Sunday, May 3, 2009

The bizarre mélange

One of the few things that the Fox Movie Channel does well is its Fox Legacy series, highlighting some of the more famous films from Fox on Friday nights, with a repeat the next Sunday, all introduced by Fox executive Tom Rothman. (Even here, though, there's a limited selection of movies, and they're not as well introduced as what we get from Robert Osborne.) Tonight at 8:00 PM ET sees a repeat of last Friday's movie, Phantom of the Paradise.

You'll probably recognize a lot of the storyline as being bits and pieces of other stories. Indeed, the title implies that this movie is related to Phantom of the Opera, and it is. William Finley plays Woodrow, a songwriter writing a rock cantata retelling the Faust story. Although the guy is a pretty good songwriter by 1970s standards (what he's writing would fit in with the rock operas and symphonic rock of the day), he's a lousy singer. The producer Swan (Paul Williams), who's set a bunch of trends in music, including the latest one -- retro doo-wop -- likes Woodrow's music, and wants to use it to open up his new theater. So, he simply steals the music from Woodrow. When Woodrow finds out, he gets enraged, leading to a series of events that results in Woodrow getting sent to jail, losing his face and his voice, and being left for dead. So, he comes back as the Phantom, determined to see that his music will be performed only the way he wants it performed, and willing to kill anybody who tries to do otherwise.

As you can see, this is highly reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera. But there are more references thrown in from other stories. Rod Serling handles the opening narration in a way that strongly suggests his old Twilight Zone; the film's storyline itself mirrors Woodrow's Faust-based cantata, and there are elements of The Picture of Dorian Grey and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho thrown in amongst others, along with a hunt for a sniper that seems taken out of The Manchurian Candidate. The Psycho reference is probably the best, involving the Phantom coming after Swan's choice for male lead, a queenish gay amphetamine abuser named Beef, with a plunger, while Beef is in the shower.

The result is a mix that can kindly be referred to as "ahead of its time". The audiences of 1974 weren't ready for it, and the movie flopped -- only to become a cult hit decades later, along the lines of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That having been said, Phantom of the Paradise is certainly interesting, although it's not always good. If you have the right taste, you might wind up loving this movie, but it's one that's not for everybody. Still, I do like suggesting that people watch in order to judge for themselves. The movie is also available on DVD, in case you miss the FMC showings.

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