Brian de Palma is of a class of genre directors who rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s that have become known for a specific type of film (see also Michael Mann and Dario Argento). That specific film is a violent and twisty thriller; think Hitchock with more blood, sex and violence. The Scarface and Carrie director is currently subject to a staggered retrospective from boutique genre label Arrow Video. With that light being shone on some of his most outlandish and forgotten works, Arrow are giving their treatment to the director’s bizarrely off-piste rock musical, Phantom of the Paradise.
An oddball mix of Phantom of the Opera, Dorian Gray and a general Faustian vibe, Phantom of the Paradise depicts the rise and fall of two men – Swan (Paul Williams) and Winslow (William Finley). Swan is a savant of the music scene, creating styles and genres through his Death label, achievements which have seen him awarded with the most unassailable of egos. The one thing he doesn’t have is a centrepiece to that glittering career. He’s setting up the Paradise club for that very reason, auditioning for the privilege of opening this club is Winslow, a brilliant composer who has developed a rock opera based on Faust. Winslow’s music may be the perfect match, but his image doesn’t fit Swan’s vision and it’s in that conflict that Winslow is beaten, maimed, imprisoned and mutilated. Wearing a mask and cape not unlike the logo of Swan’s bale, Winslow becomes the Phantom of the Paradise murdering anybody who plays a role in devaluing his cantata.
Now to see Brian de Palma pen a film that is not too dissimilar to Rocky Horror musical shows a director having fun with his work; unfortunately that fascinatingly odd vibe doesn’t carry throughout. The musical numbers by Paul Williams (who wrote Rainbow Connection for the Muppets) is fantastic in all its forms and their staged with all the zest and passion that would make for a wonderful stage show. The glam rock numbers sang by Beef are as entertaining as those carried by the voice of Jessica Harper. Past the musical numbers, the film is caught between the same divide that eventually defined the director’s career, stuttering between the de Palma that defined a generation and the bland echoes of former glories he now touts. Phantom of the Paradise is as frustrating a film as De Palma is a frustrating director.
Focus is the issue here, as previously mentioned Paul Williams does fine work behind the scenes; it’s the script around it that causes the problems. Phantom of the Opera is one of the finest stories in horror literature, but in introducing other literary inspirations the magic gets lost. Phantom of the Paradise jumps between its own tricks and opera’s like it’s trying to navigate a treacherous path of hot coals, jumping from one foot to the other. Managing to be both a highly camp musical and Faust should be great as a contrarian piece alone. But in revealing the whole devilish picture minutes away from curtains not only does the Phantom of the Paradise a huge disservice it also cements its status as a simple camp musical. The film and its conglomeration of contrasted ideas deserves better than that. While the HD treatment is gorgeous and the extras extensive and informative, Arrow’s latest is one for Williams and De Palma completists only.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, available in the UK for the first time!
- Uncompressed Stereo PCM / 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options
- Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
- Paradise Regained: A 50-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham and more!
- All new 72-minute interview with Paul Williams by Guillermo del Toro
- The Swan Song Fiasco: A new video piece exploring the changes made to the film in postproduction
- 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
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress
- 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.
Phantom of the Paradise is out on Blu-Ray and Steelbook on February 24th through Arrow Video & Film