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based on an original screenplay by Brain De Palma
Phantom of the Paradise

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Star, London, 1975
(price: 50p; 144 pages)

The blurb on the back:

Winslow Leach is a young man who wants to create heavenly music - even if he has to descend to the depths of hell to do it.

opening lines:
Carmine Abarno was a mafia-lounge piano player who had left Teaneck, New Jersey, because the sound of traffic gave him headaches.

Just before Brian De Palma became one of the most famous directors in the world with his version of Carrie (now available on a superb DVD), he gave us this oddity, whose place in cinema history remains uncertain. Largely that's because it's by De Palma and is therefore interpreted in the context of the rest of his work. Judged on its own terms, however, it's just fine: it's not the best trash glam rock musical ever filmed, but it comes in an honourable third behind Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it's still a wonderfully enjoyable romp that doesn't outstay its welcome.

As the title suggests, the principal inspiration is Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera (or at least the filmed versions with Lon Chaney et al), but it also plays up the Faust motif from the original and - inevitably, given De Palma's hand at the helm - there's more than a hint of Hitchcock in there as well. Basically, we lose the romantic elements common to most versions of the story and gain instead a cynical, satirical depiction of the music industry. And then, of course, there are the songs of Paul Williams.

In case you're not up to speed with Mr Williams' life and work: he was born in Nebraska, made his movie debut in Tony Richardson's 1965 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One (he was aged 24, his character was aged 10) and went on to co-write 'We've Only Just Begun' and 'Rainy Days and Mondays' for The Carpenters. By the time of Phantom of the Paradise he was four albums into a singer/songwriter career, and fresh from playing Vergil in the last and unquestionably worst Planet of the Apes movie. He later wrote the music for Bugsy Malone and contributed songs to A Star is Born. A mixed c.v. but an intriguing one.

Actually Williams is probably the weak link in the endeavour. The music's fine, but his baby-faced persona was wearing a bit thin by now - he was 34-years-old and it was starting to show. Might have been better if they'd kept his songs and got another actor. Even so, it's an entertaining film and highly recommended.

The book, on the other hand... Well, how many times have we been here before? Novelizations don't often work, and this is one of the legion that don't. I know nothing about Bjarne Rostaing or what else he might have been responsible for, but this really is very poor stuff. Look, here's a paragraph selected at random:

It had now become rather difficult to gain access to the theater, because mobs of crazed young people got in the way, looking for Stars. Some did see Stars when bonked in the head by irritated bikers and rent-a-cops, and the stew was bubbling fiercely by the afternoon of September 30. (p.94)

You hear that? That's the sound of one writer clunking, that is.

Paul Williams:
'Me? With my reputation?'


Mr De Palma also brought us...
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Dressed To Kill

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