In 1974, Brian de Palma’s rock-opera Phantom of The Paradise was an immediate box office success (but only in Winnipeg, Canada). The film played nonstop for over four months and the soundtrack record was certified Gold (but only in Winnepeg, Canada). Today, Phantom of The Paradise remains a celebrated classic that continues to blow the minds of new audiences (everywhere). Although the film was panned by critics and audiences the world over, there remained a core group of fans whose love and appreciation for the film is almost certainly responsible for the new life Phantom of The Paradise enjoys today.
Celebrating its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, Phantom of Winnipeg is a hilarious and heartfelt love letter to not only Phantom of The Paradise but to the people of Winnipeg that have kept a fire burning for the film until the rest of the world came to their senses. Documentary filmmakers Sean Stanley & Malcolm Ingram trek out into the cold, frozen tundra (that other Canadians call cold) to shine a spotlight on a group of people whose lives were forever and irrevocably changed by a movie, and the community that has grown out of that love.
“The Phantom of Winnipeg is a hilarious and heartfelt love letter to not only Phantom of The Paradise but to the people of Winnipeg that have kept a fire burning for the film until the rest of the world came to their senses.”
Irony is the killer of all things and if there was a shred of irony anywhere in Phantom of Winnipeg, the love for its subjects would simply not exist. For a cynical outsider, it is very easy to see a group of people that love something so deeply that it has imprinted on how they identify as a person and scoff. The respect that Stanley & Ingram have for the people of Winnipeg is pure class and at no time are you left laughing at the people in front of the camera. Don’t get me wrong; There are plenty of laughs in the doc, but what sets Phantom of Winnipeg apart from every other mean-spirited analysis of fan culture is that it welcomes you into their world so you can laugh with them. They know it’s silly. They know no one else cares for this obscure piece of pop culture the way they do. But they also know their lives would never be the same without it.
From radio DJs to not-for-profit business owners, band leaders to unashamed spouses, festival organizers to self-appointed historians- their love for Phantom of The Paradise is tangible and infectious. And none of it is for show! At the Fantasia premiere, several of the “Winnipegers” were in the audience cheering and singing along to a documentary about their favourite movie. I can’t begin to explain the energy in the room when everyone in attendance could hear the doc’s main players laughter overtop of their own, coming from the front row. (Of course they sat in the front row!) We even happened to run into them throughout the weekend at the festival and they are every bit as genuine as they appear onscreen. I’m telling you, these Winnipegers aren’t fooling around. When they tell you they love Phantom of The Paradise, they mean they love Phantom of The Paradise.
That love a person can have for a movie when it comes into their life at the absolute right moment can be unlike anything else. No doubt, there were other people at those Winnipeg cinemas that felt nothing hearing the first notes of Somebody Special, when The Undead rise from beneath the stage to open Swan’s (Paul Williams) “Paradise”. Like so many people in literally every market the film opened, someone must have sat dried-eyed as they witnessed Winslow’s (William Finley) transformation into The Phantom and his tragic end as he fought for the unrequited love of Phoneix (Jessica Harper). But week-after-week, that same film played to packed-house after packed-house of children who, for the first time, found something that was wholly their own. No one told them to watch it, no one told them to love it, but when the credits rolled for that first time, each and every one of them had discovered something that spoke to them personally.
It was a love that they would later discover was not felt anywhere else, but they refused to let The Phantom die. They carried him in their hearts and waited patiently for the rest of the world to catch up with them. Without Winnipeg’s love for Phantom of The Paradise, and the Phantompalooza events they would eventually organize, the actors involved would have never known there was any love for the cult film. And though the burning question on everyone’s mind is “Why did Winnipeg embrace this movie wholeheartedly?” co-director Malcolm Ingrim reminded us in a recent interview that “It’s not important why [it happened]. It’s important it did”. Phantom of Winnipeg is a touching glimpse at the gift of art, and the love of a community refused to let that gift go unnoticed.
“They know it’s silly. They know no one else cares for this obscure piece of pop culture the way they do. But they also know their lives would never be the same without [Phantom of Thr Paradise].”
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 Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.