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Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper
Length: 92 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Newly commissioned Audio Commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and the Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Harold Oblong aka Peter Eibling)
- Newly commissioned Audio Commentary with Production Designer Jack Fisk
- Newly commissioned Interview with director Brian DePalma (36 minutes)
- Newly commissioned Interview with Paul Williams talking about the music of PHANTOM (30 minutes)
- Newly commissioned Interview with Make-up Effects wizard Tom Burman discussing the Phantom Helmet
- Alternate Takes (40 minutes)
- Swan Song Outtake Footage (10 minutes)
- Paradise Regained – documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian DePalma, Producer Edward R. Pressman, William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and more… (50 minutes)
- Interview with Paul Williams moderated by Guillermo Del Toro (72 minutes)
- Interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (10 minutes)
- Newly commissioned Interview with producer Edward R. Pressman (15 minutes)
- Newly commissioned Interview with drummer Gary Mallaber (15 minutes)
- Newly commissioned Alvin’s Art and Technique – a look at the neon poster (15 minutes)
- Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham – 1974 Publicity Sheet written by and read by Graham (8 minutes)
- Radio Spots
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery
Brian De Palma is one of cinema’s most celebrated directors. While his star has certainly faded in the last few years, he has delivered a body of work that speaks for itself. Perhaps best known for his work on Scarface and The Untouchables, De Palma made his first impact in the genre world. With titles like Sisters, Obsession, and Carrie, De Palma honed his skills and his visual expressivity by creating some of the most memorable horror-thriller titles in cinematic history. However, one title early in De Palma’s career (released between Sisters and Obsession) has remained entrenched in the underground cult cinema, Phantom of the Paradise. A colossal box-office failure, the film slowly found its crowd. Now, after forty years, the film carries with it a strong, albeit small, fan base. Because of this, Phantom of the Paradise has managed to acquire a few varying releases since it hit theatres in 1974. Marking its third release on Blu-ray, Scream Factory’s new Phantom of the Paradise Blu-Ray/DVD combo has delivered fans with perhaps the most inclusive package yet.
A slight departure from the usual stylings of Scream Factory, Phantom of the Paradise is a genre-hybrid, mixing components of comedy, musical, thriller, and horror. Borrowing elements facets from Faust, Phantom of the Opera, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Phantom of the Paradise tells the story of composer Winslow Leach (William Finley) and music producer tycoon Swan (Paul Williams). After manipulating Winslow to acquire his music, Swan has Winslow framed with drugs. Moving at a brisk pace, the film follows Winslow being thrown in jail, having his teeth—almost inexplicitly—replaced with metal substitutes, escaping from jail, and ambushing Swan Song Enterprises/Death Records where he is accidentally crushed in a record press. Now, disfigured and unable to properly speak or sing, Winslow returns to the Paradise (the new club Swan intends to open) to wreak havoc. Tricked again by Swan, Winslow sells his soul and his music to Swan on the stipulation that it will be performed by Phoenix (Jessica Harper’s first film role). After a barrage of twists and turns, the film culminates at opening night of The Paradise, where Winslow/The Phantom’s cantata is to be performed.
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to see the film, this description may sound a bit confusing. Phantom of the Paradise, despite its clear references and influences is one of the most creative and singular films ever produced. A synopsis can only do the film so much, because the heart of the movie lies in the experience of watching it. Because of the utilization of camp, the subversive play on the musical, and the twisted sense of humor, the film has often been compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show—released just a year after—; and, while the comparison is apt, it is a shame that Rocky Horror in many ways has overshadowed De Palma’s superior picture.Self-aware camp in The Phantom of the Paradise is seething from its core, inundating every image, every scene, every delivery. However, the film never fails because of this. There is a sense of determination that can be understood; it never feels cheap, never unjustified. Combined with De Palma’s visual proficiency, the result is colorful romp through the history of music ending with the revolutionary heavy rock of the early seventies—demonstrated brilliantly through the Calagari-esque depictions of Beef and The Undeads. In addition to De Palma’s masterful eye, the actors do a great job moving the film forward. In particular, Paul Williams, as Swan, is remarkable. The short, stout megalomaniac is played with perfection. Williams allows for just the slightest bit of vulnerability, the small bit of humanity that hasn’t been replaced by vanity and power. As a result, Swan emerges as a surprisingly likeable villain, despite his insatiable quest for control. Additionally, long-time De Palma collaborator William Finley’s character acting elevates the Phantom. While some may think that Finley’s penchants for exaggeration might reduce the effect of the character, in the scope of the cartoonish nature of which The Phantom of the Paradise exists, Finley’s style is welcomed. Nevertheless, while Finley and Williams form the basis for the film, Gerrit Graham’s performance as Beef may steal the show. Certainly Beef is problematic, as he is clearly exploiting homosexual stereotypes, but to reduce Beef down to a negative portrayal of screen homosexuals would be wrong. Beef’s character is more complex than what you may see in similar roles, and Graham’s dedication to the character allows for the audience to see past the stereotypes. He takes what would otherwise be an extremely one-dimensional character and breathes life into it. Challenging as it may be, Beef remains one of the film’s principle sources of entertainment. Finally, the soundtrack must be addressed. While a strong cast of character actors matched with the proficiency of De Palma can do most of the work, a film like The Phantom of the Paradise—where the scenes are connected by a series of musical vignettes—is made or broken with the music. Luckily, Williams’ collaboration on the film produces one of the finest musical soundtracks. Where The Phantom of the Paradise will have trouble playing to audiences who are unfamiliar or opposed to camp, the soundtrack seems universal. Williams, known best for his work with David Bowie, The Carpenters and Three Dog Night, crafted 12 songs—each capturing a different feel and style—that transcend the picture.
As far as the transfer goes, Scream Factory’s release will be a bit polarizing. It would appear (analyzing side-by-side screen caps) that Scream Factory utilized the same print that Arrow Video had previously with their release. So anyone familiar with Arrow’s effort will know what they are getting. Unable to verify what the original theatrical print looks like, trying to decide the most faithful transfer is difficult. The best comparison can be made between the French Blu-Ray release, by Opening Distribution, and Arrow/Scream Factory’s. The biggest difference between the prints is the brightness of the picture. In comparison, Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray is darker, with a stronger contrast present. However, as many have noted of the French release, the color timing is a bit off, yellows appearing a bit duller (most noticeable in the silver-looking gold records). In terms of color, Scream Factory’s release is superior. The colors are crisp and vibrant; golds appear gold (as demonstrated with the screen cap below). Unfortunately, because of the darkness of the picture, at times the colors do feel to distort the picture. So there is a give-take between the two releases. The picture may suffer from a bit of additional noise due to the heightened contrast, but nothing so overt as to distract from the viewing experience. Ultimately, Scream Factory has presented fans with a respectable print.
While there may be some existing problems inherent in the transfer of the film to video, the audio doesn’t appear to suffer from the same problems. The audio is presented in both DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, and while the 5.1 mix is the preferred method, both are adequate representations of the audio elements. The dynamic range is full, blend of elements is crisp and clear, and the print doesn’t suffer from much, if any, age related issues such as hisses, pops, or cracks. With a movie so attached to music, it is a relief to see such attention to detail paid.
What will bring fans the most joy, and certainly what will have fans upgrading from earlier releases of the film, are Scream Factory’s included special features. To give an in-depth description of all the features would prove too time consuming, but we will do our best to highlight some of the better features. With over fifteen included features, nine of which have never been included on any prior releases, Scream Factory’s release stands above the rest. In particular, all of the newly commissioned interviews are a treat. In many cases, the interviewees of Scream Factory releases tend to look back on their work in a more disconnected manner. This is not the case for The Phantom of the Paradise; every member interviewed for this release has fond memories of the production, sharing comical and fascinating stories from the set. Unfortunately, this still lacks the “Swan Song” full cut, but for those interested in seeing the film as it was intended to be, but there is a 10-minute montage of clips where the original “Swan Song” logo (And not the matte-replaced Death Records) appears.
If you’ve never seen The Phantom of the Paradise, we couldn’t recommend this release more. A good transfer of a great film packed to the brim with more features than ever before. If you are a fan of the film but have been waiting for that “perfect” release, you may be a bit disappointed with the transfer, but with the attention paid to the package you still can’t go wrong. Brian De Palma crafted a brilliant film that has unfortunately failed to receive the attention of his other works. One of the best satires in history, The Phantom of the Paradise is a colorful, whimsical, and stimulating look at the music business.