Arrow Video hit all the right power chords with their Blu-ray release of Brian De Palma's delirious rock-opera horror spoof
Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray Review
Brian De Palma’s delirious rock-opera horror spoof, Phantom of the Paradise, tumbles its helter-skelter way onto UK Blu-ray, courtesy of genre champions, Arrow Video.Turning the classic tale of The Phantom of the Opera upside down and injecting it with ego-inflated obsessional insanity, and hauling it over the coals of 70’s musical excess, his psychedelic pantomime is a smorgasbord of delinquent riches. William Finley’s rock singer/writer Winslow doesn’t just have his work stolen by industry impresario, Swan (Paul Williams), but he is also beaten and maimed and driven insane. Returning to seek his revenge on the real monster, he inadvertently discovers the perfect voice and performer for his music in the sexy and diminutive form of Jessica Harper’s hip gypsy, Phoenix.
De Palma delivers a discordant and raucous mock thriller that boasts incredible set design and inventive, low-budget cinematography. Finley is off the wall, whilst Williams simply plays himself, albeit in a highly exaggerated guise. But the real talent is Harper. Soon to be Suspiria’s witch-battling heroine, Harper was also a genuinely talented singer and dancer, and her artistic “discovery” here is a revelation in a film that deliberately plays hopscotch with the formula. Colourful, fun and intentionally cheesy and abstract, Phantom has a giddy sense of humour and a queasy momentum that never outstays its welcome.
After the savage Sisters, De Palma’s avant-garde style was still finding its niche with this flamboyant exercise in insane creativity.
Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray Picture Quality
“An assassination live on television, coast to coast. That’s entertainment!”
Arrow provides a top transfer. It is 1.85:1 and hails from AVC.
There are some softer shots occurring, and some instances when the grain spikes. All of these occasions look perfectly natural to me, and are clearly down to the source photography and material. You may well spot some of the rather overt post-production elements that have been employed to alter and camouflage the original signs and slogans appertaining to Swan Song Records. These images had to be optically altered to Death Records wherever possible to avoid a potential lawsuit from Led Zeppelin. They don’t necessarily stand out, but they are still quite apparent at times, with some floating edges and the frame even occasionally cropped to mask the tell-tale copyrighted material.
The image is actually very warm, revelling in the garish colour scheme of the production
The image is actually very warm, revelling in the garish colour scheme of the production and the hyper theatricality of the design style and sleazebag, circus-like surrealism that De Palma was going for. Primaries are rich and swarthy. The blue denims of the prison inmates are thick and fuzzy. The blood is Hammer-bright, and the face-melting is nicely icky and drippy, very reminiscent of the pizza-face effect seen in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Skin-tones are accurate to the original filming. Contrast is finely delineated. At times, there are some hazy highlights but, then again, this also ties-in with the stage lighting and the garish, inflamed palette. Blacks are suitably deep, with the pivotal sequence of the Phantom spying on his love cavorting with Swan through the rain licked skylight on the roof, and his subsequent tussle with his Freudian nemesis taking place mainly in the shadows. Also, the shade of midnight blue is touchingly presented.
Chaotic camera-angles, some guerrilla-style handheld material, fabulous montages and split-screen effects all reveal the visually avant-garde direction in which De Palma was headed. Shots of Swan, in the extreme foreground, looking in at Winslow in the recording studio in the background, are wonderfully composed, and the disc displays many such visual delicacies smoothly and with a fine sense of depth. Detail is always apparent, even in the deepest recesses of the frame, and close-ups are especially revealing. Mixing desks, instruments and cables are keenly rendered, as are the freakish costumes and makeup that Gerrit Graham sports as the outrageously camp Beef. The spectacular show with The Undeads, in pre-Kiss/Alice Cooper gothic makeup, and Beef doing a fine Frankenstein’s Monster impersonation, features lots of great lighting, crazy colours and strong contrast – a barnstorming highlight.
I encountered no major errors in the encode. Digital noise is not apparent, and nor is there any annoying edge enhancement (some slight haloing during the plane arrival sequence excepted), banding or aliaising. The image is lively, bright and engaging. It softens-up deliberately to embrace Jessica Harper, but reveals oodles of detail elsewhere. Arrow’s transfer gains an impressive 8 for its video transfer.
Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray Sound Quality
“I’m not a screamer… I’m a singer.”
There are a couple of tracks for your delectation, hipsters!
We have 2.0 LPCM stereo and a 4-channel stereo DTS-HD MA options, and both are excellent. This is a film that is ribald and gregarious, a rip-snorting horror musical that bolts itself together with a variety of trends and musical styles. It features lots of songs given the full tilt of excess. When The Juicy Fruits explode through the introduction with a psycho-billy fifties-esque rock ‘n’ roll ballad, the speakers come alive with vibrancy and dynamism. Vocals are clear and energetic. Percussion is driving and insistent. The screaming hubbub of the audience lends credence and dimensionality, especially when the band make the glorious transition to The Undeads later on.
This sort of performance is emblematic of the soundtrack at its most exciting. Everything here is heightened and, as such, mostly unrealistic and coalescing into a vintage sort of rush that naturally lacks the scintillating clarity of more modern fare. But it all sounds terrific. When Jessica Harper’s Phoenix sings, she has a great, soulful voice, at once quintessential of the era that was just slipping out of Flower Power, and also extremely individual and idealistic. Her voice comes across superbly, especially when she delivers her Country audition song, which she belts out with a voice that is so much bigger than she is.
This sort of performance is emblematic of the soundtrack at its most exciting
Dialogue is served well. The simpering, needy desperation of Winslow, and the soothing, sugar-coated smarm of Swan play well off one another. Paul Williams, it should be noted, does have a tendency to speak very quietly and, in his first proper starring role (his stint in Battle for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t really count), does not really enunciate his deliveries with all that much aplomb, unless he is issuing audition commands through the microphone, but this is down to him and not the mix. The electronic voice of the Phantom, himself, is a weird and anguished hiss and rattle. When Swan modulates the system to smooth out its rough edges, both tracks ease through the transitions with clarity and grace. Incidentally, the singing voice that Swan finally settles on, the one that he regards as being “Perfect,” is actually that of Paul Williams, himself.
Despite being quite an action-packed story, with bizarre stage-shows, a prison escape, a couple of murders and an explosion or two, the mix isn’t as effects-laden as you might expect. But when the rough ‘n’ tumble does occur, it is presented with suitable, if archly theatrical gusto.
Arrow’s audio tracks are both well worth a listen, but the surround option certainly adds some extra dimensionality, providing the stage acts and songs to come alive with depth and presence. This surely is a fine recreation of the film’s original 4-channel release audio mix. The front-heavy nature of it doesn’t necessarily dominate, so the more elaborate track makes for a comfortable and interesting experience in its own right. However, there is nothing wrong with the simpler, and more direct stereo track. Things like the piano and the electric organ carry more clarity and deeper resonance in the 4-channel mix, but as I say, both offer cool fidelity and power.
Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray Extras
“I’m the only one who can sing ‘Faust’!”
I would have loved a commentary track, but really you cannot complain about this fine selection of goodies lavished on a film that most people tend to neglect. My check discs arrived sans the collector booklets and reversible sleeve that the full release has.
First off, there is a whopping big 50-minute retro-doc, Paradise Regained, featuring the stars and the movers and shakers behind the camera providing eclectic, frank and amusing memories of their time on the wacky production. De Palma is here. Finely is here. Williams is here. As well as the still cute Jessica Harper. But many of the supporting cast and crew get to air their memories of what was an anarchic production. The doc is well put together and has a considerable sense of humour, fans will relish this.
Guillermo Del Toro interviews his friend Paul Williams for a considerable amount of time, folks. Seventy-two minutes to be precise. Now, if pushed, I would have to say that this is taking things a bit too far. Personally speaking, although I am huge fan of Del Toro, I actually found this to be quite tedious and, in the end, gave up on it. Now, this said, there is a lot of information bandied-out and oodles of anecdotes, but the cosy vibe – which some may like – left me cold.
That bugbear of the name-changing that had to be done in order to avoid the film getting shelved and sued is covered quite comprehensively in The Swan Song Fiasco, in which every occasion for when the signs had to be tactically altered is displayed with before and after footage. Interesting methods were employed this is quite an offbeat and fascinating look at the strategies that ensured the film could still gain a release.
There is an Archive Interview with Rosanna Norton, who was the costume designer on the film. It actually hails from December 2004. She discusses the themes and the ideas she had for the Phantom’s mask and cape. She reveals that the original Ape-mask-maker, John Chambers, actually took her designs and modified them to produce the Phantom mask. There is also the camp outfits for Beef, and those for Swan. Glam-rock was a huge influence, and Norton remarks that she took her cue from drag-queens. This lasts for nine minutes, but is appallingly out of synch.
William Finley delivers a great little mock advert for The Phantom Doll, a genuine action figure based on his wacky character. Available for three-hundred Euros!
Another great treat is the 13-minute selection of scenes cut from the film, alternate takes and bloopers in Paradise Lost and Found.
Original Trailers and Radio Spots accompany a Stills Gallery.
And, finally, there is also an Isolated Music and FX Track.
All in all, this is a wonderful and suitably off-the-wall selection that certainly adds insight to the cult status of this gem. And the sense of fun is carried over well.A very strong 8 out of 10.
Is Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray Worth Buying
“You can sing it better than any bitch.”
“You don’t know how right you are, Goliath!”
Arrow’s release of De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is typically excellent. Strutting about with a fine transfer, the package is also amply supported with a kaleidoscopic smothering of supplements that expose the genesis, filming and cult status of this madcap and zany production.
this is deliberately oddball and grotesquely fascinating
Nobody would claim the film to be a classic, but then there are precious few examples of the horror-rock-spoof-fest to compete with its anarchic freewheeling approach to such archetypal material, and its liberally observant sending-up of the music industry and the counter-culture attitude of the funky and flamboyant seventies. Directed with verve and an over-abundance of stylistic joi-de-vive, this works best as parody, but for those of you who like such things, you can sit back and enjoy spotting the seeds that have quietly influenced other films.
Rocky Horror is too obvious, but check out the electronic voice-simulator on the Phantom’s chest for the genesis of Darth Vader’s control panel, and Winslow’s obscene, dribbling metal replacement teeth (Richard Kiel’s Jaws) and his hooked nose mask and blackened makeup (put ‘em together with the teeth … and you have Danny DeVito’s Penguin from Batman Returns!) The blonde hair and pizza-face image would be reborn in Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and the film’s gaudiness, set design and neon-gothic sensibility can also be said to have been filtered into Argento’s Suspiria, alongside the delectable Jessica Harper, who must have brought along a fair old chunk of its rock-opera sensibility as well.
Far from amateurish, as some snipes have claimed, this is deliberately oddball and grotesquely fascinating. And Arrow’s release comes highly recommended indeed… for those who properly dig it.
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