Brian De Palma Vincent Canby - Essay

Vincent Canby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brian De Palma's "Phantom of the Paradise" is a very busy movie.

Among other things it attempts to be a put-on of "Faust," "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Picture of Dorian Gray," rock music, the rock music industry, rock music movies and horror movies.

The problem is that since all of these things, with the possible exception of "Faust" (and I'm not really sure about "Faust"), already contain elements of self-parody, there isn't much that the outside parodist can do to make the parody seem funnier or more absurd than the originals already are….

Compared with even the last of [De Palma's earlier films,] "Phantom of the Paradise" is an elaborate disaster, full of the kind of facetious humor you might find on bumper stickers and cocktail coasters.

The movie spends much too much time just laying out the plot, which is fatal to parody of any sort. It also becomes quite enchanted with its own special photographic effects, as well as with its bizarre sets, which, because there's very little of interest going on within them, become the mildly amusing surrogate subjects of the film.

Almost redeeming the movie is the rock score by [Paul] Williams, and the comic orchestrations that trace the evolution of rock from the duck-tailed, surfing nineteen-fifties and sixties to the seventies and the triumphant emergence of androgyny. The concert scenes—filled with pandemonium, blinking lights and extraordinary sounds—are well staged but hardly seem worth the terrific time and effort that must have been required. Almost any A.I.P. "Beach" picture or Vincent Price horror film, being the real thing, is funnier.

Vincent Canby, "'Phantom of the Paradise'," in The New York Times (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 2, 1974 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1973–1974, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1975, p. 291).