Phantom of the Paradise (Brian de Palma, 1974)

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Phantom of the Paradise, directed by Brian de Palma (1974)

Score: What the fuck did I just watch.

I came to this because both my Dad and a coworker who loves movies recommended it and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now. I guess I’m old and sour enough to see the tag “cult” and run away in the opposite direction now.

Phantom of the Paradise is a shameless pastiche of The Phantom of the Opera, in that there is a guy in a silly costume fucking around in a theatre, Faust, in that someone makes a deal with the devil, and The portrait of Dorian Gray, in that that someone stays young and something else ages for him. Swan is like the most powerful man on earth, running an insanely successful record label, and decides to steal Winslow Leach’s music, who apparently is too ugly to be a star, no matter how lovely his voice is. Throw in Phoenix, an aspiring singer who will do anything for a standing ovation, and unintentional hilarity ensues.

The plot is retarded a hundred per cent of the time. It includes stuff like ***SPOILERS*** Winslow escaping from forced labor in a cardboard box, Beef being electrocuted to death when the Phantom tosses a lightning-shaped neon lamp at him, and of course, Swan’s demise. If the videotape is the key to your immortality, why do you just leave it lying around so the idiot with the silly helmet can find it and kill you?***END SPOILERS*** But at the same time, it is strangely relatable. A musical producer is the devil? Sure, we can all buy that, let’s stand up against the decadence of music industr– Oh, Beyoncé’s last single is out!!

The music is quite nice, actually. It was probably the only part of the movie that I really enjoyed (and it’s also deliciously ironic that it was written by the actor who plays Swan), and design production is really another highlight. The film looks good, in all its glossy, 1970’s colourful glory. And the Phantom’s helmet is quite cool, I have to admit it.

Pump six and other stories (Paolo Bacigalupi, 2010)

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Pump six and other stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010).

Score: Excellent.

When I finished The windup girl I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about it, though in hindsight I think it’s one of the best books I read last year, so I decided to pick this up for more biopunk shenaningans.

The stories are arranged by publishing date so it’s easy to see how Bacigalupi’s writing evolves and what changes is mostly the focus. Every story shows concern for a world in which science is rarely in the right hands, and progress usually means a greater gap between the richest and the dirt-poor. The future is not going to be bright, but poorer and dirtier, and we can do awesome things thanks to science, but most of the time it’s just a weapon of oppression. Even there, you can always see a haunting dash of transhumanism, especially in the first few stories, while in the last few not even science can do anything about what we’ve done to ourselves. The stories are written quite cleverly, starting in the middle of the situation and throwing subtle hints at what’s really going on until the reveal, which can be quite a bit into the story. It’s quite soft science fiction, falling hard into dystopia territory on its more outlandish settings.

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Flow my tears, the policeman said (Philip K. Dick, 1974)

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Flow my tears, the policeman said, by Philip K. Dick (1974).

Score: Typical K. Dick.

You picked up a book by PKD, you knew what you were getting into. This one is about Jason Taverner, a rich and famous singer and TV host in a dystopian police-state that wakes up in a sleazy hotel after being attacked with a spongey parasite by a spiteful lover. In this new reality, he has never existed and nobody has a clue who he is. He doesn’t have any ID cards on him, which is a big no-no in a police state, so he embarks on a quest to get some forgeries that will allow him to walk two blocks through a random checkpoint.

It’s everything PKD from here: psychotic secondary characters, existential conversations held for no reason, main character questioning his own sanity, drug use and so many loose ends and frayed narrative that you don’t know if PKD is making it up as he goes along or he’s a wizard of red herrings.

It was entertaining mostly because it’s not too long, luckily. His concern about police brutality, corruption, and his fear of a totalitarian state show up in this, the first of his books that I’ve read that have this element. I didn’t like the resolution so much ***SPOLERS*** A drug that alters not the consumer’s reality, but everyone else’s, dragging them along to an alternate reality? Not very satisfying. Too fantastic for my taste.

So if you’re a fan of PDK’s work, you’re going to like this one too. I think it’s on the short list of what you should read that the man wrote.

BONUS: If Kevin Spacey is on the cover, it can’t be a bad book.