April 25, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Last night I was flipping through the TV channels, and I ended up watching part of a strange rock musical from 1974 called Phantom Of The Paradise...

Although it bombed on its initial release, Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise
(IMDB info) has become a minor cult film along the lines of Rocky Horror Picture Show. With a script by De Palma and music by Paul Williams, who starred as an evil record producer (though he is better know for his appearance on The Muppet Show), the film is a crazed re-write of Phantom Of The Opera with music performances touching on ballads, glitter, fifties rock'n'roll and seventies MOR (audio links only, sorry) plus a thoroughly disjointed storyline leavened by some choice quotes.

The weirdest part of all this? The movie was a hit in Winnipeg.

Swan Archives - a fan website
out-takes of Jessica Harper (a.k.a. "Phoenix") performing 'Special To Me'
Wikipedia entry with detailed plot summary
posted by spoobnooble (45 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man! I haven't thought of this movie in decades. I LOVED this as a kid. Had no idea it was a DePalma movie. Thanks for the post.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2010

For a minute I had this confused with Phantom of the Park. It's easy to see why.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Love this post and am looking forward to checking out the links. My husband made me watch this movie a couple of years ago, telling me it was better than Tommy and Phantom of the Opera combined -- and he was right. It's great fun!

Paul Williams is awesome and still working. His songs come up every now and then on my Pandora radio station, and I'm always pleased to hear them.

And, of course, Gerrit Graham voiced Jay's father in The Critic.
posted by vickyverky at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2010

Phantom of the Paradise is a fantastic little movie. It is indeed quite awesome.
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2010

I've seen this many times. An ex-girlfriend was obsessed with it. This brings back a flood of nostalgic memories. Thanks.
posted by Splunge at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2010

Back in the early 70s there was a lame attempt to compete with the Grammys with "The Rock Music Awards." (I'm thinking Don Kirshner was behind it, but I can't find much info on the subject.) Anyway, I remember watching it both years it was on, and one time the category was "Best Rock and Roll Movie." The nominees were Tommy, Phantom of the Paradise, and....something else. Can't remember. But I remember the clip of Paul Williams from Phantom and thinking "they were just looking for something, anything to flesh out this category, since Tommy will obviously win."
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2010

I'm teaching a course on the films of De Palma this semester, and the students LOVED Phantom -- much more than I thought they would, honestly. But it's become a favorite film for many of them, which pleases me to no end.

With the help of the webmaster of the Swan Archives, I arranged for none other than William Finley himself to visit our class. It was great! A very nice man who was very touched by the students' enthusiasm for the film, and for his work.

One of my favorite, favorite movies.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Holy crap. I think I saw that when it came out...

Yes. Christ.
posted by pracowity at 11:24 AM on April 25, 2010

This was very popular on the Sci-Fi convention circuit for a while.
posted by Megafly at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2010

This movie traumatized me as a child. I was watching it on TV with my evil cousin, covering my eyes and ears during the upsetting bits, and said evil cousin would assure me that the upsetting stuff was over right. at. the. most. upsetting. parts.

I couldn't sleep properly for weeks. The head in the record press...the steel teeth...even though I know this movie really isn't as scary as I recall, I still can't watch it.
posted by biscotti at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2010

I saw it in the theater. I think I bought the soundtrack (or else I bought an album of Paul Williams singing his own songs, I forget which. That was a looooongggg time ago.)

Oh, and Paul Williams was at that time and I suppose still is well known as a songwriter. He was and is an encouragement to me because if HE could sing on his own record....there's hope for me. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2010

Phantom of the Paradise is a very nifty film and all the more reason to enjoy Brian De Palma. It's almost too "good" to be a true cult film.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2010

By coincidence, I just rented this DVD, but still haven't gotten around to watching it.
posted by acb at 12:30 PM on April 25, 2010

As a pre-teen with inattentive parents I got to see both Phantom and (the next year) Rocky Horror on my own at the film festivals on our U of M campus. The movies were strange, but so were the people watching them. (At the Rocky Horror showings people had already started dressing up as some of the characters. "A Toast!" [Audience flings toast] etc.).

Movies like 'Phantom' and 'Rocky Horror' are probably why acts like Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson don't even make me bat an eye.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why am I thinking of Styx?
posted by infini at 1:39 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for bringing up Phantom of the Park, Wolfdaddy. I picked up a dvd of it a while ago because it contains some of the only footage I've been able to find of Six Flags Magic Mountain's Magic Pagoda exhibit which was a sort of fun house at the top of the hill in the park. It was a much-cherished part of my childhood that was removed sometime in the 1980's. I've been able to find very few photos of it and almost no video footage.
posted by pahool at 1:41 PM on April 25, 2010

Oh sweet! I bought this as a DVD at the dollar store and it stopped working halfway through, so I never got to see the end. AWESOME!
posted by klangklangston at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2010

As I once said in another thread, the soundtrack CD of this was my first online purchase, back in 1996. I'm pretty sure I used lynx to do it. I can still sing most of the songs by heart.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2010

[The Jessica Harper link is wrong -- please fix]

Oh how I loved her in Shock Treatment, an equally underrated and fabulous movie that deserves a FPP of it's own.
posted by mazola at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2010

We watched this movie last night. A swell chunk of Glam-Rock history.

Also, the broadcaster, TVO, is the public channel for the province of Ontario, and a most excellent television station, operating on a fraction of the budget of the federally funded CBC.

TVO has been showing Saturday Night at The Movies for at least three or four decades. I might not love every movie, but they really do try to open your eyes. I can distinctly look back to viewing Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal on this show when I was an adolescent, and that was a long time ago.

Also of interest (if you are into this sort of thing) is the public affairs/culture/politics forum, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, which consists of one hour of intelligent debate about a current issue every weeknight at 8:00 pm EST.
posted by ovvl at 3:07 PM on April 25, 2010

My coworker told me that this movie was insanely popular in El Salvador. He and his friends would watch it over and over again in theaters. Who woulda guessed.
posted by trigfunctions at 3:34 PM on April 25, 2010

The first selection on the Saturday Night at The Movies double-feature was The Dresser with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. This movie has a very different context to Phantom of The Paradise, but some interesting parallels regarding the disorienting hall of mirrors n the performing arts.
posted by ovvl at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2010

Our family went to see this when I was a kid. Me and my sister LOVED it. I'm sure we completely missed how camp it really is -- as budding teeny boppers, there was no such thing as being too over-the-top. The songs are really very good, we loved the soundtrack album: "Carburetors, man! That's what life is all about!" Paul Williams is a total pro.
posted by Bron at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The night before we watched Phantom of The Paradise, we watched Velvet Goldmine.
posted by ovvl at 4:53 PM on April 25, 2010

[The Jessica Harper link is wrong -- please fix]

Argh. This is where the link was supposed to go.

(and here I was thinking the superfluous 'A' in the first sentence of the post was my only screw-up. Bleah, I sez. Bleah!)

posted by spoobnooble at 5:16 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

POTP is one of my favorite movies of all time. The soundtrack has permanent residence on my iPod.

And not only is Paul Williams still working, but he's president of ASCAP.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:41 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've seen this movie, years and years ago, but have it confused & conflated with another movie that either had "stars" from Joanie Loves Chachi or the equivalent thereof, and it was a meta-movie about making a B movie or a porn movie. It was a mainstream movie so no actual pr0n occurred, but it was as campy as Phantom. But I'll be damned if I can remember the name.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:56 PM on April 25, 2010

Geez...one post and the floodgates of nostalgia open wide! I've been a lifelong fan of Phantom since seeing it when it first opened. It was my introduction to camp, and I've loved it ever since. Paul Williams' soundtrack also has a permanent home on my iPod, as does much of his other music. I also loved his other quirky acting roles, like Little Enos from the Smokey and the Bandit films, and, of course, his appearances with the Muppets.

Also, since WolfDaddy broached the subject, I have a great love for KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. This is because I am an official cast member, since my high school band was picked by the producers to play the theme park's marching band. I'm the taller kid playing Trombone at the front of the band. It was only a single day of filming, and though we did not get to meet any of the members of KISS,it was fun nonetheless. We are even mentioned in the IMDB listing of the film (as the Canyon High School marching Band.)

Thirdly, pahool mentioned the old Magic Pagoda attraction at Magic Mountain, and I remember heading straight for it every time I visited it (which was often...I lived about 5 miles away!) because I thought it was the greatest attraction in the park.

Now I need to go and drink to the memory of an awesome childhood...
posted by Quasimike at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I remember seeing this movie at a drive-in when I was five or six, probably relatively shortly after it first came out. It absolutely scared the bejeezus out of me.

I was going to say that it was a double-feature with Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, but that one came out three years later. I must be conflating two traumatic drive-in experiences.

What were my parents thinking?
posted by That's Numberwang! at 6:46 PM on April 25, 2010

Man, I saw Wizards too. I must have been quite the moviegoer back in the day.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:05 PM on April 25, 2010

Oh, and apparently Youtube has Wizards...ten minutes at a time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2010

For years I had this vague idea that Paul Williams was in the KISS movie...when I finally watched it (as much as one could) a few years ago, I was confused by the 20-year old memories. I don't think I ever really actually figured it out until now. I remember both from my youth and they must've crashed together in the caverns of my brain. So thanks for sorting that out!
posted by stevil at 8:36 PM on April 25, 2010

The Phantom plays T.O.N.T.O. from Tonto's Expanding Head Band.
posted by anazgnos at 9:39 PM on April 25, 2010

I was a fan when it came out, but I admit it has probably been 20 years since I sat down and watched it. I've even used "Old Souls" in auditions.

Fun Dull and Useless Trivia Fact: Paul Williams is the most famous graduate of my high school.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:32 AM on April 26, 2010

Being from Winnipeg and only briefly scanning this post before noticing the end bit, I thought to myself "There's someone out there who's not yet been exposed to this classic movie?"

Interesting to know that it's completely isolated to our dot on the map.
posted by disorder at 6:33 AM on April 26, 2010

This has been a favorite film of mine. Thanks for the post.

Fun fact: The Paradise Theater is the Majestic Theater in Dallas.
posted by mattybonez at 9:57 AM on April 26, 2010

Oh golly, we used to be so young.

Watching Jessica Harper sing that "Special" song, which is really burned deep into my brain, I couldn't help the conclusion that we are watching... the fruit, as it were, of the Sixties. All the counter cultural turmoil of those times embraced by the young as an ethos... dancing offstage with her, as it were. Sweet and doomed and clueless and horribly brave. Difficult to watch, searing.

No wonder it all cratered, and how sad, and how... amazing that anything meaningful has risen from those ashes.
posted by emmet at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS. And then I clicked through one of the suggested links to this: Winslow and Phoenix "The Lady of Shallott" . And things are very good again.
posted by emmet at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2010

I have this on DVD, and I paid all kinds of money for it. My sister has a CD of the soundtrack that she listens to on a regular basis

I LOVE this movie and it bums me out no end that my husband couldn't even sit through it.

I've even used "Old Souls" in auditions

I love "Old Souls" and I've always thought it would be a great audition song, especially for we altos.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:37 PM on April 26, 2010

So many little bits of this movie are embedded in my memories. Paul Williams signing the soul purchase contract in blood using a rubber stamp, the little dancing lights on the spectrum analyzer (which actually caused me to pursue a career in electronics), Winslow's synthesized voice. I had a test pressing LP of the soundtrack for years - this is going on the rental list for a revisit for sure.
posted by Standeck at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2010

Never heard of this before until I saw it playing on the wall at a party I was at this weekend. There was no sound and I only caught occasional glimpses of it, so to say it was disjointed and freaky is an understatement. After reading all your comments I may have to actually rent the thing and see what I was missing!
posted by platinum at 2:40 PM on April 26, 2010

>> What were my parents thinking?

My parents were on the same stuff, Numberwang. When we saw it at the drive-in, it was the first feature - the double was the Groove Tube, back when it was still Rated X. To a 12-year-old boy, it was quite the movie night.

Groove Tube doesn't hold up, but POTP is still in my top 3 alltime faves.
posted by davelog at 5:20 AM on April 27, 2010

You are so lucky, Davelog. My earliest memory of being at the Drive-in with my parents is watching The Yellow Rolls-Royce. And there, in a nutshell, you have the difference between the 60's and the 70s.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:06 AM on April 27, 2010

I love this film. It is almost certainly my favourite Brian de Palma movie by a long way.

Jessica Harper has an amazing voice - the only other place I can think of that it's used to any effect is Shock Treatment, another film that it's quite difficult to explain, though hugely prescient (being set in a town which is also a television studio, where the town is the studio audience. Or something like that). Her agent must have a remarkable sense for the unusual - she was also, of course, in Suspiria and the Hollywood version of Pennies From Heaven.

And, to continue the Bizarre Musical theme, Paul Williams wrote the songs for Bugsy Malone.
posted by Grangousier at 7:09 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ha! Beef looks just like Bea Arthur!
posted by sourwookie at 9:35 PM on May 3, 2010

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