Phantom of the Paradise ★★★


My sixth De Palma, a formalist frenzy that recontextualizes Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the German legend of Faust in a patchwork pastiche that operates as a berserk (an adjective chosen by no accident since Winslow's mask served as inspiration for the villainous Femto's mask in Berserk), hysterical musical fantasy. The postmodernist hybridization does not stop with the miscellany sources of literature and lore at work in this twisted fairytale. Writer-director Brian De Palma ostensibly takes the practices in all film history to fashion this tale: taking direct imagery from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and German Expressionism; all manner of editing techniques involving irises, wipes, superimpositions, spinning newspaper headlines as intertitles; the multitude of camera lenses; the realistic production design mixed with the more avant-garde, minimalist set designs; blending silent film aesthetics (i.e. Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene, even Buster Keaton with the prison break sequence) with contemporary designs; and the stagecraft theatricality of the whole affair. You can tell De Palma had a blast making this considering he's taking practically every filmic tool out of the toolbox. Yet, with all the hyper-realized style of the picture, and the killer soundtrack that never seems to stop, Phantom of the Paradise takes little consideration for thematics or engrossing narratives; instead taking all the literary appropriation as a superficial layering for this is good enough, basic storytelling. There's little emotional investment to be found here, but the unique "frankensteining" of style and form is alluring enough, if only just.

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