PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE
1974, 20th Century Fox, 92 min, USA, Dir: Brian De Palma

Director Brian De Palma’s vivid reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera is at once camp, surreal, dazzling and heartbreaking. Cutthroat record producer Swann (Paul Williams, who also wrote the fine score) steals both the music and the girl from composer Winslow Leech (William Finely). Horribly disfigured in an attempt to reclaim his artistic credit, Leech becomes the Phantom at Swan’s new rock palace, the Paradise. Jessica Harper, contributing her creamy alto, plays Leech’s love interest, and Gerrit Graham is hysterical as glitter-rock star "Beef." De Palma turns what could have been a lightweight indulgence into clever pop-culture commentary.


PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
1981, Warner Bros., 108 min, USA, Dir: Herbert Ross

Dennis Potter's beautifully melancholic musical pairs unhappily married Depression-era Arthur (Steve Martin) and sweet, footloose Eileen (Bernadette Peters), setting the stage for bittersweet romance punctuated with astounding Busby Berkeley-style dance numbers. The last-ever MGM musical features eye-popping production design inspired by painter Edward Hopper, superb camerawork (Gordon Willis earned a National Society of Film Critics award for Best Cinematography) and Christopher Walken’s wonderful dance number, “Let's Misbehave.”


SUSPIRIA
1977, 20th Century Fox, 100 min, Italy, Dir: Dario Argento

Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett and Udo Kier star in this landmark giallo inspired by an essay by 19th-century opium eater Thomas De Quincey. Argento’s magnum opus (the first of his “Three Mothers” trilogy) mixes witchcraft, nubile young flesh and expressionist set design into a truly hellish brew. SUSPIRIA is as visually ravishing as it is violent; its director explained the film’s distinctive look as “trying to reproduce the color of Walt Disney’s SNOW WHITE.” Goblin’s eerie prog rock soundtrack envelopes listeners in a web of Moog, Mellotron and guitar, and has been sampled in everything from Hong Kong action films to hip-hop songs.


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