Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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*. A postmodern Phantom, with a backstory that drops Leroux’s original completely for something more along the lines of the 1962 version, then throws in Faust, A Star is Born, some Hitch, some Poe, some Wilde, some drugs, and . . . we’re not at the Paris Opera any more.
*. A grab-bag of odds-n-ends, and that’s not an accident. De Palma loves to compose through a montage of influences, and the results are better than most of the in-jokery you get from similarly inclined directors.

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*. The Faust story was there from the beginning. It’s the Paris Opera’s big production in both Leroux’s novel and the 1925 film. So in some ways De Palma was going back to the story’s roots.
*. Perhaps the most dramatic shift is that the Phantom isn’t in love with Phoenix at all. He just thinks she’s got a great voice for singing his music, which in turn is the only thing he seems to care about. A true artist.
*. Or perhaps an even more dramatic shift is making William Finley’s Phantom into a secondary character. Let’s face it, this is Paul Williams’s movie, and his Swan is a character with no relation to the original story.
*. Poor Phoenix. As noted, Winslow Leach isn’t in love with her. And neither is Swan, who just wants to quickly exploit and discard her, executing her on live TV for ratings. A true artist. Hey, this is a movie with a message!

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*. Doing some background on the film I’ll admit to being surprised when I found out that Paul Williams was still alive. And indeed in 2011 there was a documentary made about him titled Paul Williams Still Alive. He was only 34 when he made this movie. I thought he was older.
*. A movie that flopped at the box office (but not in Winnipeg!). I find this hard to understand. Over its full length it’s easily as good a movie as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which came out a year later.
*. I don’t know why de Palma likes split screens (or screens within screens) so much. Most of the time it just seems like he’s trying to be clever. In Dressed to Kill it really got on my nerves. Here, however, following the bomb in the car trunk in two parallel continuous shots (an homage to Touch of Evil) is pretty impressive.

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*. The Undeads look like Kiss or Alice Cooper on a Caligari set. De Palma always seems quoting someone. As with the rather tedious parody shower scene, which I don’t know why he bothered with.

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*. Explain this again to me. Swan makes a deal with the devil, and records a video of the whole thing (which even includes cuts from different angles). Then the video is supposed to get old (a la Dorian Gray’s picture) while he stays young? But he’s not getting older on the video. And what if the film is copied? Does it carry a curse like that video in The Ring? I don’t get it. It all seems like a really awkward way to introduce a flashback.
*. Did they actually film at Sing-Sing? That warden’s office looks identical to the one in Kiss of Death.
*. If Leach had really got his head stuck in a record press I suspect he would have had more damage done than just some burns on the side of his face.
*. I think the real testament to De Palma’s achievement is the fact that this film has held up so well. You’d think such hip and trendy material would date very quickly and seem entirely ridiculous today. But, at least for me, this movie doesn’t seem to get old. It has a lot of life in it with every re-viewing.

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