September 19th, 2012: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Cast and Crew:   Brian De Palma (Writer/Director); Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli, Rod Serling

What It’s About: Singer/songwriter Winslow (William Finley) will do anything, including murder and selling his very soul, to get his version of Faust produced.  Phoenix (Jessica Harper) will do anything to become a big star.  Swan (Paul Williams) will do anything to make his new club, The Paradise, a success.  None of them will get what they want, and quite a few people will die in their attempts to get it.

Why Watch it Today?: Paul Williams, a singer/songwriter whose songs were hits for The Carpenters and Three Dog Night, but whose own music career stalled, was born today in 1940.  Williams spent much of the 70s as a perennial guest star on everything from The Muppets to The Love Boat to The Hardy Boys (in fact it was an episode of The Hardy Boys that I first saw him in, and he even performed a song from this film).  Of all those appearances, Phantom of the Paradise is Williams’ best, a funny parody/tribute to The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and The Picture of Dorian Grey, as well as a satire of the music industry, with Williams’ playing it to the hilt as a corrupt music producer whose sold his soul to stay at the top in the business and to remain forever young.  Paul Williams touch is apparent in the original songs, which he wrote, both an asset and a flaw:  the songs’ lyrics are great and some of the songs really come together, but the score is at its weakest when trying to be Kiss/Alice Cooper style shock rock.

Other Choices:  Paul Williams appeared in Smokey and the Bandit and wrote The Rainbow Connection for The Muppet Movie

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