Second Time Around

Phantom of the Paradise
This 1974 film, the high point of Brian De Palma's career, reworks The Phantom of the Opera as rock musical, scoring many satiric points along the way while alienating its intended youth-market audience. A sometime satirist, De Palma's career traces a trajectory from his intriguingly nasty early comedies toward comedy-horror films like Sisters (1972) and this one, and then on to gore leavened with laughs (his Nancy Allen period -- Carrie, Dressed to Kill, etc). Today of course he turns out indefensible sludge like The Untouchables, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Mission: Impossible. The hack he's become is foreshadowed in this film's violent mockery of its idealist composer Winslow (William Finley) -- almost as if De Palma is daring us to identify with the evil impresario of Death Records, grinning death's head Paul Williams. To paraphrase the film's ad tag line, maybe De Palma did "sell his soul," albeit not "for rock 'n' roll." The beautiful Jessica Harper's seduction away from Finley by the dwarfish Williams adds a lethal dose of sexual humiliation to idealism's fall that justifies the Werepad's promotional prose: This film is "a wicked, obscene experiment that carelessly grinds the audience into dumbfounded wisps of confession."

-- Gregg Rickman

Phantom of the Paradise screens Friday, Sept. 12, at 10 p.m. at the Werepad, 2430 Third St. (at 22nd Street), a warehouse-space underground theater with a 16mm projector and a large screen. Doors open at 9 p.m. There's a $5 donation; call 824-7334 for more.

 
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