Eliza Bachkovsky, Staff Writer
A forgotten cult classic called Phantom of the Paradise (1974) can be equally appreciated by both those looking for a timeless, clever, sophisticated classic or by more casual moviegoers looking for an immersive, funny, action and drama packed storyline.
Phantom of the Paradise draws the general shape of its emotionally gripping storyline from gothic horror and opera while also holding similarities to campy cult classics such as Rocky Horror Picture Show. Phantom of the Paradise is a rock opera within a rock opera that’s a bright, fast-paced and funny live-action comic book, a satire of the music business and a combination of Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and early ‘70s glam.
The plot follows a talented composer named Winslow Leach, who is passionate about producing beautiful music, rendering his version of Faust as a rock opera. He insists it is for his muse, Phoenix, who he believes is the only person who can perform his music. In order to work with her, he signs a contract in blood with a highly successful, but satanic, record producer named Swan who builds and crushes careers as he pleases. In line with his usual, Swan eventually betrays Winslow.
Before Winslow can confront Swan, Swan has Winslow beaten up and framed for drug dealing. After enduring six months of a life sentence in prison, Winslow hears that The Juicy Fruits, a popular doo-wop band, have made a hit record of his music with Swan’s backing. After a breakdown, Winslow escapes prison and breaks into the Swan’s Death Records building. A guard startles Winslow as he is destroying the records Swan stole, causing Winslow to slip into a record press, mutilating and burning his face and vocal chords. A crazed and now deformed Winslow sneaks into the Paradise costume department and transforms into the Phantom of the Paradise, adopting a black cape and a silver, owl-like mask to cover his deformities. He terrorizes Swan and his musicians and nearly kills The Beach Bums, formerly The Juicy Fruits, who are now making surf music instead of doo-wop. The frequent genre changes of the bands music serves as a running joke throughout the film. Winslow’s reign of terror ensues upon The Paradise theater. However, he is tormented by his inability to do anything about it while he’s still bound by the blood contract to work for Swan.
The film focuses on the effects of this tragic battle for control between the artistic genius and the satanic producer with a godlike force of unmeasurable power. It’s a romantic story of love, devotion, betrayal and the thwarting of artistic brilliance by enslavement to the immortal producer. This movie will leaves the audience laughing at well observed satire, horrified and saddened by how this ambitious artist’s work is violated, how the Phantom is changed by what this satanic producer inflicts upon him, and reflecting on timeless issues such as the media industry’s power over what the public thinks and the crushing reality of its need to commercialize and mutilate art for financial gain.
Many may relate to Winslow’s defiant struggle against the industry in pursuit of achieving his dreams, connecting it to their own ideas and originality being ignored. The loss Winslow experiences in having his work stolen, changed and valued by none causes him to lose his identity and enthusiasm. He instead becomes depressed and obsessed with revenge, taking on the form of a phantom of the man he once used to be, terrorizing the music hall that stole his music.
This film has found the perfect balance between darker themes of the individual man versus the industry and goofy humor, with stunningly detailed, showy and extravagant sets that really set the mood for the 70’s rock opera vibe. Catchy, funny and emotional musical numbers that encapsulate music styles ranging from 50’s doo-wop to 70’s glam rock music, and hilarious and complex characters all representing dramaticized facets of the music industry build the setting of this film. The Phantom of the Paradise proves itself to be an impressively abstract blend of genres to support a powerfully timeless theme that many different types of people can enjoy.