Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 11th, 2014
BluRay released: February 24th, 2014
Approximate running times: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD 4.0 Stereo English, DTS-HD Stereo English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £24.99
Synopsis: Winslow Leach (William Finley) is an eccentric composer whose cantata about Faust is the music that Swan (Paul Williams) a music producer wants to use to opens the Paradise theater. Swan manages to steal Winslow’s Faust and get him thrown in jail. Winslow breaks out of prison to get his revenge on Swan and after a security guard shots him while he is fleeing he is presumed dead. Winslow now disfigured is very much alive and well and he finds a phantom costume which he wears as he haunts the corridors of the Paradise. Winslow is hell bent on sabotage the opening of the Paradise and when Swan learns of this he makes him an offer he can’t refuse if Winslow finishes his Faust cantata. Will Swan live up to his promise to let the woman Winslow loves Phoenix (Jessica Harper) sing lead in his cantata or will Swan betray Winslow again?
No American filmmaker has been as influential as Brian De Palma over the last thirty five years and remained like De Palma relatively unknown outside of cinema files. Brian De Palma through out his career has pushed the boundaries of censorship in Hollywood system while most of his contemporaries have been content to play things safe and keep working. Most director’s find a genre in which there are most comfortable and they spend their career their. Brian De Palma like a chameleon has worked in just about every genre with his most successful films being in the thriller genre.
In 1973 he would begin work on Phantom of the Paradise his one and only attempt at making a musical. The music for Phantom of the Paradise was composed by Paul Williams who’s most famous compositions at that time had been for the Carpenters. His work on Phantom of the Paradise is nothing short of brilliant as his score runs the gamut from 1950 and 60’s nostalgia to full blown mini epic’s like ‘Life at Last’.
Phantom of the Paradise was one of the first films to explore 1950 and 60’s nostalgia before it became in vogue with Happy Days and films like Grease. It is also a precursor to the more recognized Rocky Horror Picture Show which would not be possible if Phantom of the Paradise hadn’t already laid the ground work for these types of films a few years before.
The cast for Phantom of the Paradise may not be filled with ‘A’ list actor’s, still the leads chosen for this film though probably unknown at the time were inspired choices. Paul Williams as Swan is the most interesting casting choice as he plays a man who wields an unbelievable amount of power despite his lack of height. At first look he might not look that imposing that is until you spend a few moments with him as Swan and he devilishly sells the part with the utmost conviction. William Finely is regular in virtually all of Brian De Palma’s film up to this point and his performance as Winslow Leach / The Phantom is his crowning achievement and his finest collaboration with De Palma. Jessica Harper would make her film debut in Phantom of the Paradise as Phoenix as singer who seeks fame and becomes the object of Winslow Leaches desires along the way. Most cult movie fans will most likely recognize her from Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Harpers performance is unpolished in Phantom of the Paradise which is most likely due to her inexperience and somehow her performance works perfectly with in the confines of this film. Gerrit Graham steals every scene he is in as the new singing sensation ‘Beef’. The ‘Beef’ character laid the foundation to flamboyant characters like Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Brian De Palma direction is solid in Phantom of the Paradise as he uses many of the same techniques that he would later become famous for in films like Carrie and Dressed to Kill. De Palma also wrote the films screenplay which is full of dark humor and witty satire about the record/entertainment industry. Editor Paul Hirsch who has collaborated with De Palma many times through the years creates a nice flow to the films pacing through his perfectly time edits. One scene that really stands out and mostly because it is another Hitchcock reference from De Palma who this time does a tongue and cheek take on the famous shower scene from Psycho only this time a toilet plunger is used as the main weapon. Overall the Phantom of the Paradise is one of the most entertaining musicals ever made and it only gets better with each new viewing, highly recommend.
Over the years Phantom of the Paradise is the title that I have bought the second most home video incarnations of. With the only other title that I am more obsessed with being, A Clockwork Orange, but then that is a story for another time. Needless to say Phantom of Paradise is a desert island film for me and until Arrow Video announced they were releasing this title on Blu-Ray, the best release up to that point had been a French Blu-Ray release from Opening Distribution. Flash forward four years with the arrival of Arrow Video’s release and how it stacks up with that aforementioned release from Opening Distribution. Arrow’s new release looks to have come from the same HD source albeit a brand encode of said source.
Phantom of the Paradise comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Colors never looked more vibrant then they do here, black and contrast levels look extremely good, details are razor sharp and grain structure always looks natural. Also there are no issues with DNR or compression. Overall this is an exceptional transfer that fans who have yet to see this film in HD will be blown away with.
This release comes with three audio options, a DTS-HD 4.0 Stereo mix in English, a DTS-HD Stereo mix in English and the third audio option is the films isolated score. Both audio mixes are free of any background noise or distortion. Dialog always comes through with crystal clear clarity and everything sounds balanced. The more ambient aspects of the soundtrack are well represented and range wise everything sounds appropriately robust when it needs too. And nowhere is this more evident than during the musical numbers performed in the film. It is safe to say that this is most dynamic that this film’s audio has ever sounded on home video to date. The third audio option, the film’s isolated score is fantastic extras since not only does it allow you to listen to the film’s musical numbers which were composed by Paul Williams, it also allows one to fully enjoy all of composer George Aliceson Tipton’s (Badlands) contributions which make up the rest of the score. Also included with this release are removable English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release include two U.S trailers, a very brief segment with William Finley who is holding a Phantom doll, an interview with Rosanna Norton (9minutes 38 seconds – 1080 Progressive 1.33:1 aspect ratio) who discusses working as a costume designer on Phantom of the Paradise and a documentary titled ‘Paradise Regained’ (50 minutes 13 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) which includes comments from Brian De Palma, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Paul Hirsch and Edward R. Pressman. This documentary is excellent as everyone has something memorable to say about the film and some of the troubles it ran into like having to the death records logo optically printed over anything that had originally said Swan Song since Led Zeppelin sued the film for using their company’s name. There is a lot of ground cover in a mere fifty minutes and De Palma as usual is always a joy to hear talking about the filmmaking process. These extras had previously appeared on Opening Distributions DVD and Blu-Ray release of Phantom of the Paradise.
Extras new to this release include radio spots, a image gallery, a featurette titled ’The Swan Song Fiasco’ (11 minutes 25 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) which presents a before and after look at how footage in the film had to be altered, a segment titled ‘Lost and found : Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor’ (13 minutes 39 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, without sound and music from the film plays over footage), a lengthy interview Guillermo del Toro and actor / composer Paul Williams(72 minutes 22 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen). Topics discussed include how Guillermo del Toro first met Paul Williams and have remained friends ever since, acting and music influences, his performance as Swan, overcoming addiction, composing the musical numbers that appear in the film, Brian De Palma and the cast, production design, visuals and so much more. Rounding out the extras are reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth and an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history by Ari Kahan, curator of SwanArchives.org, illustrated with original stills and promotional material. Overall Phantom of the Paradise gets an exceptional release from Arrow Video that firmly puts itself a forerunner for the home video release of the year, highly recommended.
Note: This title is also being released in a limited steel book edition.