I definitely did some digging into the vaults in order to find this cult classic buried deep within the rest of the seventies. The first ‘modern’ retelling of the classic story of the brooding and scared Phantom who falls in love with the lovely Christine and can only express it through the art of song. The Phantom of the Opera is a timeless classic and one of the staples of theater pieces and on that note drama in general. Since its creation in 1909 it surprises me that it took damn near 70 years for someone to come along and put a ‘modern’ spin on the story (and by modern I mean 1970’s modern). But in 1974 through the shared minds of director Brian De Palma and music legend Paul Williams the Phantom of the Paradise was born.
Upon its release in 1974 the film initially flopped and flopped hard. It wasn’t until its release in Canada that the film achieved even minor success. After a few years it was buried in the realm of film obscurity as a film that was not good enough or bad enough to be remembered. It wasn’t until a resurgence in 2006 that the film gained cult classic status much in part thanks to ‘Phantompalooza’ a convention held in Winnipeg where the film had a heavy following. Since then the film has been reexamined as one of the lost relics of 1970’s cinema.
So the film has had a roller coaster run to say the least being one of those films that initially flopped but eventually picked up its cult following. But does it really deserve the praise that it is receiving since its revival? Well let’s have a look at the Phantom of the Paradise and come to our own conclusions.
The Music is Phenomenal
Holy crap Paul Williams did a phenomenal job on the music. Each song (with the exception of Phoenix’s but that is more with the singer and less with the lyrics or beat) is phenomenal. I could listen to the soundtrack over and over again and never get bored. Plus I can listen to the soundtrack and get the general idea of what is happening in the film. Not to mention the music itself throws references to classic horror stories such as Psycho, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, and Dracula. Plus uses the classic story of Faust one of the many central themes of the film.
Granted the music fits well into the disco category and is beginning to dip into the ‘pop’ music creation of the 80’s in my opinion. But overall Paul Williams did a fantastic job with the music and it adds a different level of character to the film that cannot be denied.
The Film Remains True to the Source Material… But Keeps Its Own Identity
Any time you ‘remake’ something or ‘retell’ it or re… Well re anything then you walk a fine line between producing the same story and the same concept as people before you and thus being lost to the shuffle or changing too much of the source material thus alienating the target audience.
This film certainly falls into the latter of this category. They certainly were not playing it conservative at the very least. They went all out with their own story and their own narrative, sticking close to the source material that created it, but telling the story in a VERY different way and in my opinion they did it to perfection.
This film has just the right amount of source material to know that I am watching a story based on the Phantom of the Opera but with enough changes to know that I am watching something that is completely different then anything that I have seen before.
I think out of all the retellings and recreations of the Phantom this is the one that took the most risks. It took a shot and knew that it was either going to flop or it was going to succeed and in this extremely rare case it managed to do both. People were a little confused at first make no mistake but after the film set in it gained the popularity that it richly deserved.
This Film is the Living Embodiment of the 1970’s
This film should have been put in a time capsule in 1974 so that people 500 years in the future could see what the 1970’s were like because this film is in every sense 70’s TO THE CORE!
For better or for worse the film is set in the 1970’s. The cinematography and pacing fit the time as well as the settings and motifs. Even the music fits the 70’s as it tackles areas such as sounds created by the Beach Boys as well as the slow introduction of glam rock with the wild and flamboyant character Beef who arrives in the third act to have the ‘chandelier fall on his head’. The record mogul story line seems to fit the idea of the larger than life record producers of the time.
In a way this is good and this is very bad. In a good way it gives the film a certain nostalgic charm to it. A person can watch the film and if they lived in the seventies have a feel for the times in a more colorful and eccentric way… Or on the opposite end of the spectrum it dates the movie and dates it BAD! This film loses the feel of a ‘timeless classic’ because it damn well has time to it. It has 1970’s time and it isn’t going to lose that stigma. So if someone does not like 1970’s film style or the aesthetic that Hollywood thought of it then the film is going to be instantly tossed in the garbage.
The Female Lead is Boring and Uninteresting
The film’s Christine or Phoenix as she is called is one of the most boring and uninteresting interpretations of the famous heroin that I have ever seen. Every time Jessica Harper steps onto the set I feel like I just took a Xanax because her mere presence brings the whole VERY upbeat tempo to a quick and exceedingly dull halt. Not only is her acting very lack luster in a crowd of flamboyant loud performances but this coupled with the fact that all of the songs that she sings is slow, monotonous, and dull it makes me want to fast forward through each of her songs so I can get back to the good parts of the film.
The only redeemable moment of the film comes after Phoenix’s first song number where she is auditioning to be the lead singer of the Phantom’s cantata. After her song is finished she dances off stage with the same amount of grace and dignity as an ostrich trying to fly.
The following is a link of the whole scene of Phoenix’s audition. While the real money shot of hokey dancing comes at the end of the clip the whole video is worth a watch for a good laugh.
If they would have found a better ‘Christine’ for this film, it might have been a big hit instead of being resurrected as a cult classic.
It truly is a blessing that this film was rediscovered because it truly is a fantastic film, one of the best musicals that I have ever seen, and one of my favorite versions of Phantom of the Opera. Sure the Christine of the film is boring and the film is slightly dated. But the rest of the acting is well done, the music is phenomenal, and the film has charm, personality, and a unique identity that cannot be matched.
If you have not seen this film I suggest you pick it up. You will not be disappointed.
Final Score 4/5
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