Paul Williams: Still Alive

Paul Williams:  Still AliveDirector Stephen Kessler’s 5+ year labour of love made its debut Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival.  The documentary has undergone a minor name change from “Won’t Last a Day” to its current title, whose double meaning is significant.  Assuming his childhood idol’s absence from the airwaves suggests the worst, Kessler is shocked to discover that not only is his subject very much alive, he’s about to perform at a Phantom of the Paradise festival, of all things, in Winnipeg, of all places!

This is a deeply moving film that provides a “warts and all” overview of the ups and downs of Paul Williams’s career.  It is an emotional roller coaster ride that is often difficult to watch; lord knows how Paul sat through it at the premiere.  On the other hand some of the most disturbing material comes from Paul’s own home movies as he tries his best to be a normal father – just one who also happens to be battling multiple addictions.  That Paul was able to share this footage suggests that this has been as cathartic an exercise for him as it was for the director.

At the raucous after-party the mood was one of relief and celebration, and saw Paul Williams sign many Phantom of the Paradise LP and CD covers and perform a short set that included a ramshackle sing-a-long of The Love Boat theme.  (When he asked for requests there was an instant, spontaneous cry of “Faust!” from the youngsters crowding the stage.)

Congratulations to director Stephen Kessler and producer Lesa Lakin.  We hope to bring this full circle for a Winnipeg premiere, where the project began.

My full review is here.

Paul Williams, on stage. from Torontoist on Vimeo.

 

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Brian at the AV Club

AV ClubAn interesting assessment of Brian De Palma’s career recently by the hipsters over at the Onion’s AV Club.  Interesting in that Phantom of the Paradise seems to have been rediscovered (or, simply, discovered) and ranks fifth in their list of “essentials”:

The Essentials

1. Blow Out (1981)
2. Carlito’s Way (1993)
3. Femme Fatale (2002)
4. Casualties Of War (1989)
5. Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)
In a more just world, De Palma’s camp musical would be the midnight phenomenon that The Rocky Horror Picture Show became instead, but there’s still a pocket of cultists who rightly appreciate his fiendishly clever mix of soaring songcraft and satirical jibes at the tools that run the music industry.

Naturally this set off a torrent of the usual unnecessary Rocky vs Phantom shenanigans in the comments section.  Can’t we all just get along?  I mean, we’re perfectly willing to acquiesce in cultural servitude to the cult juggernaut that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  But meet us halfway and admit that Phantom is the superior film – is that asking too much?!  (Note to self – actually watch RHPS some day.)

I made a point of watching every Brian De Palma movie I could get my hands on between Phantompaloozas, including actually paying cash money to see The Black Dahlia in a movie theatre.  Here, then, is my own annotated list of Essentials:

  1. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
    I still think there are problems with the third act.  But still.
  2. Femme Fatale (2002)
    Probably the best thing Brian has ever done.  Well cast (has Gregg Henry ever been better?), absolutely riveting, very modern, and very sexy.  If Brian had hung up his ball cap after this one we would have called it the climax of a long and wonderful body of work.
  3. The Fury (1978)/Dressed to Kill (1980)
    I combined these thrillers because both feature William Finley in scene-stealing cameos.  Brian was riding a rollercoaster by the late seventies and DTK was probably his peak.
  4. Raising Cain (1992)
    I was expecting a total train wreck but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this picture.
  5. Body Double (1984)
    Brian got in a lot of trouble at the time for this one, and I will admit that there is one scene that goes on for about three seconds too long.  Still this is another taut, sexy thriller, with a very fetching Melanie Griffith. Relax!
  6. Dionysus in ’69 (1970)
    Presented entirely in split screen, this is a filmed performance of a stage play based on “The Bacchae” of Euripides.  William Finley is totally on fire in this thing – you get the feeling that the man’s talents have no limits.
  7. Scarface (1983)
    The story of a gangster who quits drugs to become a dishwasher.  Wait, I’ve got it backwards.
  8. Casualties of War (1989)
    I had no problem accepting Michael J. Fox as a Vietnam soldier.  This is about as moving a picture as Brian has ever made.  The ending is desperately powerful stuff.

That’s all I got.  Discuss.

 

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Phantom Scene by Scene

As much as I wanted to try this myself some day,  a tip of the phantom helmet to Ari the Archivist over at The Swan Archives, who has just finished his cantata:  a ginormous scene-by-scene analysis of Phantom of the Paradise that informs, entertains, and promises to be the last word on our phavourite film.  Erudite and authoritative, it’s also a free-wheeling mini film school specializing in the cinema of Brian De Palma.  Why can’t all film studies be this cool?

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s probably worth mentioning that Phantompalooza 2 simply wouldn’t have happened without Ari’s support and organizational acumen, a debt that no amount of Alycia’s perogies can ever repay.

You must stop reading this right now and head over to The Swan Archives.

 

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To *my* shock and surprise…

Music World ad, Toronto Star, Feb. 20, 1975

Music World ad, Toronto Star, Feb. 20, 1975

Here’s an ad for Music World from the Toronto Star, dated Thursday, February 20, 1975.

Looks like the Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack went on sale a few days earlier than I first thought…at least in Toronto.

Now I’m totally confused…I thought new records traditionally were released on Tuesdays. Maybe they weren’t back in the seventies? Anyone out there with a graying ponytail and a vast vinyl collection able to help with this one?

At the very least, the 35th anniversary for the soundtrack was most certainly not February 25, 1975.

So, um, “never mind”. Carry on.

 

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To our chock and surprise…

Happy 35th anniversary to the Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack, released Feb. 25, 1975!

Also released that day:  Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.  Which do you think sold more in Winnipeg? 

I had the soundtrack LP long before I made the deal with my parents that allowed me to see a “Mature” movie at the Garrick theatre (hint:  I’m still shoveling their sidewalks.)  But in retrospect the greater achievement was how I somehow convinced my Dad, military brush-cut and all, to make the trip into enemy territory — Opus 69 Records — to procure a copy…

For a lot of us at the time, this was our first exposure to “rock,” and therein lies perhaps the real secret to the film’s isolated success in Winnipeg:  it’s the music, stupid!  Remember, these were simpler times, with fewer media outlets…if a band didn’t have airplay on either CFRW or CKRC they might as well not have existed.  Indeed, the “heaviest” thing most of us had heard up to that point was the guitar riff at the beginning of Terry Jacks’s Seasons in the Sun.

But was it rock?  Or a fiendish pastiche perpetrated by composer Paul Williams?

All I know is, I was so utterly obsessed with this LP that I played it on my Mom’s ramshackle Garrard turntable until the grooves started to disintegrate.  I would pore over the liner notes like a Kremlinologist.  Who were these musicians?  Art Munson…Dave Garland…Gary Mallabar… And who the hell was Ray Kennedy, and why was he “the voice of Beef”?!

But who wants nostalgia anymore?  My favourite memory of these glorious tunes is decidedly contemporary.  During the hype leading up to the first Phantompalooza, the soundtrack briefly re-entered the charts on BOB-FM.  A ‘palooza co-conspirator phoned from the highway, breathless, having pulled over his vehicle to alert me to an upcoming airplay of opener “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye.”  We listened in unison, awestruck, instantly 10 years old again.

Carburetors man…that’s what life is all about!

 

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