Monday, October 22, 2012

Night of Terror #22: Phantom of the Paradise

I was lucky enough to get to see Brian De Palma's glam rock musical/horror/comedy/phantasy Phantom of the Paradise on the big screen, followed by a Q&A with legendary actor Wilford Brimley. I'm still not sure wha Wilford was doing there, as he had absolutely no involvement with the movie, but I wasn't going to complain. In case you're wondering: He's not a fan.

I, on the other hand, think this is one of the most unique and original movies to come out of the 1970s. I'm not a big musical buff by inclination (although unlike some people I don't really have an aversion to the genre either), but I love everything about this.

Let's start with the look. De Palma throws his trademark (but a little shaky, this is pre-Steadicam) long tracking shots into a kaleidoscope of color and sound, perfect for the glam rock milieu being depicted and satirized in the movie. Also thrown in are enough cultural touchstones for a time capsule: The Faust legend, The Phantom of the Opera, The Manchurian Candidate, Touch of Evil, Psycho, and The Twilight Zone all get shout-outs. Sad men who accuse De Palma of being a plagiarist would have lots of ammo here, but that would be a classic case of missing Carrie for the prom: Could anyone BUT Brian De Palma have been able to bring all these disparate ingredients (plus a lot more) together in a movie like this?

The cast is also pretty uniformly excellent. Gerrit Graham is a little wince-y today in his portrayal as a mincing glam rock queen, but even that could have been a lot worse considering the era. And Jessica Harper begins her long career of playing women who I think would like me if they knew me here, with Paul Williams making a pitch-perfect satanic record executive. And the soundtrack! Any one of these songs puts Rocky Horror to shame, and they're all produced and performed with a keen satirical ear toward a variety of different genres.

Over all, Phantom of the Paradise is one of the strangest movies ever to completely fail at the box office. Too rocking for the horror crowd, too scary for the glam rock people, I guess. But it's great for me.

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