I admit the following: I’d never seen Phantom Of The Paradise. Okay. Hear that? Yeah, I never saw it. I KNEW about it. I’ve seen the trailer. I knew Paul Williams was in it. I knew Paul Williams wrote the music. I knew Brian DePalma wrote and directed it. And I knew it wasn’t the same thing as Phantom Of The Park. Normally I bug the good people at Shout/Scream Factory for releases of films I’ve already seen (ahem, where is my Without Warning?!?!?), but I was so curious about Phantom Of The Paradise I figured I could review the disc AND the movie. When I received the new Blu-ray, I was coming in with fresh eyes and an open mind.
Man, this is a weird movie. Not just like “trippy” because it’s from the 70s, but it’s…really out there and I loved it. I think I responded to the material because the look and sound of the film is not only pure pop art, it’s authentic pop art. It never feels like DePalma tried to make a “modern” or “hallucinatory” film that the young people could understand. He made a film that used the look and style of the period and then made it his own. It’s not cheesy or trying to be cool, it just is cool and it totally holds up.
It tells the story of singer/songwriter Winslow Leach who has written a modern poppy operatic version of Faust. The music is heard by the egotistical and enigmatic music impresario Swan, played by a devilish Paul Williams. Swan steals the music from Leach, who goes mad and tries to get it back. Through a series of interesting and unfortunate accidents, Leach goes from the hapless, nerdy musician to the tortured, mask wearing Phantom, who…as the title implies…haunts the Paradise – a theater Swan is attempting to re-open and restore to its former glory using the very music he stole from Leach. Jessica Harper (who would later star in Argento’s Suspiria) plays Phoenix, a singer looking for her big break. She becomes the obsession of the Phantom who insists that only she can sing his music and anyone else who tries, dies. By the way, he’s serious. The story is Phantom Of The Opera meets Faust meets Dorian Grey meets awesome Paul Williams music.
First of all, I’m already a big Paul Williams fan (yes, a fan who has never seen this film). I suppose I should rephrase that and say I’m a fan of the more accessible Paul Williams music and Bugsy Malone happens to be one of my favorite film scores (and films) ever. The music in Phantom was a big departure from what Williams was known for, which was poppy love song faire. This stuff is a supernatural disco rock opera and it’s fresh and cool – a sound of the time, yet all its own.
As I’ve already admitted to not seeing the film before, I can’t compare this to any previous releases so I can only say this Blu-ray looks STUNNING. Of course, this is not unusual for Shout Factory as they repeatedly put out fantastic looking transfers time and time again. In this category, they do what they do best and make it look and sound awesome.
The Blu-ray comes with a decent handful of extras. The least inspired is the interview with DePalma and this is because he just isn’t that engaging as an interviewee. Maybe he’s talked about this film to death, maybe he was just tired, I don’t know. A better interview was Paul Williams, who just sparkles every time I see him. I wish they had put a piano in there and he could have taken us through the musical journey with some more flair, but he had plenty of interesting things to talk about.
The Blu-ray also has a cool feature taking you through the transition of “Swan Song Records” to the final version in the film we see, “Death Records”. Apparently, all the film’s production design featured the logo for Swan Song but an imminent law suit forced them to change it all during the films editing. They put together some before and after shots which was really fascinating, especially for a filmmaking junkie like myself.
My favorite extra on the disc is the commentary. It’s a mix of different actors and they are exuberant and funny in discussing the film’s details, you can tell that everyone is proud to have been a part of the film’s history.
The second disc, a standard DVD, has another documentary, Paradise Regained, from 2006. That was well done and it was nice to have the late William Finley, who played Winslow, represented on this release. And even though it’s not officially a new doc just for this Blu-ray, any fan of the movie will love having everything in one place.
Which brings me to my Faustian end. Before I sign my name in blood to this review and my soul is claimed by Mephistopheles, I highly recommend this Blu-ray to ANY fan of the film. I imagine it’s probably the best version out there. For those like me who would be seeing it for the first time, if you love rock and roll operas you should definitely check it out. Bring your platform boots and snakeskin suit. You don’t have one? Pretty sure Daniel XIII has one, ask him.
Phantom Of The Paradise is available on Tuesday, Aug 5. Get it here.
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