HERE LIES... Paul Williams' rock opera score for Phantom of the Paradise, lain to rest by Nelson Riddle's nostalgia-drenched work on The Great Gatsby.
Andreas here with more spoooky Oscar Horrors, this time singing the praises of composer Paul Williams. His Oscar-nominated work on Brian De Palma's horror musical astonishes with its versatility, bouncing from one pop mode to another—surf rock to glam rock to piano ballad—all the while keeping tempo with De Palma's virtuosic visuals. The songs aren't hollow pastiches, either; Williams imbues them with surprising emotional depth, coloring the whole film with their underlying melancholy. In order to pull off such an operatic saga, De Palma needed big music, and Williams really delivers.
Phantom, after all, is a macabre tale of the music industry, filled with songwriters, divas, and wannabes (Williams himself even co-stars as the villainous Swan, a kind of Mephistopheles by way of Phil Spector.) The characters, like composer-turned-phantom Winslow Leach and his beloved Phoenix, speak the language of show-stopping musical numbers. The plot is driven by one such song, "Faust," written by Winslow and stolen by Swan, reprised over and over as the characters' relationships shift.
All my dreams are lost and I can't sleepAnd sleep alone could ease my mindAll my tears have dried and I can't weep...
Like so much of the soundtrack, "Faust" is rich with longing and regret, paralleling the film's themes of love, fame, and sacrifice. Williams' music matches the rest of the film's mood so well: funereal and otherworldly, with a strain of twisted dark comedy. The jukebox-ready opening number "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye" demonstrates this latter trait especially well, as does "The Hell of It." Perhaps the film's best song, "The Hell of It" plays over the ending credits, with Williams gleefully singing its damnation-centric lyrics: "And though your music lingers on, all of us are glad you're gone!"
Williams himself is not gone—as we're reminded by the new documentary Paul Williams Still Alive—but his music for Phantom of the Paradise sure lingers on, and on, and on.