The Phantom Of The Paradise is one of the biggest films in cult movie fandom . First overlooked by the majority of film goers, the film has gained a massive amount of fans and recognition. Phantom is a perfect example of a film flopping tremendously upon its initial release but gaining its just due recognition in time , à la Rocky Horror. Phantom, like a rising phoenix from the ashes , has become a pivotal staple in musical cinematic history and has gone on to influence countless other rock musical films . But before Phantom Of The Paradise redeemed itself by becoming a cultural icon , it was embraced by the Canadian city of Winnipeg . As strange as it sounds , although the film was an American production and failed to catch on in the States , it became a massive hit in Winnipeg . Why Winnipeg embraced Phantom over any other Canadian city is still a mystery , but the number of highly devoted fans is still growing. With a successful POTP centered convention ( fittingly called Phantompalooza ) , Winnipeg is the true Phantom Of The Paradise city. I was fortunate enough to correspond with one of the founders of Phantompalooza Gloria Dignazio. Below is the fascinating interview :
Cultmoviemusicals.com : Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! First off tell me a little bit about your introduction to Phantom of the Paradise and why it made such an impact on you .
Gloria : It’s a great pleasure and my honour! So POTP believe it or not was the first movie I ever saw! When I was 11 years old, I went on my first date and of course, brought a few girlfriends with me cause that’s what you do when you are 11 and terrified but somewhat flattered and interested in boys! So we went to the Garrick Theatre here in Winnipeg and as soon as the movie began, like as soon as I saw the Death Records birdie and heard Rod Serling’s voice, that was it. I was gone and transported into another dimension, I just loved it, right from the first second, the opening of the movie. I honestly don’t recall anything further about the actual date, just that I had fallen in love with this movie! Well, so of course, I HAD to have more and so I kept going back to the Garrick as much as I could and in those days, when you paid for one show, you could stay for future screenings, so that is what we did. I also fell in love with the music, the soundtrack and of course, got the LP and proceeded to play the shit out of it and drew the soundtrack cover as well. My twin brother (who also loves the movie) still remembers me saying “I need more black, more pink”! as I drew it using felt markers. I wish my parents hadn’t thrown it away as it was actually quite good if I don’t say so myself! Then life happens as it does and I just remember it coming on TV late at night and always watching it, and it made me feel a certain way, like it always cheered me up, made me really happy. Then when VHS came out, I distinctly remember one day in the 80s and it was a Sunday ( I was down and probably hungover ) and I specifically went to a video store to find POTP and I found it! and I watched it again, and I really remember it cheered me up so much and I just loved it, it just makes me happy!
Cultmoviemusicals.com When and how did you discover that Phantom had such a large underground cult following ?
Gloria : Gee, I honestly didn’t know that there were Phantom fans like me out there, til one day I was sitting at my mundane office job, in like either late 2003 or 2004, and was googling Phantom of the Paradise and came across this fantastic website from a guy ( Larry ? ) in Calgary and I was blown away by his site as he a had color picture of Swan (Paul Williams) on it AND a personal message from Swan himself!! I was mesmerized and completely impressed and was reading all the comments from other fans and realized that I wasn’t alone! I did post a message about how much I loved the movie and then, kinda forgot about it .
Cultmoviemusicals.com : Awesome ! Tell me a little about Phantompalooza and how it came to be .
Gloria : Well, this ties in with end of my reply to question #2. For the 30th anniversary of the film in 2004, a newspaper reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press named Dave Sanderson saw my post on that Calgary website and contacted me and asked me if I’d like to be interviewed. Being the famewhore that I am, I of course said yes! When I told him my 10 year old son Colin and I had matching Death Records t-shirts, he said “can I send a photographer?”, so he did and that article appeared on a Saturday, a big day in newspaper land. And then there it was, a beautiful BIG article on POTP and a nice picture of my son and I with our matching DR tshirts! My phone started to ring off the hook at 8 a.m. (mainly from males of my age at the time ) wanting to know where they could get DR tshirts. from. I resonated with 4 of them; Doug Carlson, Rod Warkentin, Gary (Zippy) Gurniak and Del Pannu (later to be known as my Phantom hubby. We continue to do Phantom events together to this day) and met with them at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop to discuss what was in that article. The reporter, Dave Sanderson had interviewed the manager at the Garrick, who really had no idea of Phantom’s history at that theatre ( it played there for a long time when it came out here in 1974/75) and I had an epiphany! Like why not.? Let's see about doing a screening. So we all met (complete strangers at the time, but our mutual love for the movie brought us all together ) and from that meeting, we formed Phantompalooza! My twin brother Eric was also there as well. Each one of these guys had a niche. For example Doug is a webmaster and created the most awesome website (even better then Larry’s in Calgary) and he even had a guestbook using the “Phantom font”. It was mindblowing. It was all VERY synchronistic and each one of us had our various roles and managed to put together Phantompalooza I, which was held on April 23, 2005 at the original Garrick Theatre. We brought in two stars of the movie, Mr. William Finley and Mr. Gerrit Graham, it was really unbelievable. I still can’t believe we all manifested this! I have to give credit to an honourary member of Phantompalooza, Mr. Mike Navis, who found Bill Finley in New York for us. Bill had had experiences with stalkers and was not fond of flying, but through Mike, I was able to contact him and persuade him with all my emails with many exclamation marks letting him know that we weren’t just gonna show this on a bedsheet in someone’s basement here in Winnipeg. We ended up having 2 screenings of the movie , Q & A sessions and a huge social (like a big dance with food and music) at a gorgeous venue across from the Garrick, where 800 people showed up. And we had a couple of bands play and a couple of Phantom songs were sung live which was pretty cool. Fans ended up cornering Bill and Gerrit in a coat change closet type of area ( I kid you not ) and they brought plungers for them to sign, it was like complete pandemonium. But Bill and Gerrit loved every second of it, so did the fans! Bill said later in interviews that something just told him to trust and to come to Winnipeg. The rest is history! So Bill and Gerrit were both blown away as they were treated like total rock stars when they were here. The fans went nuts and we had not only Winnipeg fans, but people actually travelled to come to our event! So Bill says to us at the end (with a mischievous little boy grin on his face ,he was so happy), he says “you gotta do this again next year, but next year, you have to bring the entire cast to Winnipeg!”. When he said that I could hear angels singing in the background . Whatever Bill wanted, Bill got, so we just said YES of course, and proceeded to do what he asked of us. Myself, Doug, Rod and Zippy flew down to Los Angeles to meet Paul at a screening of the movie in Santa Monica (Del couldn’t make it unfortunately) . We used the money from proceeds of Phantompalooza I to do this and it was so worth it. We met with Paul after the screening, it was mindblowing. I can’t even describe how exciting it was when at the Q & A at the screening he says “Where’s Gloria from Phantompalooza?" And mentioned Winnipeg. He was like 3 feet away from me and I was dying, dying, and we hugged each other in front of that theatre . I’ll never forget it. So then, we got in touch with Jessica Harper and met with Archie Hahn (the singer of Goodbye Eddie Goodbye) at get this, a Denny’s! I’ll never forget the look on his face when he walked in. You could tell he was thinking "Are these guys nuts?" and "What am I doing here?'. Well, after he met us and we showed him Zippy’s merchandise, t-shirts, mugs with DR birdie,etc , he knew we were serious and that is how The Juicy Fruits/Beach Bums/Undead came on board.
Phantompalooza II occurred on April 29, 2006 and was even better than Phantompalooa I! We had again two screenings of the movie, two Q & A sessions, and this time with the entire cast of the movie, plus Paul Williams. He performed and Jessica Harper joined him on stage and they sang “Old Souls” .. it was surreal, unreal and honestly, I still can’t believe it all happened. But I have memories and video to prove to myself that it did indeed happen. We also had an incredible band made up of local musicians, the “Phantom Live Band” who performed the entire soundtrack, it was super cool and Gerrit even performed his song “Life at Last” with The Juicy Fruits joining him on stage. Need I say more? Nothing, absolutely nothing will ever be as cool as that moment was.
Cultmoviemusicals.com : Were You surprised about the massive amount of fans of Phantom in Winnipeg ?
Gloria : No, hmmm, hard to answer in a way, because I am such a huge fan that I just think everyone loves this movie as much as I do, especially if you are from Winnipeg. It's in our blood and in our souls. But I’d have to say I guess, I was just surprised to find out about the Paris convention and the pockets of fans all over the world. For example, at a screening of the movie in Los Angles in 2014, 1,000 people showed up to see the movie's screening. It is also very huge in El Salvador . For a movie that is 40 years old it's gaining in popularity. And also my kids generation, kids in their 20s are showing up to the events and they know every word to the soundtrack and are wearing their DR t-shirts! The movie is only becoming more and more popular!
Cultmoviemusicals.com : Why do you think of all places , Phantom caught on in such big way in Winnipeg ?
Gloria : This is a question many ask and for me, I always say, it’s a soul thing . It's in my DNA or something. But honestly, I feel a huge part of why Winnipeggers dig the movie so much is the music. The music fits the storyline of the movie perfectly, like it forms some sort of a perfect puzzle and it really rocks. It was ahead of its time and it still rocks. We are a rock town and we know our music, so yeah, I believe this is a huge part of why Winnipeggers love this movie so much. Also, for many of us Winnipeg kids growing up, this was our first exposure to rock n roll. And the elements in the movie; a love story, a horror story, a comedy, a musical, I mean what was it really??!! It was and still IS all of those things. It was like it transformed ME into being a rock star watching it and I still get butterflies to this day when I hear the opening riffs of “Somebody Super Like You”. It takes me back to when I was that young girl of 11, innocent and bright eyed but curious and the movie satisfied my curiosity about certain things and excited me in all kinds of ways. And still does to this day. It's just a fascinating movie. I never get sick of it and have seen it too many times to count. I never dreamed the movie would end up becoming such an incredible blessing in my adult life. For now I know the cast members as friends. I sometimes get e-mails from Paul Williams while sitting at my boring, mundane office job and I just smile before I click open because I know it will be something that will make me smile. He is Swan after all , and TRUST ME, that to me is entertainment ment ment!
Like Rocky Horror , Shock Treatment and many other cult movie musicals , Phantom Of The Paradise has attracted a large and devout following of fans who attend conventions and screenings, dress as the characters and create websites in their honor. Of course mainstream has learned that these once forgotten films can be profitable and use every opportunity to exploit fans, but it's the fans that made the movies what they were . Like Gloria and her friends who made Phantom of the Paradise an experience and local treasure in Winnipeg , it's the fans who embrace a film in obscurity and give them their much deserved second chance.
For more information about Phantompalooza visit www.phantomoftheparadise.ca
I'm a cult movie musical lover , pianist , poet, vegan and graduate student . I'm an aficionado of all things bizarre , tacky, and gauche.