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PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE star... Winslow Leach... William Finley is gone... But his soul is immortal!

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!


Readers Talkback
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  • April 16, 2012, 3:37 a.m. CST

    Phantom reigns

    by jonasgrumby

  • April 16, 2012, 3:41 a.m. CST

    Rest in peace Winslow

    by flax

    I only saw this masterpiece for the first time this week, so this really hit me hard. It's a shame that Finley didn't have a more substantial career – I'd only just discovered the guy, and now he's gone. Best wishes to his family.

  • April 16, 2012, 3:50 a.m. CST

    Shame, but about PotP...

    by Durendal

    Finley did a fine job, but I don't understand a lot of the love for this movie. Yes, it has some goofy, culty appeal, and I do love a lot of the music from it, but as a movie? The writing was shoddy and the pacing was a mess. Some of the characters really didn't have any depth or rationale behind their actions and things jerked around, often aimlessly. Sure, I still like the movie, but really, it's not a masterpiece. At all. It's a movie that suffered from some very poor execution that still managed to somehow entertain.

  • April 16, 2012, 3:57 a.m. CST

    Phantom expires

    by jonasgrumby

    Thanks Harry, "The Phantom of the Paradise" was one of the staples of my local theaters weekend showcases, which usually had a double bill before the midnight showing of "Rocky Horror" usually it was early to late 70's rock documentary's ala "The Song remains the Same" or "Yessongs" and even "Putney Swope" but it was "Phantom of the Paradise" that was a favorite when shown, and I, as a film geek myself, will always remember fondly of William Finlay's portrayal of the Phantom and the thrills I got watching that film at least 20 times and never being bored. RIP Mr. Finley you entertained the fuck out of me.

  • April 16, 2012, 4:27 a.m. CST

    When a young singer dies, to our shock and surprise, in a plane crash or flashy sports car...


    He becomes quite well known and the kindness he's shown has mad more than one post mortem star.

  • April 16, 2012, 6:19 a.m. CST

    There really is a phantom! He was just in my shower!

    by ShadowVoyd

    No one has plunged glam fame monster Beef in the shower like that before or since, nor will they ever again. Anyone who tries, DIES! <P> They just don't make them as unselfconsciously awesome as that anymore. R.I.P. William Finley.

  • Out of place like a crying clown / I could only frown / As the play went on for hours...


  • Have a kid with Yoko. One life ends, another begins.

  • April 16, 2012, 7:17 a.m. CST

    All souls last forever...

    by MARCEL_THE_NEGRO_PROJECTIONIST we need never fear goodbye... ...A kiss, when I must go... no tears... in time, we kiss... ...hello...

  • April 16, 2012, 7:22 a.m. CST

    Beautiful movie

    by Hipshot

    Always loved it much more than "Rocky Horror."

  • April 16, 2012, 7:40 a.m. CST

    My Favorite Movie..RIP Bill....

    by Steve

    Thank you Winslow..for so many wonderful memories....The days are long and the nights are frightening, nothing matters anyway that's the hell of it...

  • April 16, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST


    by James Stevenson

    No AICN obituary is complete without this.

  • April 16, 2012, 8:50 a.m. CST

    Admittedly I've never seen this film

    by Jaster Mareel

    I'm frankly not sure I've even heard of it. But if Paul Williams wrote the music, I'm definitely curious. He did the music for The Muppet Movie and I'm continually blown away by how good that music is.

  • April 16, 2012, 8:52 a.m. CST

    I've tried to watch it at least five times...

    by Mikey Wood

    ...and I just can't do it. I can't. It's SO...DAMNED...AWFUL. I know it's blasphemy among the nerd-herd to say that but, yeah. Just terrible.

  • April 16, 2012, 8:59 a.m. CST

    I just tried to watch a clip of it on Youtube

    by Jaster Mareel

    Yeah....fucking INSANELY bad.

  • April 16, 2012, 9:09 a.m. CST

    A Finley retrospective MUST include...

    by Josh Meyer

    Dionysus in 69. Genius lead performance in which William Finley plays Dionysus as, essentially, William Finley: "A god that smokes seven brands of cigarettes, a god that eats food, men, and women, a god with a social security number, but an unemployed god."

  • April 16, 2012, 9:10 a.m. CST

    BTW: How old is Harry?

    by Mikey Wood

    Wikipedia says he's 40, but damn if his age constantly changes in his write ups. All of the stuff he "remembers" happening at times when he was, like, a toddler, makes me wonder. I try not to question a guy on his own site, and I understand Pops was a collector and ran a store and whatever but...I dunno...sometimes it seems a bit...much. ANYWAY, yeah...The lure of PHANTOM always eluded me. Just can't get into it. Like the helmet, though.

  • As someone else said, the pacing is really, really poor. It could have been a much better movie that it is in the right hands.

  • April 16, 2012, 9:28 a.m. CST

    Seems to walk hand-in-hand with Rocky Horror Picture Show

    by Jaster Mareel

    as if one inspired the other? I rememebr when Rocky Horror first came out on VHS. My mom rented it and we were both curious because it was at the height of the =throwing shit at the screen= midnight movie shit. So we put it in and watched for....maybe 15 minutes? Holy fucking GAWD was it awful. It was as if it were trying to be as bad as possible. Like =what if plan 9 from outer space had a rock soundtrack?= get a really shit film with a rock soundtrack. From what saw of Phantom of the Paradise, same shit.

  • April 16, 2012, 9:34 a.m. CST

    POTP is missing the camp humor of ROCKY

    by Mikey Wood

    I mean, maybe I miss it, but it comes off as funny for me in a different way. It's horribly dated. ROCKY still works because of it's 50's nostalgia vibe. Maybe 70's nostalgia just doesn't do it for me. Actually, I know for a fact that it doesn't.

  • April 16, 2012, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Rest in peace ....and dream.....

    by maverick68

    dream until....

  • song that was ever written...

  • April 16, 2012, 9:58 a.m. CST

    The best to capture '70s glam rock culture

    by tintab

    For those who don't understand the love for this film, it's likely because satire on this level is rarely done today. It's a great film but for maximum enjoyment of the satirical details, some knowledge of the rock scene around when the film came out is helpful. If you don't get the film, so be it. There are multitudes of fans everywhere who do. It's still one of de Palma's best films. Along with Blow Out, it's also the best use of his split/multiple screen approach he loved to use in his early career. When Phantom came out, it was during the year Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare was released. Kiss were also huge then. The horror/glam thing was at its peak. Those of us who were Cooper fans totally got it. The concert scenes with Beef were literally just like the Cooper live show. At the same time, there was that funny sort of '50s retro thing going on with Happy Days on TV and the popularity of Sha Na Na (who ended up with their own show!). The fact the writers and producers made the throwaway band The Juicy Fruits a Sha Na Na knockoff and then a Beach Boys clone always makes me smile because we hated those bands then for their "safe" music! While the satire was lost on our youthful brains at the time, that was the nature of glam. Most of the performers and the fans knew it was ridiculous but we all still got into it. Phantom is still one of the few if not the only film to accurately capture this. Leach is the classic ripped-off songwriter, a number of high-profile cases come to mind at that time. Beef's swishiness was an over-the-top take on the way Bowie, Bolan, Iggy and Elton acted and spoke then. All the crass managerial backstage stuff in the movie has proven to be accurate if you've seen one or two rockumentaries. Anyway, I you haven't seen Phantom yet give a try because it is a great film. RIP William Finley. Long live Paul Williams!

  • April 16, 2012, 10:01 a.m. CST


    by Cagliostro

    He still creeps the hell out of me in that.

  • April 16, 2012, 10:04 a.m. CST

    Old fart here...

    by Blue_Demon

    I remember seeing this as a kid at the Texas Theater in the Rio Grande Valley. I thought it was an awesome movie. I loved the look of the phantom with his owl mask/helmet and his chrome teeth. I loved it so much I drew it on all my spiral notebooks and book covers. I wasn't old enough to appreciate the homage to The Phantom of The Opera (I hadn't seen that anyway) or the whole Faust bit but I was swept along by the story, the songs the whole De Palma multiple screen stuff. It's one of those theater experiences that sort of shakes you up in a good way in your formative movie-going years. William Finley's performance was very moving. You felt for the guy all through the film. Rest in Peace Mr. Finley.

  • April 16, 2012, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Creepiest part was Paul Williams in the tub with no shirt on

    by Crimson Dynamo

  • April 16, 2012, 10:32 a.m. CST

    Paul Williams

    by Mikey Wood

    I just can't take him seriously. If he isn't doing something with the Muppets, he's nothing to me. Hate his voice. Hate his lyrics. OH! He was great as Virgil in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, though.

  • April 16, 2012, 10:33 a.m. CST

    "Terror in the Isles" Introduced me to POTP

    by MST3KPIMP

    I knew nothing of this but was struck by the scene they showed in TITI where he busts into that guys shower. It was over a decade later before I knew the name of the movie thanks to this site.

  • April 16, 2012, 11:14 a.m. CST

    Winslow, what a foolish thing to do. Didn't you read your contract closely?

    by ExcaliburFfolkes

    See where it says Terms of Agreement, can you read what it says? "This contract terminates with Swan." No more suicides, Winslow, you gave up your right to rest in peace when you signed this contract.

  • April 16, 2012, 11:14 a.m. CST

    Come to think of it, has anyone checked on Paul Williams this morning?

    by ExcaliburFfolkes

  • Otherwise he'll never die, never rest, and keep on a painful and pointless eternal existance. But I still do not know all the steps I must follow to destroy him and free him from his curse.

  • RIP Mr. Finley.

  • April 16, 2012, 12:41 p.m. CST

    One of my FAVORITES.

    by the Green Gargantua

  • April 16, 2012, 1:08 p.m. CST

    I'd like to kick his ass just once.

    by Skankardly

  • April 16, 2012, 2:17 p.m. CST

    Dionysus and William Finley

    by Joanna Oznowicz-Davis

    I remember a friend giving me a copy of that movie. Don't know if you caught Pentheus...the ruler of this kingdom gone mad.... William Shepherd (Rock freak in POTP) In Dionysus, William Finley played a SWAN of sorts, making devilish deals with Shepherd's Pentheus character, so he (P) can restore his kingdom to sanity. Problem is, if he takes Dionysus up on his offer, he won't care about the state of the kingdom, even IF D. made good on his end of the bargain. I remember the opening dialogue of Finley's... somewhat. "My name is William Finley, son of William Finley, born to Dorothy Wainright and delivered by a doctor whose name I don't remember." He also said something, in his/D's monologue about being raised Catholic and also about going to a Bugs Bunny movie and a chase scene involving Wiley Coyote, where this guy sat behind him; creeping him out til he moved a few seats down. Funny, the things you remember..... Will have to see that movie again.

  • April 16, 2012, 2:25 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the tribute pages!

    by Joanna Oznowicz-Davis

    Just a short note to say thanks for these trib pages. They're really decently done! I'm a Phan from back in the golden age of cinema (70's, need anyone ask? ;) ) and I'm from WINNIPEG. Home of PHANTOMPALOOZA.

  • April 16, 2012, 2:28 p.m. CST



    Yes, I am 40 - and I have fairly astonishing childhood recall - mainly because in the wake of my parents divorce - I clung to the years we had together. Also helps to have a father that can remind you of the little details as you're telling a story.

  • April 16, 2012, 2:29 p.m. CST

    I'm under contract too....

    by Joanna Oznowicz-Davis

    "But if you do find a loophole,..." is that what you're thinking? FORGET IT! That stays sealed only as long as I have the power to bind you. If I'm destroyed, that gaping wound opens. You might say we....terminate together. Now get back to work. I need a a whole bunch of new love songs for Phoenix. And if you as much as say BOO to anyone at the Paradise, you'll never see Phoenix again. Oh yes,...about the love songs. Perhaps a duet...."

  • April 16, 2012, 2:49 p.m. CST

    Met Jessica Harper this weekend...

    by Perry Shields Monsterpalooza in Burbank. Little did I know this was around the corner. I agree, the best Phantom film to date.

  • April 16, 2012, 10:38 p.m. CST

    God knows what possessed me, but I just watched it

    by Jaster Mareel

    I feel like I should be given some sort of award for getting through it. Bizarre doesn't quite capture it and I think maybe the appeal to some is how completely over the top it is at all times. I get the feeling De Palma said =I don't give a fuck. I wanna snort a lot of coke and just do something completely fucking BATSHIT!= And he succeeds on all levels. The story is a weird conglomeration of Phantom of the Opera and The Devil and Daniel Mouse. The acting is really bad except for Paul Williams ironically. The guy who we're honoring in this article was fucking ATROCIOUS. He can't live one second of film without being completely bugnuts beyond belief. For example, our introduction is him playing the piano and singing. The music is universally bad by the way. A couple of pieces stand out in that they don't completely suck, powerlove and the hell of it. Anyway, as he is singing at the piano his head is waving all over the place like a flag in a tornado and he's over-accentuating every syllable. The lip-syncing throughout the film is the worst I've seen. It's like someone singing along to the radio. The girl isn't very pretty, she dances very strangely, which may have been a style of the time. Mostly the film doesn't make a lot of sense. Probably because too many stories are mish-mashed together. There's even a Dorian Gray twist at the end that I don't even understand how it gets resolved. Some stuff you can't help but laugh at because it's so bad, like when Paul Williams is having a conversation with himself in the mirror and they quite obviously swap out a normal-sized guy for his back. I was never quite sure what reaction I was supposed to have. Revulsion? Laughter? Sorrow? Excitement? It seems to be all of that at once. The Phantom is the most interesting character merely by his garb, but he's not actually in the movie much. He doesn't even show up until like an hour in. It's all very cartoony, which I'm sure is a style choice, but that makes it very one-dimensional and doesn't allow for an emotional connection to what's going on. If the characters don't feel real, we don't give a fuck what happens to them. I get the overall theme of the film, how the starving artist is raped behind the scenes and the audience only wants death and chaos. And even when they are introduced to something beautiful, they want to warp it and change it into something ugly. And now I understand why there is a certain faction of AICN that loves this film. Because they bitch about that constantly. To me, no matter what the theme is, it has to be a good film. Phantom of the Paradise is not anything I would ever want to watch again. I'm frankly dissapointed in myself that I wasted 1 1/2 hours watching it once.

  • April 17, 2012, 9:15 a.m. CST

    buckethead, I'm older than Harry. I was raised in the 70's.

    by Jaster Mareel

    Oh were the tapes the Dorian Gray portrait? Ok, I didn't catch that. It's not a commentary on the music biz dude. In case you missed it, Brian De Palma is not in the fucking music =biz=. He's using music as a symbol for all art. He is saying that he started out as the Barry ibb guy in the beginning, and the film business has turned him into the Phantom. THAT'S why his existence is tied to the corporate head. He's signed a deal with the devil that compromises his artistic integrity, but nobody will get his art unless he combines with =duh moobie biz=.

  • April 17, 2012, 9:18 a.m. CST

    NOPE! I MEANT exactly what I said, the Devil and Daniel Mouse

    by Jaster Mareel

    But you, know, growing up on fucking Spongebob and The Muppet Babies, I wouldn't expect you to know of that great 70's animated adaptation that dealt with signing a MUSIC CONTRACT!

  • April 17, 2012, 9:21 a.m. CST

    And yes I know who Jessica Harper is, mostly from Suspiria

    by Jaster Mareel

    I don't know what that has to do with anything. She's still not very pretty and her bizarre chicken wings and exaggerated stomping dance was pretty hilarious.

  • April 17, 2012, 11:18 a.m. CST


    by Mikey Wood

    Gotcha. Like I said, I'm not trying to talk smack (you get enough of that and I sometimes really just want to drive down to Austin and but you a beer, I feel so bad) I was just curious.

  • April 17, 2012, 11:21 a.m. CST


    by Mikey Wood

    You almost...ALMOST mad it out of yor little tete-a-tete with fett until the mom thing in your laast post successfully reduced you to just another internediot. THAT being said...yeah...As someone who is decidedly NOT "too cool" for it: I agree with fett. Awful, awful experience watching that movie.

  • April 17, 2012, 11:44 a.m. CST

    Okay, this is just wrong...

    by Blue_Demon

    buckethead, I'm not one of Fett's biggest fans, but even I think you crossed the line. The man just didn't like the movie. And why do you doubt he was raised in the 70s? Just because he doesn't like a movie that was made in the 70s? There are lots of movies that were made for my generation that I think suck that others love just as there are movies I love that others think are trash ( LASERBLAST...Hey it had David Allen stop-motion animation and Rainbeaux Smith!!) He didn't like the movie...that's it.

  • April 17, 2012, 12:01 p.m. CST

    buckethead, what the fuck is the matter with you?

    by Jaster Mareel

    I have no idea how old you are...and I don't give a shit. I was born in 1970. So while young, I lived through it all. But I don't see what the fuck that has to do with whether or not Phantom of the Paradise is worth a shit.

  • April 17, 2012, 12:03 p.m. CST

    Hey and love for LASERBLAST blue_demon!

    by Jaster Mareel

    I just brought that up a couple of weeks ago talking about Bay making the turtles aliens. Yes that was a fucking bizarre movie too and not one I would traditionally call =good=, but it was entertaining and freaked me out.