Thursday 13 February 2014

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

      Good old Arrow Films comes through again with this glitteringly beautiful transfer of a pre-CARRIE Brian de Palma’s eccentric, wildly creative, satirical take on the Gaston Leroux classic. When Winslow Leach (William Finley) has his musical version of Faust stolen by rock impresario Swan (Paul Williams) to open his new theatre the Paradise, Winslow swears revenge, especially as Swan has intentions to cast the androgynous and frankly mad Beef (a terrific performance of, amongst other things, Oscar-worthy gurning from Gerrit Graham) instead of pretty Phoenix (Jessica Harper) in the lead role.
Swan has other plans for Winslow, however, and pretty soon our hero has had his face crushed in a record press and all his teeth pulled out during an incarceration in Sing Sing. Escaping in a cardboard box (it’s that kind of film) Winslow acquires mask, cape and electronic voicebox to become the Phantom, signing a contract with Swan in blood to ensure the completion of his cantata, mercilessly electrocuting Beef live on stage, and then living to see Swan make Phoenix his new star while he can only impotently watch. Because it's that kind of film too.
      PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a deliciously imaginative take on the music industry that’s alternately funny and bitterly angry by turns. The film has been compared to Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, but PHANTOM really is a different, and more professional, piece of eccentric mid-1970s rock opera than the pleasantly ramshackle efforts of Tim Curry at al. Performances are all excellent, with William Finley offering an appealingly complex portrayal of genius that’s close to madness, with the inherent violence that can ensue as a result. Paul Williams is memorably oily as record producer Swan, who gets the best voice-over introduction in a horror film ever from an uncredited Rod Serling. Jessica Harper is just right as the inexperienced ingenue, and Gerrit Graham is...well...irreplaceable as the no doubt over experienced Beef.
What gives PHANTOM a tremendous punch, though, is the behind the scenes talent. Paul Williams’ songs give an example of just how broad a range he has, with everything from doo wop and Beach Boys-type melodies to the heavier rock of the period augmenting the onscreen action. Brian de Palma’s direction is by turns funny (the shower scene) heartbreaking (the scene where the Phantom views Swan and Phoenix through a skylight streaming with rain sums up one of the many reasons I love horror in one beautiful cinematic moment) and immediate (the cinema verite style filming of the end sequence). PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a superb piece of 1970s cinema, and the more times I watch it the more I appreciate just how clever it is.
Arrow’s Blu-ray transfer of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is nothing short of spectacular. The film has never looked this good, and anyone who is a fan owes it to themselves to get hold of this version. Aside from the crystal clear image (could the film have looked this good in 1974?) the audio setup offers three options: 2.0 Stereo, 4.0 DTS HD and an isolated music and effects track. Whichever option you select, the film sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before so crank up the volume.
Extras include Paradise Regained, a 50 minute interview from 2005 for the French DVD release that includes most of the major participants (Gerrit Graham even answers his questions in French!). There’s a brand new 72 minute interview with Paul Williams conducted by film-maker Guillermo del Toro, and a new featurette made by Arrow that highlights the changes that had to be made after Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, beat the movie to it by forming Swan Song records himself before PHANTOM came out. There’s an archival (ie shot on VHS) interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton, William Finley extols the virtues of the 300 Euro Phantom Action Figure, and Paradise Lost and Found treats us to bloopers, alternate takes and deleted scenes. Finally there’s a collection of trailers, radio spots and a gallery.
Arrow are releasing PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in both steelbook and standard formats with original writing on the picture as well. If you’re one of the many, many people who love this film this is definitely the version to get. 

Arrow Films are releasing Brian de Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE on limited edition steelbook and standard edition Blu-ray on 24th February 2014

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