|“||Swan. He has no other name. His past is a mystery, but his work is already a legend. He wrote and produced his first gold record at 14; in the years since then, he has won so many others that he once tried to deposit them in Fort Knox. He brought the Blues to Britain. He brought Liverpool to America. He brought Folk and Rock together. His band, the Juicy Fruits, singlehanded gave birth to the nostalgia wave of the 70s. Now he is looking for the new sound of the spheres, to inaugurate his own Xanadu, his own Disneyland: the Paradise, the ultimate rock palace. This film is the story of that search, of that sound, of the man who made it, the girl who sang it... and the monster who stole it.||„|
|~ The film's introductory monologue|
Swan is the main antagonist of the 1974 film Phantom of the Paradise. As the owner of Death Records, the manager of the popular rock band the Juicy Fruits, and the business talent behind the world's most notable pop-cultural phenomena, he is determined to make his latest project a triumph: the opening of a magnificent concert hall known only as "The Paradise." To this end, he will go to any lengths to provide the perfect music in which to introduce his vanity project to the public - including the outright criminal, ultimately bringing him into conflict with Winslow Leach, the hero of the story.
He was portrayed by Paul Williams, who also voiced Catrina's henchman Rep in the My Little Pony episode "Escape from Catrina", and the Penguin from Batman: The Animated Series and its sequel, The New Batman Adventures.
According to the opening monologue, Swan's past is unknown: nobody is certain of his birthday, birthplace, or even his original name, and nothing was known of him prior to his fourteenth birthday, where he wrote and produced his first gold record-winning single; the exact date of this is not established, but given that it likely occurred some time prior to 1953 and the first gold record was released in 1942, he likely achieved fame during the mid-1940s. Parlaying his success into an immensely successful career in the music industry, he soon became nothing short of legendary to audiences around the world.
However, Swan was also quite infamously narcissistic: he was so in love with his own image, he soon got into the habit of obssessively filming himself, and having the footage stored in what he called "The Swan Archive," a film chronicle of his own successes for him to watch in his spare time. Over time, this vanity degenerated into a compulsive fear of aging, until at last the thought of his handsome face being ruined by old age became too much for him to bear. On the 19th of November, 1953, Swan got stoned and decided to end his life: though still in his twenties, he believed that his life simply wasn't worth living if he couldn't remain young and beautiful forever, and instead opted to slit his wrists in the bath - his suicide being recorded for posterity, of course.
But just before he could make the first cut, the Devil appeared before him in the form of his reflection in the mirror, and made him an offer that Swan couldn't resist: in exchange for his soul, he would be granted immortality, and the film footage of the deal would age in his place. However, this eternal life came with its own set of caveats, for if the film were ever to be destroyed, the deal would be declared null and void. Worse still, any footage taken of him after the deal would reveal his true age; in a final twist, Swan was to continue his habit of recording his own activities, and would have to regularly watch these recordings in order to satisfy the terms of the bargain. Ultimately, Swan accepted the deal with little hesitation: dismissing the true cost of the exchange what a mutter of "what soul?" he slit his finger open with the very razor he'd intended to kill himself with, and signed the Devil's contract in blood.
From then on, Swan remained in the shadows: because he couldn't be filmed or photographed without his true nature becoming obvious, he could no longer perform either on stage or in recording, forcing him to take on the role of manager - and eventually, record producer. He soon became internationally famous as the owner of the highly-successful Death Records label, his ascent to prominence aided by the air of mystery surrounding his public appearances: journalists were forbidden from taking pictures at press conferences, and only a specially-hired film crew was allowed to record his speeches - for the purposes of fulfilling the terms of Swan's deal. In the event that Swan couldn't guarantee this rule, he would remain hidden behind two-way mirrors and shadowed back rooms - always allowing observers to be aware of his presence, of course, just to further his legend.
As a businessman, Swan was an unparalleled success: over the course of the next twenty years, the bands he managed produced so many gold records that he actually tried to deposit them in Fort Knox, and in his pursuit of profitable sound, he ensured the spread of some of the world's most influential musical movements - introducing the Blues to Britain, bringing the first famous British rock groups to America, and uniting the Folk genre and the Rock genre into one artform. The 1970s saw the rise of his most popular band yet, the Juicy Fruits, who were soon credited with kickstarting the nostalgia wave thanks to their habit of mimicking the music and performance styles of the 1950s.
Unfortunately, Swan's success was marred by a seedy underbelly that few journalists reported: thanks to his legendary reputation, many aspiring performers appealed to him in the hopes of being granted a record deal; for his part, the media mogul was very happy to deal with such young talent, especially if it meant being able to pressure them into having sex with him - often in large groups as well. In the unlikely event that a performer actually made it as far as the stage, Swan and his lieutenants proved brutal taskmasters: young stars were specifically ordered to have sex with critics in order to earn favorable reviews, and many of them were introduced to drugs in order to keep them motivated and loyal. Even the Juicy Fruits themselves didn't escape the threat of violence, and at least one of them was forcefed uppers to keep him from backing out of a production. And unknown to all, Swan spent his off hours cocooned in his office, watching the increasingly-hideous footage of his daily life in horrified disgust.
Eventually, Swan decided to cement his legacy by ordering the construction of a vast concert hall known only as the Paradise: designed with perfect acoustics in mind, it was to be equipped with numerous amenities for his own personal use, including secret passageways, hidden chambers, and a state-of-the-art recording suite hidden deep in the heart of the building. However, Swan knew this vanity project wouldn't be complete without a very special kind of music to introduce it to audiences, prompting a long and thorough search for artists that could produce the song that could unveil his masterpiece to the world.
Events of the Film
The film begins with Swan at a club, watching the Juicy Fruits give a performance of "Goodbye Eddie." Though he is seated inside a private booth shielded with two-way mirrors, the audience is very much aware of his presence, and waits for Swan to applaud before showing their approval. Once the song is over, he and his henchmen, Arnold Philbin, discuss current affairs: one of their recent stars they've been managing, a young singer known only as Annette, has fired them both in an attempt to take her career in a new direction, and Philbin's efforts to have her sued has ended in failure. Philbin wants Annette "broken," which Swan consents to on the grounds that the young star is already losing relevance and will soon be forgotten anyway.
However, it is at this very moment that struggling composer Winslow Leach takes advantage of the intermission to sneak onstage and perform a song of his own. Immediately enraptured by the performance, Swan decides that this will be the music he uses to open the Paradise, though he quickly rejects the idea of Winslow himself ever playing it. So, he sends in Philbin to negotiate a deal with the artist: once it becomes clear that Winslow will not tolerate the Juicy Fruits singing his music, Philbin instead fools the naive young composer into handing over his latest work - a pop cantata based on the legend of Faust - to be produced as an album by Death Records; in reality, the manuscript is delivered directly to Swan, to be produced under his name without any credit being given to Winslow.
After not hearing anything from Philbin for over a month, Winslow attempts to make contact with Swan at Death Records' headquarters - only to be thrown out of the building when the receptionist finds his name on a "not to be seen" list. Refusing to give up, Winslow then sneaks into Swan's palatial mansion compound, the Swannage, where auditions for a live performance of Faust are already underway; though he briefly connects with one aspiring star, the talented young ingenue known only as Phoenix, the attempt ends with him being kicked out again. In desperation, Winslow goes so far as to disguise himself in drag and sneak into one of Swan's private orgies, hoping for a chance to speak to the reclusive impresario directly; upon seeing him, Swan simply has the composer thrown out and beaten to a pulp by his bodyguards.
This time however, Swan also has two corrupt police offers arrest Winslow, having a baggie of heroin planted in his purse for good measure. In the legal cataclysm that follows, Winslow ends up serving a life sentence at Sing Sing prison; as if to add insult to injury, Swan also has him enrolled in an experimental medical program to have his teeth pulled and replaced with chrome implants. After suffering through both the program and the indignities of prison life, Winslow finally snaps one day while hearing a preview of his music being played by the Juicy Fruits, and escapes Sing Sing in a frenzy. Breaking into one of Death Records' production facilities, he tries to destroy all copies of Faust before they can be released - only to end up getting shot by a security guard, sending him tumbling facefirst into a record press. Left horribly disfigured and mute, Winslow staggers outside and into the river.
Though quickly declared dead by the media, he survives and makes his way into the Paradise, where he steals a costume from the prop department and begins menacing the performers in an attempt to ruin Swan's grand opening. Among other things, he goes so far as to plant a bomb in a prop car that the Juicy Fruits were riding, and would have killed all three of them if they hadn't gotten off the car at the right time. However, thanks to the Paradise's surveillance cameras, Swan very quickly becomes aware of Winslow's presence in the building, and makes him an offer.
Providing Winslow with an electronic voicebox and the use of his sound suite, Swan gives him a week to rewrite his cantata, allowing him to choose the star that will eventually sing it - with Phoenix naturally being the top choice. However, Swan also provides Winslow with a contract embellished with the clause of "all articles that are excluded shall be deemed included." For good measure, it's to be signed in blood. With no other choice but to accept, the composer reluctantly agrees to the terms of the bargain on the condition that his creative decisions are accepted.
However, Swan has no intention of accepting his new composer's directives: though intrigued by the possibility of possessing Phoenix's voice and acknowledging the fact that she is indeed the perfect fit for the role of lead singer, Swan can't stand perfection in anyone but himself, and has Phoenix reassigned to the part of a backup singer. In her place, he unveils Beef, an effeminate proto-glam-rocker who completely changes the intended tone of the songs. After a week of production, during which Winslow is kept going through regular doses of drugs, Swan sneaks into the recording suite while the composer is asleep and steals the finished score. He then has two of guards brick up the entrance to the suite, sealing Winslow inside.
Regaining consciousness just before the Paradise's gala performance, the newly-christened Phantom breaks out and continues his reign of terror - concluding with the on-stage assassination of Beef. With the audience clamoring for more, Philbin ha no choice but to allow Phoenix to sing, resulting in immediate approval from Winslow, the audience, and even from Swan. Having changed his mind about the young star, Swan visits her after the performance and seduces her, offering her the same applause she enjoyed that night. Though Winslow attempts to warn Phoenix away from Swan, his disfigured face and clear insanity repel her, only driving her further into the arms of his enemy.
That night, Swan and Phoenix return to Swannage and have sex, with Winslow watching in despair. Realizing that he's ended up condemning his muse to a life of corruption and degradation as the record baron's puppet, Winslow commits suicide by stabbing himself to death... only to wake up shortly afterwards with Swan staring contemptuously down at him. As he himself explains, Winslow's contract can only terminate with Swan; as long as Swan remains alive, Winslow's wounds stay healed. He then sends the Phantom back to work, demanding a brand new crop of songs for Faust, threatening to ensure that Winslow never sees Phoenix again if he puts another toe out of line. Enraged, Winslow tries to stab Swan to death, only to discover that the record producer's own contract makes him effectively invincible.
Some time later, the Paradise prepares to host the final stage of Faust, with Swan and Phoenix being married in a live, televised ceremony - Swan wearing a silver mask in order to disguise his true appearance from the public. However, Winslow takes this opportunity to sneak into Swan's private sanctum: here, he finds the archives in which the original tape of Swan's deal with the Devil is store. Also recorded is a deal with Phoenix, surrendering the young singer's voice to him at the moment of her death... followed closely by Swan arranging to have Phoenix assassinated on stage as soon as the wedding ceremony is complete, both in order to create a scandal and to allow him to take full possession of his bride's voice.
As soon as he's finished watching, Winslow burns Swan's archives and hurries to rescue Phoenix, barely arriving in time to stop the assassin from taking the fatal shot (killing Philbin instead). In the confusion onstage that follows, Swan's mask is dislodged, revealing his now-deformed face and exposing him as a monster on live television - though most of the audience seem to believe this is all part of the show. Enraged, Swan tries to throttle Phoenix to death in a futile attempt to claim her voice, only for Winslow to swoop in and stab him multiple times; with Swan dying, Winslow's self-inflicted stab wound re-opens, killing him as well. Clearly believing that this is still part of the show, Swan is slowly carried away by the crowd as he bleeds to death.
It can be presumed that the Devil claimed Swan following his death; for good measure, the final song of the film is "The Hell Of It," featuring lyrics as "though your music lingers on/all of us are glad you're gone" and "if I could live my life half as worthlessly as you/I'm convinced that I'd wind up burning too," suggesting that this is actually being sung by the Devil in mocking tribute to Hell's newest inmate.
Arrogant and narcissistic at heart, Swan cares only for himself: his only concern in the film is furthering his legend by any means necessary, be it designing the Paradise as the "ultimate rock palace" or having Phoenix assassinated on live television for the sake of the publicity. Believing himself to have attained perfection, finding in others offends Swan beyond all rationality, and he will go out of his way to dismiss any performers that might eclipse the performances of his glory days. Long before his Faustian bargain, he was obsessed with his appearance, and freely admitted that he was "crazy" about admiring himself in film, and his pact with the Devil was driven by the fear that his face might one day be ruined.
Afterwards, though he was unable to continue watching his films without being overwhelmed with horror at his increasingly decrepit appearance, Swan only expanded his narcissism by inflicting it on everyone else: despite his need to hide any evidence of his Satanic pact, he does not eschew public appearances - so long as he's able to control the audience; in press conferences, cameras are confiscated and the journalists are expected to be completely subservient to his demands; during performances of his bands, he remains hidden inside a mirrored booth and directs the opinion of the audience entirely - only allowing them to applaud once he has favored the performance with an ovation of his own. In a final and especially egregious note, when providing Winslow with a new singing voice in his sound suite, Swan goes so far as to digitally model it on his own. Observing the Phantom's music being performed in his own glory-day singing voice, the record producer can only whisper "perfect..."
In many ways, Swan is a psychopath: superficially charming, manipulative, deceitful, often impulsive, possessing a noted difficulty in maintaining relationships and demonstrating a repeated disregard for the rights and safety of others. Most notably of all, he lacks any sense of empathy, often appearing completely detached from any sense of the consequences of his actions - partly due to his immortality but mostly due to the fact that he cares nothing for the wellbeing of anyone other than himself: upon being asked to break Annette, he only remarks "is that all?" as if he can think of even worse fates to inflict; when the Phantom bombs the Juicy Fruits' prop car, Swan barely looks up at the explosion and seems openly bored by the terrified screams from the stage; he responds to the on-stage murder of Beef with mild interest at best, and reacts with great enthusiasm to the realization that the audience loved every minute of it; most pointedly of all, he barely keeps the smile off his face when he senses Winslow attempting to kill himself - and goes on to actively mock him for daring to try.
- Swan was inspired by infamous record producer Phil Spector - to the point that Swan was originally named "Spectre." Among other things, Spector was notorious for his unparalleled control over creative processes and his dangerously unstable behavior; among other things, he supposedly menaced Leonard Cohen with a loaded gun, stole the tapes of John Lennon's Rock n' Roll album at gunpoint, and threatened to kill his wife if she ever left him. In 2003, Spector murdered actress Lana Clarkson, and is currently serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.
- His deal with The Devil mirrors that of Dorian Gray - both characters ultimately being undone when the source of their immortality is damaged or destroyed.
- Swan's deal appears to work slightly differently than Winslow's; when Winslow killed Swan and lost his immortality, his stab wound from his attempted suicide opened. However, when Swan lost his immortality, he did not immediately sport any wounds despite Winslow having stabbed him earlier.
- Swan does not sing any songs in the film; however, some songs are sung by Paul Williams, either in the background or by Winslow using a machine designed by Swan to sound like him.