Surprisingly, there is only occasional mention of either Winnipeg or the Winnipeg-spawned Phantompalooza fan event in the extras of the new Blu-ray edition of Phantom of the Paradise.
The Blu-ray was launched earlier this month by Scream Factory, a sub-brand of Shout Factory, a label that typically lavishes Criterion Collection care and attention on genre movies that don't otherwise get much respect.
Phantom of the Paradise is no exception. The two-disc Blu-ray release offers up a clean, pristine, high-definition version of the film that looks as fresh as it did when it opened at the Garrick Cinema nearly 40 years ago. Extras include an hour-plus interview with star and songwriter Paul Williams moderated by prestigious Phantom "phan" Guillermo del Toro, a doc on the making of the film with stars William Finley, Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper. Even the film's typically reticent director Brian DePalma participates in a 36-minute interview about the movie.
In retrospect, one can understand DePalma's tendency to treat the movie as the red-headed stepchild of his oeuvre. He made the film between his two impressive Hitchcock homages Sisters (1973) and Obsession (1976) and, by all rights, it should have solidified his reputation as an important filmmaker -- an event that didn't really happen until he finally hit it big with his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. (DePalma sealed the big-time deal with subsequent hits including The Untouchables and Scarface.)
Heartbreakingly, in every other North American city except Winnipeg, Phantom ignominiously bombed. In cities in Western Canada, it opened and closed within a single week. In aberrant Winnipeg, it played for weeks, then months, then, off and on, for years. If Phantom of the Paradise could be called a cult film, then the majority of the cult seemed to exist within the boundaries of the Perimeter Highway.
Now, almost 40 years later, it seems the film is getting the love it deserves, in no small part due to Winnipeggers who have evangelized on its behalf in the 2005 event Phantompalooza, and especially in the 2006 follow-up Phantompalooza 2, which saw all major cast members congregate in Winnipeg for a Phantom love fest, culminating in a concert by Paul Williams himself, the actor-composer who wrote Phantom's ingenious soundtrack and starred as the demonic music producer Swan.
The Blu-ray release this month has shone a spotlight on the film with write-ups in publications as variant as the New York Times and the horror mag Rue Morgue. In early August, Entertainment Weekly labelled the Blu-ray one of its Top 10 "Must sees" of the week. Macleans magazine asked the pertinent question it its headline: "Was Winnipeg right about Phantom of the Paradise all along?"
Gloria Dignazio, a Phantompalooza board member and self-described "super-phan" answers the question in the affirmative.
"It did spark here," she says. "So we like to think that we had something to do with that."
Indeed, it was Rod Warkentin, another Winnipeg Phantompalooza board member, who was the moving force behind a huge Phantom event in Los Angeles in late July that saw 1,000 fans cram into the Arclight Cinema on Sunset Boulevard for a screening and panel discussion with the stars (excepting Finley, who died in 2012) moderated by another high-profile fan, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead).
"It all came about when William Finley passed away," says Warkentin, a Winnipeg teacher and part-time promoter looking to host another event in part to fund an arts scholarship in Finley's name within the Seven Oaks School Division.
"The Phantompalooza committee had said there's no point in doing another Phantompalooza in Winnipeg because we couldn't top what we did in 2006," he says. "We didn't want to repeat ourselves."
"It occurred to me that just about everybody (in the cast) lives in L.A., so why not do it in L.A.? We ended up getting everybody together. I didn't know how it would go in L.A., but we had a sold-out crowd and it was amazing.
"It's not a Winnipeg thing anymore. Now, finally, it's gone global."
That is not to say there is not one big Phantom event left in Winnipeg.
Gloria Dignazio says preparations are underway for a special Phantom screening at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre on Nov. 1 in observance of the film's official 40th birthday. She personally took her Blu-ray to the theatre for a test-screening and was thrilled to note how much the refurbished Donald Street venue actually resembles the "Paradise" of the film, especially in the scene in which Gerrit Graham's glam buffoon Beef is electrocuted onstage.
"It's gorgeous," she says. "The theatre has got two balconies on either side (of the screen) and we're actually going to put the Phantom mannequin up there in one of them.
"It's going to be pretty cool."