November 2017


Phantom Of The Paradise
Featuring Paul Williams
Beyond Fest at The American Cinematheque
Review By: Jaime Pina

Considered a flop when first released in 1974, Phantom Of The Paradise has much in common with records like the first releases by the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls and the Stooges. These pieces of art never hit with the masses but had such a profound influence on those who were touched by them that by extremely enthusiastic word of mouth they just kept building momentum until receiving the acclaim they deserved. The film’s influence is vast. Guillermo del Toro, Daft Punk and many in the Punk and Goth scenes can be counted as major fans of the film. It is one of the best Rock films ever made and one of the jewels in the 20th Century Fox crown.

Winslow Leach is a composer who storms his way into a showcase performance by successful 50’s nostalgia band the Juicy Fruits and sings at the piano during the intermission. He is seen and heard by music tycoon Swan and the evil impresario develops a plan to steal Winslow’s music and cast him aside. Combining elements of Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray and the legend of Faust, this film is a smorgasbord of sensual delights. The music and the visuals are a sensory overload of the sort that film buffs dream of. An early effort by Brian De Palma, there is no other film like this in his oddball catalog. There are stand out performances by all involved including Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Archie Hahn and William Finlay as the Phantom.

Beyond Fest presented the film followed by a Q&A with songwriter and actor Paul Williams. At the time Williams might have seemed an unlikely choice to score a glam rock influenced version of Phantom of the Opera and star as the music producer from Hell. But he rose to the occasion by providing memorable songs spanning many genres that only a well-versed songsmith could compose. Since the film required songs for the Juicy Fruits to perform as they transformed from greaser music to a Beach Boys production to make-up wearing glam/acid rockers, it took a special hand to create smart and catchy songs or the film would collapse. Williams achieves this goal effortlessly and has left us with a group of songs, all bearing his stamp, that completely transports us back to that special moment when we were first introduced to Winslow, his love Phoenix and the nefarious Swan. The songs are just that damn good.

Williams gave an interesting talk about working on the film and the experiences he’s had meeting people as a result of his connection with the film. When asked about what influenced him when writing the heavy songs like “Super Like You” and “Life At Last” he admitted, “Writing for Three Dog Night was as edgy as I got! I had to find my inner edginess.” He also discussed his career as a songwriter and as an actor. People tend to forget that in addition to his songwriting career that included much film work, Williams appeared in many memorable films like The Loved One, Battle For The Planet of The Apes, Smokey And The Bandit and recently in Baby Driver. Keep an eye out for next year’s Beyond Fest for more great events like this.