Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Classic movie of the month: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

A satirical version of the "Phantom of the Opera" and also an homage to ''The Picture of Dorian Gray'' and ''Faust''. How can that fit into one movie? It needed the talent of a young filmmaker called Brian De Palma. He was only 33 years old when he made this masterpiece.

It tells the story of Winslow Leach (William Finley) ,a musician who sells his soul to the satanic record producer Swan (Paul Williams). Winslow composes his greatest music for a highly anticipated musical directed by Swan. Among the artists in that show, a beautiful back-up singer catches the eye of Winslow, Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Whilst Winslow's face and voice are more and more degraded, his love for this seductive woman grows. Hidden in the backstage curtains of the "Paradise", he can only dream for her to be the main star of the upcoming musical. However, Swan has a terrible plan for Phoenix. Secrets will be revealed, music will rock the stage and tragedy will close the curtains.

The film relies on the incredible music written by Paul Williams for telling interweaving classic plots (Faust, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Phantom of the Opera). We are clearly set in the 1970s where the sound is clearly influenced by hard-rock bands of the period (Led Zeppelin) but also more pop (references to Simon & Garfunkel and Janis Joplin are notable). This collaboration between Paul Williams and Brian De Palma gives prestige to the "Comedy Musical" genre.

Even if the plot is predictable and known, De Palma puts a satirical tone without dismissing drama and comedy. He wants to entertain us and to invite us to "Paradise", kingdom of music and infinite pleasures. It was a box-office flop in the 1970s and was panned by critics. Nevertheless, today it is considered by many as one of the best movies from De Palma. Masterpieces never get old, that's something important to remember.  

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