Phantom of the Paradise (UK - BD RB)
Chris has been won over by Brian De Palma's crazy seventies rock opera...
Brian De Palma’s inspired rock’n’roll fusion of Faust, The Phantom of the Opera and The Picture of Dorian Gray boasts an Oscar-nominated score by Paul Williams, who also stars as an evil record producer who not only steals the work of composer/performer Winslow Leach (William Finley) but gets him locked up in Sing Sing – and that’s not the worst that happens to him along the way.
Few revenge scenarios have ever been so amply justified, but the film is also constantly aware of the satirical possibilities offered by the 1970s music industry, exemplified by Gerrit Graham’s hilariously camp glam-rock star. Jessica Harper (Suspiria) appears in her first major role as the naïve but ambitious singer, on whom Winslow secretly dotes.
Prodigiously inventive both musically and visually, this is one of De Palma’s most entertaining romps, not least because it was so clearly a labour of love. (Taken from the Arrow synopsis.)
As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I really appreciate Arrow including information about their transfers in the accompanying booklets. In this case the booklet has the following to say: Phantom of the Paradise was transferred from the original pre-print material by Twentieth Century Fox in the USA. This was delivered as a restored file on a master tape to Arrow Films. The image is framed at 1.85:1 and encoded in the usual 1080/24p by way of AVC. It’s also been confirmed that no alterations were made to the master that Fox delivered to Arrow, which is relevant to the following portion of this review.
I should admit up front that this is the first time I’ve seen the film, so I can’t comment on things like theatrical accuracy (not that I put much stock in people’s claims that they can accurately recall something they saw forty years ago). What I will say is that the colour palette does appear to have a very ‘modern’ look to it, with lots of cool blues and some very warm skin tones that bear a striking resemblance to the much-maligned ‘orange and teal’ colour scheme most often associated with the films of someone like Michael Bay. If I had to use one word to summarise the overall look of the film it would be ‘lurid’; everything is over-saturated and in your face, with primaries that all-but leap off of the screen. Brightness and contrast are generally fine, and although there are a few instances where it could be argued that black crush becomes a minor issue, I never felt that I was missing out on important details. To be honest I don’t think that the grading is detrimental to the gaudy hyper-realism of the world presented in the film, but having recently been made aware of the French Blu-ray release I can see why some long-time fans might have cause to complain about revisionism. I’m not suggesting that the French BD is entirely accurate, but it does look much closer to something shot in the seventies than the image here, at least judging by the screen captures I’ve seen.
As for the integrity of the image, well there’s a nice healthy dose of film grain on show throughout, and I didn’t spot any film artefacts (scratches, flecks etc.). Any softness is inherent to the original photography (and usually accompanies Phoenix’s appearances), with the majority of the presentation revealing plenty of fine detail. The compression is up to the usual high standards of recent Arrow releases, which is another way of saying that I didn’t notice any problems. In these respects at least the presentation looks to be superior to the French disc, but again I’m basing this on the captures I’ve seen.
I’m sure there will be some who baulk at the relatively high video score I’ve awarded, but without the benefit of intimate knowledge of the film’s intended look or a basis for comparison I can only judge this disc in isolation, rather than relative to any other release. Yes, Fox has clearly messed around with the colour scheme, but for me it’s still a very strong transfer and a great encode, which is reflected in the scoring.
This release serves up a choice of original audio options in the form of LPCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0, and I opted for the latter for the purposes of this review.
The first thing that struck me was how quiet the track was (and the same is true of the 2.0 Stereo effort), necessitating much twiddling of my amp’s volume control before I got to anything approaching normal listening levels. Never fear though, as there are no issues with the relative volumes between the constituent elements of the track. Music and effects are all well-balanced, and dialogue remains perfectly audible at all times (even the Phantom’s raspy, modulated voice). While the surround activity is fairly constant, it’s also fairly low-key, subtly reinforcing the dominant frontal array rather than aggressively positioning surround effects. Basically, don’t go expecting the sort of dynamic and immersive sound field you’d find in the latest mega-budget effects movie. There isn’t a whole lot of bass to speak of either, although the sub does rumble into life during a few of the musical numbers. Fidelity is also surprisingly good for what is - let’s face it - a pretty low-key movie from 1974.
The main selling point of this track is its ability to deliver strong renditions of the fabulously catchy musical numbers, which it does very successfully. I’m a sucker for a good tune, and those that populate Phantom of the Paradise are extremely effective, consisting of everything from fun rockabilly and beach numbers through to more serious, contemplative ballads by way of folk and glam rock. I’ve become slightly obsessed with the film’s soundtrack over the course of the past week, and it sounds absolutely fantastic here. When taking all of the above into consideration I have no qualms whatsoever about awarding another very solid score.
You want extras? You got 'em! Arrow has crammed a veritable feast of supplemental material onto the disc, clocking in somewhere between three and four hours' worth all told. Here's a rundown of what you can expect to find.
- Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
- Paradise Regained Documentary
- Interview with Paul Williams by Guillermo del Toro
- The Swan Song Fiasco Featurette
- Archive Interview with Costume Designer Rosanna Norton
- William Finley on the Phantom Doll
- Paradise Lost and Found
- Original Trailers
- Radio Spots
- Collector’s Booklet
- Reversible Sleeve
The isolated music and effects track does what it says on the tin and is a fantastic way to experience the film’s brilliant soundtrack. ‘Paradise Regained’ is a fifty-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring, among others, director Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, and co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham. I’m assuming this was originally included on the French Blu-ray, as some of the captions are French and Gerrit Graham speaks the language during his interview. In any case it’s a very interesting doc, especially for an uninitiated viewer like me. The Paul Williams interview is also very revealing, although at seventy-two minutes in length it does feel a bit long.
‘The Swan Song Fiasco’ is a new featurette that explores the changes made to the film in post-production. The changes mainly consisted of removing all mention of the original record label name (Swan Song) or replacing them with Death Records logos via the use of mattes. The reasons behind this make for very interesting viewing, especially if one isn’t well-versed in the film’s history. The archive interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton was also present on the French BD, as was the ‘William Finley on the Phantom doll’ piece. The former features Norton discussing her work on the film, while the latter has Finley promoting a Phantom doll (a steal at three hundred Euros).
‘Paradise Lost and Found’ features a bunch of scenes rescued from the cutting room floor, which are sure to be of particular interest to long-time fans. Next up are a couple of theatrical trailers and some radio spots, which are entertaining in a vintage sort of way, followed by a gallery of rare stills, including behind-the-scenes images by photographer Randy Black. The accompanying booklet features 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. Finally, the now-customary reversible sleeve features both the original theatrical poster and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress.
Earlier in the review I claimed that this was my first viewing of the film, and at the time of writing that was actually the case (and truth be told I was fairly indifferent towards it). However, in the week since then the music has been going round and round in my head, so I thought I should probably give it the benefit of the doubt and watch it again before making up my mind. I’m not too proud to admit when I‘m wrong, or that I’ve been thoroughly won over by the quality of the soundtrack and the visual style. I’ll always be a Rocky Horror fan at heart, but had I seen Phantom as a kid I imagine it would hold an equally special place in my heart. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures I get from reviewing for DVDActive is when I come across something new that turns out to be an undiscovered gem, which Phantom definitely is.
Technically the Blu-ray is extremely solid. The transfer is not without its controversies – that colour grading isn’t going to sit well with everyone – but one has to bear in mind that this isn’t an in-house Arrow transfer, but a licenced one, so any ‘tweaks’ are down to Fox. Even taking the grading into consideration it’s still a very accomplished presentation, more than ably supported by a fantastic soundtrack and a very healthy selection of bonus material. Overall it’s a fantastic package that deserves a place in any fan’s collection.
Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 24th February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 English, LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Isolated Score, Documentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Interviews, Trailers, Radio Spots,
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli
Length: 92 minutes
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