Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)
Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out
of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite
directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which
include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body
Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface
and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is
my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to
see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to
disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of
films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in
such high esteem.
I got to see a beautiful 35mm print of this tonight. This is not the first time I have seen this one, in fact, it is the Brian De Palma film I have seen the most in my life. This is the 6th time I have seen this, at least. Now, to many movie lovers this may not seem like that much, but I am of the belief that you generally do not see a movie more than once every 5-10 years. That way you see things you forgot, or maybe didn't notice the first time. Most films for me are one time only events, even when I like them. The ones that get the most rewatches are the ones that are complex enough to warrant it, or have enough content that you have more to watch than just the central thing on the screen. This film is one of those films, as are other De Palma masterpieces.
The first time I saw this was long after it had been originally released, at some art house revival showing many years ago. I enjoyed it and found it fun, and remembered it over the years, but it didn't play often, so I didn't get to see it more than once more much later. Then, after even more years, this movie started to gain some more cult status, as Brian De Palma became more and more well known. So about 7 years ago my girlfriend is away at a wedding, and this played in my neighborhood. I generally HATE going to movies alone, but I had seen this and wanted to catch it again. So off I go to see it, hoping what I remember to be entertaining will still be fun. I left the theater shocked, I had remembered liking it, but this time I LOVED it! I felt like I saw a whole new movie, could see things I never saw on previous screenings. I was floored by how good the songs and performances were, and I really wished I could have taken my girlfriend to see it with me. Oddly enough, two weeks later she is back in town and it plays again at another theater. I had told her I had just seen it, but I felt she should so I was willing to go again. I worried that I would be bored seeing it again so soon, but I had the opposite feeling, not only did I love it as much, but I found more things to love. I wasn't in the least bit bored, a problem I have when I see a movie too often, or after not enough time has gone by. My girlfriend was immediately floored by it as well, and she rarely takes to a movie like she did this one. About a year later, we saw that it was playing again, but this time Paul Williams was going to be at the screening and doing a Q&A about it. We once again found ourselves sitting in the theater seeing it again. Paul Williams was brilliant, funny, and a wonderful guest. I got to meet him and he signed a couple of albums I had as well, so I was a happy guy. We have skipped a couple screenings since then, but we could not resist seeing it again tonight when we were already at the theater seeing Get To Know Your Rabbit, and this was next on the bill. So we bought tickets and watched it with a friend of ours who was experiencing it for the first time. Once again we loved it, and so did he. Also, once again, I saw and heard even more things than other screenings, this time it was a line in the first song, sung by The Juicy Fruits, about how the girl in the song met a guy, and he "came" and went so fast she didn't get his last name, but ended up pregnant. Not only had I not heard that line before, but if I had I definitely missed the double entendre using the word came. Nice little sexual reference thrown in probably unnoticed by many. Just one more reason why this is one of my 4 favorite De Palma films, all of which are in my personal Top 100.
For those of you that don't know, the plot is a rock opera version of Phantom Of The Opera, modernized (for 1974) complete with music business references, studio effects, big rock shows and screaming audiences. I'm not going to bore you with the details of the plot, since you can figure out the basics on your own. But the performances by the actors are amazing. Paul Williams as the creepy Swan, a music mogul who is very devilish. William Finley as Winslow and The Phantom, who is a sad ruined man, but one who creates amazing music. Jessica Harper as the wide eyed innocent yet easily corruptible Phoenix, who wants to be famous more than anything in the world. Plus Gerrit Graham as the wonderfully flamboyant Beef, the glam/metal singer who should NOT be performing Winslow's music, EVER! There are tons of references to the music business, old horror movies, books, and other things, and the music is wonderful and catchy. The theater that Swan is opening in the movie is gorgeous, and the sets are done well, even if they aren't ridiculously expensive. The music, written by one of the all time great songwriters, Paul Williams, are so much fun. Musically they will stick in your head, lyrically they will surprise you.
Although this is a rock opera, musical, comedy, drama, horror movie, it is amazingly stable and well put together, and it does not drag at all or feel like it's going off the rails. It may just be hanging on by the skin of its teeth, but it is hanging on. This whole movie is a wild ride, and well worth the price of admission. Definitely one of my favorite De Palma films, one I recommend to anyone with a love for insanity and reckless abandon masquerading as a movie.
9 out of 10 stars.