Note: This Region B locked disc of Phantom of Paradise can be purchased direct from Arrow.
Where has this movie been my entire life? A funky rock opera loosely based on Faust, Phantom of the Paradise is a campy movie directed by Brian De Palma. It is a hilarious send-up of the music industry and its associated culture, spoofing popular musical trends of the 1970s in merciless style. Featuring catchy songs written by Paul Williams in a variety of popular styles, from the Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin, the 1974 comedy successfully blends music with horror into memorable concoction.
Phantom of the Paradise is a wild, over-the-top story that could have only been made in the 1970s. Winslow (William Finley) is an aspiring songwriter when he catches the eye of music producer and impresario, Swan (Paul Williams). Swan is loosely modeled after super-producer Phil Spector, an eccentric music genius with a keen eye for talent. Swan runs his own record label, Death Records, and uses generic bands to front his music. Swan fits every bad stereotype of the evil record producer, willing to steal or sell out his musicians for another hit record. Winslow’s epic cantata about the legend of Faust catches Swan’s ears and the famous producer quickly promises the moon to the naïve songwriter.
Swan steals Winslow’s hit and records it under his own group, cutting Winslow out of any credit. Through a tortured sequence of events, Winslow ends up escaping prison and breaks into Death Records’ headquarters. He becomes facially disfigured during his attempt to break their record-pressing machine, barely escaping from the factory. Winslow sneaks into Swan’s new theater, the Paradise, which the shady record producer hopes will be a huge success. Swan somehow sweet-talks him into accepting a Faustian bargain, writing a new rock opera for Swan since Winslow loves one of Swan’s back-up singers, Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Winslow adopts the identity of the Phantom, ensconced in a chrome mask to hide his scars and using a voice synthesizer that looks a direct predecessor of Darth Vader’s costume.
As the Phantom, Winslow runs around the shadows of the Paradise, generally terrorizing anyone that is not Phoenix. He has particular animosity against anyone singing his music other than his love, forcing Swan’s hand. Swan’s first choice to open the Paradise is Beef (Gerrit Graham), a great parody of the Hard Rock lead singers becoming popular at the time. It’s a dead-on parody of Robert Plant and other Rock singers of the era.
Phantom of the Paradise comes as quite a shock with regards to how entertaining it was for a fairly obscure, cult movie. Paul Williams was a contract songwriter for A&M Records, writing secondary hits for acts such as the Carpenters and Three Dog Night. His score and songwriting in this film got a swath of award nominations, including an Oscar nomination. The tunes are catchy while also being very funny. The Phantom of the Paradise probably will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its cult appeal is undeniable.
UK distributor Arrow Video has locked this Blu-ray to Region B.
Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray version contains a controversial transfer that has led to much discussion amongst fans around the Internet, particularly in comparison to the one found on the French BD from Opening. There are huge differences in the color timing and contrast between the respective editions. Arrow Video licensed their transfer from Twentieth Century Fox, as indicated by this blurb found in the collector’s booklet:
“Phantom of the Paradise was transferred from original pre-print material by Twentieth Century Fox in the USA. This was delivered as a restored file on a master to Arrow Films.”
The Fox transfer utilizes a much darker contrast and seems to have a preponderance of yellow that washes out other colors in select moments. It also seems to introduce a touch of crushing to the black levels, though shadow delineation is still quite respectable for a 1974 movie shot on this particular film stock. One wouldn’t really recognize some of the changes unless they had a prior reference like the brighter French transfer, which does look better in certain scenes going off screen comparisons. In all other regards, Arrow’s presentation is far superior on a technical level. The grain structure is better resolved and more analog detail is evident from the fine AVC video encode, averaging 34.79 Mbps.
The statement provided by Arrow and visual evidence indicates a transfer struck from secondary film elements, I don’t think the original camera negative was used for it. The picture quality results resemble a pretty common-looking 2K scan from an internegative source. There are no indicators it has been touched by DNR or sharpening, the film-like image is cleanly presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
If the above language is unfamiliar to you, Arrow has taken an acceptable transfer of vintage film and done the best they could with it. Phantom of the Paradise has strong clarity in 1080P and looks better than expected for a cult movie of the era. There is some softness and the colors are likely revisionist on some level. One has to remember that Brian De Palma was not a “name” yet in Hollywood when this movie hit theaters.
Arrow Video has included three separate audio options for Phantom of the Paradise, though one of them is an Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack in 2.0 PCM. The two primary tracks are a stereo presentation in 2.0 PCM and the original, theatrical 4-track stereo recording in 4.0 DTS-HD MA. There aren’t massive differences between them but I definitely preferred the more open and involving surround presentation. There is some interesting spread across the channels and unique panning in the 4.0 mix, involving a split-screen scene.
The actual fidelity of the music and dialogue are excellent, the rocking songs sound great with fine channel separation. One small complaint is the massive dynamic range of the mix, dialogue is a bit too low in a few critical moments.
Optional English SDH subtitles are provided by Arrow Video.
Arrow brings their typical assortment of in-depth special features and lavish packaging. The documentaries and interviews are fascinating and candid looks at the making of this film, including critical contributions from Paul Williams and Brian De Palma. A limited edition steelbook is available for the diehard collectors. Aside from the fanboyish interview conducted by Guillermo Del Toro, the piece about post-production changes to the fictional record label in the film should interest most fans.
- Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack
- Paradise Regained – A 50-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Ed Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham and more! (HD)
- Guillermo Del Toro interviews Paul Williams (72:00 in HD)
- The Swan Song Fiasco: A new video piece exploring the changes made to the film in post-production due to Led Zeppelin’s manager (11:20 in HD)
- Archive interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (09:32 in SD)
- William Finley on the Phantom doll! (00:30 in SD)
- Paradise Lost and Found: Alternate takes and bloopers from the cutting room floor (13:35)
- Original Trailers (03:24 in SD)
- Radio Spots (02:24)
- Gallery of rare stills including behind-the-scenes images by photographer Randy Black
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth and an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history by Ari Kahan, curator of SwanArchives.org, illustrated with original stills and promotional material
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress [Amaray release only]
- Limited Edition SteelBook™ packaging featuring original artwork [SteelBook only]
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.