The Film (5/5)
Brian DePalma is not a director whose work I consider often. In a career spanning close to 50 years he has only about half a dozen films that I return to on a semi-regular basis, however, those films that I do find myself returning to are not simply entertaining returns, but filmic obsessions, and there is one obsession above them all his 1974 Rock and Roll/Horror Musical Phantom of the Paradise.
I discovered the film as a VHS rental as a horror obsessed teenager, not knowing what to expect and loathing the other popular musical of the era in which this was made (Rocky Horror...). However, Phantom's unique look, performances, and sensibilities immediately sucked me in. The songs were catchier, and simply better than those in Rocky Horror... from the first viewing I was a fan for life. When the Blu-ray format came to be, Phantom of the Paradise was one of my most anticipated titles as I knew that DePalma's style combined with the film's gorgeous color scheme and set design would create something perfect for a high definition format. I tried to hold out for a Region A release, but 5 minutes after finding out about the French Blu-ray, I had already clicked buy on Amazon.fr. I was not disappointed with the films naturalistic transfer, but knew that their could be better. Arrow Video came along, and I will be the first to admit I'm not the type to repurchase many films in the same format generation, but there are films, and then there's Phantom of the Paradise, so Amazon.co.uk, got a bit of Phantom cash. The Arrow disc had some nice extras, and the transfer was more along the lines of what I expected from Phantom..., now we have Scream Factory in the U.S. delivering the goods to the region A market, and from the moment they got it, it was made public that this is a film that certain Scream staffers had tried to acquire the film for some time. They too were fans, they were going to do Phantom right, I just had a feeling. Now that it's in my hands, I can honestly say this is the definitive Phantom of the Paradise release for this generation (not to slight the others, they are all awesome in their own ways, and helped hold me over).
If you have seen any Brian DePalma you will see certain stylistic similarities to his other work, but it is by far out of all the DePalma films I have seen the film that stands most apart from his canon. The film, is of course, beautifully directed with an excellent atmosphere, and pacing, but for those who know DePalma for either his gangster films or Hitchcock riffs one might be surprised with the stylistic choices here.
The performances are across the board excellent and fitting to the material. Jessica Harper is wonderful as Phoenix, and feels entirely natural in the role. This, is actually the role that caught the attention of Dario Argento, and helped her land the role of Suzy Banyon in Argento's masterwork Suspiria. We have Paul Williams who plays Swan with a sense of charismatic charm, and darkness, and of course I would be a terrible reviewer if I did not mention the late great William Finley in the role of Winslow Leach who either as Winslow or the Phantom made the character his very own. William Finley is simply one of those actors, and pardon the aside, that I enjoy every moment they appear on screen, and although he has been gone a few years now, I will always miss his onscreen presence.
Phantom is basically a rock and roll retelling of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. The film follows the descent of songwriter and musician Winslow Leach. Winslow as the film opens is performing his unfinished cantata version of Faust at the piano of a club being attended by legendary rock producer Swan (Paul Williams), and his lead henchmen Philbin. Upon hearing the music Swan decides that it would be the perfect music, minus Winslow to open his new rock club the Paradise. He sends Philbin to acquire the music, but Winslow is reluctant to release the music to him knowing that it would be performed by 50's nostalgia rockers the Juicy Fruits, a group he loathes. However, with a little persuasion he is convinced to let the music go, and that is the beginning of Winslow problems. He tries to find out after turning in the music if he has a deal, but is rejected from Swan's Death Records offices, when Swan then tries to interrupt auditions for the cantata at Swan's mansion he is ejected, and turned over to the police with false charges. He is sent to jail, experimented on (he is given false metal teeth), and forced into labor. One day when he hears one of his pieces on the radio performed by the Juicy Fruits, he makes his escape. He tries to stop the Juicy Fruits record from reaching the public by destroying it at the pressing plant, but ends up getting horribly injured and disfigured in the process. The now disfigured Leach begins to haunt the not quite opened yet Paradise, wearing a bird-esque steel mask and cape. He is given a deal by Swan to finish the cantata before the opening of the club, and Swan will make the woman of Leach's dreams a wonderful vocalist named Phoenix played by Suspiria's Jessica Harper the lead. Of course, in Leach's deal with the devil things don't go according to plan, and Phoenix is relegated to backup, and a muscular glam rocker named Beef is brought in to take the lead in Faust. This sets off Leach on a rampage of the Paradise.
Scream Factory brings Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise to Blu-ray in a 1:85:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer that looks stunning. In my opening I mentioned in passing that I have now owned 3 Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray's. The French disc looked natural, but a bit washed out, and was possibly done before a new HD master was struck by Fox, or without any additional work being done to the master. The Arrow disc looked fantastic to my eyes, the colors popped, black levels were sharp, there was some nice grain present. I thought that it couldn't possibly be improved upon, in fact I was convinced before seeing it that it just might be the same transfer.
I was wrong.
Shout! obviously went back and did some additional color correction work to the film keeping the most positive elements of the Arrow, while making the whole film more natural. The film actually feels like the best elements of the prior 2 Blu-ray's having come together and improved upon. This IS Phantom of the Paradise for the Blu-ray generation. The colors are bright where they need to be and natural at other times, there is a healthy level of film grain, and blacks are solid.
There is DTS-HD MA tracks in 5.1 and 2.0 both tracks sound excellent with dialogue, songs, score, and effects coming through nice and effectively. I did not detect any issues with the audio.
Scream Factory have gone seriously above and beyond to craft their special edition of Phantom of the Paradise, there are 2 commentary tracks, an interview with director Brian DePalma, numerous featurettes and documentaries both archival and newly crafted for this release. There are alternate takes, TV spots, interviews, trailers, radio spots, and stills galleries. This is a Phantom of the Paradise Blu-ray created by fans for fans, and is more comprehensive than some Criterion releases.
I try not to personalize my reviews too much, but this is my favorite Brian DePalma film, it is now on Region A Blu-ray in the most gorgeous transfer it has ever seen, and loaded up with extras. If I didn't declare this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, I would be crazy, so yeah HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.