Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray slight return: Phantom edition

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Phantom of the Paradise (Shout! Factory, 8/5) updates the oft-told story of selling your soul for fame. Fans of movies as well as fans of Blu-rays know that red-letter days occur often throughout the year, but mostly on days when cult films are released with so many extras that they exceed the film in running length. The Phantom of the Paradise in a 2-disc set is such a release.

The Blu-ray transfer is sharp, if not a long time coming. Brian De Palma’s film fit so well into the musical zeitgeist of the mid-70s mixing genres that included doo-wop, surf rock, and death metal. De Palma has always worked with certain actors, while discovering others (like De Niro who appeared in more than one early De Palma flick). Here De Palma regulars Gerrit Graham and William Finley provide two of their best roles, Graham as Beef, an egotistical rocker, and Finley in the titular role.

in-memory-of-star-william-finley-five-things-you-might-not-know-about-phantom-of-the-paradisePaul Williams also stars and composes the music. Jessica Harper owns the show while she’s singing. Williams it should be noted was already a hit songwriter and this film rebooted his film career (he was a child star) and was the first of many great soundtracks he created (Others that would follow include Bugsy Malone, A Star is Born, “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, and Ishtar.) The Blu-ray disc includes newly recorded interviews and commentary with the principals.

A second DVD disc contains a doc on the making of the film, which was hampered by four lawsuits before it could be released. There’s also an amazing 72-minute interview with Williams conducted by Guillermo Del Toro that goes in-depth into Williams’ career in the manner of the recent documentary Paul Williams Still Alive. All in all, an excellent addition to the classic movie shelf.

Queen Margot (Cohen Media Group, 8/24) has been restored in 4K resolution from the original 35mm negative. This version also adds about 20-minutes of footage that was cut from the American release in 1994. Director Patrice Chéreau, and Danièle Thompson, adapt the story from the novel by Alexandre Dumas père. The historical characters include Charles IX, Catherine de Médicis, Henri de Navarre, and Margaret of Anjou among others, all played to perfection by an international cast featuring Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Virna Lisi, Jean-Claude Brialy, Thomas Kretschmann, and Asia Argento.600full-queen-margot-screenshot

The story was made into films previously in the early silent era, and with Jeanne Moreau in the early 1950s. Contemporary viewers will recognize the machinations of power and religious persecution set in Medieval and Renaissance times from cable series like Game of Thrones or The Tudors. Make no mistake though; Queen Margo is like The Godfather of historical dramas, mixing historic carnage and histrionic exposition in equal measure. Thousands of Huguenots were killed after the marriage Margot and Henri. Queen Margot revels in the costumes and manners of its characters; it’s really a grand epic that blends established fact with fictionalized versions of same.

In particular the death of one character occurs after they read a book the pages of which have been treated with arsenic. That plot point will also be familiar to fans of the novel and film The Name of the Rose. The victim literally dies sweating blood, drenching their bed sheet red. Also the way the characters look and move just feels authentic to the era. Many of the men including the king of France sport long hair while others have a habit of wearing a style of collar called ruffs that lend a sense of credulity to their fashion.

The Blu-ray includes commentary by film scholar Richard Peña that points out the historical bullet points, like how The Louvre was the then royal palace. Accompanying booklet contains a couple of interviews with Chéreau.

— Michael Bergeron