Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 26th, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: U.S., October 31st, 1974
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma
Cast: William Finley, Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Gerrit Graham
DVD Released: February 28th, 2006
Approximate Running Time: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Stereo English, DTS French. Dolby Digital 5.1 French
DVD Release: Opening/Gaumont
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (France)
Retail Price: $31.95
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 theatre. 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 directions 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 is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are lively and lucid through out. Black levels remain strong as details look exceptionally sharp in the back and foreground. Overall the image for this release is a marked improvement over the region 1 release from Fox.
This release comes with five audio options. The two French audio tracks are in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 and the three English audio mixes are in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo. There really isn’t that much differences between the audio mixes with the DTS and 5.1 mixes sounding almost identical. The dialog is easy to follow while the rest of the mix sound evenly balanced and never distorted. Removable French subtitles have been included for this release.
The fist DVD comes with a brief into with actor Gerrit Graham who plays ‘Beef’ in the film.
The rest of the extras are located on a second DVD. These extras include a T.V. spot and trailer for the film as well as a Brian De Palma filmographie in English. There is a brief clip with William Finley who is holding a Phantom doll and a Bob Sinclair music video titled “I Feel for You” that pays homage to Phantom of the Paradise as it recreates moments from the film. Other extras include an interview with Rosanna Norton who discusses working as a costume designer on Phantom of the Paradise. Rounding out the extras is a fifty two minute documentary titled “Paradise Regained” 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 Sawn Song since Led Zeppelin sued the film for using their company’s name. There is a lot of ground cover in a mere fifty two minutes and De Palma as usual is always a joy to hear talking about the filmmaking process.
This special edition DVD for Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is truly an worth every penny if you are fan of this film and this is as close as we might ever see to this film ever getting a definitive DVD release.