Hey folks, Harry here... I know that FatherGeek and Mr Beaks have already sung the sorrows of losing William Finley, but I have to chime in too. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is one of my favorite films. The poster hung on my Bedroom wall beginning at the age of 3. That lasted until the age of 34. Now in my living room, William Finley's Phantom is represented upon the edge of my desk in figural form and upon the wall above that couch.
Why do I love this film so much? What is it about this silly crazy musical that was not a success upon its original release? PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is the first film that I can remember my parents getting hyped up for. I can remember when the PR folks dropped off about 100 1-sheets for the film at their shop - and when we hosted the TICKET give-away at our store. I remember the screening and that the audience LOVED the movie. But then I remember my parents taking friends after friends to see the film over and over and over again. We saw PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE at least 15 times in the theater, then another 12 times at the DRIVE IN. We had the trailers cut into 3 different trailer reels. It felt like my film. When we scored the film on VHS, I showed it to every friend - and usually, throughout my life, this has been a film that I had the joy of introducing to EVERY movie friend of mine. Because... you kind of can't be my friend completely until you love this movie with me. It's one of those things.
At BUTT-NUMB-A-THON 1, Guillermo Del Toro brought his 35mm print of THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, wore the mask of the great William Finley and then we sat together and sang every song together. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is an amazing film, filled with amazing performances - and the music by Paul Williams... the lyrics... they just kill.
The heart and soul of the film is buried in the body of William's performance. That first time you see him pasting his billing over THE JUICY FRUITS... or when he's singing at that piano in an empty studio and Swan holds up his hand to silence his awesome sideman. I fall in love every time with William's voice, the way he sings the song. He seems to embody the fucked over artist that nobody would want to make a star of. The cartoon logic to the edits and the ferocity of the montages that create these frenetic sequences... It's William... when his face is pressed into that album machine... his music sung by THE JUICY FRUITS burned into his very flesh as a constant reminder of his creative rape. THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is why I love cartoonish over-reactions.
William Finley did a lot of great work in a lot of great movies... but for me... HE IS THE PHANTOM. He's the Phantom I sing with, sorry Michael Crawford or Claude Rains or Robert Englund or Herbert Lom or even Lon Chaney Sr. I think of neon lightning bolts hurled from the balcony. I think of that tortured voice and tortured face and of the sweetness that Swan perverted in flesh & soul. William Finley's tormented soul represents the souls of all tortured artists and it's why I love at such an intense velocity the perversian of a creator's work into something they did not intend theme and as a result when I see a talented artist being fucked by the system, it pisses me off and I try to take some form of action. For me, that's what William Finley created in me. To make sure that noone forgot the name of Winslow Leach and all the Winslow Leaches out there!
My SWAN lobby card was signed by Paul Williams, I had always wanted to get Finley to sign his card, but I never had the opportunity. I won't buy one online... instead now I look at that card and see that we need to get those things done that should have been done. I'd always wanted to do a William Finley series at the Drafthouse - now that Finley is gone - perhaps it is time, the movies live forever!