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20th Century Fox presents
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

"There are no words to express what you are going to become."
- Swan (Paul Williams)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: August 31, 2001

Stars: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper
Other Stars: George Memmoli, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Commanor, Harold Oblong, Colin Cameron, David Garland, Gary Mallaber, Art Munson
Director: Brian DePalma

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence, adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:31m:33s
Release Date: September 04, 2001
UPC: 024543023777
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A- D+

DVD Review

"We'll remember you forever, Eddie/Through the sacrifice you made/We can't believe the price you paid/For love." - The Juicy Fruits, from Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye

Welcome to The Paradise, where music mogul Swan (Paul Williams) is opening his new show. It has to be spectacular, after all, he has been single-handedly responsible for every major event in the record industry for decades. While his band, The Juicy Fruits, broke the era of nostalgia rock, Swan is looking for something new, something that will turn the Paradise into the definitive rock 'n' roll mecca. While holding auditions, he hears the music of one Winston Leach (William Finley), and instantly knows this is what will open his theater. Leach is not exactly star material, and is insistent that only he can perform his magnum opus, a grand cantata based on Faust. Nonetheless, Swan's assistant Philbin (George Memmoli) convinces him to surrender his manuscript for Swan's consideration. His calls not returned, Leach tries a followup at Swan's Death Records, only to be expelled from the building. Leach next shows up at Swan's mansion, the Swanage, where he is surprised to find a parade of young women rehearsing his song for the audition, though he meets young Pheonix, who he instantly forms an attraction to. Unceremoniously removed, framed for drug possession, and sentenced to time in Sing Sing, Leach is further humiliated by some volunteer dental procedures, but goes berserk and escapes when he hears one of his works performed by Swan's reincarnated Juicy Fruits on the radio. After an unfortunate accident, while ransacking the Death Records plant, he is shot and presumed dead....

Rehearsals are underway for the grand opening of The Paradise, but a strange figure is stalking its hallways, who Swan witnesses on his many closed circuit TV cameras when a fatal stage accident occurs. Recognizing Leach despite his disguise, Swan strikes him a deal to allow Pheonix to star in the performance of his cantata, as long as he stops haunting the theater, and finishes writing the work under contract. Locked away in the studio Leach is unaware that Swan has other plans for the work, as he brings in a new face to star in his show. When Leach learns the truth, he again sets out to destroy the show, but are his efforts only adding to the entertainment value?

"Carburetors man, that's what life is all about." - The Beach Bums, from Upholstery

I was first introduced, via an elementary school friend, to Phantom of the Paradise through its Oscar®-nominated soundtrack in the late 1970s, and instantly became a fan. Composed by Paul Williams, responsible for a number of Carpenters hits (We've Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays, I Won't Last a Day Without You), the Love Boat theme, and Barbara Streisand's Academy Award®-winning Evergreen, the music ranged from pseudo surf to heavy metal. Its songs unravelled a tale of sacrifice and devotion, going hand in hand with the album's rock 'n' roll cover, which was the epitome of cool to a young boy. The music holds up to this day, easily on par with the soundtrack from This is Spinal Tap, both in its diversity and its cleverly satirical presentation.

It took well over a decade and a half for me to actually see the film, and to be honest, it was kind of a letdown after growing up with the music, and my imagination of who these artists were. Through the music, the story had taken on a life of its own; seeing someone else's interpretation was a bit of a shock. Of course, at the time, I had no idea who Brian DePalma was, or that he was responsible for films like Sisters, The Fury, Carrie or Dressed to Kill. Phantom of the Paradise is true to DePalma's visual style, featuring his trademark split screens, first person and oddball camera angles, as well as reflection shots. Here he takes theater to its excess, where extravagance means entertainment at any cost. Drawing heavily on the glitter rock styles of the early 1970s, heralded by Alice Cooper and David Bowie, Phantom is a visual orgy of costume and caricature, from Swan's cool and mysterious record company godhead, to the sexually ambiguous step-in star Beef, with his throaty vocals (voiced by Ray Kennedy) screaming out lyrics for his opening number; the cast is perfect for their parts. William Finley's phantom is just the right blend of psychotic and loser, and in her film debut, Jessica Harper commands the attentions of those around her as the aspiring starlet Phoenix.

Unlike a lot of pictures, the musical numbers become an integral part of the narrative, and revisiting this movie with a much broader knowledge of film history has really increased its entertainment value. DePalma pays homage to the masters in this send up of the classics, including the Philbin character, named after the owner of the opera house in the original Phantom Of The Opera, and a familiar bathing sequence "beefed" up for this film. The Juicy Fruits were originally slated to be performed by Sha Na Na, but ended up being a group Williams assembled for the film, who also play The Beach Bums and Beef's construction team, The Undead. The observant will also notice a number of overlays present, notably on Swan's tape machine, and on the podium during Beef's introduction. These were to obscure the original references to Swan Song records, which were later removed to avoid conflict with Led Zeppelin's newly formed record label of the same name. Also, some profanity was removed from Philbin's opening speech, though I'm not sure when this occured.

The story may be an old one, but it is brought out in over-the-top style. Now that's entertainment.

Trust me...

"I'm the evil that you created/Getting horny and damn frustrated/Bored stiff and I want me a woman now!" - Beef, from Life at Last

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Phantom Of The Paradise is finally available in widescreen on home video. The 1.85:1 image is, for the most part, great for a film of this vintage. While there is some grain, it is well-rendered. Colors are well-saturated, black levels slid, and edge enhancement isn't an issue. The only downside about the increased resolution afforded here is that the overlays that were added to remove any reference to Swan Song records stand out a lot more than they may have on previous releases. That aside, this looks great.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: As a musical, the soundtrack of Phantom of the Paradise is at center stage, and the presentation here is good, though not outstanding. There is nothing to complain about as far as defects (other than an obvious language edit early in the film), but there isn't anything to really get excited about either, in the way of enhanced audio. The soundstage is well covered, frequency range is acceptable for a film of this age, but I would have hoped for a little more in the remastering department. I'm not sure how tight the sync was for the opening numbers, but it does seem off here, though this may have always been like that.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Big Trouble In Little China, Bedazzled, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Legend Of Hell House, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: "Half asleep I hear a voice/Is it only in my mind?/Or is it someone calling me/Someone I failed and left behind." - Paul Williams - Phantom's Theme (Beauty and the Beast)

Sadly, Phantom Of The Paradise is repleat of any supplemental features, aside from its theatrical trailer. I was hoping for a DePalma commentary (it would have been great to know all the references used throughout the film), stills galleries or something more to set this apart, but alas, it was not to be. I am also disappointed that Fox chose to use a different cover design than the original one-sheets, as that was a truly magnificient and fitting piece of art.

Trailers for other Fox Flix including Big Trouble in Little China, Bedazzled, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Legend of Hell House, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show are also included.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

"Born defeated, died in vain/Super destructive you were hooked on pain/And though your music lingers on/All of us are glad you're gone/ If I could have lived my life half as worthlessly as you/I'm convinced that I'd wind up burning too." - Paul Williams, The Hell Of It

Sure to be disliked by many, Phantom of the Paradise holds a special place in my collection, as a stylish retelling of Faust,, set to one of my favorite soundtracks. DePalma knows spectacle, and here we have it in grand fashion: life, death, love and loss, served up nightly for your entertainment, at any cost. Recommended.

"Old souls survive the ages/In its story lives are pages/Fill them up, may ours turn slow..." - Jessica Harper, Old Souls


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