ROD WARKENTIN: "WHY NOT WINNIPEG?"
The Dissolve concludes its Movie Of The Week series on Phantom Of The Paradise with an essay Thursday by Alan Jones, which looks at the impact of the film in Winnipeg. "In summer 1975," Jones writes in the essay, "[Paul] Williams solidified the film’s popularity in the town by holding two sold-out shows, again mostly attended by so-called 'teenyboppers.' While he sang a number of the hit songs he wrote for The Carpenters and Three Dog Night, the crowd was there to see his numbers from Phantom Of The Paradise. According to Andy Mellen’s review of the show in the Winnipeg Free Press, much of the singing was 'drowned out by the constant screaming of "We love you, Paul" from the majority of his adolescent following.' He even had a phony ceremony during the concert in which he was presented a gold record for the Phantom soundtrack. (A skeptical Winnipeg Tribune writer checked with the record company and discovered the award had already been presented in Toronto.) In Winnipeg, the isolation of this phenomenon meant that the locals had no idea Williams wasn’t equally beloved elsewhere in the world, or that Phantom had only played modestly in every other city. 'None of us really knew that it bombed everywhere else,' says Carlson. In Winnipeg, where the film regularly played in local repertory cinemas over the next few decades, Phantom Of The Paradise was a classic like any other.
"Located in the middle of the Canadian prairies, Winnipeg is an island of civilization unto itself. Far away from both coasts and the Great Lakes, the nearest major city is Minneapolis, 734 kilometers (sorry, 456 miles) to the south. If you ask Google Maps the fastest route from Winnipeg to Toronto, it’ll take you through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan before getting you back into Canada. This isolation meant a lot more in 1975, before the Internet and cable television closed the cultural distances between cities. For [Guy] Maddin, the revelation that the rest of the world didn’t share Winnipeg’s enthusiasm for the film was a shock: '[I] thought it was one of the iconic great films for so many years, because as a Winnipegger, it was so huge in the local zeitgeist, the civic-geist. I couldn’t believe when I later found that among De Palma buffs, it’s ranked like the 40th-best of his films.'”
"WHY NOT WINNIPEG?"
Meanwhile, Phantompalooza's Rod Warkentin posted the following message to Phantompalooza's Facebook page the other day:
Why not Winnipeg?
Is the question I ask of you? We are constantly asked, Why Winnipeg? my standard answer is, We got it, no one else did. Phantom of the Paradise is engrained in every Winnipeg adult 45 or older. When Wayne in Waynes World held up the Frampton Comes Alive album and spouted how every kid was issued it in his neighbourhood, its exactly that for us!
I grew up a film buff... and still see more films than I care to admit, but the one thing I have always said, is that if a film touches you in a way that makes you think about it a few days later, then something profound was done to create thought and discussion, even if its just with yourself. Well, here we are...not just a few days, but 40 years later and we are still talking about Phantom of the Paradise. Not bad for a film that tanked at the box office and disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Winnipeggers have always claimed this film as their own, I being one of them. But all that changed for me in late July of this year when I along with Creature Features hosted the 40th anniversary at the Arclight theatre in Los Angeles. Yes, I realize that Phantom was big in Paris, but for us, it was our film, plain and simple and growing up Phantom in Winnipeg was a passage that many of us took. Teenagers and children as young as ten or eleven years old watched the film, multiple times at the local theatre. Stories have been told, some made up, some wrongly translated that the youth of Winnipeg had nothing better to do because of the long cold winters and the attitude of Winnipeg that could relate to the downer ending of the film. Now, I will be the first to admit that there is truth that Winnipeg has a reputation for cold long winters, but also Winnipeggers have a reputation of talking against the city that they call home. We do, and that should stop, but we have engrained generations with the fact that cold winters equals unattractive living and many have taken this as truth. But really that is not the Winnipeg I remember and lived and still live to this day. So Why Winnipeg? why not? And rather than turn this into a lecture about Winnipegs rich history and how at one point Winnipeg was pivotal in its role in helping shape Canada, I will simply say that, We got it, no one else did. Winnipeg is rich in its appreciation of the arts and always has been. We are a musical city; Ive seen more local bands go the big show than a lot of other warmer destinations. Dont believe me, just Google it. Most of us at one point or another probably entertained the idea of being in a band, or somehow in the arts, I know I did. Theatres were abundant back in the 70s and 80s and seeing films was a joy that allowed us to escape the limited three channel television that we had at the time. It allowed us to see the world from a different perspective and allow our imagination to soar. Many of us went on the create our own art, write books, play music or write screenplays, some moved away and many came back after a time. It is Winnipeg, it is what we are. But Phantom was different, very different. We had always assumed that this film was a major success everywhere that it played! To find out years later that the exact opposite was true, came as a bit of a shock. The album went Gold in Canada, due to sales from Winnipeg. Hell, I remember saving up my money to buy the soundtrack only to be told that it was sold-out and I would have to wait two weeks for it to come in again? No wonder we thought the film was a global phenomenon, it was, for us, a time before the Internet shortened the distance between all of us. I always described it to people as our Star Wars, it was that big. So why did this film do so well in Winnipeg? No one will ever be able to come up with the exact combination of events that brought us to the theatres, but I do know that word of mouth advertising became one of the reasons that the film did so well. Local news had interviewed multiple viewers during their entertainment segment, newspapers had done the same, local record stores had difficulty maintaining stock of the soundtrack, even after they had done multiple advertisements in the local papers and weeklys, older siblings told their younger counterparts who in turn told their friends and so on.
Los Angeles taught me something, but also made me lose something, something I gladly give. Phantom is no longer a Winnipeg thing. 40 years later it has become what it always should have been, a film truly appreciated by all, even if youre not from here. A thousand people entered the Arclight in Los Angeles! A sold-out crowd that was met with as much appreciation and enthusiasm as anything we had done in Winnipeg. When the film began, I remember the cheers and I wondered if we had finally made it up to those that originally put on the show for us. I was never sure how the film would be received in LA, but seeing every seat filled and the rush from the crowd put my mind at ease. I spoke to the crowd during the evening, but I think I was talking mostly to the cast. I wanted to say See? Now everyone gets it! We arent the only ones. Not anymore. This film is appreciated and all the work you did. In a way it was my thank you to all of them for what they gave us so many years ago.
So Why Winnipeg? Why not Winnipeg...it just took the majority of you 40 years to catch up to us. But dont worry, next time, well let you know a bit sooner.