Friday, 5 June 2009
273: Fag Rock 8 - The Phantom of the Paradise
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Written and directed by Brian De Palma
If you haven’t seen “Phantom of the Paradise” you won’t believe how much fun you’ve missed. I certainly think it hangs together better as a story than “Rocky Horror”. A better discovery on late night TV certainly. In its own exuberant yet allusive way, it also offers more of the traditional electric pleasures of a horror flick than “Rocky”’s supposed playing about with the same sort of cheesy B-flick conventions. You can call much of it camp in one way or another. It’s the character of Beef, played by Gerrit Graham, which I’m interested in here. Graham had camped it up in an earlier De Palma film, “Greetings” (1968), when he shows his friend how he should pretend to act gay so as to get out of military duty. That bit of schtick was played as insinuating and seductive for maximum comic contrast. Here Grahame is a bit more nasal and abrasive (almost but not quite lisping), more of a bitchy queen, projecting the incompetent egotism of the character. Such a massive man in glitter costume and platform boots only makes for further comically incongruous effeminacy, particularly with occasional limp wrists and hands on hips or else waggling his bottom on stage. There’s a later scene where he frolics about in hair curlers and then takes a shower in his little plastic shower hat. The film satirises the music industry, so each of the singers in the film is hired on-screen on the pretext of cashing in on some current musical trend. So Beef isn’t merely an agglomeration of faggy mannerisms but embodies some slight suggestion of relevant comment. Although, that he is a feaqsible commercial figure, no matter how ridiculous, is satire in itself. Some gay men liked the film at the time. Some reviews in gay magazines found the character of Beef an insulting travesty. I wince ever so slightly but it’s not really offensive, and the film is just too much fun. Being genuinely entertaining will redeem anything in my ledger.