AND WITH MOVES LIKE JAGGER, JESSICA HARPER IS A STAR, REVEALING HIDDEN DEPTHS TO PHOENIX
Today, Peter Martin's 70s Rewind, at Screen Anarchy, looks at Phantom Of The Paradise:
Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, which he wrote and directed, brings those ideas into the present day (i.e., the early 1970s). Mega-successful Swan (Paul Williams) recognizes the talents of unknown composer/singer Winslow Leach (William Finley) and promptly steals them, intending to discard Leach and take personal credit for his incredible work.
Differing from past big-screen versions, De Palma makes Swan the lead character; he's evil, sure, but he's also charismatic, has a great smile, and does certain things very, very well. (For example, we see him in the studio, punching up a voice track featuring Winslow's horribly disfigured vocal chords with the graceful dexterity of a magician; he knows what he's doing.) Swan is a different kind of monster, one that reflects the era: as powerful as he appears to be, he's still answering to a higher power yet, one that is even more diabolical, yet remains unseen.
The film remains rather fabulous; its sly, satiric side has aged well, and its happy mocking of the theatrical rock and rock stylings of the day bring back a lot of memories. Somehow, what stands out most for it is the introduction of Jessica Harper, who is more than fabulous: she is a star.
The character is a mainstay in Phantom movies; here, she is called Phoenix, which may be too on-the-nose, but it's a perfect description of her personality, as she performs songs beautifully, boldly dances across the stage like Mick Jagger, and reveals hidden depths to a woman who is seduced by stardom. (Our own Zach Gayne talked with Ms. Harper about the film, which is worth another read or two, and reminds me that my own current hometown served as a key location.)
Fitting nicely into De Palma's oeuvre between the slashing horror flick Sisters (available to stream on The Criterion Channel and considered on Blu-ray by our own Michele 'Izzy' Galgana) and the lushly unsettling Obsession (which I loved more than Ms. Galgana), the playful pop force behind De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise makes it an enduringly alluring tale of monsters, especially the ones who have all the power and don't really know what to do with it, except boost their own forgettable careers.