If anyone asks why Brian De Palma was once a name uttered in the same breath as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, all you need to do is show them his mid-1970s films, especially Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Carrie (1976). These two films also offer the answer as to just why he ended up being taken a lot less seriously than the others. There was, in fact, a TV interview around the time of Carrie in which DePalma appeared with Scorsese, and the resulting interaction rendered perfectly believable the stories of Scorsese showing up on De Palma’s sets, crying out, “Someone stop this man!” De Palma fell into the category of the unruly little brother who was more interested in having fun with filmmaking than he was in being controlled or making any kind of a statement. Nothing about tackling “weighty” material seems to have appealed to him—unless it just sort of happened in the process. Yet there’s an undeniable energy about his work. There’s a love of making movies just for the sake of making them, and it makes his films—especially from this period—infectious in ways that often hold up better than some his comrades’ weightier propositions. Phantom of the Paradise is certainly one of those films. De Palma took everything that appealed to him about rock music, horror movies and the act of filmmaking, and combined it in this one cheeky movie that mixed Faust and The Phantom of the Opera into a nonstop explosion of pop-culture creativity. The result was a film as vital and fresh as anything that had come along up to that point. That it was all in fun and designed to be cartoonishly entertaining, however, worked against the film critically, and it wasn’t taken seriously. That’s more a flaw of the critical mindset than of De Palma’s style, as Phantom of the Paradise continues to demonstrate every time it’s screened.
For a more detailed take on the film, here’s my earlier review: http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/phantom_of_the_paradise