Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rocky Horror Picture Show vs. Phantom of The Paradise

Since I was a teen I have been in love with both of these cult musicals. But as I grew older and began to learn more about the world and classic literature and film art, I began to believe that one was undoubtably "better" than the other in terms of entertainment value and sheer genius.

Phantom of the Paradise was released in the U.S in 1974. The film was one of the firsts of its kind with its gothic style and outrageous plot-line mixed together with characters breaking into song and dance. Sadly, the film was just too strange for most of its audience and it only found success in a small city located in Canada called Winnipeg.

One year later The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out. It too contained an outrageous plot-line complete with spontaneous musical numbers. Although Phantom had introduced the film audience to a similar style of rock-horror parody, Rocky saw little success upon its release and didn't really gain a following of any kind until years later.

For a brief time the two rock-horror films played side by side on a double bill released by Fox. Eventually Rocky's popularity grew and Fox released a participation version of the film, adding fuel to the flame and solidifying Rocky's rise to fame.

Phantom, however, never saw the same kind of enthusiasm.

Why is it that two films with the same genre and style that were released at around the same time could see such differing popularity? It saddens me to know that such an amazing movie like Phantom of the Paradise remains unknown to so many viewers while The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been seen by almost everyone I know. That being said, I think I understand why there is such a vast difference in popularity between the two movies, despite their similarities.

Phantom of the Paradise is a genius mixture of classic stories like The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, and Faust with references to classic films like Psycho and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When I was younger and had no idea about these books and films, I viewed the film as an odd movie with strange characters and an even stranger plot.

After having completed high school and taken many film courses in university, I now understand the deeper meanings behind the story and where each character's origin comes from. Swan is the man who sold his soul to the devil. Beef is Frankenstein. Winslow is the Phantom. And Pheonix is the innocent with the beautiful voice.

While The Rocky Horror Picture Show does make its own references to classic films like King Kong and other science fiction stories, it's mostly a parody of horror b movies. And even though its soundtrack is entertaining and memorable, in my opinion it lacks the depth and beauty of many of the songs that were performed in Phantom. But Rocky does have the opportunity for audience participation with its "Time Warp" dance and wildly dressed characters. Phantom is lacking in such songs to dance along to and memorable character images aside from Beef's shiny outfits.

To me Phantom of the Paradise will always be better than The Rocky Horror Picture Show based solely on its touching and profound music. At the same time I understand Rocky's popularity driven by its status amongst the younger crowd as the wickedest musical ever.

For folks who have seen both movies, which do you prefer or think is better?

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  1. I think I'm a terrible person for never having seen either.

  2. I saw both around eighteen years old, Rocky first then Phantom which I sought out on the back of Rocky, along with Shock Treatment (another discussion there). I think both are brilliant (including the music - much of it is similar in the parodic vein and each as clever as the other, and both feature haunting melodies as well)

    While on the surface the two films are extremely similar, I think that masks a very different approach. While Phantom has a lot of heart and soul coming from the music and the performances, it's a much more cynical plot and definitely more offbeat in humour than Rocky. Rocky is brilliant, but even though it has its own poignancy and cynicism if you care to look, it's all conveyed in a much more light-hearted (and less scathing) manner. Summing up, Phantom isn't "fun" the way Rocky is, although it's one of the most incredibly fun movies to watch. Because, after all, I always cry at the end (though to be fair, I get quite mellow at the end of Rocky - which I'm going to a screening of this Fri night).

    Also, I take issue with you saying there's a lack of memorable character images. The Phantom alone has an incredibly distinctive look - though it'd be harder to recreate that costume than the ones from Rocky for participation purposes.

    1. Hi Madame Enfer,
      Thank you for your reply. I hope you enjoyed the screening on Friday evening. I agree with you when you say that Rocky is a very fun movie to watch, partly because of the sometime 'bizarre' scenarios, partly because it is often watched with friends. Yes, Phantom is definitely not as much fun to watch, although every time I watch it I discover some cute inconstancy or crazy thing happening in the background (ex. in one scene of the movie one of the Juicy Fruits is wearing a plastic arm in a sling. Why? I have no idea, but every time I see it it makes me laugh. Haha.)

    2. Why thank you! I did, even though at this new venue there was no room for dancing.

      I have a lot of fun watching Phantom, but in an often more somber way. I always feel sad for Winslow. In Rocky I do feel quite bad for Brad though. I've never even noticed that plastic arm! Which part is it in?

  3. It's in the scene where we see Beef sing for the first time. You can see the Juicy Fruit man in the background while Beef says "you better get yourself a castrato for this, 'cause it's a little out of my range."

    1. It's because Winslow/The Phantom blew them up a few scenes earlier. They were in the car when it exploded in the split screen scene.

  4. seen both years ago when still being young and fresh and open...
    totally agree with you that phantom is way better in style and musical matters and rocky has more to offer for good ol' dancing bear
    so far...
    both are great and were way ahead of their time but phantom being just a little bit more of a crown jewel to me - i mean richard o brien did a real good job and that "going home" / "blue skies" thing is really E P I C and means so much to me but paul williams on the other hand is just sheer genius and cannot be beaten easily...
    just wanted to tell you; btw. really like your blog
    cheers xxxdavid

  5. I saw Phantom at the ripe old age of 8 (I am 26 now, which shocks many people I meet that I am so obsessed with a film that is twice my age), I stumbled upon it at a video store. I had a habit of picking up movies that had odd and creepy looking covers, and Phantom was no different. I watched it everyday and continued to rent it, watch it, turn it in, and re-rent it right then and there at the same rental store. I had my parents play it on one VHS and record it on another, so I had my own copy. To this day I can't explain what this movie does to me, but I can't stop watching it. I can remember spending nights in my dark living room listening to the lyrics "and that's the hell of it..." The sweet justice of Swan's death left me hopeful that bad people can't win, and the sad fate of Winslow left me feeling less lonely. The Phantom became my sort of Gothic "Knight in Shining Leathery Armor" because he didn't put up with people hurting him anymore, and he got his vengence, with dynamite and rock music. When you are a 13 year old depressed child who didn't sleep much because she was just sick and tired of the shit that life puts her through, that meant something.

    Phantom also introduced me into a whole new genre of films. While most kids my age liked silly 90's films that had no weight to them, I became enthralled with 60's, 70's, and 80's cult films. The films that after the fall of the Big 5 movie production companies (MGM, Paramount and others) in the 1950's, every artist who wanted to come out of their basements with their 6mm cameras and make something that represented who they were could, and did. I wanted to see them all, and finding them was even more fun.

    Now I wanted to see Rocky for as long as I can remember, but my parents were hesitant of a 7 year old watching a grown man singing in women's panties (which makes no sense because Phantom has just as many sexual overtones as Rocky-can you say orgy with Swan and 12 women?) so I didn't see it until I was around 12 (I think) because my Mother thought that if I liked Phantom so much, then I would really like Rocky, and man was she right. That movie introduced me to so many wonderful things like Tim Curry, Meatloaf (who I had his Bat Out Hell album within weeks of seeing Rocky), the Time Warp, the androgyny and sexual appeal of grown men in panties and allowed me to be weird, crazy, eccentric, sexual, and everything that I was told not to was all one big icing on my cake of life.

    Now ALL that being said, it's really hard for me to pick between the two. But I can honestly say that the Phantom is something much more than Rocky, and the best way I can explain it is Rocky is a great film to watch with people and have a good time with, going to the shows, dressing up, acting like a lunatic for a few hours, it's all fun, but Phantom is something more. It's music hits you in a place that you can't ignore, and the scene that can best describe my love of the film is when Phoenix realizes the Phantom is Winslow, and everything he had fought for had succeeded, he was the hero he always wanted to be, but it was too's something that will live with me for the rest of my life, that you may never get that second chance, so don't let it slip by...

    That is my rant and I am sticking to it. If it makes no sense then I have managed to accomplish my task of you don't have to understand it, because I do. Thanks for this blog, I love reading about others who have so much love for Phantom as I do.

    Tasty Winslow Tasty....

  6. Hi everyone! I just about died when I saw the Simpsons opening for their up-coming Halloween special and my first thought was 'I have to share this with other Phantom lovers!'
    The moment happens at minute 1:30. : )

  7. Akin to comparing THE APPLE (1979) with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).


    Oh yeah, THE APPLE released in 1980.

  10. One of RHPS strong but often forgoten aspect is its political message. The whole movie is an ode to sexual liberty and emancipation from social construction: either you be hetero/homo/trans/wathever you should be free to express yourself (as long as anyone involved is having fun!). That's something PotP is totaly devoid off.

  11. I just love the fact that Jessica Harper from "Phantom..." stars in RHPS sequel "Shock Treatment". So we can see these movies as spiritual trilogy.