When Brian De Palma’s Phantom of The Paradise was released to theatres in 1974 it was an immediate flop. The movie failed commercially and critically the entire world over, except, for some strange reason, in Winnipeg, Canada. In that single area Phantom of The Paradise was such a success that the film played regularly in theatres for a year after it’s initial release, forever changing the lives of a generation that imprinted on the genre-bending rock opera.

The documentary Phantom of Winnipeg explores the Winnipeg phenomena, giving a platform for the world’s most dedicated fans to share their love for a cult film that continues to live on. But more than that, the documentary is also a hilarious and heartfelt exploration of the healing nature of art and how misfits make their own extended family through shared obsessions. We spoke with directors Sean Stanley and Malcolm Ingram about Phantom of Winnipeg after the film’s world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival. Read our full review HERE, and continue on to learn about “the one good thing the internet did“.

 

“I’m very much drawn to the concept of people finding their tribe. […] and I just find these movies are like letters to my 16-year-old self that are just like “there [are] people out there that are different”.

 

Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: So tell me guys, first off, when was the first time you saw Phantom of the Paradise?

Malcolm Ingram: First time I saw Phantom was on Late Great Movies on CityTV in Toronto, it was a channel that showed really cool movies at like 11:30 at night on Fridays. They showed Black Christmas and stuff. It was a show that exists in the 70s and the early 80s, but I saw it on that. I saw it on TV at home alone, and it freaked me out. Two things that I was really drawn to was, you know, Swan. Paul William’s performance, there’s just something so creepy and sinister about it and as a kid you can really detect that kind of stuff and I was just like “this is wrong”. And then the record plant always had a huge impact. I don’t know why, but it was just so horrifying, this guy getting his head fucking crushed in the record plant. And that kind of thing, as a kid you’re just like, “W-w-what? I don’t ever want to go to a record plant”. And of course, I mean, the one incredible thing about this film is the art design. Like, the mask- what an incredible creation. It was certainly wonderful for our documentary. Just like {claps} what a fucking perfect emblem. What a memorable piece of- 

Sean Stanley: Everybody wants a Phantom helmet.

NOFS: It’s true! And to have everyone holding it at the end was great because they’re claiming the movie for themselves. 

SS: That’s it. 

MI: And that was [Rick Berman] that did that, right?

SS: Yeah […] Ed Pressman man. He’s got the original- Oh, sorry. I saw [Phantom of The Paradise] on VHS. Love rock & roll. [laughs]. I was big De Palma fan, going through everything-

MI: Why don’t you mention your boyfriend Tarantino again.

 

 

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Photo Credit: King-Wei Chu (Far Left: Sean Stanley, Far Right: Malcolm Ingram)

 

SS: [laughs] But Yeah, I was going through all the De Palma Films, came across that one, hadn’t heard much about it at all. I worked in a video store where it was never rented and I just fell in love with it right away. The music got me. So the next six months, everybody came to my houseand I’d show ’em fucking Phantom of the Paradise. And so this movie, when I was making it, they were like, “Oh fuck, that movie! Was that your idea?” and I was like “Funny enough, no. Somebody mentioned it to me”. Him [points at Malcolm] “and I was like, fuck yeah I’ll make that movie”.

MI: The funny thing is- I’m gay, he’s straight and I made him make like four gay documentaries before we got around to this one. So, he kind of had to stay in my world and then it’s like- well, I’m a rock ‘n’ roller too, I guess but it was a treat after all the gayness.

SS: Bathhouses, sports-

MI: I made a bear documentary, I made a documentary about Continental Baths, made a documentary about queer athletes and stuff, a small town gay bar, so I was on a real queer run for a while, being queer and all. But it was great. We were just talking yesterday about when he was doing Continental-

SS: My brother was like “so, how much gay porn did you have to watch?” ’cause there’s gay porn in the movie

NOFS: Just thinking now about Small Town Gay Bar [and Phantom of Winnipeg], I imagine you have a real interest in small-town stories.

MI: Misfit culture, man. It’s what I’m all about. That’s the thing, like, I was a real misfit as a kid. I was kind of gay, chunky, you know. I had a lot of friends and stuff but I had this secret life, right? I was always trying to find my tribe and these movies- I’m very much drawn to the concept of people finding their tribe. That’s what fills the hole. That’s what I’m kind of constantly drawn to as a filmmaker and I just find these movies are like letters to my 16-year-old self that are just like “there [are] people out there that are different”.

SS: And Phantom fits right in there with that. 

 

This documentary is about the one good thing the internet did!”

 

NOFS: Yeah, you see a lot of people in the doc talking about reliving [their] childhood, but I have to assume it’s quite a bit more than that. What is it about this movie that makes it a tribe for them?

MI: I mean, I think it’s a combination. Winnipeg’s a real rock and roll town and I think that it’s also the nostalgia, right? It’s something that they just happen to all see when they were young. There’s no real answer to why they all were drawn to this movie or why it played so much, it just happened. Which makes it wonderful. It’s not important why, it’s important that it did happen, right? 

SS: When you meet your own kind and you don’t have people that you can relate to in your life, when you finally meet them, you instantly recognize it and there’s that connection. 

MI: And the funny thing about it is, all these people going to the theater together when their kids, but they weren’t talking to each other. They would go alone, together, they’d watch the movie, and then leave. And it’s not like they would go off somewhere together. Literally, they just went off in their separate ways, and now they’re meeting decades later, and now they’re forming friendships from this time than this theater altogether, 30/40 years ago. 

SS: Doug has that line where he says, “In the 90s, at the retro screening, afterward everybody was gone again and there was no feeling of connectivity”. And that for me, a big pivotal part of the movie was the internet and how ‘Wow, the internet did something good’ and brought these folks together, and that always resonated with me.

 

MI: This documentary is about the one good thing the internet did!

SS: [laughs] And some people, like the one guy who’s obviously not on the internet and his wife’s like ‘Hey, you hear about Phantompalooza?” [and he’s like] “What’s Phantompalooza? There’s other people who like this movie? And they’re in my city!?” It’s incredible. 

MI: And I love the notion [that] true fans love sharing. There’s there’s different kinds of fans. There’s those fans that covet it, it’s just like, “My precious,” and there’s the other ones that just want to share it, like, “look at this great thing,” and it was so wonderful to actually tell a story about that really kind of- these people truly do love it. You know somebody loves it when they want to share it and those are the people we found. All these people were so excited to be sharing it. You know, certainly the profile of the movie has been risen lately because you have people like Guillermo del Toro, and Edgar Wright saying it’s one of their favorite movies so the more they talk about it, the movie rises, and the people of Winnipeg are just so excited to share this movie with everybody with it. In this fucking old man’s black heart, that kind of purity is so beautiful.

 

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SS: I love that later in life, one guy, Craig, a rock n roller and he’s like, “I get play Phantom songs!” He’s so pumped for it. 

MI: Even last night at the screening, man. You see these guys in front of Paul Williams, and they’re literally in front of God. And it’s so wonderful, and it’s not an act. Like, those guys are literally just in awe of him. I’ve interviewed a lot of people, from Fred Phelps to whoever, and Paul Williams is the one that I was most affected by because he’s got all these bullet points in my childhood, like Rainbow Connection, Bugsy Malone, you know what I mean? He’s got all those things like Smokey and The Bandit. These are formative things from my childhood, so meeting him finally in person, I wasn’t prepared to be as effected by it as I was. 

Paul Williams is so generous because he- he fucking ended our Q&A yesterday by singing Rainbow Connection! There’s nothing better, like, this is a story book and that was literally Happily Ever After. he fucking sang Rainbow Connection! I was just so shook by it, like how wonderful that moment was. [,,,] it’s incredible how giving of a person- Look, don’t meet your heroes is usually the thing and I would say it’s mostly true. A lot of my heroes that I’ve met, I’ve really had bad experiences with but Paul Williams is one of the most giving and generous people and he’s so in touch with its base. Like, he was a big celebrity in the 70s but he was still in touch with that base in Winnipeg, and he went and did a show there, you know what I mean? I just think that he’s a brilliant man. He’s really centered on the popular zeitgeist, I think.

If you think [about] what he’s created- it’s art, it’s popular, like, what song is bigger than the Rainbow Connection? Oh, maybe Evergreen, you know what I mean? It’s just like, this guy has written such incredible music, like Rainy Days and Monday’s, this shit is solid in all of our bones. The man’s created such incredible things and to actually be involved in something that, to interview him and, to have him say the name of our movie is just like [screams]. I was tickled pink.

 

You know somebody loves [Phantom of The Paradise] when they want to share it and those are the people we found.”

 

[Editors Note] Sean Stanley and Malcolm Ingram are just two of the nicest people to talk to and our conversion got a little casual, riffing about the mean-spirited nature of some modern documentaries. For a few minutes we each shared our thoughts on films like Catfish (2010) and Tickled (2010) and it was that feeling of looking down on your subjects that brought us back around to the love they had for the Winnipegers featured in Phantom of Winnipeg.

SS: I did not want to take that approach to this movie. I did not want to laugh at these people whatsoever. It was a very fine line [and] if you’re laughing, you’re laughing with them.

MI: But we’re fans as well. Phantom isn’t my- I love the movie, but there’s other things. I literally today, I thought about it and my Phantom is Divine. Divine was the thing that I found. I saw Polyester in the theaters in 1981 when I was a kid. I performed in drag as Divine at a battle of the bands. I wasn’t the “out kid” in the school but Divine really empowered me. I found my voice in Divine. Divine is my Phantom of The Paradise, not that Phantom of The Paradise isn’t a brilliant, perfect film but I’m just saying, to me that’s the one that literally filled my hole. 

SS: I feel the same way. I love Phantom, I love De Palma but my Divine would be Altman.

MI: We’re both huge Altman, huge Ashby [fans]. We’re nerds.

 

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NOFS: That’s fine, you made a documentary about nerds. I loved it by the way, and I think it’s because it’s completely unironic.

MI: It’s sincere! If we want to be assholes, we would just be assholes. Like, if you’re gonna tell this story, tell it for the purity that it is. Don’t go in and be like, “look at this. Aren’t they crazy?” One pivotal moment in that movie, and I’m so glad I made it as more experienced filmmaker, is the moment when Candace, starts talking about the fact that her mother burned half her body off, and she starts going into this horrible, tragic thing- part of you is just like, ‘what the fuck?’ You want to ask more, but you’re like, no. That’s what this movie is about. Let her tell her thing and then just kind of move on from that. Don’t make it about like this victim or anything, she’s talking about her own experience and her empowerment from it. When she tells that story, that literally gets the nuts of like, why we love the things we do. This movie took her away from something. She was living in her own hell. This movie transported her. 

 

SS: It gave her hope. 

MI: This movie was everything. This movie saved her life. This movie gave her everything and to me that’s- you know, true art can heal. Art can do such wonderful things, and this movie Phantom has just given so much to so many people. And you know, De Palma and Paul Williams, all these people, they deserve a huge round of applause for making this movie that’s still giving to people. It’s wonderful.

 

“…true art can heal. Art can do such wonderful things, and this movie Phantom has just given so much to so many people.”

 

Phantom of Winnipeg celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival Friday, July 12. The Fantasia Film Festival runs until August 1, 2019 in beautiful Montreal, Canada. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.

 

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