Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Had I Not Seen This Movie!? Part 15: Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom of the Paradise
Phantom of the Paradise is Brian De Palma's rock opera take on the Phantom of the Opera. Released in 1974, it updates the location from an old Opera house to the modern setting of a rock club, smartly satirizing the sleazy ways that music producers gain fame and fortune in the business. De Palma's style fits perfectly with clever homages to classic horror movies while also being steeped in 1970s fashion. 

In the film, an unknown composer named Winslow (William Finley) has his beloved music stolen by a satanic-like music producer named Swan (Paul Williams, who also scored and wrote lyrics for the music heard in the film). Winslow is driven mad by this abuse and ends up jailed after trying to break into Swan's palace in order to be recognized for his work. He eventually escapes from jail, and in an attempt to destroy all the pressings of his stolen work, ends up shot and disfigured. He slowly drags his body into a river where officials consider him dead. However Winslow later emerges, and donning a cape and mask, sets out to get his revenge by terrorizing the artists in Swan's new club The Paradise, especially those who dare to perform his stolen work. That is, everyone except for Phoenix (Jessica Harper), a young and beautiful singer who Winslow (now The Phantom) feels is perfectly suited for his work.

Just about everything in the film worked for me. It has a great sense of humor, especially when it comes to Beef, a menacing singer that Swan sets up to be his newest star. The reveal of how Beef behaves when not on stage is fantastic and helps give the film a witty edge instead of falling in too dark territory. I find myself saying this a lot about De Palma's work but the film feels very ahead of it's time. The film could be released today and other than some needed fashion updates, it would seem just as biting as it did back then. There are even nods to the use of technology to enhance someone's singing voice, something that must have been fairly "sci-fi" back in the 1970s. 

It's interesting going back and watch these De Palma films out of order. As I jump back and forth throughout his career, I can start to see growth in his work as he quickly became more confident and focused in what he wanted to do as a director. Phantom of the Paradise was released only 4 years after Hi, Mom! which still seemed very rough around the edges. However, with the back-to-back release of Sisters (1973) and this film, De Palma really stepped up into becoming what I consider to be one of the most innovative directors of the modern era. As with every other film I've seen by him so far, I highly recommend watching Phantom of the Paradise.

You're Welcome,

Valuable Life Lesson Learned: The Music Industry is run by the devil.

Upcoming Titles:
- Carlito's Way
- The Manchurian Candidate
- Murder à la Mod
- To Catch a Thief

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