cinematography that would become his calling card in movies like CARRIE, OBSESSION, DRESSED TO KILL and BLOW OUT. He also has great fun with a PSYCHO-inspired shower attack, in which the Phantom threatens the talentless would-be rock star Beef (Gerrit Graham). Working behind the scenes was a young actress who would become a DePalma leading lady only a year later: Sissy Spacek served as the movie's set dresser, assisting production designer Jack Fisk, her future husband.

When PHANTOM was made, the diminutive Williams was both one of the hottest songwriters in the music biz (his hits included "Rainy Days and Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun" and  "An Old-Fashioned Love Song") and a familiar face on TV specials, sitcoms and game shows. He's delightfully sinister as Swan, a small-scale Satan in satin shirts, and he created a catchy, witty score that spawned no chart-toppers but earned him an Academy Award nomination. While he never played the lead in another movie -- unless you count his 2011 documentary PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE -- he had much better luck in Hollywood, post-PHANTOM: He won an Oscar for composing "Evergreen" for Barbra Streisand's version of A STAR IS BORN and collected another Oscar nomination a few years later for "Rainbow Connection," the theme from THE MUPPET MOVIE. (James Sanford)   

 

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