Phantom of the Paradise ★★★★★

The films of Brian De Palma are cinematic catnip: stylized, overblown, campy, exploitive, honest, brutal, and ever so entertaining. De Palma understands Cinema as a sort of exploration into different culminations of different styles and crafts; his most notorious hero is Hitchcock, where in each of his films, parallels Hitch's technique some way or another. This is Cinema, passing down the metaphorical torch down to the younger, more impressionable generation. "Phantom of the Paradise" is Cinema's catnip: the drug-fueled, Hell incarnate, brutally honest, overzealous style-fest, lunacy that is rarely matched in any form of film today. It is probably De Palma's masterpiece.

Because yes, this is a masterwork. There's no question that this is one of the most bizarre films I've ever watched, one that twists and turns each way into a smorgasbord of hilarious, tragic, and overblown scenes strung together by the beat of a music note. Everything is so frantic: the camerawork glides through each scene (The Phantom racing down the hallways, screaming is nearly unparalleled in terms of bonkers tracking shots), the music is dialed up to the point of exhaustion, the scenery is campy and exhilarant (bursting with textures, colors, and visual pieces of marvel), and the performances are some of the wackiest you'll see in a picture. De Palma understands how each bit of a film --the music, performance, etc-- comes together like a symphony. "Phantom of the Paradise" is that culmination done perfectly.

Yet, this is a film so critical of the music industry; one may think "Phantom of the Paradise" is making fun of the ridiculous life of a singer or musician (and the campy craft doesn't necessarily help it), but it's not. This is as critical of a film as it comes, one that deconstructs the industry as a vulture preying on weaker birds, swarming down and attacking the weak and fueling their ego, their thirst, their hunger. The image, the representation of one's self is as important as the talent; if you look old, sound old, play old, then strip yourself of yourself and adapt. "Phantom of the Paradise" criticizes identity and fame as two seperate entities, battling it out in the psyche of Man. What we learn is that one can only remain in control. Lose yourself, or lose the power. And it's as sad as a film gets.

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