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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Phantom of the Paradise
Phantom of the Paradise
Fox // PG // September 4, 2001
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 19, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Phantom of the Paradise is one of those movies I've heard about seemingly forever, but somehow managed to continually miss out on seeing. It was featured in the legendary trailer compilation Terror In The Aisles, with the memorable image of the Phantom swooping down on-stage towards his arch-nemesis also appearing in a number of assorted horror retrospectives. Those images left me with sort of a bad taste in my mouth, assuming this was some sort of severely misguided attempt at updating Phantom of the Opera for the fringe jacket generation. With that in mind, I was a bit surprised when DVD message boards were abuzz with Fox' announcement of a Phantom of the Paradise DVD. Now that I have this shiny 5" disc in my grubby little hands, I can see why there was so much excitement about this very strange yet almost indescribably entertaining movie.

Swan (Paul Williams) is a prolific and extremely successful producer, whose unrelenting nature and demand for perfection echo Phil Spector. Swan didn't reach the pinnacle of success on the basis of his own talent, and searching for his next gold record, a crony swipes a rock cantata based on Faust from a brilliant but obscure composer, Winslow Leach (William Finley). Leach's attempts at revenge leave him increasingly battered, bruised, mutilated, and humiliated. Under the guise of the Phantom, Leach terrorizes the venue where a live performance of Faust is soon to take place, though he and Swan seem to reach an agreement where a songbird Leach has had his eye on (Phoenix, played by Jessica Harper) will exclusively sing his material. By doing so, is Leach himself shaking hands with the devil?

Comparisons to Rocky Horror Picture Show are inevitable, though each film has a leg-up over the other in some way. A rock musical with mediocre music would seem on paper to be a failure, and even the weakest songs in Rocky Horror blow the best Phantom has to offer clear out of the water. As a film, though, Phantom interested me far more. The quirky, sexually-charged Rocky Horror never really appealed to me, but Phantom offers far more compelling and distinctively '70s visuals, as well as more in the way of straightforward comedy. It has more of an American sensibility, I guess, whereas Rocky Horror couldn't shake the feel of being a British import on some level. The extended setup that comprises the first half-hour flew by, but much of the rest of the film is mired in lengthy musical numbers with the central characters on the sidelines or altogether nowhere to be found. I'm sure this sounds like I'm tearing into the film, but despite its flaws, I adore Phantom of the Paradise. There's just something strangely attractive about it that grabbed my attention in an unrelenting vice grip. Its bizarre imagery and unconventional approach will likely only appeal to a comparatively small portion of cult cinema enthusiasts, but taken for what it is, Phantom of the Paradise is highly recommended.

The cast may not have taken home armfuls of awards throughout their acting careers, but there are quite a few faces that should be familiar to film buffs. Jessica Harper later starred as Susy Banyon in Dario Argento's horror masterpiece Suspiria, and William Finley's De Palma-heavy résumé includes titles such as The Funhouse and Eaten Alive. If Swan's voice sounded eerily familiar, perhaps it's because Paul Williams would later bring life to the Penguin in Batman: The Animated Series. Williams also went on to write the theme for The Love Boat, as well as songs for the Muppet movies and a number of other projects. Gerrit Graham also did some animation work, providing the voice of Jay's father Franklin in The Critic as well as appearing in such overlooked epics as Child's Play II, Chopping Mall, TerrorVision, Used Cars, and the title role in Chud II: Bud The Chud. I could probably spout off useless trivia like this for pages, such as the country guitarist going on to play lead guitar for Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones during their first tour outside of the Monkees, one of the dancers starring as Betty in Schlock, another dancer providing the voice for Mary-Jane Watson in the '95 animated incarnation of Spider-Man, and a groupie that later appeared in the MST3K classics The Incredible Melting Man and Laserblast, but I fully realize that I need to move on now.

Video: Phantom of the Paradise is another in a long line of impressive transfers from Fox. There are a couple of minor problems; a couple of shots here and there seem unusually soft, and during some portions -- such as Beef's introduction on the airstrip -- I kept expecting the camera to pan back and reveal that the image was on a video monitor or something. Those problems maybe make up a tenth of one percent of the length of the film, though, and with as phenomenal as the remaining 99.9% looks, it's hard to be disappointed. Grain is minimal, and the source elements are about as pristine as could hope for. Dust and assorted flecks are present, but not nearly to the extent than I was expecting for a film of this age and obscurity. The boldness of the colors hasn't diminished over the past thirty years, and black levels are rock-solid. This is a gorgeous, crisp image, typical of Fox's strong DVD output.

Audio: The stereo audio is average for a film of this age, I suppose. It pales in comparison to the bombastic mixes of today with sparkling highs and wall-rumbling lows, but maybe this limited range is accurate to the original mix. Not having seen Phantom of the Paradise before, I don't really have a point of comparison. Most of the usual nasties that come with age, such as hiss and distortion, are thankfully absent. I wouldn't complain if Fox tossed a bag of cash at Chace Digital or Skywalker Sound for a spiffed-up six-channel mix, but the current stereo presentation on this DVD will do in the meantime.

Supplements: Aside from the oodles of Fox Flix trailers, the only extra is a full-frame (well, for the most part) trailer.

Conclusion: I'm going to make the bold prediction that if I were to compile a list of my favorite DVD releases at the end of this year, Phantom of the Paradise would be in there somewhere, despite the complete lack of supplemental material. My plot summary doesn't do this movie justice at all, but if it piqued your interest in the slightest, I'd highly recommend plunking down fifteen bucks and buying Phantom of the Paradise when September 4th rolls around.
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