Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Blu-ray Review: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code : B
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: Stereo LPCM, 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Harold Oblong, George Memmoli, Archie Hann, Jeffrey Comanor

Director: Brian De Palma

Rock n' roll musicals just don't get any more awesome that Brian De Palma's sensational Phantom of the Paradise (1974) starring William Finley as gangly composer Winslow Leach whose life turns upside down when sinister music producer Swan (Paul William) steals his Faustian rock opera without crediting the composer. The naive and composer heads to the producers mansion to confront him when he meets a pretty young singer named Phoenix (Jessica Harper) with a sweet voice and whom he falls for right away. Just moments later Leach is beaten by Swans goons and thrown on the street where he is framed for drug possession. Imprisoned for possession his teeth are extracted and replaced with metal chompers (don't ask why) while Swan continues plans to the pilfered songs to open his new music club the Paradise. When Leach learns that Swan's bubble-gum band the Juicy Fruits have recorded his song he just snaps, enraged he escapes the prison in a ridiculously abridged scene, truly it's hilarious. Once on the outside he promptly breaks into the Swan's record pressing plant to destroy the album before it can see the light of day. While destroying the albums Leach clumsily falls face first into the record press and the LP's grooves are seared in his flesh destroying his face and voice. 

Deformed and desperate Leach throws himself into the river and is presumed dead when his body is not recovered. Very much alive and bent on revenge he gains access to the Paradise where he dons a bird-of-prey styled helmet and haunts the rafters of the club where he causes the death of the Juicy Fruits in a fiery explosion. The smooth Swan somehow convinces Leach to work for him by promising that only Phoenix will sings his songs from now on. Once again the producer betrays him by hiring a new shock-rock singer named Beef played with ridiculous flamboyance by Gerrit Graham who steals every scene, such a great performance as he struts around stage like glammed-out peacock. Once Leach discovers the betrayal he sets out to exact revenge on anyone who attempts to sings his songs other than the beloved Phoenix beginning with a sweet Psycho shower scene tribute involving a plunger! . 

Phantom of the Paradise is super campy rock opera that perfectly over-acted, plus it has a fantastic score by Paul Williams - the songs are truly good. William Finley as the nerdy Leach is a sympathetic character and you want to see him have his revenge against the sleazy producer. He gets a lot across through that one-eyed mask. Paul Williams is fantastic as the pint-sized producer who may just be a Devil incarnate. Jessica Harper is also quite good as the ingenue Phoenix, her voice is surprisingly strong when she belts out a few numbers which sound great. 

Love that De Palma satirizes the crooked music industry scenarios through the filter of Faust and Phantom of the Opera - there's a commentary about artists rights but it's not too on the nose, this is a great satire. De Palma's fingerprints are all over this with his particular wink at the audience and the visual trademarks you've come to expect including extensive use of the split-screen. Visually Phantom of the Paradise is one of my favorite De Palma films, great set pieces scenery and an amazing set of songs. 

A lot of great touches fill the screen, back-up singer auditions quickly turn into orgies, the send-up of corporate rock, the sleaziness of the music industry and a great rock n' roll concert that pre-dates Kiss but has some great shock-rock moments like the band ripping body parts from the audience which they use to stitch together the singer Beef - the concert performance stuff is fantastically entertaining.

Blu-ray: Arrow Video's transfer looks quite nice to my eyes with a natural layer of fine film grain and a fair amount of fine detail, depth  and clarity. Some of the darker scenes seem a tad too dark maybe but the colors pop and contrast is strong. Audio options include a LPCM 2.0 Mono track and a 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio option which replicates the original 4-track stereo presentation. It sounds very nice with the effects, Paul Williams score and dialogue meshing seamlessly. There's also the option to watch the film with an isolated score which spotlights Paul Williams fantastic songs.

Onto the special features we have a few extras from a French Blu-ray carried over by way of a 50-minute documentary featuring interviews with director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham among others. Truly a feast for fans of the film and Brian de Palma's the cast and crew peel of anecdotes about the making of the film. Graham conducts some of his interview in French and he seems like a wonderful weirdo while Finley speaks about nearly having his head crushed for real in the record pressing scene. Also carried over are an archival interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton and a short segment of William Finley adverting a Phantom of the Paradise action figure!

Exclusive to Arrow's disc is a 70-minute interview with actor Paul Williams conducted by director Guillermo de Toro with the musician/actor discussing his career, being offered the role of Winslow and working with de Palma plus his own addiction and recovery. The two jovially discuss the songs and lyrics of the film and del Toro's fan boy enthusiasm is infectious. 

Stacking the deck even further Arrow add nearly 14 minutes of alternate takes and bloopers including complete alternate takes of Jessica Harper belting out a tune and Beef's shower scene. We also get an 11-minute feature documenting the Swan Song Fiasco. Just before the release of the film one Led Zeppelin's manager created Swan Song Records and threatened litigation of all references to Winslow's Swan Song Production company were not removed, further fueling the debacle one of Zep's managers at the time was previously the manager for a band called Stone the Crows whose singer was electrocuted onstage and was the actual inspiration for Beef's death in the film, apparently he swore a vendetta against the production and was horrified his friends death was fodder for a comic moment. The featurette chronicles the many changes that had to made to the final film to mask the Swan Song logo  that is very prominent, a lot of masking and super imposing  images, there are some great comparison shots utilizing unused production footage with the final version. 

The extras are finished-up with original trailers, radio spots and a still gallery plus a reversible sleeve of artwork and a collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Michael Blyth and Ari Kahan. This is a pretty damn definitive document of the film, a must-own for fans of the film. Here in the US Scream Factory are slated for a release later this year, it would be hard to imagine a release that can top Arrow's deluxe edition but looking forward to it just the same. Keep in mind that Arrow's Blu-ray s region-B locked and you will need a region-free Blu-ray player to watch it.

Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, available in the UK for the first time!
- Uncompressed Stereo PCM / 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options
- Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
- Paradise Regained: A 50-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham and more! (50:13)
- All new 72-minute interview with Paul Williams by Guillermo del Toro (72:22)
- The Swan Song Fiasco: A new video piece exploring the changes made to the film in post-production (11:25)
- Archive interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (9:38)
- William Finley on the Phantom doll! (0:35)
- Paradise Lost and Found: Alternate takes and bloopers from the cutting room floor (13:39)
- Original Trailers (3:28)
- Radio Spots (2:28)
- Gallery of rare stills including behind-the-scenes images by photographer Randy Black
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth and an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history by Ari Kahan, curator of, illustrated with original stills and promotional material.

Verdict: Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is a true cult-classic and one a lot of folks just aren't aware of, it deserves a wider audience. A hugely entertaining retelling of Faust with elements of the Phantom of the Opera infused with a satirical take on 70's corporate rock - this musical rock n' roll fantasy holds-up exquisitely and Arrow's presentation is gorgeous. 4 Outta 5