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Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 5   <return to previous monitor>

Gerrit Graham never complains about this, and in fact has completely forgotten it, but, on the day Beef's performance of "Life at Last" was shot, he was running a very high fever, and a doctor was onhand, giving him oxygen backstage between takes. You've got to give him credit, you'd never know he was running at anything less than 100% here. "I suppose that Beef ought to be my favorite of the parts I played," Gerrit told an interviewer a couple of years after Phantom's release, "but I worried too much while I was doing it. I had triple threat fear--I was afraid that it was a one shot joke--I thought everybody would laugh once and that would be it. Secondly, I thought it might offend homosexuals. I was also worried about being type-cast as a big queen. As it turned out, none of these things was anything to worry about," though Gerrit, it was reported in 1977, did turn down an offer to take over Tim Curry's role in the Los Angeles stage production of the "Rocky Horror Show" out of concerns over type-casting.
 
 
Beef's vocal is performed by Ray Kennedy, a singer/songwriter who's had a long and varied career, working over the years with Brian Wilson (with whom he wrote "Sail on Sailor"), Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Mason, Jeff Beck, Michael Schenker, and Wayne Newton, and has released albums both as a solo artist (under the name Raymond Louis Kennedy), and with a variety of bands, notably Group Therapy and KGB.
 
 
Up until Beef breaks the mic stand he's using a long cylindrical microphone...
 
 
...and then he's got a completely different mic in hand for the rest of the song.
 
 
To us, it seems fairly obvious and unquestionable that Beef is intended as a ridiculous cartoonish exaggeration, all sizzle and no talent. Oddly, when we've spent time with our Phantom fan friends up in Winnipeg, most of whom were first exposed to the film when they were between ten and thirteen years old, we've found that they generally take the view that Beef is actually, seriously, and not in any way ironically, superb and rockin'. By and large, they feel, in all earnestness, that "Life At Last" is as much a part of the true rock pantheon as "Stairway to Heaven," or "Satisfaction." We're not sure what this says about Winnipeg youth in the mid '70s, but we do think it's interesting that, as dangerous and outrageous as Beef was intended to be at the time, his ludicrousness was surpassed in every respect by real-world performers almost within weeks of the film's release, to the point that he seems downright tame and cuddly by today's standards.
 
 
Earlier, we saw Phoenix in rehearsals as one of Beef's backup singers, but she's nowhere to be seen when he actually performs...except for a fraction of a second, here. It appears that she was onstage with Beef for "Life at Last," but that virtually all evidence of this ended up on the cutting room floor. Our best guess is that someone realized during editing that the idea that she could get out of the fright wig and into her white dress in time to sing "Old Souls" before the flaming (heh!) Beef had even been extinguished was just not going to fly.
 
 
And here's what caused all the "Swan Song" problems: as told in more detail on our Swan Song Fiasco page, Led Zeppelin's manager, Peter Grant, had created a real-life record company called "Swan Song Records," beating Phantom to the name by only a few months: Swan Song Records' first release, Bad Company's first album, came out in June of 1974, while Phantom premiered only a few months later, in October of that year. Grant had previously managed a band called Stone the Crows, whose lead singer, Leslie Harvey, had been electrocuted onstage during a sound check in 1972, and Grant was apparently upset by the prospect of a film not only using the "Swan Song" name, but also, adding insult to injury, featuring an onstage electrocution of a rock star. Grant promised to spend his last dime, if necessary, blocking release of Phantom, unless the "Swan Song" name was removed from everything in sight. Check our Swan Song Fiasco page to learn more than you ever wanted to know about this whole sorry saga.
 
 
The lightning bolt came down from the rafters riding on a cable a couple of feet behind Beef, and set off a little charge as it went by, but the perspective makes it look like it hit him. The jiggly effect in Beef's electrocution was accomplished by editor Paul Hirsch taking each third pair of frames and reversing their order, to achieve a "stuttering" look. That is, it would go three frames forward, then one frame back, then three forward, then one back..2-1-4-3-6-5-8-7 and so forth. We at The Swan Archives think this was pretty clever, particularly for a guy who, at the time, had only edited two other features (De Palma's Greetings and Sisters).
 
 
This blonde guy here is seen all over the place throughout the crowd scenes. He's William Shephard, and is credited as "Rock Freak," but actually had a prominent role in the crowd wrangling at the Majestic. Shephard was recruited because of his years of experience in "environmental theater," in which the line between performers and audience is broken down - he had costarred with William Finley in "Dionysus", a pioneering environmental theater production that had been the subject of one of De Palma's prior films, Dionysus in '69. Shephard's job was to work with a group of actors who would be salted in amongst the extras in these scenes, and in the wedding scenes, to get the rest of the crowd riled up and suitably enthusiastic, so that they would, first, look and behave like a real concert crowd and, ultimately, go berserk and become part of the show at the wedding. "In rehearsals," says De Palma, "[Shephard] was so involved in the kind of David Bowie-rock, freak-glitter madness that he totally antagonized everyone in the company. They all loathed him. He was this kind of horrible freak. But that's exactly the kind of character he was in the film: this crazy dancing, throwing the girls around, jumping up on stage, and all that kind madness looked very excessive in rehearsal. But in the context of the final number it looked just about right; it was totally convincing. When the Phantom is stabbed and just crawling along he's clapping and stomping and yelling, 'C'mon baby, let's see some more of that' - just totally convincing."
 
 
Mary Margaret Amato is on the far left, looking on as Philbin puts out Beef.
 
 
The paint jobs on the backup bands' faces are white on one side, black on the other; they kind of remind us of Frank Gorshin's makeup from the Star Trek TOS episode, "Let That be Your Last Battlefield."
 
 
It wasn't very nice of Winslow to strangle this spotlight operator (played by Paul Marcus, who was a member of the electrics department on set in Dallas), who was really just doing his job, but of course Winslow needs to feel that he is involved as Phoenix is showcased to the world; he is both literally and metaphorically putting her in the spotlight. The "strangling the innocent spotlight guy" schtick is probably modeled on a similar moment in the 1943 (Claude Rains) version of Phantom of the Opera, in which the Phantom strangles, from behind, a similarly innocent member of the chorus in order to take his place onstage. Many years later, in what we had assumed (until Mr. De Palma told us otherwise) was a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own performance in Phantom, Bill Finley would repeat this move yet again in De Palma's Black Dahlia, as shown here.
 
 
We're not sure what's up with the pink splotches on Philbin's pants here. Jessica played Garry's girlfriend, and then wife, Phoebe, in the last season of It's Garry Shandling's Show. Our suspicions that naming her "Phoebe" was a shout-out to her role as "Phoenix" were confirmed by the penultimate episode of the series, The Talent Show, in which it is revealed that a Phantom of the Opera-like character has been skulking under the stage developing an obsession for Phoebe. He drags her down to his lair, declares his love for her (they even work in a reference to Pennies from Heaven, another film Jessica starred in), and insists she must sing his song at the talent show being held in Garry's condo. When she refuses, he sabotages the other characters' acts one after another until she finally agrees. At show's end, she emerges and sings, wearing a white dress remarkably similar to the one worn by Phoenix in her debut. We won't spoil the joke by telling you what the Phantom's song turns out to be.
 
 
The guy in the brown slacks behind Phoenix is Larry Pizer, the Director of Photography. The one sitting in the chair is not Brian De Palma; although he's sitting in a De Palma-ish pose, he has no beard.
 
 
The chorus of "Old Souls" is a reworking of "Life at Last," the song Beef almost got through before being incinerated. For the musically challenged, we've created a little audio file, which you can listen to here, that plays the melodies of both songs against the same chord progression, so that you can easily hear that they're basically the same thing. And, the verses of "Old Souls" are a reworking of the Undeads' song we heard a few minutes ago, "Somebody Super Like You." We've put together a second little audio file that makes this clear, and which also shows that the riff that Andrew Lloyd Webber would have tremendous success with a few years later in his godawful Phantom of the Opera is constructed over the beginning of the same chord progression: a minor one to the flat six, down to the minor four, up to the dominant five, and then back home to the one. It makes complete sense, of course, that Paul Williams would construct "Life at Last" and "Somebody Super Like You" out of bits and pieces of "Old Souls": "Old Souls" is presumably closer to Winslow's conception of the song, and is the jumping-off point from which Beef and the Undeads, at Swan's urging, would have made the tune "completely theirs." As well, there's a longstanding tradition in opera, musical theater (and musical films, and orchestration for film) of sprinkling recurring musical motifs and themes throughout the larger work, to various purposes. A musical theme, in the form of a melody, a particular instrumentation, or a particular chord progression, can be associated throughout a film, or musical, with a certain character (Luke or Leia, Bruce the Shark, or, in "Peter and the Wolf," the duck or the cat), a particular mood, an idea ("Thus Spake Zarathustra," in 2001, each time to signify some kind of evolutionary hyperjump), or a recurring event. It can be used to tie together two characters, as in The Wizard of Oz, when the same music is used for Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch. In The Who's Quadrophenia, melodic bits recur here and there in different songs, to evoke Jimmy's four personalities. (In Phantom, the use of recurring motifs even extends to the incidental music, as the same piece, arranged differently, is played behind Winslow's two visits to Death Records headquarters.) Of course, the use of motifs, in addition to providing thematic unity to the various songs in a musical, also performs a more practical purpose: convincing the audience that the songs are "catchy": when the composer reuses melodic lines and chord progressions in different pieces throughout the show, the songs played towards the end (especially the Big Finale Where Everyone Celebrates the Happy Ending) sound familiar even to an audience hearing them for the first time. So, Paul Williams has any number of good reasons to use the same melodies and chord progressions repeatedly throughout Phantom, and it's a credit to him, the musicians, and the performers that the songs sound as different from one another as they do. (We're not sure, though, what Andrew Lloyd Webber's excuse is for pilfering the "Old Souls" introduction for his Phantom of the Opera.)
 
 
A number of reviewers have commented that the film stumbles when the crowd goes completely wild for Phoenix's rendition of "Old Souls". Pauline Kael, for example, felt that "her singing isn't impressive enough for the crowd's wild enthusiasm to be convincing." More recently, Philip Auslander, in a superb piece in The Art Section, here, went even further, suggesting that "the film seems to valorize very middle of the road pop over all other genres of popular music as somehow real, authentic, truly emotive, untainted, not just another fraud perpetrated by the Swans of this world (at least, this is what the hushed response of the audience in the film implies)," and that "as Kael suggests, it would have been more consistent for De Palma to use this scene to show that Phoenix, like everyone else in the film, despite her apparent innocence, stands to be corrupted by her lust for audience and fame." We respectfully disagree. The point of the scene is that Winslow is finally getting his songs performed his way, that Phoenix is better than Beef, and that it's a great song. While it might have been helpful to have some explicit ambiguity as to whether Phoenix and her song were any good, our sense is that Paul Williams wanted this particular song, "Old Souls," presented "straight," as he believed it to have been among the two or three best songs he'd ever written. And of course, Phoenix has to be good for the sake of the film's narrative; if she's not, then Winslow's an idiot. We think De Palma walks a fine line here, to give Williams the creditable showcase for his song that he presumably wanted, and showing that the crowd truly appreciates Phoenix and the song, while also slipping some irony in, through the crowd's reaction at the end, which is, as Kael correctly (but without getting the irony) pointed out, wildly over the top. The notion that "the crowd is a bunch of gullible yeehaws" is reinforced as the next scene begins with Phoenix in her dressing room, where she can hear the screams of dozens of fans abrasively calling for her from the corridor. We think we're supposed to "get" that the fans have no sense of perspective here. Certainly, Phoenix is talented, but the degree to which screaming meemies go crazy for her seems ludicrous, at least to us, particularly when we've just seen the same fans scream, just as crazily, for the talentless Beef, and for the Undeads. And, contrary to Auslander's assertion that De Palma didn't "use this scene to show that Phoenix, like everyone else in the film, despite her apparent innocence, stands to be corrupted by her lust for audience and fame," we think Jessica Harper manages to convey that Phoenix's thoughts as she finishes her song are entirely comprised of lust for fame. It's all over her face as she retreats from the audience and the curtains close, and is reinforced by an iris-in, where the screen is blacked out except for Phoenix's face, suggesting that, from her perspective, there's nothing but Phoenix. She's become the center of the universe. (And of course, in the immediately following scene, Phoenix as much as tells us she's utterly corrupted; she transparently feigns concern for Beef, narcissistically gazes at herself in the mirror as Swan tells her what a big star she's going to become, and tells him she'll "do anything you want...just give me that crowd again...") In all, we think that De Palma pulls off the near-impossible here, showcasing the song in a way that inspires soundtrack sales and presents Phoenix as really good, while at the same time making fun of the mindless fans for behaving as if she's not merely really good, but the greatest thing they've ever seen. In any event, we do agree with Pauline Kael that Phoenix's white dress is unflattering, and makes her seem a little washed out and ghostly against the dark background, and under the harsh spotlight.
 
 
It's a little bit ironic in the context of the film's story, we think, that the incidental music that's played here is a very thinly disguised adaptation of the first strains of the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1. And we don't just mean it's "similar"; this is an out and out steal, no matter who your copyright lawyer is. Beethoven, public domain or not, should have been credited. You can listen to a few bars of Ludwig Van's original here, and George Aliceson Tipton's adaptation here.
 
 
Hanging on Phoenix's mirror is an advertisement that says, "Meet a Harper's Freak." I guess she's about to. (The joke, explained for the exceedingly dense among our readership, is that Phoenix was played by Jessica Harper.) Because of variations in aspect ratios, you see this on VHS and Laserdisc editions of the film, and on the bluray editions, but it's "cut off" on the North American DVD (and, we're pretty sure, nearly all other DVD editions from around the world, including Opening's 2006 double-disc Special Edition.) The only DVD we've found that shows this scene "correctly" is Opening's most excellent December 2009 remaster. (This is why you don't see it in the screen capture to the right, which was taken from the North American DVD, but you do see it on the lobby card, here.) Whether it's visible in the theater, where (if properly projected) it's shown in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with in-projector masks concealing the material at the top and bottom of the frame, will depend on exactly how precise your particular theater's projector masking is. Maybe we should say a word or two to explain this: When Phantom was shot, it was shot "full frame," meaning that each frame of film is shaped approximately like television screens used to be shaped: more or less square. And, 35mm prints of the film, the type shown in movie theaters, similarly have square-ish frames of film. So, if you projected the film against a plain white wall, you'd see a roughly square image on the wall. But the film is supposed to be projected on a movie theater screen that's almost twice as wide as it is tall: 1.85 inches wide for each inch high. So generally when you see the film projected in a movie theater, masking has been placed in the projector so that the top and bottom of the image that's on the film isn't seen by the audience... if this weren't done, you'd see the top and bottom of the image, faintly, projected onto the black area surrounding the movie screen. That's okay; the director knew that the top and bottom of the image wouldn't be seen in the theater, and framed his shots with that expectation in mind (and generally with the expectation that the top and bottom portions of the image would be seen when the film was broadcast on TV, at least when TV's were square-shaped, before the age of Hi-Def rectangular televisions). But theaters vary slightly, such that some will mask off slightly more, and some slightly less, from the top and bottom of the image, with the result that, in some theaters, you'd see the "Harper's Freak" language at the very top of the screen, and in others you wouldn't. VHS versions of the film present it "full frame," to match the shape of pre-HD televisions, so you always see this when you watch the film on VHS. You don't see it on the North American (or most other) DVDs, where it's just outside the visible image, but you do see it on the Blu-Ray, where the transfer shows a little more from the tops, bottoms, and sides of each frame. So endeth the lesson.
 
 
We love this shot of the Phantom beckoning Phoenix away from the screaming fans and out of Swan's clutches, with the ceiling lamps casting pools of light to show the way. It's almost as if he's offering to take her up and out of the hot red hell of the hallway to the cool surface of the earth.
 
 
Phoenix and Winslow are having this conversation on the roof of J&R Music World in Manhattan...
 
 
...but the shot of Beef being carried out on a stretcher, which they're supposedly looking at, is from the roof of the City Center.
 
 
"Because Swan's taken my voice...my music...and given me THIS." That's not really fair to Swan. It was Winslow's own klutziness that robbed him of his voice and gave him the facial ornamentation.
 
 
The stupid subtitling in the North American DVD says, "Phoenix, leave this place, or I will destroy you too." But of course that's not the line: Winslow is saying, "Phoenix, leave this place, Swan'll destroy you too." He's desperately in love with Phoenix, and would never threaten her (only a moment ago, he said, "I would never hurt you, Phoenix") and he's just been ranting about how Swan has destroyed him...so "Swan'll destroy you too" makes much more sense here. We've never understood how anyone can hear the line any other way, but we feel compelled to point out that we have come across at least one perfectly intelligent and altogether reasonable person who is absolutely positive that they hear "I'll destroy you too" here. So, your mileage may vary.
 
 
Here we're back in the alley next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is really cold out, judging by the condensation forming from everyone's breath. The weather looked a lot warmer "a moment ago," when Phoenix and the Phantom were on the roof, romantically discussing her future.
 
 
Swanage is being played here by Old Red, the Dallas Courthouse.
 
 
This scene on the roof was among the first shot, on a soundstage in Los Angeles. Phoenix and Swan are lying on the same bed that was earlier occupied by all the auditioning "singers." We've never been fond of the choice to use Phoenix's performance of "Old Souls," which we just heard less than five minutes ago, as the mood music here. It seems particularly inappropriate as accompaniment to the Phoenix/Swan makeout session because it's all about a "love that lasts the ages," and souls that meet again in lifetime after lifetime, while the Swan/Phoenix relationship is one borne strictly of opportunism and cynical manipulation on both sides.
 
 
The Phantom is wearing a black cape with silver lining here. Over the course of the production, this cape stopped being used, in favor of the red ones, because, as Bill Finley put it, the silver cape "was impossible to work in...it reflected all sorts of light, it was just terribly designed and was rotten and I hated it." There were at least four different capes, and the production switched from cape to cape when one or another got dirty. "Strictly budget," says Finley. "We figured if anybody noticed, their reaction would be, 'who cares?'" The water streaming down the skylight window is of course suggestive of tears. At this early point in production, Finley was having a lot of trouble with the helmet, which (particularly with the noise from all the water going) was preventing him from hearing De Palma's directions. Eventually, the problems were alleviated when he was provided with a radio receiver to wear under the helmet.
 
 
Swan can't be bothered to take off his glasses. Appalling.
 
 
A classic De Palma shot: The Phantom spies on Swan who, in turn, is spying on him, all in splitscreen. If you're into this sort of thing, rent Raising Cain sometime. Phoenix seems to be somehow oblivious of the whole spy vs. spy thing (presumably she's drugged out of her mind at this point), and dastardly Swan is apparently deriving more pleasure from the knowledge that he's tormenting Winslow than he's getting from having a waterbed-full-o'-Phoenix. Which, we have to say, doesn't seem all that inconsistent with painting the dressing rooms pink, wearing opera gloves, being in love with pictures of himself, feathering his hair, choosing Beef over Keith Allison, selling his soul for an eternal youthful appearance, taking baths instead of showers, preferring to watch women "do each other" than to get his own beak wet, and choosing a name like "Swan" for himself in the first place. Just sayin'.
 
 
The bright red blood here looks like it came from the same factory as made the equally unrealistic blood in De Palma's immediately preceding film, "Sisters." Here, though, it's understandable why you'd use red paint instead of anything more authentic: real blood, or anything remotely like it, is not going to show up at all against the black leather, much less look "cartoony".
 
 
Swan with the umbrella here always reminds us that, years later, Paul Williams will be voicing "the Penguin" on the "Batman" animated series.
 
 
We've never felt this shot looked right. Swan is looking off in the wrong direction, a mismatch from the immediately preceding and following shots, which calls attention to this insert of his being stabbed having been shot out of sequence, and detracts mightily from the impact of the scene.
 

Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 5   <advance to next monitor>
 
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