Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

R | 90-92 or 96 mins | Drama | 1974

Director:

Brian De Palma

Writer:

Brian De Palma

Producer:

Edward R. Pressman

Cinematographer:

Larry Pizer

Editor:

Paul Hirsch

Production Designer:

Jack Fisk

Production Company:

Harbor Productions
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HISTORY

According to production notes from AMPAS library files, director Brian De Palma met Paul Williams by chance in the hallway at A&M Records when De Palma was trying to raise money for the film. Though the director knew little about Williams’s music, he believed the musician “looked so right” for the part of “Swan.” In addition to playing Swan, Williams scored “10 original tunes,” as stated in a 24 Jan 1974 DV brief. Most of the financing for the $1.3 million budget was eventually provided by executive producer Gustave Berne, after producer Edward R. Pressman’s company, Pressman-Williams Enterprises, came onto the project, as stated in the 30 Oct 1974 Var review.
       The film was shot in Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; and Dallas, TX. As stated in production notes, the theater doubling for the film’s “Paradise” was the recently shut-down Majestic Theatre in Dallas, where the crew filmed for five days using “real people” as audience members. During twelve-fourteen hour workdays at the Majestic, Williams and fellow cast member Gerrit Graham “entertained the crowd to keep them happy.” In Los Angeles, the Greystone mansion, then-home to the American Film Institute, served as the location for Swan’s home, as noted in the 1 Nov 1974 LAT review; Greystone’s walls were painted black for the occasion.
       Several legal problems arose prior to the film’s release, as noted in an 18 Sep 1974 article in Var. Universal Pictures threatened Gustave Berne’s company, Harbor Productions, as well as producer Edward R. Pressman, with a lawsuit, claiming “copyright infringement” of the studio’s 1925, 1943, and 1962 Phantom of the Opera films ... More Less

According to production notes from AMPAS library files, director Brian De Palma met Paul Williams by chance in the hallway at A&M Records when De Palma was trying to raise money for the film. Though the director knew little about Williams’s music, he believed the musician “looked so right” for the part of “Swan.” In addition to playing Swan, Williams scored “10 original tunes,” as stated in a 24 Jan 1974 DV brief. Most of the financing for the $1.3 million budget was eventually provided by executive producer Gustave Berne, after producer Edward R. Pressman’s company, Pressman-Williams Enterprises, came onto the project, as stated in the 30 Oct 1974 Var review.
       The film was shot in Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; and Dallas, TX. As stated in production notes, the theater doubling for the film’s “Paradise” was the recently shut-down Majestic Theatre in Dallas, where the crew filmed for five days using “real people” as audience members. During twelve-fourteen hour workdays at the Majestic, Williams and fellow cast member Gerrit Graham “entertained the crowd to keep them happy.” In Los Angeles, the Greystone mansion, then-home to the American Film Institute, served as the location for Swan’s home, as noted in the 1 Nov 1974 LAT review; Greystone’s walls were painted black for the occasion.
       Several legal problems arose prior to the film’s release, as noted in an 18 Sep 1974 article in Var. Universal Pictures threatened Gustave Berne’s company, Harbor Productions, as well as producer Edward R. Pressman, with a lawsuit, claiming “copyright infringement” of the studio’s 1925, 1943, and 1962 Phantom of the Opera films (see entries); however, the matter was settled out of court, with an alleged “upfront” payment to Universal as well as “a substantial participation in the film.” In another dispute, Swan, a record label and subsidiary of Atlantic Records, took issue with the film’s fictional label, “Swan Song Records,” prompting edits that were intended to “mitigate” the issue. Lastly, King Features, rights-owners to a comic book character named “Phantom,” challenged the film’s working title, Phantom. In response to King’s complaints, the filmmakers changed the title to Phantom of the Paradise. This marked the second title change, after the original title, Phantom of the Fillmore, was contested by Bill Graham, a “rock promoter” who ran San Francisco, CA’s Fillmore West theater and New York City’s Fillmore East theater.
       In a 22 Jul 1974 news item, DV announced that Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation purchased the distribution rights for $2 million after Pressman put the recently completed film “on [the] auction block”; the highest bidder, Twentieth Century-Fox was set to receive a profit participation of “40% of [the] first $4,000,000 and 60% above that figure.”
       To promote the film’s opening, a large costume party was held at Los Angeles’ National Theatre, with $500 in prizes awarded to “the best costumes,” as stated in the “Showmandiser” section of the 25 Nov 1974 issue of Box. Heavy radio promotions accompanied the release, with “station-produced promos” at Los Angeles’ KHJ radio and New York’s WXJO; both stations also aired “specially recorded spots and interviews with Paul Williams.” To encourage further radio promotion, Twentieth Century-Fox arranged screenings for disc jockeys as an incentive for the broadcasters to mention the film in “ad libs.”
       Critical reception was largely positive, though the 2 Nov 1974 NYT reviewer Vincent Canby deemed the film “an elaborate disaster.” Paul Williams’s music received consistent praise, as did the performance of newcomer Jessica Harper, described as “winsome” and “ethereal” by Stu Krieger in a 31 Oct 1974 LAHExam review. Paul Williams and George Aliceson Tipton received an Academy Award nomination for the film for Music (Scoring: Original Song Score and -or- Scoring Adaptation).
       Phantom of the Paradise won the Grand Prix award at the Festival du Film Fantastique in Avoriaz, France, where Roman Polanski served as the head judge, according to a 31 Jan 1975 DV news item.
       Actress Sissy Spacek is credited as a set dresser for the film. Harold Oblong, Jeffrey Comanor, and Archie Hahn of the film’s fictional band, “The Juicy Fruits,” and Jessica Harper, who played “Phoenix,” made their motion picture acting debuts in the film.
       In a 13 Nov 1988 LAT news brief, Pressman stated that Williams was currently working on additional songs for a stage version, stating, “We feel that the success of the other ‘Phantom,’ will make it easier to finally put [The Phantom of the Paradise] on Broadway.” As of Aug 2012, no such musical has been produced.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Nov 1974
p. 4734.
Box Office
25 Nov 1974
pp. 70-71.
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
22 Jul 1974.
---
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1974.
---
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1974.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 1974
p. 3, 6.
LAHExam
31 Oct 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Nov 1974
Section IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
13 Nov 1988.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Nov 1974
p. 45.
New York Times
2 Nov 1974
p. 16.
Time
2 Dec 1974
p. 4.
Variety
18 Sep 1974.
---
Variety
30 Oct 1974
p. 42.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
a Pressman Williams production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit mgr
Unit mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Spec photog for wedding
Spec photog for wedding
Cam op
Asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Montage
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const coord
Const coord
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost des
Assoc cost des
MUSIC
Words and mus by/Mus prod by
Rec by
at Soundlabs, Hollywood
Addl scoring comp and cond by
Mus supv, For Filmusic
Mus supv, For Filmusic
"Life at Last" sung by
Mus ed
Electronic mus synthesizer furnished by
SOUND
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Sd mixer
Magno Sound Inc.
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Opticals by
DANCE
Choreog
Choreog for wedding
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup des
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Casting
Asst prod
Asst to the prod
Scr supv
Prod secy
Asst to the dir
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
STAND INS
Winslow's double
Winslow's double
Swan's double
Swan's double
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Phantom
Phantom of the Fillmore
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 November 1974
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Movielab
Duration(in mins):
90-92 or 96
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, Arnold Philbin, a talent scout, oversees auditions alongside his boss, Swan, a famous music producer who heads Death Records. Hearing a piano player, Winslow Leach, perform an original song onstage, Swan decides he wants Winslow’s music for the opening of his new rock n’ roll venue, the Paradise. Backstage, Philbin tells Winslow that Swan is interested in him, but when he asks for songs, Winslow says he only has a three-hundred-page cantata about Faust, the mythical German scholar, and it needs to be played as a collection. After Philbin suggests a band called the Juicy Fruits to perform his music, Winslow shoves Philbin in a fit of rage, saying that only he can perform his own songs. One month later, Winslow visits the offices of Death Records, in search of Swan, whom he has not heard from since the audition. Winslow is not granted a meeting, so he follows Swan home in a taxi and breaks onto his property. Inside Swan’s mansion, droves of women are lined up on a staircase, practicing the song Winslow performed at his audition. Recognizing the lyrics, Winslow speaks to one of the hopefuls, Phoenix, who asks for his help after Winslow identifies himself as the songwriter. A bouncer calls a group of girls into a bedroom and Winslow sneaks in after them. Moments later, as several girls gathered on a circular bed discuss the possibility that Swan is watching them, Swan enters the room, and Winslow appears from underneath a pile of girls, disguised as a female in a nightgown and makeup. Later, after Swan has thrown him out, two guards find Winslow sleeping outside. They search him and ... +


In New York City, Arnold Philbin, a talent scout, oversees auditions alongside his boss, Swan, a famous music producer who heads Death Records. Hearing a piano player, Winslow Leach, perform an original song onstage, Swan decides he wants Winslow’s music for the opening of his new rock n’ roll venue, the Paradise. Backstage, Philbin tells Winslow that Swan is interested in him, but when he asks for songs, Winslow says he only has a three-hundred-page cantata about Faust, the mythical German scholar, and it needs to be played as a collection. After Philbin suggests a band called the Juicy Fruits to perform his music, Winslow shoves Philbin in a fit of rage, saying that only he can perform his own songs. One month later, Winslow visits the offices of Death Records, in search of Swan, whom he has not heard from since the audition. Winslow is not granted a meeting, so he follows Swan home in a taxi and breaks onto his property. Inside Swan’s mansion, droves of women are lined up on a staircase, practicing the song Winslow performed at his audition. Recognizing the lyrics, Winslow speaks to one of the hopefuls, Phoenix, who asks for his help after Winslow identifies himself as the songwriter. A bouncer calls a group of girls into a bedroom and Winslow sneaks in after them. Moments later, as several girls gathered on a circular bed discuss the possibility that Swan is watching them, Swan enters the room, and Winslow appears from underneath a pile of girls, disguised as a female in a nightgown and makeup. Later, after Swan has thrown him out, two guards find Winslow sleeping outside. They search him and find heroin, and though Winslow tries to defend himself, saying that Swan stole his music and framed him, he is sent to Sing Sing prison. There, Winslow is ushered into an office where several inmates are being forced to take part in a dental research program in which all their teeth are removed. Six months later, Winslow is still in prison with a mouth full of silver teeth. He hears on the radio that the Juicy Fruits will be performing “Swan’s Faust” at the opening of the Paradise, Swan’s new venue. Outraged, Winslow escapes and returns to Death Records, breaking into the room where records are pressed. Winslow’s head is caught in the record press and half his face is burnt. Meanwhile, the Paradise opens and a report appears in Variety that Winslow has died, his body unrecovered after he leapt into the East River. Disfigured, Winslow returns to the Paradise and, inside a dressing room, grabs a mask to cover his mutilated face. As he spies the Juicy Fruits practicing onstage, an explosion causes mayhem in the theater. Later, Swan finds Winslow and rips his mask off, taunting him about his self-destruction. Swan offers Winslow the opportunity to “create again” and suggests they now work together. Swan promises to put a new band together to play Winslow’s songs the way he wants them played. Winslow, his voice now destroyed, makes a barely audible sound and runs away. The next day, Winslow gives Swan silent signals as different singers audition, and encourages him to choose Phoenix when she appears onstage. Swan asks Phoenix what she’d be willing to give up to perform, and she says, “anything.” Phoenix manages to impress Swan with her performance. Later, Winslow plays piano and sings with the help of an electronic voice amplifier. Winslow tells Swan that Phoenix should sing his songs, and Swan orders Winslow to stop haunting the Paradise and re-write his cantata for Phoenix. Swan presents Winslow with a massive contract that Winslow finds hard to understand, but when he asks Swan questions regarding certain clauses, Swan lies. Swan pricks Winslow’s finger, and Winslow signs the contract in blood. Winslow spends the next week rewriting his cantata for Phoenix, while Swan instructs Philbin to find a new singer, saying that Phoenix’s perfection irks him and he plans to relegate her to a backup singer position. When a male rock singer, Beef, auditions, Swan decides he is perfect. At an airport tarmac, Swan hosts a press conference and announces his new pop cantata, written by “the late Winslow Leach,” the first rock version of Faust that will be recorded at the Paradise live. Swan introduces Beef, who emerges from a standing coffin. The day before the live recording of Faust, Swan wakes up Winslow by providing him pills for breakfast. Swan lies to Winslow and says that Phoenix will be singing his new cantata the following night. Meanwhile, Beef practices onstage, screaming most of the lyrics. Swan encourages Beef to sing the music and change the lyrics to his liking. Swan retrives the final pages of Winslow’s music while Winslow is passed out on top of the piano. Swan then orders his entourage to seal the recording room while Winslow is still inside. Winslow wakes up to find his music gone and screams when he finds that he cannot exit the recording room, as a brick wall now blocks the doorway. Soon after, however, Winslow fights his way out of the room while Beef snorts cocaine inside his dressing room, concerned that the building is haunted after hearing Winslow’s scream. Winslow attacks Beef in the shower and threatens to kill him if he ever sings his music again, saying that it is only for Phoenix. Philbin catches Beef on his way out in the alley and Beef tells him there is a “Phantom,” who threatened him. Beef says the aura around the Paradise is bad, but Philbin encourages him to go back inside and sing as expected. As Beef begins his performance, Winslow climbs to the rafters and throws a neon sign onto the singer below, electrocuting him. The crowd cheers as a fire erupts onstage, and Philbin orders a fire extinguisher. For the next song, Philbin sends Phoenix to sing in Beef’s place, and Winslow shines a spotlight on her. Phoenix charms the crowd, and Swan sends flowers to her dressing room. After the show, Phoenix learns that Beef has died, and Swan tells her she is about to become a big star. Phoenix says she’ll do whatever he wants as long as she can sing to the crowd again. Later, Phoenix escapes screaming fans by running back inside the theater and Winslow grabs her, taking her to the roof to observe the chanting crowd below. Winslow identifies himself, and Phoenix argues that he is dead. Winslow tells her Swan has stolen his voice and music, and she is all he has left. He tells her to leave, warning that Swan will destroy her too. Refusing to listen, Phoenix runs away. That night, Winslow spies through a window as Phoenix and Swan make love. In agony, Winslow stabs himself in the chest, but Swan finds him outside, still alive, and informs Winslow that he will not die unless Swan does. Swan orders Winslow to write more songs for Phoenix. At the Paradise, Winslow finds a film reel showing Swan, years ago, in the bathtub, announcing that he plans to kill himself to avoid aging. However, another version of Swan appears in the mirror and offers him eternal youth. Swan realizes the image in the mirror is the devil, from whom he receives a contract to be signed in blood. The devil tells Swan the only version of him that will age is the film version. Winslow then sees film of his own contract signing, followed by footage of Phoenix signing a contract and agreeing to marry Swan. The wedding ceremony begins on the stage of the Paradise, and Swan wears a mask; at the same time, Winslow stops a sniper from shooting Phoenix, instead causing him to shoot the priest. Swan’s mask comes off to reveal bloody, mutilated flesh underneath. Winslow appears and stabs Swan multiple times. Winslow writhes in pain, dying along with Swan, and Phoenix watches as he lurches across the stage toward her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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