Paul Williams didn’t look out of place as he accepted the Grammy for Album of the Year while standing next to two men in robotic masks. Daft Punk’s look was not new to the star of Smokey and the Bandit and composer of “The Rainbow Connection.” His greatest artist achievement involved another masked performer. Williams starred in and wrote the music for The Phantom of the Paradise. The movie brilliantly exposes the evils of the music industry. The film blends The Phantom of the Opera with Faust and a touch of Picture of Dorian Grey. Now this underrated masterpiece is being given a release worthy of its status with Phantom of the Paradise: Collector’s Edition.
During the ’70s, way too many directors wanted to make a musical. Coppola, Scorsese and even Spielberg all did their best to revive the MGM That’s Entertainment era of song and dance. Yet only two filmmakers of this group created musical masterpieces. Bob Fosse scored with the historical Cabaret and Brian De Palma with Phantom which covered the history of rock n roll.
Swan (Paul Williams) is a mysterious rock impresario that might be Phil Spector with better hair. Swan is doing well with his ’50s throwback group, but he wants the next big thing. He comes across Winslow Leach (William Finley) performing his cantata based on Faust. He’s not quite teen heart throb material, but his songs have an appeal to Swan. Winslow is eager to get a break so he allows Swan to borrow his sheet music. He imagines this is going to be the start of something big. But in classic rock and roll fashion, Winslow can’t past Swan’s security. Swan hasn’t forgotten the songs since he’s turning then into his next big production. Winslow crashes a singers audition where he meets Phoenix (Suspiria‘s Jessica Harper). But their meeting doesn’t last long and Winslow finds himself stuck inside prison and the victim of a nasty experiment. When he hears one of his songs on the radio, Winslow loses it. They’ve ruined his life’s work. He escapes from his confinement and shows up at a record pressing plant to stop the music. This unfortunately turns into an industrial accident. He becomes hideously deformed and seeks refuge and revenge inside a theater Swan is using for the launch of his Faust. Winslow is now the Phantom who is causing havoc to the performers. He gets really upset when Swan casts Beef (Gerrit Graham) as the lead singer of a shock rock version of Winslow’s Faust. Will anyone survive the musical mayhem?
The movie works because the story is compelling and the music is addictive. You don’t have to be from Winnipeg to become a fan. The songs Williams composed for the film are amongst his finest. The variations through out the film give the right amount of twist to expose new elements of the various performers. Jessica Harper’s performance of “Special to Me” is pure bliss as she bounces around the stage during the audition. She silences the rowdy crowd with “Old Friends.” The songs show how controlling Swan is of his performers, most of the time they are lip syncing to Williams.
Ultimately Phantom of the Paradise is the only Brian De Palma movie that matters. This is the one that truly deserves to be owned on Blu-ray to feel every frame and note. The finale scene is gloriously out of control and so rock and roll. The story, cast, music and energy are all at a higher state. The film’s subject remains fresh because there’s still music mavens who crank out the hits with their discoveries and they’re hiding phantoms from us. This film is a tribute to the genius of Paul Williams as an all around performer. He’s still not done working with musicians in masks after all these years.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The high resolution transfer makes Jessica Harper glow on the screen. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0. The 5.1 mix has a bit more bass. The movie is subtitled.
Brian De Palma Backstage at the Paradise (33:07) is a new interview that lets the director lay out how the movie developed. He touches upon various problems they had to overcome.
Paul Williams Soul Inspiration (34:54) lets him break down his songs.
Behind the Mask with Tom Burman (4:09) explains the issue with the various make-up men.
Alternate Takes (26:21) includes extra camera footage for various scenes including the live musical numbers.
Swan Song Outtake Footage (7:27) is the original shots with Swan Song Records in the frame. Why did Jimmy Page have to ruin these images?
Audio Commentary includes Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comano, Harold Oblong, Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham. The actors share plenty of tales from the sets. A second commentary is production designer Jack Fisk that is a master class. He talks of how Sissy Spacek ended up his set dresser and later his wife.
Still Gallery includes posters, lobby cards and production stills. It’s a bounty of publicity items.
Paradise Regained: Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (50:10) was made for an earlier French DVD release. This goes deep into the film. There’s even an admission that Swan was based on Phil Spector.
Interview with Paul Williams (72:16) lets him talk with director Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim). Paul’s career and work on Phantom gets covered in their chat.
Ed Pressman: Phantom Producer (17:05) covers how the film flopped when originally released. He gives more insight to dealing with Led Zeppelin’s manager over Swan Song Records.
Costume Designer Rosanna Norton (9:34) covers the outrageous fashions.
In The Studio with Drummer Gary Mallaber (17:05) has the musician talking about working in Williams’ band and getting the part of the house percussionist in PHANTOM, and details the recording of the tracks for the film in the studio. “
John Alvin: Neon Tribute (11:36) lets his widow talk about his approach to the poster art.
Phantom of the Paradise Biography (9:32) features Gerrit Graham his biography from the press kit.
William Finley and Toy (00:33) has the Phantom meet his action figure. R
Promotional Material includes radio ads with Wolfman Jack, TV spots, two theatrical trailers and another still gallery.
Phantom of the Paradise: Collector’s Edition is everything a fan would crave. The only thing missing inside the Blu-ray box is Paul Williams. A perfect treatment of a masterpiece that deserves to be treasured.
Scream Factory presents Phantom of the Paradise: Collector’s Edition. Directed by Brian De Palma. Starring: Paul Williams, Jessica Harper and William Finley. Rated: PG. Boxset Contents: 1 Blu-ray & 1 DVD. Released: August 5, 2014.
Tags: Phantom of the Paradise, Scream Factory