Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 12th, 2014
BluRay released: August 5th, 2014
Approximate running times: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 English, DTS-HD Stereo English
BluRay Release: Shout! Factory
Region Coding: Region A / Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.99
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.
Phantom of the Paradise comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Though this release from Shout! Factory uses the same source that was used for the Arrow Video’s UK release. There are a few noticeable differences between these two transfers and they are in regard to color timing and contrast levels. And besides these two area’s Shout! Factory’s transfer has no issues with DNR or compression, grain look natural and details look crisp throughout.
This release comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in English and a DTS-HD Stereo mix in English. Both audio mixes sound clean, clear and balanced throughout. Of course the DTS-HD 5.1 mix offers the more dynamic and more satisfying of these two audio mixes. Also included with this release are removable English subtitles.
Extras in discs one (a Blu-Ray) includes a stills gallery, a segment detailed the changing of the Swan Song logo titled ‘Swan Song – Outtake Footage’ (7 minutes 27 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), a segment titled ‘Alternate Takes’ that compares via split screen alternate angles / coverage that was shot for this film (26 minutes 21 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), interviews with special effects supervisor Tom Burman (4 minutes 9 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), director Brian De Palma (33 minutes 7 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) and composer Paul Williams (34 minutes 54 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) who discusses in great detail the score for the film and two audio commentaries, the first one with actors Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, and Peter Elbling and the second audio commentary with production designer Jack Fisk.
Topics discussed in the interview with Brian De Palma include how each one of his films starts with a visual idea, the screenplay, Paul Williams and his contributions to the film, production designer Jack Fisk, the look of the film, Hitchcock comparisons in De Palma’s films, the film’s ending, changes that occurred after filming was completed due to lawsuits and his thoughts on the final product.
The audio commentary track with the actors is the livelier of these two audio commentary tracks, while the more technical of these two tracks is the one with Jack Fisk. Content wise both audio commentary tracks are well rounded discussions that fans of this are sure to thoroughly enjoy.
Note: Around the seventy-one minute mark on the actors’ audio commentary there is a moment where Harper’s comments are over lapped by Graham’s comments.
Extras include on disc two (a DVD) include a stills gallery, radio spots (2 minutes 34 seconds) and television spots (5 minutes 19 seconds), theatrical trailers (5 minutes 7 seconds), a promo with William Finley and the Phantom of the Paradise doll (33 seconds), a segment titled ‘Phantom of the Paradise Biography by Gerrit Graham’ (9 minutes 32 seconds – Anamorphic widescreen) where Graham reads biography/record review he wrote for the film’s press kit, a segment titled ‘Alvin’s Art and Technique: A Look at the Neon Poster’ (11 minutes 36 seconds – Anamorphic widescreen) where poster designer John Alvin’s widow talks about his contribution to this film and other films he worked on, an interview with John Williams touring drummer Gary Malaber and he also appeared in the film as the band’s drummer (17 minutes 5 seconds – Anamorphic widescreen), an interview with producer Edward R. Pressman (19 minutes 3 seconds – Anamorphic widescreen) who discusses working with Brian De Palma and his thoughts on Phantom of the Paradise, an interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (9 minutes 34 seconds – 1.33:1 aspect ratio), a lengthy interview Guillermo del Toro and actor / composer Paul Williams (72 minutes 22 seconds – Anamorphic Widescreen) and a documentary titled ‘Paradise Regained’ (50 minutes 13 seconds – Anamorphic Widescreen) which includes comments from Brian De Palma, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn, Paul Hirsch and Edward R. Pressman.
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. This extra originally appeared on Arrow Video’s aforementioned Phantom of the Paradise release.
Paradise Regained is an excellent documentary in which 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 extra had previously appeared on Opening Distributions DVD and Blu-Ray release of Phantom of the Paradise.
Rounding out the extras is a slip cover and a reversible cover art option. Overall Phantom of the Paradise gets a first rate release from Shout! Factory that comes with a wealth of new extras making it a solid companion to Arrow Video’s release, highly recommended.