Brian De Palma’s largely forgotten rock musical Phantom of the Paradise quickly disappeared from theaters, a near-universal flop, when it was released in 1974. Except, for some reason, in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, where it was a blockbuster and developed an intensely devoted following that continues to this day. The cult is the subject of a new documentary from Sundance alum director Malcolm Ingram (Small Town Gay Bar, Continental) that’s just gone into production.
Phantom of Winnipeg will tell the story of that fan community and how it’s still going strong today. Like a concentrated and highly idiosyncratic Rocky Horror Picture Show, the film found in Winnipeg a devoted audience of, weirdly, 9 to 13-year-olds, who bought hundreds of tickets. Phantom actually outsold Jaws in its initial release, and local sales of the soundtrack helped the album go gold in Canada. The film also spawned “Phantompalooza,” a local festival held biannually since 2004. Digging deep into an outsider community and the dynamics of fan culture, Phantom of Winnipeg will present the life stories of the fans who made it happen, the cast and creative team behind the film and their reaction to the phenomenon, and some of the established artists influenced by it.
A musical about excess and the lust for artistic success that draws heavily from the era’s glam rock music scene, Phantom must be seen to be believed. It’s a bonkers pastiche of Phantom of the Opera with a dash of Doctor Faustus thrown in. It follows Winslow Leach, a struggling songwriter whose work is stolen by a sleazy record producer named Swan, after which Winslow ends up in prison. Escaping six months later, Winslow’s face is disfigured and his voice ruined when he tries to destroy Swan’s operation. Winslow is then tricked by Swan into a Faustian bargain that ultimately destroys his life. The film features an amazing soundtrack written by the great Paul Williams, who also plays Swan.
Well known for films examining facets of LGBT culture, Malcolm Ingram’s debut was Small Town Gay Bar, which examines the gay scene throughout the American South and premiered at Sundance 2006. His other films include Bear Nation, Continental, and Out To Win.
Meanwhile, this is as good an opportunity as any to leave you with a song from the soundtrack. Enjoy.