Cinemalphabet: P is for Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Combining elements of Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and De Palma’s previous cinematic efforts, Phantom of the Paradise is what happens when you attempt to film Tommy on a Kindergarten mortality play budget! The first time I watched this movie, I fell asleep. To be fair, I’m sure this had more to do with being exhausted rather than the film itself. If you are acquainted with the story of Phantom of the Opera the plot of Phantom of the Paradise shouldn’t be too difficult to follow, though to be fair, the story is told more with visuals than actual cohesive script, dialogue or acting. It’s not that the acting is bad: it’s just not good. De Palma regular Gerritt Graham is his usual over the top campy self and it’s a much needed respite from the den of hot buttered fail populating the film. I often get asked about this film, since I’m a huge B DeP fan, but it’s not often one I’m inclined to recommend without a strong warning that you have to be in the right mood for the film. I don’t care how that happens for you, but it’s best that it does.
It took me several viewings to get a handle on this film and appreciate its artistic statement. There are precious few films that are this fatuous, yet technically masterful and visually arresting. In fact, each time I watch this sparkling mess of a film, I fall more in love with De Palma. I have more fun identifying all the De Palmalicious cinematic elements than anything else. However, one cannot ignore the sheer awesome screen presence of Paul Williams, a prolific songwriter known for hits such as “Rainy Days and Mondays” and a bunch of other 70s elevator classics. It’s been rumored that Williams allowed use of his songs in exchange for a role in the film. It’s one of the better casting choices – besides Graham, who is always great in De Palma films – in the movie. Oh yeah, the songs are actually quite catchy.