Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 3 <return to previous monitor>
The montage showing time passing as the Phantom rewrites his cantata and dreams of Phoenix was photographed, directed and assembled by editor Paul Hirsch. Much of this was shot in the back of the Majestic Theater, against a background of black duvateen, a draping feltlike material. Mr. Hirsch tells us that he would be given a camera to use while the crew was busy setting up other shots, and that De Palma's only complaint about the sequence was that the Phantom was using a ballpoint pen, and it would have looked better against the black background (and extended the bird motif) had he used a quill with a large plume. "He was right!", says Hirsch. The images that evoke time passing (candles burning down, manuscript pages piling up) were inspired by the work of Slavko Vorkapich, who was kind of the master of the montage sequence in the 1930s (and whose work is unequaled since.) Want to be amazed? Type "Slavko Vorkapich" into Youtube, and see what you get back. Anyone who appreciates the sort of visual storytelling at which De Palma excels will enjoy Vorkapich's montages, which are visual storytelling on steroids.
There's definitely some temporal inconsistency here, as this is apparently taking place around December 9, 1974...and Winslow vandalized Death Records and was shot and presumed dead only a few days earlier (according to Variety). That's a quick recovery, especially when you consider that, in the intervening four or five days, Winslow has chosen a costume, blown up the Juicy Fruits, gotten Phoenix a job, found a place to live rent free, and entered a recording contract. Accomplishing all that would probably take most people at least a couple weeks, but Winslow got it done pre-internet, unable to speak, and with no depth perception. He's the MAN!
Paul Hirsch shot additional material for the montage involving Swan Song cameras, which you can see here, but this apparently had to be removed owing to the Swan Song Fiasco, which you can read more about on our appropriately named Swan Song Fiasco page.
It's very impressive that, with only a glance at the sheet music, Swan can determine that it's "tasty". He must be the best producer ever!
Swan's gold-record desk (now there's a prop we'd like to own!) will be echoed later in the hot tub scene in De Palma's Scarface. As the camera pans from one auditioning hopeful to the next, the performances are live; what you hear is what the performers are singing during the take. The lighting and camera angle made the use of a traditional boom mike impossible, so the boom operator had to position himself under Swan's desk with a directional mike in his hand, and crawl from one position to the next as the camera panned from each auditioner to the next, without making noise or dropping the mike or getting snagged in his cable or the legs from the light stands, and had to do it in pitch blackness...and also had to get the mike pointing at the performers, without having it protrude from under the desk into the camera's view. The singing cowboy is Keith Allison, who played bass and wrote songs for Paul Revere and the Raiders from 1968 to 1975.
Swan, who has seen the Phantom's temper and violent tendencies play out in the Beach Bums explosion, is looking for something that will infuriate the Phantom to such a degree that he will be moved to instigate yet more violence and death, a better show, and higher ratings. Selecting Beef, he sarcastically intones, "there's something he'll like..." Here, and later, in the shower, we hear Gerrit Graham's real singing voice.
The notes are in fact the melody line, more or less, of what we're hearing Paul Williams sing here.
This was shot at Dallas' Love Field. The first few frames of this sequence were deleted from the final cut because the Swan Song logo on the cameraman's back was too visible, but you can see them on our Swan Song Fiasco page, here.
In the distance, we can see the podium in the background, and dimly make out that it might say Swan Song on it. As we get closer, though...
...and the wording would otherwise be "too legible", the dead bird logo has been matted over the Swan Song wording.
And, here, the post-production-introduced dead bird is front and center. As Swan takes the podium, there's a jump-cut that moves us closer in. The shot was originally probably much wider, but, with all the post-production tweaking, lost too much detail to look halfway decent at distance. Swan is dressed here like Caligari, because this scene is an homage to the introduction of Cesare in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. As soon as Swan mentions "the late Winslow Leach," it is completely clear, if it weren't pretty obvious before, that Swan has no intention of anyone ever seeing Winslow alive again. The reporter (who is obviously a plant, as he asks the exact question Swan wants him to) is named "Mr. Pizer," after the film's director of photography, Larry Pizer. Pizer worked with De Palma again, years later, on the music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", which we suppose is notable for having introduced Courtney Cox to the world. Without that, we wouldn't have "Cougar Town". We're not sure that's a net gain.
This shot is grainy because it's a zoom-in on the frame done in post production, to prevent the Swan Song podium from being in frame. The camera is about to pan over to Beef, and it would be damn near impossible to have used a travelling matte to blot out the Swan Song wording (at least not without a whole lot of jiggling) with the camera panning. Swan's microphones are actually live, not just props, and are being used to record his dialogue here.
As the camera stops its pan, we zoom back out, but the shot remains grainy thanks to the dead bird added in post. Pretty much the only thing that can be seen clearly is the stupid bird! The Juicy Fruits are all bandaged, reflecting the injuries they presumably suffered when their car was blown up. Swan, the coffin, and Beef's unveiling, followed by his extended close-up, are all patterned on the unveiling of Cesare the somnambulist in Caligari. You can get a sense for the similarities by taking a look at this shot, but it'd be more fun to watch the whole film, which is still tremendously entertaining almost 100 years after it was made.
Paul Williams tells us that fans often ask him to say the word "Thursday" for them. That's just weird.
Swan's conversations with Winslow in Winslow's basement studio were shot in Los Angeles, but the shot of Swan opening the door from the inside, and then exiting into the hallway, were filmed months later in Dallas. You have to love the Swan shaped door handle here. Production designer Jack Fisk is our hero. Which reminds us: We see it claimed all over the place that Sissy Spacek designed the sets. It was Fisk, her then-future husband, who did that as part of his "Production Designer" duties; Ms. Spacek was the set dresser, which basically meant that she worked as an assistant to her husband, doing painting, and obtaining and placing the objects (both decorative and functional) found on the set - everything from coffee cups to furniture to musical instruments. She sewed together the dead bird sheets on Swan's bed! At the time she performed her set dresser duties on Phantom (she had volunteered to help her future husband out when he fired one of his crew shortly after shooting commenced), she had already completed filming her starring role in Badlands, which hadn't yet been released. Fisk had worked as art director on Badlands, which was another Ed Pressman production, as well as sharing its title with a Bruce Springsteen song; De Palma would later shoot a music video for Bruce. The degrees of Kevin Bacon possibilities here are endless.
Swan is obviously well-read, since sealing someone behind a brick wall is of course borrowed from Edgar Allen Poe's short story, The Cask of Amontillado. In Poe's story, Montresor lures Fortunato into a small niche in the basement of his house with promises of the excellent alcoholic beverages that lie within. After getting Fortunato drunk, Montresor chains him to the wall, and bricks him in to die. In Phantom, Swan lures Winslow into the Paradise's basement with promises that his music will be sung by Phoenix; Swan then drugs Winslow, and bricks him in to die.
Gerrit is lip-synching to Ray Kennedy's insane shrieking here. On the right, the three Juicy Fruits still wear bandages, as they're still recovering from their carbomb injuries. On the left are Beef's three backup singers, one of whom is Phoenix. What's interesting about that, as we'll see later, is that when we finally see Beef perform "Life at Last," we barely see Phoenix as one of the backup singers. Turns out that Phoenix was onstage with Beef for "Life at Last," but there's almost no evidence of this in the final cut. We'll return to that issue later. Beef's guitar here is an Ampeg Dan Armstrong acrylic, which was originally manufactured from 1969-71. For awhile, Keith Richards was playing one: you can see it in Gimme Shelter. In 1999, and again in 2006, Ampeg reissued this classic.
The woman standing next to Swan, in the purple, is Mary Margaret Amato yet again. We knew there was a reason we keep watching this scene. It's never been clear to us why the other woman here is made up to look like David Bowie on the cover of Diamond Dogs.
Gerrit Graham has been pretty great in everything we've ever seen him in: Used Cars and De Palma's Home Movies are standouts. You've probably seen those, as well as his roles in the early De Palma films Greetings and Hi, Mom. One that we'd like to call your attention to, though, is Philadelphia Experiment 2, in which he brings an unusual layer of depth and sensitivity to the Stock Snarling Evil Nazi Badguy character. For Phantom, although his initial impulse was to play Beef as a straightforward Brooklyn tough (because, at the time he auditioned, Sha Na Na had still been slated to play the Juicy Fruits, Beach Bums and Undead), he was encouraged by De Palma and Williams to make the character a fey Little Richard type. Beef's slipping-and-sliding-on-his-lift-shoes pratfall is something that Gerrit proposed. For a time, the production had hoped to put Beef in a pair of goldfish shoes (the ones that enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the '70s and had (very temporarily) live goldfish swimming in the lucite heels) but this idea was apparently (and wisely) abandoned.
We think the editorial choice to repeatedly cut to Phoenix rolling her eyes in response to Swan's and Beef's dialogue, and then to her suppressing laughter as Beef has difficulty with his elevator shoes, was unfortunate...one of our few complaints about the generally brilliant job Paul Hirsch did on this film. Of course, he had to cut away to something from time to time, and this may have been all the coverage that was available.
As Beef sings an excerpt from Old Souls (with Gerrit lip-synching to Ray Kennedy's vocals), it's hard to look at anything else, so it's easy to miss the Juicy Fruits, in the background, doing a little gag with Archie Hahn putting Jeff Comanor's finger in his ear as Peter Elbling cracks up. This was improvised, of course, and ruins the continuity with the next shot.
No finger in Archie's ear here.
Gerrit Graham has been telling interviewers for years that he was originally slated to play Swan (and that Paul Williams was supposed to play the Phantom), and that he ended up playing Beef because Williams, at the last moment, decided that he'd rather play Swan. Williams, Gerrit has asserted, got to choose whichever role he wanted, because he was providing the music to the production without charge. This last bit actually isn't true; Williams didn't take any sort of cut in pay for his music in exchange for a role, or for his choice of roles. We suspect that when Williams suggested, just before production started, that he would prefer to play Swan (in part because he didn't think he would be scary enough to play the Phantom, and in part because he did not want to play a role in which he appeared to be angry at the music industry), De Palma or Ed Pressman, to placate Graham, made up the story that they had to give Williams whatever role he wanted, because he had "donated" the music; this would account for Graham's being misinformed all these years.
We love the swan (which shows up as a big wooden placard at a couple points in the film), and love the use of it for this wipe. The stage set at the upcoming Phoenix/Swan wedding is designed to look like this swan. That greaser looks like he's about 13 years old, though.
Now we're back in New York for one shot, in front of the New York City Center dressed with flags to play the Paradise.
Here's Philbin with Mary Margaret Amato, again. This looks to be the same room where the Phantom originally scored his costume and helmet, re-dressed a little.
The shock-zoom into the bricks here loses some impact because the audience already knew it was coming, having seen the bricklayers earlier. Since it's supposed to be reflective of the Phantom's own shock, rather than a surprise to the audience, we think it would have made more sense had it been shot from the Phantom's perspective, without his arm in the shot.
Beef's line here, "What was that???" always gets the biggest laugh of the evening. The shot is so perfect, though, with the pink doorframe, flowers, gauze, sequins, pink curlers, antler belt and yellow pants...he doesn't even have to open his mouth.
Philbin's wearing an awesome purple Swan Song shirt here.
As Beef approaches Philbin, the security camera pivots on its own. These dressing room cameras are a nice touch, as they reinforce Beef's position as a hapless, powerless cog in Swan's machine: Swan so owns him that he is robbed of his privacy, objectified by the intrusive cameras, and can't escape them even in the privacy of his own dressing room. Presumably, Swan can, at his leisure, watch videotapes of Beef showering and changing. Yuck.
Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 3 <advance to next monitor>
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