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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 18.18%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 9.09%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Phantom of the Paradise
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by Jay Seaver

"De Palma's 70s glam-rock 'Phantom of the Opera' is sure to be classy."
3 stars

You look at the description for "Phantom of the Paradise" and you know it's going to be screwy: Brian De Palma doing a glam-rock version of "The Phantom of the Opera" with diminutive Paul Williams as the villain. Even taking that into account, this is a seriously screwy movie. Fortunately, it's the sort of screwy that is energetic as opposed to just weird.

Rock impresario Swan (Paul Williams) is about to open a new club in New York, The Paradise, but he needs a fantastic opening act, and what fifties throwbacks The Juicy Fruits are playing just won't cut it. He hears a great piece from singer/songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley), but rather than actually doing business with him, swipes the sheet music, starts auditioning singers, and throws Leach out of his house and into jail when he tries to clear things up. Leach escapes, is deformed, and makes a deal with Swan to have the talented Phoenix (Jessica Harper) sing his music - although Swan opts for a rocker who goes by "Beef" (Gerrit Graham).

Laid out like that, Phantom sounds ridiculous, and that's before seeing the slapstick details and truly bizarre last-act left-turns that things take. De Palma's screenplay really makes almost no sense whatsoever, especially where Swan is concerned. Sure, there is a certain purity in being completely evil, even when being honest - or even merely extortionate - is clearly of greater benefit, but if the idea is even partially satirical, then De Palma overshoots the mark by some distance. Then he heaps some more silliness on top, but, hey, at this point, there is no point in being less deranged.

While it's a relatively early and, even for this director, not-particularly-subtle movie, it's still a De Palma film, which means it's certainly a treat to watch at times. There's a split-screen tracking shot that is right up there with anything he's ever done, which makes it pretty spiffy. The look of the film is garish as hell, but it's a fun ugliness; the filmmakers merrily blur the line between what was considered cool in 1974 (but dated now) and which bits of tackiness are timeless. Like the best of Brian De Palma's movies, there's often a feeling of just letting it rip even though looking at what's going on suggests everything must have been very tightly controlled, from the background anarchy in the first music number forward.

That cast can't really be said to elevate their material, sad to say - William Finley's performance improves markedly when his face is hidden behind a mask and his voice is electronically mangled, for instance. Paul Williams is a talented musician and a songwriter with an impressive range (he penned the music for both this and The Muppet Movie, and hit the nail square on the head with both), but except for rare moments, is neither threatening nor silly enough to get Swan to the proper extreme. There's some good work at the supporting level, though - Jessica Harper makes Phoenix sweet and crush-worthy without making her a complete doe-eyed innocent, and George Memmoli actually manages a few moments of dry, deadpan wit as Swan's second in command. And then there's Gerrit Graham's Beef. Graham may not do his own singing, but the man holds nothing back otherwise, making Beef as over-the-top as a proper glam-rocker should be while getting laughs beyond his role's silliness.

There's at least one surprisingly good print of "Phantom of the Paradise" floating around, and a midnight show at a funky theater seems like the best way to see it. It's not a great movie in and of itself, but it's just well-done enough for the kitsch to bring out more laughs than groans, either of which can be contagious with the right crowd.

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originally posted: 01/04/11 14:28:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/17/19 Paul L Great movie, underrated! 4 stars
10/10/11 mr.mike It was unwatchable. 1 stars
1/20/11 Martin What an Awesome trip of a film! 4 stars
4/14/06 joey squids should have had the acclaim, that rocky horror achieved 5 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Pretty good. Lags at times, and material is pretty thin. Still, it's passable. 3 stars
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  02-Oct-1974 (PG)



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