Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom of the Paradise ★★★★½

Finally, a De Palma movie just for me, freeing his cutting cynicism from the put-on constraints of subverting the ordinary, instead taking on the operatic expression of debauched fantasy. His usual attitude of button-pushing vulgarity is elevated by the theatrical context to achieve a level of unabashed evisceration; the send-up on the practice of culture as capital comes to metastasize to a poison pen letter to the record industry as a whole, so ruthless and sweeping that it even prognosticates the rise of auto-tune. Williams' delectably unscrupulous record producer turns a few knobs with his spotless gloved hands to make the Phantoms voice palatable, another example of his easy contortions of both artists and their work, molding the material into the most broad, acceptable, lucrative form possible. Pop culture chews up artistry and spits it out once the flavor has been secreted. The euphoric crowd that dominates the stage during the final scene doesn't seem to care that they are effectively slaughtering their messiah. The players are disposable; the ritual only values its own consumption. Their fervency manifests as a religious congregation, all the way down to a man dressed as the Pope serving as officiant. What makes it so uniquely electifying isn't De Palma's emphasis of the terror of the situation, but instead his own participation in the celebration. Even as this cautionary tale about the Faustian nature of pop concludes, he's too enamored by the people's enthusiasm to not indulge in it. Cannot believe he never made another musical. Seeing this with a crowd set my brain on fire.

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