Sunday I was at the inaugural night of the Wright Stuff festival at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles; it’s a two week series programmed by Edgar Wright, the overly talented man behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The double feature was greatness: Bugsy Malone, the 30s era gangster musical starring only children (including Scott Baio and Jodi Foster) and Brian DePalma’s insane Phantom of the Paradise. The connecting tissue was that both films featured music by Paul Williams (who also stars in Phantom), as did the secret third film, Ishtar.
Paul Williams was actually in attendance, and he was not just a great guest, he was a terrific storyteller. Edgar had been to see Williams perform the night before in Long Beach, and he had told me that the guy was a real raconteur, and that was proven to the crowd at the New Beverly. Williams was gracious in answering questions and sharing his memories of making Phantom and Bugsy (and his lack of memories about Ishtar; Williams has been sober for 17 years but apparently the 80s were a rough time for him). While talking about Phantom‘s unavailable sheet music he mentioned that he and Brian DePalma had recently been talking about Phantom again – specifically about bringing it to the stage.
I had never seen Phantom of the Paradise before Sunday, and I am sorry that it took me this long. I loved the movie, especially its bizarre tonal shifts and its outrageousness and aggressive camp qualities. The film feels like a natural for a stage show in this day and age when Broadway keeps looking to Hollywood for ideas, and I know that DePalma could use a project that actually makes him some money. But it also feels like today is Phantom‘s day again – the movie predates Network but is thematically similar, with a televised assassination as the ultimate entertainment experience. The film’s take on the nature of celebrity and performance and the way the audience can’t separate reality from what’s on stage is also very relevant today. The whole thing speaks to the 21st century, even if it was made in the early 70s. I’d love to see Phantom resurrected and brought to the attention of more people like me, people who maybe wrote it off as something goofy or terrible. This is a movie that deserves to live again!
And if you’re in Los Angeles The Wright Stuff continues this week with Flash Gordon and Danger Diabolik this Wednesday. Timothy Dalton will be there and watching Flash all the way through for the first time in decades! Joe Dante will also show up to help Edgar intro Danger Diabolik. I don’t know for sure if I am going to make it, but I’ll be trying to get there.