Phantom of the Paradise ★★★★½

I haven't watched that many musicals, but I'm starting to think maybe this is my genre. I tend to enjoy it when films go big, breaking the confines of plausible reality and while I think I can appreciate a good story, I'd wager there's a bit of a bias towards aesthetics in how I rate. That in mind, damn, this is great. I expected an ultimately flawed movie with some fun elements, and was completely unprepared for just how much I loved it.

Phantom of the Paradise wears its influences on its sleeve (as do many De Palma films, I suppose). It's an updated Phantom of the Opera crossed with Faust, happy to name drop these and draw attention to similarities. There's even a Hitchcock reference. But the way it's executed immediately distances it from all of these, placing it closer to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, just a year too early for that one to be an influence. Nonetheless, I think much of the appeal of that film can be found here. Excess is the goal; this movie revels in being wild and making its metaphors loud and over the top. It tells a story about the evils of the music industry, the way that a capitalist system abuses creators and warps their creations. The meaning of the piece at the center of the film means nothing to executives, just the ways that it can be altered to maximize profit. And of course, in a few particularly dark scenes, we see the ways that this system doubly subjugates women. It's not the most unique take, but it's both correct and presented with such passion.

Every environment is slightly surreal, like small-scale versions of Brazil sets. The songs are all entertaining, equal parts catchy, funny, and surprisingly emotional. The song that stands as the centerpiece of this movie was really getting its hooks into me over time; it's tragic. I watched yesterday and I've spent most of today listening to the soundtrack. The cast adds so much, too, with the film finding evil in the strangest place with Paul Williams. I'd like to see a little more for Jessica Harper's character to do, but she is so immediately likable. And it just progresses like a fever dream, always doubling down on the weirdness, with surprises around every corner.

This movie is just bonkers, and it's the sort of thing that immediately excites me to watch. Just look at the Phantom. If that crazy supervillain look doesn't make you interested in seeing this, I'm not sure what I can do.

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