Saturday, April 09, 2005

Movie of the week, Phantom of the Paradise.


An Invitation...
How exciting these satanic '70s. This magical time when reality and fantasy are so cleverly disguised by the media masters. Full color shoot outs nightly on all channels. In the movies. In the news. Fact or fiction? Check your local TV listings if you're left confused.

Here at The Paradise we offer you a special blend off ends and fact. Atrocity and art. Music and murder twice nightly. And is the horror you witness mere theatrics, or is it real? The only way to be to participate.

At The Paradise our performers are contracted to entertain you at any cost! And entertain you they will. Trust me... SWAN

This week's movie of the week is, The Phantom of the Paradise.

Describing Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise as an update of the classic Phantom of the Opera doesn't do justice to this demented movie. While De Palma's Hitchcock homages have sometimes led him into dead ends, this rock & roll remake
seems to have liberated De Palma's imagination, and the result is weird and funny, with the scruffy underground spirit of the director's early pictures. The Phantom is one Winslow Leach (William Finley), a nerdy songwriter whose "pop cantata" on the subject of Faust is stolen by a freakish, Phil Spector-like rock impresario called  Swan (Paul Williams). After getting his head caught in a vinyl-LP compressor, Leach is transformed into a masked creature, haunting Swan's music palace, the Paradise. De Palma proves how nimbly he can establish narrative rhythm: the story moves like a cannon shot, and the musical numbers (especially in the Alice Cooper-like Paradise sequences) are brilliantly cut. The movie seems to predict the Studio 54 scene, MTV, and punk rock--the last, especially, in the figure of Beef, a screeching singer played by the unhinged Gerrit Graham. The songs were written by Paul Williams, that diminutive '70s music icon (he cowrote the Barbra Streisand wet noodle "Evergreen"), and his performance is a reminder of his peculiar, self-spoofing presence: at one point, the preening Swan announces, "You know how I abhor perfection in anyone but myself." Comedy, musical, horror film, '70s artifact--this movie isn't quite definable, and that's what's wonderful about it. --Robert Horton

Watch Beef Sing (sorry the sound isn't great)

Fun trivia:
Sissy Spacek is credited as "set dresser" for this film. As she was already an established actor when this film was made, one can assume that she took the job to assist her boyfriend, Jack Fisk, who was the film's production designer.

According to William Finley, the record press in which his Winslow character was disfigured was a real pressing plant (it was an injection-molding press at an Ideal Toy Co. plant). He was worried about whether the machine would be safe, and the crew assured that it was. The press was fitted with foam pads (which resemble the casting molds in the press), and there were chocks put in the center to stop it from closing completely. Unfortunately, the machine was powerful enough to crush the chocks that it gradually kept closing. It was Finley's speed and timing that saved him from truly being hurt, as he got his head out just in time. Incidentally, his scream in the scene was real.


Gerrit Graham has talked about the infamous "musical chairs" casting, where William Finley almost wound up with no part to play. The studio considered casting Paul Williams as Winslow, Graham as Swan and Peter Boyle as Beef. Williams turned down the role of Winslow not only because he didn't feel physically fit or menacing for the role, but he didn't want to use the role of Winslow as a message against the recording industry. Somehow, Boyle was unavailable, Graham took the Beef role, and Finley ultimately took the Winslow role. In fact, director Brian De Palma actually wrote the part with his colleague Finley in mind. William Finley said in a recent interview that Jon Voight was at one time considered for the role of Swan.

The single-edit, "time bomb in the car trunk" sequence is an homage to Orson Welles' famous opening for Touch of Evil (1958).

Winslow Sings Faust:

Fun quotes:
Beef: Can't you feel the vibes in your own house, man? Bad, sport, real bad. The karma in here is so thick, you need an aqualung to breathe.

Swan: [holding a contract] It's all here. Read it carefully, then sign at the bottom in blood. Messy, I know, but it's the only way to bind. Tradition. Ink isn't worth anything to me, Winslow.

Beef: You trying to tell me you didn't hear that shriek? That was something trying to get out of its premature grave, and I don't want to be here when it does.

My Phantom of the Paradise Wallpaper:

Four outta four, anyone who loves Rocky Horror will love this movie.


MC said...

It is a great kitchy movie indeed. Apparently the only place it really caught on as a theatrical phenomenon was in Winnepeg.

Becca said...

Really? I didn't know that.

Allen Lulu said...

Some more trivia. Gerritt Graham would go on, after years as a Mark Blankfield-esque mid level comedic actor, to be a writer on VH1's Pop Up Video.

Gavin Elster said...

I made a doc on the fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. While I am a fan of that film I find myself watching POTP more often. As a nod to Phantom we contacted Paul Williams to narrate the doc. He was a dream to work with. Imagine my giddy school girl delight as I actually got to work with Swan.
The opening of the doc is an homage to Phantom.

ADMIN said...

Gosh, I saw POTP when it first came out (I was in high school).

It's a tedious movie, much like Paul Williams' music.

Anonymous said...

Despite being a bit dated, this movie has some of the most haunting music I've ever heard (Faust, Phantom's Theme, Old Souls). A wierd, fun film.

Becca said...

Yes! The music is great! I actually have the soundtrack and have some of the tracks on my Ipod. Killer soundtrack...ahh the magic of Paul Williams

Anonymous said...

Hello ... I dig this movie enormously !
By the way I'm preparing a special art work about it ... do you know if by any lick I could find a wall paper of the poster in "quite high" resolution ?
Many thanks
larsenlupin @

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What I wouldn't give to hear a RHPS fan give a synopsis of that movie! While both flics have a surreal LOOK, Phantom of the Paradise is based on THREE works of Literature.... Faust, Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray and of course, Phantom of the Opera. This, combined with DePalma's 'rage at the machine' mood fed the passion, even as Swan's betrayal fed the fires of Winslow's fury, which would spell Swan's doom.

Richard O'Brien, who wrote the score and the screenplay for RHPS, confessed that Rocky Horror was a 'Lovingly constructed piece of crap.' The similarity between the two movies begins and end with their environmental 'look' and music. Past that, there is NO connection.

At BEST, it could possibly be said that RHPS bears the SLIGHTEST resemblance to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. And even that is a definite maybe.

Let me say that I am NOT trashing RHPS. I'm simply saying that, except for the musical connective and the genre, where is the similarity in their stories? They're flat out different movies! The characters who live in RHPS (except for Brad and Janet), were from another planet altogether! Literally! Winslow's phantom-wear might have made him look like some...bird man from another planet, but he wasn't. He was a physically (and otherwise)scarred man, who'd started out as a hopeful songwriter. His trust was betrayed by someone he respected. Trust betrayed is a powerful motivator but it will also mess a person up.

Rocky Horror's main theme is that a couple goes to a house for help, when their car gets a flat, and end up in some homo-erotic porn flic/Halloween party/alien flic. It would have been better for them (if not the movie) if that mansion WAS just "some hunting lodge for rich weirdos".

One thing I WILL for sure say in RHPS's favor, if it doesn't sound like I've been positive up to this point.... Rocky Horror has TIM CURRY. Vocally speaking, he beats Paul williams to a pulp! Betcha he even has better legs! It's an even safer bet that Tim Curry likely shies away from high heels like a recovering drunk from a sports bar!

Again, though, I'm not taking sides. I'm just saying that there is precious little similarity between POTP and RHPS besides music, and those who compare the two as having any greater kinship than that of music and...cinematic ambience, well,I'd love to hear your take! Seriously. If there's something I'm missing, please share.

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