Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli, Robin Mattson
Length: 92 min
Rating: BBFC 15
Label: Arrow Films
Release Date: 24th February, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 2.0 PCM Stereo, 4.0 DTS HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
- Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack
- Paradise Regained – A 50 minute documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Ed Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham and more!
- Guillermo Del Toro interviews Paul Williams (72 mins, 2014)
- The Swan Song Fiasco: A new video piece exploring the changes made to the film in post-production
- Archive interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton
- William Finley on the Phantom doll!
- Paradise Lost and Found: Alternate takes and bloopers from the cutting room floor
- Original Trailers
- Radio Spots
- Gallery of rare stills including behind-the-scenes images by photographer Randy Black
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth and an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history by Ari Kahan, curator of SwanArchives.org, illustrated with original stills and promotional material
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress [Amaray release only]
- Limited Edition SteelBook™ packaging featuring original artwork [ SteelBook only]
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter, as well as a re-print of an interview with production designer John Lloyd and make-up effects artist Steve Johnson on the design and effects of the film, illustrated with archive stills and posters
Director Brian De Palma is not a name normally associated with elements such as avant garde or flamboyance in cinema, being more well known for his taught and violent thrillers such as Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Carlito’s Way (1993), Casualties of War (1989), and one of the most iconic horror films of all time, Carrie (1976).Yet long before the lights of Hollywood came calling with huge budget films, and 22 years before he went all over ambitious with the mega blockbuster Mission Impossible (1996), he made Phantom of The Paradise; an all singing, all dancing, rock opera/musical extravaganza of 70’s kitsch, polyester fashion, and celebration of a myriad of vintage musical styles.
High camp, darkly comic, tinged with a gothic undertone and a distinct air of tragedy and sadness, Phantom of the Paradise (1974) beats the heart and soul of the best ever ‘anti-musical’ musical ever made. So lies its genius, as despite the lush color palette, the carnival flair, and copious amount of retro 70’s musical numbers ranging from nostalgia rockabilly, surf, and glam rock, scratch beneath the surface and there you will find a wonderfully satirical foundation which rips at the shallow core of the concept of fame; posing questions as to just how far people will go to get their five minutes in the limelight, and the fickleness of achieving ‘the next big thing’. Even though this film celebrates its 40th anniversary this year the messages remain more resonant than ever, in today’s climate of reality TV, Pop Idol, and internet stardom.
Our hero, Winslow Leach, is an aspiring songwriter who writes beautiful heartfelt songs and is tricked into giving over his music to Swan, a heartless music producer who steals his music and rips out its humanity, reducing it to nothing less than cheesy chart topping fodder for the masses. Following a series of unfortunate events manipulated by Swan and his all seeing eye, Winslow finds himself beaten, broken, mutilated, and enraged — now intent on sabotaging Swan’s new project: The Paradise, a venue which promises a rock spectacular the likes of which have never been seen before. Clad in ominous black leather and sporting a silver hawk like helmet to hide his disfigurement, Winslow infiltrates the core of Swan’s operation swearing to cause chaos, and prevent anyone else singing his music. Yet, nothing is that straightforward, and it appears that Swan has found his Achilles heel, the beautiful wide eyed singer, Phoenix (Jessica Harper), and her dulcet tones. She will sing Winslow’s music, but only if the smitten Winslow is willing to make a deal. Can Swan be trusted? There is a contract, Swan promises, with just one clause. It has to be signed in blood, and then they can work together, forever.
In a story that blends together elements of The Phantom of The Opera, The Picture of Dorian Grey and Faust, De Palma, who also wrote the screenplay for this, produces a gargantuan epic which simultaneously celebrates and satirizes the pomp and excess of musical stardom. The film also represents one of those great moments in cinema when the maker acts as a true visionary, and because of the obvious energy involved, everything about Phantom of Paradise just seems to excel; from the music, casting, script, the inspired cinematography, set design, costumes — it all works in harmony to produce a piece which has to be one of the most stand out moments of De Palma’s lengthy career.
For the casting well there are some great choices, we have Paul Williams who also composed the songs for Phantom, he just fits the character so well, sleazy, double-crossing, a downright evil soul with an immense power that belies his baby face and diminutive form. Williams apart from being famous for composing hits such as The Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” and the theme from The Love Boat, (as well as epic Muppet Movie song “Rainbow Connection”) was never really someone who established himself as an actor, but in Phantom of The Paradise, the capability he displays, with the zeal he puts into his role, it makes it a real shame he never really made a name for himself in this realm. William Finley as Winslow equally makes for an extremely solid characterization, a tragic figure that seems to be up against everything, an every-man hero, able to elicit true sympathy from the audience. Jessica Harper (of Dario Argento’s Suspiria) is here in a debut role, and although she had experience as a singer and dancer, this is her first appearance in a full length feature, not that it shows. Her wide eyed expression, soulful voice, and determined nature make Phoenix a perfect complement to Winslow’s rage infused phantom. She also has one hell of a voice and provides some impressive funky little dance moves too. Gerrit Graham as glam rocker Beef brings with him a brilliant comedy flair, mincing about on stage in spandex and glitter and slipping over in his platform shoes. This also goes for George Memmoli playing Swan’s greaser henchman Philbin, looking a little too old for his biker jacket, and also appearing in a Pope Elvis costume. Both Graham and Memmoli regardless of having smaller roles than the stars, manage to still make an impact between them and put in strong performances, which also add to the comedic value of the overall feature.
The Arrow Video High Definition 1080p Blu-ray gives Phantom of The Paradise a chance to really shine in the glory that it deserves. Although it manages to retain that 70s glow, the print is sharp, heavily defined, and without flaw. The exquisite palette is deep and rich, and as colour is a theme which features intensely deep blues with hues of red, magenta, and yellow, the rendering into high definition literally helps it all reach out of the screen, making a feast for the eyes, and thus giving a richer experience than the former unrestored print which had become washed out and dull with age.
This Arrow Blu Ray comes with Uncompressed Stereo PCM / 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options plus Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack. Being all about the music, no expense seems to have been spared when it comes to the audio track. As with the video there is an obvious attention to detail paid resulting in a quality soundscape; which adds depth and enhances the viewing experience that this film is able to provide.
Paul William’s Oscar nominated soundtrack delivers the perfect foundation for events to unfold, using his skills as a composer to revel in the sounds of the 70s. Here the mix is just right, in that the music does not overpower but rather supports the story and themes contained. Special mention has to go to Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, and Peter Ebling, who appear in three Swan created band incarnations: The rockabilly nostalgia act, The Juicyfruits; clad out like the cast from Grease; the Surf-style Beach Boys-esque, The Beach Bums; and then the Kiss inspiring/inspired (debate revolves around this, although on this release, the topic does come up and the makers insist they were there first), The Undeads, complete with a horror inspired stageshow and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari backdrop.
Arrow Video are a label known for producing some quality extras, and on this release they do not disappoint. In fact, to discuss each extra at length, this would need a whole separate review. First we have an almost hour long documentary, “Paradise Regained”; with cast and crew members reflecting on their experiences of making Phantom of The Paradise. This provides a fairly comprehensive narrative about their time working on the project, and you really get a feel for the energy involved in the making it. Providing their own reflections are Director Brian De Palma, Producer Edward R. Pressman, William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, and Gerrit Graham. There is a 72 minute interview conducted by Guillermo Del Toro who speaks to Paul Williams. Williams, as well as giving some brilliant insights into the film, shows a real sense of pride toward the project he worked on 40 years ago.
Adding to this we have another feature piece “The Swan Song Fiasco”, which explores the production difficulties which arose when an actual record company registered the name “Swan Song” (Phantom’s original concept for Swan’s brand). After facing possible legal difficulties, all traces of the name had to be innovatively wiped from the print. The feature provides side by side comparisons of the original scenes and how they were altered. There is an interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton filmed in 1994; she is another member of the team who talks in very favorable terms about her time on the production, and discusses some of the themes they had in mind when designing the look of the costumes worn in the film, and the difficulties in working on such an ambitious project. To add to this, other extras include William Finley presenting a little piece on a Phantom Doll, which is quite fun, and there is also a host of bloopers, alternate scenes, rare stills, and original trailers and radio spots. For fans of Phantom of Paradise this is one hell of a collection, and very worthwhile.
Phantom of The Paradise, now fully restored, is a veritable feast for those who love to revel in flamboyant, energy driven retro filmmaking. The score, the cast, the beautiful set design and cinematography, everything defines the splendor and pomp of rock opera. But yet as a true double-edged sword, the underlying themes, tragedy laden storytelling, gothic undertones, and sardonic wit, give it a much deeper meaner than first impressions would suggest. Funny, and impressive, Phantom of Paradise is a real experience, and one which despite its age, manages to retain its resonance, if not echo more, with today’s ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ generation.