Category Archives: Films of Brian De Palma
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE-United States-1974
Written and Directed by Brian De Palma
Do you want to know the worst thing that can happen to a critic? It’s when they watch a movie or a play or read a book or listen to music and they don’t have an opinion one way or the other about the experience. They watched it, read it, listened to it and that’s it, done. Nothing moved them to tears or made them laugh. No character touched their hearts with love or filled their souls with hatred. The entire thing was just…there…and it was nothing more. For a long time I’ve wondered about when that was going to happen to me and how I was going to deal with it when it did. Well, that moment has arrived and it comes in the form of “Phantom of the Paradise”. The whole time I was watching I was completely disinterested and the reason for this is because I’ve seen it all somewhere before in parts easier to swallow. There is no originality to the film. The film rips off elements of “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Faust” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray“. Add to that parts lifted from “Frankenstein”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and even The Who’s “Tommy”, “The Twilight Zone” and “The Godfather” and what you have is one seriously effed-up mess of a motion picture. The only things about the film that I found even remotely interesting were a star-making performance for Jessica Harper (“Suspiria”) and the formations of some of the trademarks (split-screen, voyeurism) that director Brian De Palma (“Carrie”) would work into his later films. “Phantom of the Paradise” was De Palma’s next film after “Sisters”. When I was a kid, “Sisters” scared the shit out of me. As an adult “Phantom of the Paradise” merely bored it out of me.
One more thing; my friend Ben Kenber sent me an article he wrote reminding me of one little detail that I missed in “Phantom” : the soundtrack. The words and music were written by Paul Williams, wh0 portrays Swan. Williams has written songs for Three Dog Night, The Carpenters, Helen Reddy, Barbra Streisand and The Muppets just to name a few. There’s a reason he is referred to as a legend in the music business. His amazing words and music for Phantom of the Paradise are the reason I’m raising my rating for the film.
Jessica Harper beat out Linda Ronstadt for the part of Phoenix.
Much of the movie deals with birds: The names Phoenix and Swan, the Phantom’s bird-like costume, Phoenix’s dress after her first appearance, her feather jacket, Swan’s bird vest, Beef’s bird tail during his number. Even the logo for Death Records is a bird. A possible nod (or rip-off) to Hitchcock’s Psycho, perhaps?
When Swan (Paul Williams) is adjusting Winslow’s voice, the singer is not William Finley but Paul Williams. This makes it a little in-joke when Swan announces that the voice is “perfect”.
Gerrit Graham was so sick the day that the “Life at Last” scene was filmed that he could hardly walk.
- The Phantom of the Opera (jmountswritteninblood.com)
- ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ Tribute Concert & Paul Williams live at Cinefamily! (dangerousminds.net)
- Los Angeles: A PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE Tribute Concert… With Paul Williams! (badassdigest.com)
- ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ opens at NYC’s Anjelika this weekend; Paul doing Q&As at screenings (brooklynvegan.com)
- My Recent Mini Obsession Brian De Palma’s Movies (moviesinpurgatory.com)
- Quint chats life, addiction and documentary filmmaking with Paul Williams Still Alive team Stephen Kessler and Paul Williams! (aintitcool.com)
- The Good Guys and Bad Guys That I’ve Been: Paul Williams on ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Live Streaming At 6PM Pacific: Paul Williams Q&A And PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE Tribute Concert (badassdigest.com)
- Phantom of the Paradise (superradnow.wordpress.com)
- Malick and De Palma lead Venice (bbc.co.uk)
- ICY Challenge: 1 – I Hate Phantoms! (maple-news.com)
- Palace Theatre to show movies again (lfpress.com)
- Electric Violin “Phantom of the Opera” by Lindsey Stirling (thecontrapuntist.com)
- ‘Phantom’ to overtake Temecula stage (swrnn.com)
- The Fabled Coast by Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Paul Williams Still Alive (superradnow.wordpress.com)
- Behringer Xenyx 502 phantom power (gearslutz.com)
BLOW OUT-United States-1981
Written and Directed by Brian De Palma
Blow Out is a masterpiece of a suspense movie. John Travolta is brilliant in the role of Jack Terry. A sound man for movies, Terry is on a bridge one night listening and recording different night sounds on his tape recorder (this is the 80’s; we still used tape back then). Suddenly, Jack hears a car coming across a bridge, out of control. He hears a bang and then the car goes into the water below. He rescues a young woman from the car, but is unable to save the other passenger. At the hospital he tells his story to the police; what he saw, what he did and most importantly what he heard. The police and another man tell him to forget all about the woman in the car as if she was never there. It turns out that the man who was killed in the accident was the governor of the state and likely the next President of the good old United States of America. They tell Jack that surely he doesn’t want the governor’s family embarrassed by finding out he had his hand up some woman other than his wife’s skirt. But that’s not the issue with Jack; the issue is what he heard and not what he saw. Did Jack hear a gunshot before the tire blew out? The bigger question is that if that is indeed what he heard, how he is going to get anyone to listen. Pretty soon, he finds himself and Sally (the woman in the car) in the middle of a conspiracy that puts the both of them in grave danger.
Blow Out is a film that brings me back to a time when Brian De Palma was a master of the suspense film. Blow Out borrows heavily from the infamous Chappaquiddick incident involving Senator Edward Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The only difference being that in Blow Out it’s the politician and not the “mistress” who dies in the accident. The point here is not in the similarities, but in the way De Palma directs this film as if the camera were grafted to his hand. There are scenes in the film where the tension builds so high you think the screen is going to snap in two.
Before Pulp Fiction made him a household name again, and before you could hear his name without hearing the words ‘Scientology’ or ‘jet plane’, Blow Out was easily the best performance of John Travolta’s career. It was the first film of his that shows us that there was a lot more to the man than Vinnie Barbarino and Welcome Back Kotter episodes. Blow Out is Travolta’s moment in the sun and he makes the best of it in every scene.
In the role of Sally, Nancy Allen proves that she can go from bitch (Chris Hargensen in Carrie) to bimbo in two seconds flat. There is a sweetness to her performance that almost makes you forget the real reason she was in the car in the first place. Dennis Franz is appealingly slimy as Manny, her somewhat partner in crime. The creepiest performance in the film comes from John Lithgow as the assassin on the trail of Jack and Sally. I personally don’t think any actor can play menacing as naturally as Lithgow.
Blow Out not only alludes to the Chappaqiddick incident; it also alludes to Watergate and the Kennedy assassination. But the main theme above all that is the movie-making process in and of itself. The matching of sound to film, the editing process and the end result of it all. With Blow Out, De Palma has made his masterpiece. This is his film through and through.
- Jason Statham Will Star in Brian De Palma’s Remake of HEAT (geektyrant.com)
- Not Necessarily Noir II: Roxie Theater, San Francisco, Nov 4-8 (mrmovietimes.com)
- John Travolta Addicted to Hookers? (celebs.gather.com)
- Brian De Palma Adds Dominic Cooper and Karoline Herfurth to ‘Passion’ (slashfilm.com)