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Cinemalphabet: P is for Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

December 16, 2010

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2010 10:52 am

    The songs are fabulous, as is the way BdeP handles their staging… they give you a hint of what’s to come with Frankie GTH’s “Relax” in Body Double and of course Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”. And I agree, Gerrit Graham and Paul Williams give performances that make this film a lot more watchable.

    This was the film that first made me aware of de Palma. When I watched it, I thought “now *this* is how Rocky Horror should have been filmed. Somehow it manages to be emotionally involving *and* a great big hot buttered campy mess.

  2. December 16, 2010 11:59 am

    There’s absolutely NO truth to the “rumor” that Williams “allowed use of his songs in exchange for a role in the film.” It’s something that Gerrit has been telling interviewers for years, but he’s misinformed. You can check out our site (which you link to; thanks!) for the real poop on that if you’re interested.


  3. December 20, 2010 12:51 am

    This looks great! Funny enough, a friend of mine was trying to remember the name of this movie the other day. She was like, “Oh man have you ever seen this 70’s glam rock Phantom of the Opera? You would love it!” It took her a while to remember what it was called, at which point I realized I’d seen it on your blog already!

  4. December 22, 2010 6:04 pm

    @Principal Archivist – THANK YOU, for clearing that up. I wanted to send an email, because your site – which I love, btw – is the most comprehensive on the movie, but I didn’t want to be the person asking the question that always gets asked and seem like a rookie.

    Is there a reason why Graham insists on repeating this fable?

  5. hsofia permalink
    December 22, 2010 11:16 pm

    I am cracking up … that trailer is incredible. To be honest, I will (likely) never see this movie, but the review was great. And that trailer. I’d never heard of this trailer before.

  6. December 23, 2010 2:16 am

    @snarky – Drop me a line, I’ll fill you in… you know, …. privately.

  7. December 23, 2010 8:45 am

    Awesome. Thanks!!! And I know I said it before, but I really dig your site!

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