When you hear the name Brain De Palma you may think of such films as Scarface (De Palma is in fact credited for discovering and fostering the career of Robert De Niro) or maybe to more recent times with movies such as Mission Impossible or The Black Dahlia. It is unlikely however to immediately think of Phantom of the Paradise an obscure seventies film now seeing it’s release on Blu ray.
Upon it’s release in 1974 Phantom of the Paradise was considered a box office flop and received harsh criticism from the media, only ever really gaining any traction in Winnipeg Canada where it enjoyed an extended run in theatres (moreover, it’s soundtrack sold over two thousand copies Winnipeg certifying it Gold in Canada). Over the year however, as many films do, it has gained a following among movie fans and achieved cult status.
Phantom of the Paradise comes from the gloriously absurd decade of the 1970’s: bizarre was in fashion and it comes through in this strange mix of comedy, horror, rock music, Faust and Phantom of the Opera. Winslow Leach (played by William Finley) is our central character who has his music stolen by an evil record label headed by a man named Swan (Paul Williams) who owns a concert hall named Paradise. When Winslow confronts Swan, he is beaten and arrested after being framed on drug charges.
After staging a stealthy prison break, Winslow busts into Swan’s factory but is disfigured in an accident with a printing machine. Disorientated, he stumbles into the costume department and dons a black cape and silver mask becoming the Phantom of the Paradise.
As you can probably tell, Phantom of the Paradise does not take itself seriously and everything is played for comedy but the film also manages to fit in some biting satire of the music industry at the time. Nevertheless, it’s never long before something comedic happens to stop it getting bogged down in cynicism, such as a parody of the infamous shower scene from Psycho.
The transition to Blu Ray has been very kind to Phantom of the Paradise. Whilst this is a seventies film, it’s visuals are very much reminiscent of the sixties; one glance will bring to mind 1960’s television shows such as Adam West’s Batman. The colours are bright and vivid, picture quality is very clear and sharp, and it’s all wrapped up with a juicy bunch of extras, including some archived interviews, trailers and even a 72 minute interview with Paul Williams conducted by Guillermo Del Toro.
A film like Phantom of the Paradise is meant to be enjoyed with your tongue in your cheek. It revels in it’s insanity and so should you, set your moods to silly and give it a watch.
Words > Jason Potter
Phantom of the Paradise is available on Blu Ray 24th February from Arrow Video