[This is my national column in the Metro commuter papers this morning. It’s going over very well in, you know, Winnipeg. I will see everyone at the celebration tonight. – AC]
Forty years ago, two movies were released to massive public indifference. One would later become a worldwide cult phenomenon that has since grossed more than $440 million. The other also became a cult favourite but on a — ahem — slightly smaller scale.
That first movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has never officially been pulled from theatrical release by 20th Century Fox and continues to screen all over the world. The second film also lives on, but only in one place: Winnipeg.
The Phantom of the Paradise, Brian De Palma’s schlocky rock ’n’ roll riff on The Phantom of the Opera, tells the story of poor Winslow Leach, who, after being disfigured by having his head squished in a record press, has his music stolen by the evil Swan, played by the diminutive Paul Williams, best known at the time for writing hits for The Carpenters and Barbra Streisand, and who would soon gain fame for writing Rainbow Connection for Kermit the Frog. Swan also steals away Phoenix, the object of Leach/The Phantom’s unrequited love. It all ends very badly for everyone.
For reasons that baffle cinephiles, musicologists and sociologists, Paradise grabbed on to the good people of Winnipeg upon its release in 1974 and never let go. While the film was bounced from theatres within a week or two in most cities, it ran for months in Winnipeg. The city bought more than 20,000 copies of the soundtrack. And passion for the movie continues to run very, very deep.