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Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 6   <return to previous monitor>

We actually had someone write to us once asking where they could get a copy of this issue of Rolling Stone, but most of our readers, we're pretty sure, have a better grasp on reality. We assume, but don't know, that Jack Fisk created this mockup, and we think it's great. "Beef: Death at Last" is particularly awesome. By ridiculing Beef's death, and suggesting that love between Phoenix and Swan is "strange," Rolling Stone asserts itself here as an independent media voice, perhaps not completely under Swan's domination. At least in the early 1970s, this would have been appropriate: at that time, Rolling Stone still had kind of a counterculture feel to it. Later, it became co-opted by the music business it was covering, and has devolved into just another whorish mouthpiece for the industry; we canceled our subscription in 1978. (We didn't find out until years later that Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone's editor/publisher, attended Phantom's Los Angeles premiere, and hated it.) To be fair, Rolling Stone has gotten a little better in the past couple years. And, it was nice of them to give their permission for use of the mockup.
At this point in the film, there's a lot of choppiness; we suspect that someone decided in postproduction that the audience might not "get it," and that some exposition is required: there's clumsily dubbed dialogue from cameramen asking "what's this rumor you're gonna wear a mask onstage?", and "how can we shoot you if you've got a mask on?," etc. Nobody's mouth is moving, we just hear the dialogue, suggesting it was an afterthought. Similarly, Swan's response, "You can't, fools," sounds like it was looped in postproduction...we conveniently see only the back of his head when he recites this line. How exactly the "tape ages in Swan's place" concept was going to be explained, and at what point in the movie, changed tremendously over the course of script rewrites. In fact, in some early versions of the script, the whole Swan/Dorian Gray concept is explained in excruciating detail to Winslow, and to the audience, by an engineer who works in Swan's secret video room! He even says, "He sold his soul to the devil - just like Dorian Gray!"
There is nothing unusual about scenes being re-ordered, eliminated, shortened, and repurposed after shooting, during the editing process. It's only through viewing the film as a work in progress that the director and editor can get a true sense of where it might need tightening, or where something might be confusing, for example. Phantom is no exception. We believe this sequence, with Swan entering the performance hall, along with the rush of fans, was, prior to rejuggling everything in the editing room, intended to open the film, and that Swan and the rest of these fans were attending the Juicy Fruits show, rather than Swan's wedding to Phoenix. See the Juicy Fruits logo on the (open) door as everyone passes by? The Juicy Fruits, Swan has already told us, are yesterday's news ("nobody cares about nostalgia anymore"), and there's no reason their logo would be on the front doors of the Paradise on the night of Swan's wedding. We think that, as the film was being shot, the plan was that we were going to learn at the very beginning that Swan didn't like being photographed, and that something mysterious was going on with his aging process. And...
...this scene, too, would have been at the top of the film, before we saw the Juicy Fruits. Here, Swan's high school girlfriend Betty Lou (whose voice is dubbed in by an uncredited Betty Buckley, who will have her onscreen debut a couple of years later as Miss Collins in De Palma's Carrie, and who also dubbed the voice of one of the girls on Swan's circular bed earlier), tells us that he looks the same now as he did in high school. This scene would have made sense at the start of the film, where it would have set the mystery of Swan's agelessness in motion, a question that would have been satisfyingly answered an hour later. Here, though, it makes no narrative sense to create this little mystery, as we're going to get the answer anyway in about ten seconds, as soon as the Phantom watches the Dorian Gray tape. The weird audio (the music disappears awkwardly as soon as Betty Lou starts talking) also suggests that no music cue had been created for the crosscutting between Betty Lou and the Phantom in the taperoom, and further bolsters the idea that the resequencing was a desperate last-minute move to "explain" the "confusing" narrative. Finally, we've got Herb Pacheco standing here in the Betty Lou scene doing nothing, when, if this is at the Paradise, he should be off preparing to assassinate Phoenix. So at some point during production, the decision was made to push the audience's discovery of Swan's eternal youth to much later in the film, and to open with the Juicy Fruits. We certainly think this makes the opening of the film stronger, and was the right call, but once that decision had been made, we think it would have made sense to just drop Betty Lou's scene entirely, as it's completely unnecessary, and actually adds to, rather than reduces, the confusion.
Betty Lou says this was taken 20 years ago, which would have been 1954. If Swan had hair down to his shoulders then, he probably got his ass kicked at recess a lot, which would kind of help to explain his bad attitude.
This scene really sets the obsessive compulsives off. Swan says it's "Saturday, November 19, 1953," and you wouldn't believe how much email we get asking what it means that November 19, 1953 was actually a Thursday. It means you people have way too much time on your hands. And yes, we do appreciate the irony inherent in us saying that. You might as well complain that there was no color videotape in 1953, or that this means that (since Betty Lou was his high school sweetheart in 1954) Swan was "the greatest showman of his time" by the time he was a junior in high school. Or that Swan couldn't have had his first gold record when he was 14, because the RIAA didn't start handing out gold records until 1958. And what the heck is Swan doing with a short hair wig here, when a moment ago we saw in Betty Lou's locket that he was wearing his hair long 20 years ago? We think the only appropriate response is, "Relax, it's only a movie."
We do like how "old fashioned" the videocamera behind Swan is trying to look. It actually does look kind of like a Sony CVC-2000, pictured here, which was the first video camera in use in the US. Of course the Sony only shot black and white, and wasn't introduced until 1965. We also like how Swan, for all his evilness, isn't exactly Satan...he, like Winslow, is just a poor sap who made a deal in a moment of weakness. Phantom presents the Deal With The Devil business as kind of a multilevel marketing Amway, but without the garageful of unsold crap.
Swan's voice is distorted on these recordings because the tape ages in his place; it's kind of an electronic "old man" voice. Presumably, if we could see his face in these recordings, it would look wrinkly and awful, which is what Swan is wincing at when he watches the tape daily, as he must, to fulfill his side of the bargain. Phoenix's contract, like Winslow's, contains a "'til death do us part" clause, which raises a question if you're extremely literal-minded: How does Swan expect his assassination of Phoenix to work, given that she can't die until he does? Was he hoping that the bullet would merely stun her (as Winslow's lethal stab wound merely stunned him), so he could "resurrect" her in front of a thrilled crowd later? While this theory is interesting, we don't believe it; rather, we believe Swan's ruthless willingness to sacrifice his bride on the altar of entertainment was genuine, and an example of the dedication to his craft that made Swan the master showman of his age. (We also think the question didn't occur to anyone until years after the film was completed.) Here again, we repeat the mantra, "Relax, it's only a movie."
This is perhaps the key line of dialogue in the entire film: "An assassination, live on television, coast to coast? That's entertainment!" It's at the core of the film's concern: the conflation of death, depravity and self destruction with entertainment, and the public's inability to distinguish entertainment from reality. It's not so much that people can't tell what's real and what's not, though that's also an issue; but principally that everything, even military conflict, illness, and murder, is presented on television as "entertainment," and that the "realer" the suffering is, the more people will be drawn to it. (The Kennedy assassination is perhaps the prime example of this; the Zapruder footage has fascinated people for decades.) Networks compete to broadcast the goriest combat footage (or did, until the government, which had learned that there's more support for the war if you conceal the ugly reality of it, stepped up its censorship of the news media's coverage on "national security" grounds), the most appalling disasters, the strangest murders, and the most intimate details of celebrity divorces and battles with cancer, because people find it entertaining. There's something decidedly base and ugly about this sort of voyeurism, and the public's desire to engage in it distracts from real news, making the masses more easily manipulable. People expect to be entertained even by the news, to the point that if there's no footage to accompany a story, there's no story, however important it might be. Phantom has proven prescient, as "reality" TV, from Ozzy Osbourne's family problems to the morons of the Jersey Shore, to, god help us, "Bridalplasty," and torture porn (the Saw and Hostel movies) prove. (A reality show about an assassin? It's within sight.) Phantom, whose musical acts "one up" each other as the film progresses -- from the Juicy Fruits' Archie Hahn playfully stabbing himself, to the Undeads pretending to dismember audience members, to the crowd lapping it up as Beef is actually electrocuted onstage -- has long ago been passed up and left in the dust by actual events. In that sense, Phantom, even at the time it was made, was not exaggerating or satirizing rock music or the performers of the age, but rather showing them from their own perspectives, and from Swan's, instead of from the audience's. By providing a "backstage," "behind the scenes" view, the film presented them as cynical businessmen, which rendered their onstage personas patently fake and ironic. Amazingly, in real life, it turns out that the public just doesn't care how fake these personas are: People incomprehensibly continue to view Ozzy Osbourne as some kind of godlike master of the forces of hell, even after seeing him, on "The Osbournes", stupidly and utterly incapable of competently dealing with any of hundreds of everyday ordering pizza, or operating his television's remote control.
In this shot, as well, the Death Records signage above the TVs was inserted in post production to cover a reference to Swan Song. Again, you can check our Swan Song Fiasco page for the full story on this. A few years later, we'll see a similar bank of surveillance TVs in Tony Montana's home office in Scarface. Even though De Palma's showing the audience six screens here, everyone looks at the correct one (the one with the assassin) because our eyes are attracted to movement, and nothing much is going on in the other five screens. De Palma very carefully employs the same technique in most of his uses of splitscreen as well: by allowing one side of the screen to "go neutral" at the critical moments for the action on the other side (and by increasing the volume on the audio associated with the side we're "supposed to" be looking at at any particular time), he guides the audience to see what they need to, while we remain aware that there are multiple activities going on. (We think the Beach Bums splitscreen, earlier in the film, is not one of his better efforts in this regard, particularly because the sound mixing doesn't guide the viewer as well as it might.)
Here's another example of Swan's implausibly supersmart surveillance cameras switching point of view as necessary to show us what's going on. Conveniently, the angle on the assassin (Herb Pacheco) switches to a god's eye view so that we can see what he has in his gun case. This sequence is a lift from The Manchurian Candidate, and the shots of the assassin assembling his gun are patterned after the parallel sequence in that film.
Just behind the pink balloon here is Susan Weiser, who married Bill Finley on September 21, 1974, a little over a month before Phantom's world premiere. William Shephard is just behind and to her left.
Occasionally, there's a momentary view of Brian De Palma up in "Swan's Box." He's on the far left here, in the brown.
The guys on the handheld cameras are Robert Elfstrom, who had been a camera operator on the Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter, and James Signorelli. De Palma brought in Elfstrom, in particular, because he had experience recording live shows for the Maysles. Elfstrom had also been responsible for the camerawork in the faux cinema verite "Be Black, Baby" sequence in De Palma's Hi, Mom!, on which he had served as director of photography. The "crow girls" were college students recruited from Southern Methodist University and were apparently on the conservative side; initially, they objected to the feathery panties because they looked "too much like pubic hair," necessitating a last-minute redesign. We think the pacing of the film really suffers here, as way too much time is spent with the crow girls. In contrast to the closely choreographed and formally photographed earlier numbers, the wedding sequence is shot with handhelds to look chaotic and disorganized, emphasizing the degree to which Swan (the Establishment) has lost control over the presentation, and the Phantom (the Hippies) is gaining the upper hand. It's a mini recapitulation of one of the film's dominant themes, the temporary success (but ultimate failure) of the '60s revolution. Here, as with Altamont, the whole thing, for all its granola and rainbows, ends in death and destruction, as the indomitable force (the pact with the devil, a metaphor for the degree to which artists must be co-opted in order to find success) reasserts itself.
We get a lot of questions about the "wedding music," the space jam played in this section of the film, that morphs into the sad music played as Winslow crawls across the stage towards Phoenix. The music isn't on the soundtrack album. Paul Williams tells us, "That last cue is mostly me ... I spent an afternoon and evening working the cue that runs thru the wedding and includes the 'hopefully haunting' piano piece as Winslow crawls to his death .. I think I went in with Mike Melvoin or Craig Doerge.. .. might have been Dave Garland ... or Lincoln Mayorca . . A great piano player for sure .. and had them play stuff on the cue .. The theme that comes in as Winslow crawls to his death is actually me. I wrote the one finger death piano and it's actually me playing .. which I almost never do . .... Tom Scott may have been the player doing the horn stuff although that could be Dave Garland too. It's the only place in the picture where I jumped into the scoring . It felt like it needed to be a piece that reflected, choreographed, maybe helped to instigate the insanity that erupts when the audience become an active element in the destructive ballet. I love the piano theme that I played and always wait for it when I watch the film . . and purposely mixed it very high. Tipton's score is wonderful. It has that 'melodrama meets classic' element that works perfectly I think. I'm sure his music is heavily in the mix of that last cue too. I just kept overdubbing sounds til I got the insanity level up to Phantom standards." So there you have it.
This hallway is in the Majestic in Dallas. The Phantom running like a madman with the camera chasing after him brings some desperately needed kinetic energy, as, in the crosscutting, Phoenix slowly makes her way across the stage and Herb Pacheco slowly puts together his rifle. The shots of the Phantom running, and the cross-cutting, are evocative of The Manchurian Candidate, which this sequence is spoofing. The Phantom goes outside, into the alley, and then climbs the fire stairs, and goes back into the theater, but because we don't fully understand the layout of the theater, the whole thing isn't as suspenseful as it might be: we don't have a real sense of how close the Phantom is getting to the assassin. This is very unusual for a De Palma film, as one of the things he particularly excels at is establishing where, in complex sequences, the characters are in physical space in relation to one another. Consider, for example, the train station shootout and the bridge sequence at the border in The Untouchables, the motel conflagration at the end of Raising Cain, the subway chase in Carlito's Way, the way that the first twenty minutes of Snake Eyes provides a tour of the arena, the Langley break-in in Mission Impossible, the prom scene in Carrie, and on and on. De Palma, unlike most other directors, takes the time and effort to engineer into each of these sequences a virtual tour of the premises before everything goes crazy, so that the viewer is already oriented to the layout, whether through long establishing shots, following a character as he does a walkthrough, or allowing the camera to prowl extensively through the set. In Phantom, although we've seen various backstage stairways and hallways in passing, we never get a very clear idea of the theater's layout, and in particular how far Swan's video room is from the auditorium, or from the projection booth.
The wedding sequence was filmed from beginning to end twice, to ensure all the angles were covered, and provide some choices during editing.
The whole "she must be hit just as Philbin says 'til death do you part" is of course a lift from both Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which an assassin is instructed to shoot his target at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, at the exact moment of a cymbal crash from the orchestra, so as to mask the noise of the gunshot, and from The Manchurian Candidate, in which the assassin is ordered to shoot a presidential candidate as the candidate reaches a particular point in his speech. Swan's mask here is molded from the lifemask of Paul Williams' face that was created by the makeup team for Battle for the Planet of the Apes, in which he had played Virgil, an orangutan. (A lifemask is created from a mold of the actor's face made by the makeup department, which they can then use to fit custom-created facial appliances, like fake foreheads, chins, noses, etc., so that they can test the appliances at their leisure, rather than having the actor sit for fittings.) Paul had lost some weight since the mask was made, which is why it looks a little puffy. As the looming assassination gets closer, Paul Hirsch's cutting gets much faster; less than a half a second per shot in these final moments. This editing pattern, too, is evocative of the extremely short cuts used for a few seconds in The Manchurian Candidate to emphasize the chaos at the political convention just before the assassination.
The crowd thinks that Philbin being shot is all part of the show, as they did when Beef was electrocuted. Silly audience. They never learn.
We suspect strongly that Bill Finley did not fly across the Majestic on a rope, but that this was a stuntman.
Swan is burning and melting in sympathy with the videotape to which his life is bound. Presumably, Williams was wearing this makeup under the silver mask for the entire wedding sequence, as it couldn't have been applied in the middle of the mayhem. See how it only extends over the part of his face that was covered by the mask?
Here, the "Rock Freak," in monkey-see-monkey-do fashion, emulates the Phantom, and grabs a crowgirl headpiece, not yet understanding why, a moment ago, the Phantom did so. He's about to mindlessly ape whatever he sees the Phantom do, just as millions of fans all over the world mimic the objects of their adulation.
The Phantom strikes Swan with the crowgirl headpiece, giving him a lethal injury, which permits the Phantom's own self-inflicted stab wound to open. Philbin's boot is visible here; the poor guy's just been lying there all this time.
The shot of the Phantom reacting to his own wound was clearly taken at another time and place, given the completely black background and the fact that there's no camera onstage to shoot him at this angle. It looks to us like it may be an outtake from the shots of his reaction to discovering he had been bricked into the basement of the Paradise.
The "Rock Freak," having just seen the Phantom stab Swan, mindlessly imitates him, giving Swan another jab or two.
Over the course of the film, the wall between artist and audience has completely broken down, with the audience's role changing from spectator/victim ("Goodbye, Eddie") to taking an active role in the "performance," and finally becoming the show themselves, as here, by killing the performer, and carrying the corpse around the auditorium.
Bill Finley's wife (then fiancee) Susan takes the helmet off his hands. This wasn't planned; Susan just felt compelled to take it. Fortunately, Susan presumably can be trusted not to run off with it.
We finally get a good look at poor Winslow's mangled face, and see that there's a black "Death Records" sparrow etched onto his cheek. If you're interested, you can see raw footage of Winslow's Bataan Death Crawl from one of the handheld cameras here .)
The crowd is just seeing this as drama and entertainment; we don't see anyone rushing off to call 9-1-1.
The camera rises to the heavens, in a shot De Palma will re-use for similar effect in, for example, Dressed to Kill, in which the camera hovers over the half-comprehending mob in the insane asylum cheering Michael Caine's assault on a nurse, in both instances suggesting now that we have an omniscient "God's eye" ("look at all those idiots!") view of the proceedings. The music cue here is "The Hell of It." The song had been written, originally, to be played at Beef's funeral, which was never shot, as the production ran out of time and money. At the funeral, as the casket was being lowered into the grave, a stage mother would have pushed her little girl forward to tapdance on the coffin, as an impromptu audition for Swan (which is why we hear the tapdancing on the soundtrack), who meanwhile was recording the funeral from the hearse, for Death Records.
The montage of cuts (many of them outtakes, like this shot of Swan splashing in the tub) was assembled over the closing credits to counteract the film's sad ending, and remind everyone that they'd had a good time watching. It's now common practice to include outtakes over the closing credits (in part to encourage people to stay for them), to the point that Pixar parodies the practice, by creating faux "outtakes" for its animated films for this purpose...but we can't think of any film prior to Phantom that did this; can you?
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