Phantom of the Paradise

By John Saleeby
June 1st, 2006


People say "Spinal Tap" is The Best Rock And Roll Comedy Movie. To which I say "Fiddlesticks!" Which apparently is not that effective an argument because after all these years of "Fiddlesticks!" they're still saying "Spinal Tap" is The Best Rock And Roll Comedy Movie and I am on the verge of resorting to "Fuckin' Fiddlesticks!" Yeah, "Spinal Tap" is a hilarious film which elicits so much laughter that even at this late date it is a shock to remember that Great Big Pile Of Nuthin' Rob Reiner was its Director, not Christopher Guest. But is "Spinal Tap" REALLY a Rock And Roll Comedy? Those bozos in "Spinal Tap" are a scream, but they would have been just as funny if they had been in a movie about, oh, a bunch of theatrical amateurs putting on a play or a bunch of nuts who've entered a dog breeding competition or something, I dunno (The joke here is so dangerously dry it might as well be a Christopher Guest joke). Well, here is definitive proof that "Phantom Of The Paradise" is a better Rock And Roll Comedy Movie than "Spinal Tap" - It's NOT directed by Rob Reiner's Big Fat Ass!

So who did direct "Phantom Of The Paradise"? Oh, crap . . . Maybe I never should have brought this up . . . Brian De Palma directed it. You may not believe this, but in the early Seventies ("Phantom" was made in '74) Brian De Palma, like the young John Saleeby, was considered to have a lot of potential. But today a Brian De Palma movie is of even less value than an Acid Logic Motherfucking Masterpiece column by John Saleeby. Do they even allow Brian De Palma to make movies anymore?

Of course we all know that Brian De Palma Rocks Da House from the simple fact that he directed Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" video, the Convention Defying Classic which introduced us all to Courtney Cox, The Prettiest Girl In The World! Ironic? No, I'm not being ironic . . . Well, I was sincere about the Courtney Cox part. You think that was  Springsteen's idea? He probably wanted to bring Ron Kovic, the Crippled Commie from "Born On The Fourth Of July" onstage to pop a few wheelies with his wheelchair. If there was ever a Seventies Singer Songwriter who deserved to get his head stuck in a record pressing machine it was Bruce Springsteen. No, that's not my personal sick fantasy, that's what happens in "Phantom Of The Paradise" to hapless Singer Songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley), to turn him into The Phantom. Springsteen would never have had the Pizzazz to turn into a Phantom after that happened to him, he just would have gone on Welfare and sat around bitching all day. Shit on him and his Pete Seeger!

Here's the Whole Enchilada in a Nutshell - Winslow is a loveable doofus whose Rock Opera based on the Faust Legend is stolen by Satanic Rock Impresario Swan (Paul Williams!). Winslow's efforts at a fair break from Swan result in his being imprisoned where his teeth are all torn out and replaced by steel choppers. When Swan announces the Premier of "Faust" at the Grand Opening of his new Rock And Roll Opera House The Paradise Winslow escapes, gets his head stuck in that fuckin' record pressing machine, and becomes The Phantom!      

"Funny" is hardly the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of "Brian De Palma", but that hasn't held Jimmy Kimmel back so we won't hold it against Brian. Don't ever hold anything against Brian, it'll turn green, then black, and dissolve into a puddle of slime. That's where Jimmy Kimmel came from! But before De Palma made all those violent action and horror movies he's well known for he got his start in the Biz with "Greetings" and "Hi Mom!", two late Sixties comedies which brought Far Out Hippie Humor to the Big Screen years before the Cheech And Chong movies. Hey, De Palma made these movies years before the Cheech And Chong records! To say that these movies have become "dated" is an understatement (I'm on the verge of resorting to "Fuckin' dated!") but compared to anything Lindsey Anderson or Bernardo Bertolucci were doing at the time they're "Harold And Kumar Go To The Draft Board". What most folks find interesting about them is their Star - Robert De Niro! Before "Meet The In Laws" and "Analyze This" people were saying "Robert De Niro in a COMEDY? Haven't you seen him in 'Taxi Driver' or 'Raging Bull'? But before "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" they were saying "Robert De Niro in a DRAMA? Haven't you seen him in 'Greetings' and 'Hi Mom!'?" Prankster Prick! Is De Niro in "Phantom Of The Paradise"? No, but one of his "Greetings" and "Hi Mom!" co stars Gerrit Graham is and, not only is he The Funniest Guy In "Phantom Of The Paradise", but he is also One Of The Funniest Guys Of All Time in this movie.

More info about Phantom of the Paradise

Acid Logic on Paul Williams
One of the very first IMs.

Brian DePalma dot com

Horror-Wood dot com
Takes a look at the movie.

Graham plays Beef, a hysterical take off of Glitter Rock Stars like Bowie and Iggy and is so funny that Graham would steal the whole show if everything else in it wasn't as good as he is. Throughout the years we've seen so many silly comedy routines about crazy Rock stars that if you haven't seen Beef he sounds about as exciting as a comedy sketch about White Rappers or Dick Cheney on a Weekend Hunting Trip. Who can begin to count how many times we've seen guys like Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett in pink wigs and platform shoes on TV shows like "Dean Martin's Easter At Auschwitz" banging on electric banjoleles and swapping ad libs like "First time I saw you I thought 'Hey, Charo! Lay off the donuts!'"? Hey, I'm not putting that down. It fact, it sounds a lot like The New York Dolls! What makes Beef so funny and gives "Phantom Of The Paradise" such an edge is that De Palma is coming from the same place as all those Sicko Seventies Rock Stars. As he would later prove in movies like "Carrie", "The Fury", and "Body Double" De Palma was intimately familiar with the same gloomy adolescent mentality that had Gene Simmons puking blood, Alice Cooper chopping up baby dolls, and everything Iggy did from page 11 to page 210 of his autobiography "I Need More", delivering a comic impact far beyond anything in "Spinal Tap" ("Boy, Rock stars are DUMB! Haw haw haw!").

Swan hires Beef to perform "Faust" but the Phantom demands that Phoenix, Groovy Chick Singer And Love Of His Life, gets the gig. Jessica Harper is beautiful as Phoenix but is unfortunately playing a White Female Singer in the Seventies, a time when White Female Singers had such a tremendous stick up their asses it wasn't doing the stick no favors. The Seventies were hardly the Golden Age Of White Female Singers - Barbra Striesand and Linda Ronstadt were major sex symbols in those days, for God's sake! So Harper is at a terrible disadvantage here. When auditioning for Swan, Pheonix suddenly begins dancing and zipping all over the place and we're all like "Huh? Wha? Huh?" White women didn't sing AND dance in the Seventies! "Is she possessed? Get Max Von Syndow on the horn! Is she having a fit? Somebody throw a net over that crazy bitch! She's scaring the chickens!" No wonder Beef gets the job!

Well, I don't want to give away any of the Big Surprises in The End of "Phantom Of The Paradise" so I'm not sure how to end this article. I dunno . . . Hey! Is that an old vinyl record pressing machine!? Haven't seen one of these in YEARS! How does it work? Hhhmmm . . . Huh? Wha? Huh? Oh! OOOOHHHH!!! WWWHHHAAAAAA!!!


John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email -

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