Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 4 <return to previous monitor>
Like Winslow's prison escape (and his miraculous survival of having his head squashed by the record press), his uncanny ability to somehow punch his way through the bricks and metal (and apparently vanquish the two greasers standing guard in the hallway) seems extraordinarily unlikely, and serves to yet again remind us that this isn't a story entirely grounded in reality. In this, the film succeeds: I've never heard anyone complain that his escape here is "unrealistic", or that his seemingly superhuman strength is "unexplained". Rather, Winslow's impossible feats are taken in stride, and understood to be unremarkable in the context of the comic book fantasy reality the film creates for itself. We think it's worth considering for a moment what a tightrope act the film walks here. We are, clearly, supposed to care about the characters, and accept them as "real", while, at the same time, the movie keeps reminding us that it is taking place in some kind of alternate kaleidoscopic funhouse reality where even the laws of physics don't necessarily apply. It is hard to get an audience to care about characters, or outcomes in any film - even one that tries to be "realistic". Here, Phantom asks its audience to accept plot turns which require that rules we all know to be true (like "milquetoast composers do not have superhuman strength") get broken. Here, if the Phantom can magically punch through a wall of bricks and steel whenever the plot requires it, why should we harbor any concern for him? And yet, we do. You don't have to look far to find a film that overstepped the limits in this regard. In Superman, The Movie, for example, the audience loses interest, and feels cheated, when Superman flies so quickly around the world that he goes back in time, in order to retroactively rescue Lois Lane before she's buried alive in an earthquake fault. If he can do this anytime Lois (or anyone else) dies, there's no reason to care what happens any more ...Superman will just fix it later, when he gets a free moment to fly around the globe a couple of times. Even though Superman himself is "magical", the film makes the mistake of trying to take place in the real world, and, in the real world, going back in time to undo death is cheating. In Phantom, De Palma wisely places Winslow's unbelievable feats in a world of fantasy, allegory and archetype, where complaining that they are unrealistic is like complaining that the cowardly lion is too heavy for the flying monkeys to carry. (The film's casual treatment of Winslow as some kind of unexplained physical savant is very similar in tone to that of the previously mentioned A Cool Million's nonchalant depiction of its Winslow-ish hero, Lem Pitkin, as gifted in a similar way.)
The black and white publicity shot pasted to the mirror is of Gerrit Graham. Of course Beef has his own picture up (and apparently occasionally kisses it while wearing lipstick.) Like Swan, Beef seems to like to look at pictures of himself as a younger man. There's a men's muscle magazine on the counter in front of him, right next to the pack of Swan cigarettes.
Beef's towel has the Swan Song logo featured prominently. Where can we get towels like that?
The substance used to play the role of Beef's cocaine was dried lactose. Gerrit Graham does not recommend snorting this stuff. Apparently, it gets all clumpy and has to be "snotted out". (Here at The Swan Archives, we don't judge the news; we just report it.)
This is, of course, a spoof of the shower scene from Psycho. You can see outtakes of this scene here...it looks like Gerrit had to get the plunger in his face at least six times. (In successive takes, the crew made the water colder and colder, having a little fun with him.) Between takes, the water had to bailed out from the "shower" floor, as it pooled up...the set didn't have a working drain. The scene is typical of De Palma misdirection, getting the audience to expect a particular outcome based on prior filmgoing experiences, and then confounding expectations. Here, we see the Phantom approaching with a dagger, and expect the worst. We're relieved and amused when Beef is merely humiliated rather than sliced into Beef-bits.
Here, the camera is standing where a moment ago there had been a wall. The wall was a pullaway, that got slid out of position by stagehands so that the camera could continue to circle around Beef and show us that the Phantom was coming in through the door. We're not sure how he got past the vigilant Philbin and Mary Margaret Amato; maybe they were otherwise engaged.
The plunger-in-the-face gag seems more than a little bit homophobic to us. The old "ram the phallic symbol into the faggot's mouth" trick, right? We don't think the scene would play the same (or at all) if Beef had been straight, or a woman. There's a malevolence to this bit here that reminds us of Alex jamming the huge cock sculpture into the cat lady's mouth in A Clockwork Orange (apparently killing her). In both scenes, the victims are having symbols of their "deviance" (homosexuality in Beef's case, and fetishization of genitalia as art in the cat lady's) turned against them, as if to mock their sexuality.
Gerrit is really selling this; his eyes are darting all over the place in total panic. The suction noise added in post as the plunger leaves his mouth, and his falling out of frame to the floor, seals the deal. At the wrap party, the crew gave Gerrit the plunger, painted gold, with a card reading, "May you plunge your way to fame." He still has it.
Philbin is checking the line with (yet again) Mary Margaret Amato. She's everywhere! This is in New York, by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
This fire escape is on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It looks like a "BACKSTAGE" sign has been painted on the wall here to match the iconography at the Majestic in Dallas, to reinforce the idea that this is the same place. Much of the dialogue in this exchange was "improvised", which is to say "not scripted". This does not mean, however, that Graham and Memmoli were making up dialogue as the camera rolled, but rather that they worked out lines during rehearsals that would convey the plot points. The immortal "I know drug real from real real", however, was scripted, and was something that De Palma insisted Graham say at some point. In this exchange, there's some creative sound editing, presumably to make the film more palatable to the ratings board: After Beef says, "now gangway!", as Philbin is grabbing him by his furry collar, Philbin says "Bullshit! What really happened?", but the "Bullshit!" is is obscured in the audio track. And, as Beef is heading back up the stairs, resigned to perform, Gerrit Graham delivered the lines, "Hey man, no. Help me. Hey look, I could sing a lot better if I had some C, you know? Chemical courage, you know? Snort snort? Help!", but these were overdubbed with "Help! The Phantom! Help!" We can't tell, because we're looking at the back of his head, and the scene abruptly cuts away to the Undeads' performance before Beef is done complaining.
The Undeads' stage backdrop is intended to evoke the set design from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Just in case you haven't seen that film, here, here, and here are some shots from Caligari, showing where the inspiration came from.
Gerrit Graham had told us at one point that the reason Garland, Munson, Mallaber and Cameron (the guys who played behind the Juicy Fruits and Beach Bums) didn't play the Undead's band as well was that they were unwilling to wear the "faggy" costumes. Turns out this isn't true: actually, they had been promised that they could go home to their families in time for Christmas...so the extras playing the Undead's backup band were local Dallas musicians (Joe Harris on the keyboard, and Scott Miller on guitar...we're not sure who's on drums or bass, and none of them are credited). They were hired a couple of days before shooting at the Majestic. Miller tells us that he was given a cassette tape of the music, and practiced playing along with it the night before, so that his movements would appear authentic. We suspect that the story about the costumes was invented for Gerrit's benefit by De Palma or Pressman, perhaps believing that, if Gerrit knew the truth, he'd insist on going home for the holidays too.
Swan, true to his word (to Philbin, at least), put Phoenix in the chorus. That's Jessica Harper playing the nurse.
People keep asking us, "Which came first, the Undeads or KISS?" The answer is on our KISS vs. The Undeads page, here. The Undeads' make up and costumes are of course in the style of Cesare the Somnambulist, from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
The Undeads are pretending to cut people's arms, legs, and heads off, as they "assemble" Beef from parts of their audience. It's supposed to look "fake"; the crowd at the Paradise understands that it's all an act, but it appeals to their bloodlust anyway. While it's tempting to propose that the Undeads' antics were modeled on some particular contemporary performer (Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Black Sabbath immediately jump out as possibilities), we think they're reflective of a more general trend of the time towards the trappings of onstage violence, the occult, and dangerous, edgy stagecraft. This trend is capitalized upon by Swan, who, as the devil's alter ego, has an agenda in his choice of music and bands at the ironically-named Paradise: setting the stage to create an atmosphere conducive to deviltry and debauchery generally. It's the oldest "devil trick" in the world, isn't it? To con the suckers into trading the permanence of an eternal Paradise for the fleeting pleasures of an earthly one? Here, the crowd is drawn into the Undeads' usurpation of "God's powers," as they enthusiastically and actively participate in "making a man" out of spare parts, bringing life to what was dead. Swan is assuming that they're not familiar with the literature - from "The Golem" to "Frankenstein" to the Mickey Mouse "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment in Fantasia - that would have warned them that this is a Bad Idea. Swan is taking a bunch of wholesome kids, and transforming them into a mob that readily celebrates dismemberment and death, and who would probably sell their souls in exchange for an encore.
The Undeads' song, "Somebody Super Like You," was released as a single, and actually charted in Canada. We don't have a lot to say about this shot, so let's instead talk a little more here about "the Paradise". Naming places "the Paradise" has become kind of a running gag in De Palma films. Femme Fatale ends with Laure and Nicolas outside "Le Paradis," here. In Carlito's Way, Carlito's nightclub is called "El Paraiso," shown here. And in Scarface, Tony and Manny begin their life in America working at the "El Paraiso" sandwich shop, pictured here. While the club that Susan walks past in Touch of Evil, just after the carbomb explodes, is called "The Paradise," as pictured here, Phantom producer Ed Pressman tells us that the Paradise was named after Loew's Paradise Theater in the Bronx. The Loew's theater is one of the country's great old beautiful movie palaces. Gutted in 1973, it was restored in 2005.
Because the production couldn't attract enough extras to fill the auditorium, the group had to be moved around the room from shot to shot as different angles were covered, and members of the production crew can be seen here and there filling out the crowd. Here, editor Paul Hirsch is visible on the far right. (By the way, we're always happy to hear from people who were extras at the Paradise...got a story to tell? Get in touch!)
We had for years wondered why this shot of Harold Oblong, as he sings, "he is king of all who see and hear" is reversed. We figured it was an editing or film processing error of some kind. But a visitor to our site, Roger Leatherwood, pointed out what's actually going on: at this point in the performance, Harold is moving in kind of a spinning fashion from our right to our left, in the shots on either side of this closeup insert. But in the closeup (which is probably from a different take as the shots on either side), he was moving left to right; so, the close up had to be reversed, or he would appear to be jerking back and forth when the closeup is placed between the immediately preceding and succeeding shots, both of which have him moving in the opposite direction. Thanks, Roger!
Here's another very typically De Palma shot that we love: as Beef is lowered in the background, the Phantom unexpectedly rises in the foreground. Two things are going on at once, and with the cause and effect shown, in a manner that makes use of the physical space and reinforces the idea that Beef isn't aware of the Phantom's activities, by presenting the two characters in different focal planes. A lesser director would have just boringly shown the Phantom climbing a ladder or something. (By showing the Phantom rising into the rafters from a perspective that is not shared by anyone in the building, De Palma also efficiently takes care of the problem that if we (the audience) were able to see the Phantom sneaking around from a point of view on the stage, or in the seating, surely others would too. )
Swan's Video Surveillance Center : Currently Viewing Monitor 4 <advance to next monitor>
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