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Phan favourite

Actor-songwriter Paul Williams can't explain his cult film's local popularity, but he's pleased to return to Paradise

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PHANTOMPALOOZA II, next weekend's second annual celebration of the 1974 cult movie Phantom of the Paradise, will be bigger. It will be better.

It will be the last.

Winnipeg was one of only two cities worldwide that embraced director Brian De Palma's horror-parody rock musical, in the face of massive global indifference. It ran for more than a year at the Garrick Cinemas.

So when local fans of the movie launched the first Phantompalooza last year at the Ramada Entertainment Centre (formerly the Garrick), they managed to enlist two notable stars of the film to attend: William Finley, who played the titular Phantom, a.k.a. meek songwriter Winslow Leach, and Gerrit Graham, who was the doomed proto-Goth rocker Beef.

As the members of the organizing committee get their act together for the P-palooza sequel next Saturday, they are upping the ante with a full-bore, can't-top-this cast reunion, including return appearances by Finley and Graham, plus Jessica Harper (who played the would-be diva Phoenix) and the three actors -- Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Harold Oblong -- who made up the film's bands, The Beach Bums, the Juicy Fruits and The Undead.

But the anticipated biggest draw of all is the five-foot actor-singer-songwriter who can rightly claim responsibility for the film's musical appeal.

Paul Williams not only wrote the film's caustically funny soundtrack, he played Swan, the satanic record producer who inspired Winslow's transformation from exploited songwriter to crazed, costumed avenger.

Williams, 65, will not only join the other cast members in a panel on the film, he will perform a concert at 9:30 p.m. in one of the Ramada theatres.

Expect some songs from the movie, such as Old Souls and The Hell of It. But bear in mind the Oscar- and Grammy-winning Williams is best known for credits on decidedly sweeter hits, such as We've Only Just Begun, Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song, Evergreen and The Rainbow Connection.

"I've got to tell you, we're going to have a great time," Williams said in an exclusive interview with the Free Press from his home in Los Angeles.

"Winnipeg remains a phenomenon in my life," said the songwriter. "When Phantom came out and Winnipeg went so crazy for it, I still look at it with awe and endless gratitude.

"It's really interesting that that phenomenon happened in two cities: in Winnipeg and in Paris," he says. "They're so much alike."

RK: Any theories about why our little prairie city responded so fanatically to the film?

PW: I think there are certain epicentres of hipness ... a geographic, spiritual harmonic that happens every now and then. It was Paris for the American expatriates in the '20s, it was New York in the '30s and it was L.A. in the '70s, we thought.

But clearly Winnipeg, in 1974, had a conglomerate of hip-thinking youngsters that just ... I don't know, I really just don't know. I do know the album went gold in Canada largely because of the Winnipeg response.

RK: Disappointing box-office receipts usually spawn bleak post-mortem examinations of what went wrong. What was your reaction to the film's reception?

PW: We have theories about why it didn't do well, as far as the way it was marketed. Some people thought it was going to be a concert film. Some people thought it was a slasher movie. So we have theories about why it missed big hunks of the marketplace, but I don't really have a theory about why it did so well in those two incredibly different cities. Do you?

RK: Not really. I know I saw it a few times and my brother had the album. At the time, I think we assumed everybody loved it.

PW: It was not so. But who can figure any of that stuff?

As Joseph Campbell says: 'Follow your bliss.' Sometimes it leads you into a standing ovation and sometimes it leads you into a dark empty theatre. I think that's an area of expertise I will never have.

RK: In 1977, the last time you played a concert in Winnipeg at the Centennial Concert Hall, you were surprised by the reception you got from the city's inflamed Phantom of the Paradise fans. What do you recall about that concert?

PW: It was funny. It's my theory that people see what they want to see. So to them, it was like Swan showing up ... which at the time I was almost concerned (about) because Swan is so powerful and evil and sexy, I guess. But I was a child of the '60s, the hippie movement, and so I'm singing all my co-dependent anthems and the audience is screaming, 'Swan! Swan!' It was like being a Beatle for a day. It was just wonderful.

RK: The movie certainly showed a dark side to the music industry, and by the time it came out, you were a big player in that industry. Did the film reflect your own disenchantment?

PW: Not really. I was afraid people would think that, and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to play Swan as opposed to Winslow. Originally, Brian (De Palma) had talked about me playing Winslow, the guy whose music is stolen, and there were two things that kept me from wanting to do that. One is I didn't think I could be menacing. I thought the Phantom needed to be big, as opposed to this mousy little creature scurrying around the rafters like a rat.

But the other thing is I didn't want people to think that I had a beef with the music industry. I think that playing the guy who steals the music, as opposed to the one whose music is stolen, I tried to stay a little further away from giving people that impression. I actually had a really good experience.

RK: How do you react to the movie's rabid fan base?

PW: As the years have passed, my relationship with the Phantom fan has become a little more personal. I just love the loyalty and I love the fact that for some reason, things were quiet enough in Winnipeg, they could sit there and listen to the words and really get into the movie. And I think the Winnipeg fan really got the essence of that picture.

I think it may be the best single piece of filmwork I've done in my life. There's stuff that I'm really proud of -- I'm really proud of The Muppet Movie, I'm really proud of Bugsy Malone, I'm proud of some other things. But I think that Phantom was as close to a home run as I've hit as a writer.


Elizabeth I

Helen Mirren stars as the English queen in this brilliantly crafted new two-part bio-drama, which focuses on her public and private affairs in the latter half of her life. The first half covers her stormy midlife relationship with the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons) against a backdrop of war and betrayal. In Part 2, airing Monday, the aging Elizabeth takes up with the Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy), her former lover's stepson. Movie Central, 11 p.m.

See Brad Oswald's review /C6

Plague City: SARS in Toronto

This 2005 drama revisits the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome that gripped Toronto in 2003. As scientists and public-health officials scramble to find the cause of the mysterious illness and stop its spread, politicians try to keep down the panic while doctors and nurses just try to keep up with the patient load. Kari Matchett leads the cast as the head nurse in a SARS ward. CTV, 8 p.m.

I Do, They Don't

Imagine The Brady Bunch if Mike and Carol had gone for a spur-of-the-moment Las Vegas wedding. Here's the story of a lovely lady and a man named Barber (spouses Josie Bissett and Rob Estes), who wed on a whim in Sin City and must return home to eight kids who aren't too thrilled about suddenly forming a family. Family, 11 p.m.

Today in music history

In 1989, Rod Stewart kicked several soccer balls from the stage during a concert in Lafayette, La. A 27-year-old man later filed suit, claiming he slipped and fractured his kneecap when the crowd went after the balls like "an uncontrollable herd of animals."

Born this day

* Edward Albert, 1908

* Yehudi Menuhin, 1916

* Aaron Spelling, 1928

* Glen Campbell, 1936

* Jack Nicholson, 1937

* John Waters, 1946

* Peter Frampton, 1950

* Ryan Stiles, 1959

* Sheryl Lee, 1967

-- Compiled by Brad Oswald

Today's lineup


Silk Road Ensemble

With Xiao Nan Wan, West End Cultural Centre, 8 p.m.; $17.

Oleg Pokhanovski

Songs from Secret Garden and music by Eckhardt-Gramatté, Broadway Disciples United Church, 7:30 p.m.; $20, seniors $15 and students $7.

Salute to Broadway's Jewish Composers

Marc DeVigne, Naomi Forman, Alexander Frohlinger, Tim Gledhill, Debbie Maslowski and Kelly Robinson accompanied by Ron Krug, Mayberry Gallery, 212 McDermot, 9 p.m.; $75.

The Musical Offering: The Lily & The Rose

My Lady Nevells Singers backed by Laurel Ridd, Darren Smith and Sylvia Scott on baroque flute, lute and harpsichord respectively, 298 Yale, 3 p.m.; $22, children free.

Winnipeg Golden Chordsmen: It's A Wonderful Life

Featuring Fred, international quartet champions and local choirs, Centennial Concert Hall, 7:30 p.m.; $10 to $27.50.

Virtuosi Concerts: Mozartfest 2006

Robert Silverman continues the Mozart Piano Sonata Cycle, U of W's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall; $29 for single tickets, seniors $27 and $17 for students.

Manitoba Guild of English Handbell Ringers

10th anniversary spring concert with Manitoba Handbell Chime Choirs, Faith Lutheran Church, 1131 Dakota, 7 p.m.; admission by donation.


Driving Miss Daisy

Story of friendship between a sharp-tongued Southern matron and her black chauffeur, Manitoba Theatre Centre, to May 13, 4 & 9 p.m. today; $16.05 to $53.50 at 942-6537.

The Mikado -- Redressed

Popular opera about a topsy-turvy world, Pantages Playhouse to Sunday, 8 p.m.; $30, children $15.

Bang Boy Bang!

In this play for teens, an underage boy uses alcohol to escape his discomfort and assaults a girl he likes, MTYP, CanWest Global Performing Arts Centre, The Forks 7:30 p.m.; $12.50 at 942-8898.


An adaptation of a journal extract of the Japanese poet Issa and a simple story of reconciliation and loss, presented by Adhere & Deny, 8 p.m., continues to April 29, 315-70 Albert; $10.

Poor Beast in the Rain

A comedy surrounding the return of Danger Doyle after years in London, presented by Tara Players, dinner theatre performance, 6:30 p.m. tonight, Irish Association, 654 Erin; reservations $35, available by calling 888-6706.

Emergency Room

Can this hospital be saved? Join the cast of doctors and nurses as they work to save their workplace while dealing with distractions, Celebrations Dinner Theatre, Canad Inn Fort Garry, 1824 Pembina; $57.95, children $21.50 at 982-8282.


Cadence & Coffee: A Lyrical Café

Poetry and jazz, hosted by Ron Robinson with performances by Dennis Cooley, Catherine Hunter, K.I. Press, A.J. Levin, Maurice Mierau Trio & Poor Tree, Augustine United Church, 7 p.m.; $10.

Out and About

Scattered Seeds Spring Craft Show

Assiniboia Downs, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; $4.99, children free.

Model Railroad Club Spring Show

Winnipeg Railway Museum, noon to 4 p.m.; $3, children free.



Jay Malone, winner of the 2004 Homegrown Comedy Competition, 7:45 & 10:30 p.m.; reservations at 488-4520.



Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fir; Deep Sea 3D, go below the ocean surface to swim with dangerous and colourful creatures; Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon, audiences are taken to the surface of the Moon to walk alongside the Apollo astronauts who have stepped upon its surface; $8.50, children and seniors $7 at 956-4629.


Fateless, the haunting story of a 14-year-old Jewish boy sent to live in the Buchenwald concentration camp, 7 p.m.; Artspace, 100 Arthur; $6.


Brooklands (8 Keewatin): Storm Warning.

Buffalo Bill's (826 Regent): Altered State.

Cavern (112 Osborne, downstairs): Matthew Barber & The Union Dues.

Collective (108 Osborne): Lynchpin, Five Hundred Pound Furnace and Domenica.

Cowboys (Canad Inn Windsor Park): Chris Bigford.

Coyote's (1931 Pembina): Shaker.

Country Corral (3740 Portage): Wailin Jailer.

Jager's Sports Bar (1875 Pembina) Power Rage.

Current (Inn At The Forks): Ken Gold.

Dylan O'Connor's (2609 Portage): Sled Dogs.

Forbidden Flavours (851 Cavalier ): Open Mic with John Miller.

Joker's Lounge (McPhillips Street Station): Jay Harrison.

King's Head (120 King): Dr. Rage & The Upper Cuts.

Marion (393 Marion): Damn Straight.

Mirrors (Assiniboine Inn, 1975 Portage): Gin Palace.

Nicolett (632 Lafleche): Desert Sky.

Neon Lights (Canadiana Hotel, 1400 Notre Dame): Fred Mitchell.

Norwood (112 Marion): Dameon Styles.

Palomino (1133 Portage): Eye-2-Eye.

Prairie Ink (Grant Park Shopping Centre): Strident Harpies.

Royal Albert (48 Albert): Red Blanket, The Resistance and Torn Into.

Royal George (123 Regent West): Curtis Newton.

Royal Palms (Club Regent): Coconut Grove.

Silver Spike (202 Bond): Marc Labossiere.

Silverado's (2100 McPhillips): Juke Box Heroes.

Shannon's Irish Pub (175 Carlton): Dust Rhinos.

Times Change(d) (Main & St. Mary): Mat Masters and Romi Mayes.

Westbrook (Keewatin & Pacific): The Mosquitos.

Windsor (187 Garry): Clyde Roulette.

Woodbine (466 Main): Mark Conroy.

Zoo (160 Osborne): THC, Bonafide and Burnt.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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