Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Directed by: Jim Sharman
Written by: Jim Sharman, Richard O'Brien
Starring: Barry Bostwick, Meat Loaf, Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, Peter Hinwood, Richard O'Brien, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry
A long time ago, when I was young man in student halls, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was something of a regular evening fixture for me and my buddies. Indeed, many a night was spent rocking and rolling the moon down from the sky. Now nearly a decade later, and verging on 30, a couple of us attended the first of the new sing-along series, at what may be a natural home for the outsider epic: The Underworld in Camden Town. Situated just beneath The World’s End, this is a hotspot for the many goths and outsiders who abide in that part of town. And true to form, waiting in line there were more people in corsets, dyed strands of hair and sweet transvestites than one could shake a frankfurter at.
As Patricia Quinn’s mouth opened the movie, many others joined in. The audience sang both loudly and proudly throughout. Most of us knew the lyrics, the dialogue, the in-jokes, and those that didn’t at first soon picked them up. Whilst the opener Science Fiction Double Feature played I prepared the props we got on the way in. The goodie bag featured a newspaper, a water-pistol, bits of toast, rubber gloves, party hats, a bag of rice, a glowstick, confetti, a noisemaker and bog roll. This is a staple of the traditional audience participation, greatly encouraged here, that helped to define the movie’s cult status. Though if the relevance of any items seem a little dubious, you can ask for an instruction sheet telling you when each comes into play. Sat deep in the heart of the crowd I wasn’t sure just how much these would actually get used. Then came the opening wedding scene, and no sooner did the bells ring than a blizzard of cereal grain rained upon us from above. Seconds later the audience launched into a spirited rendition of Damn It Janet. Next came the storm sequence, where it was all newspapers on heads, water pistols indiscriminately shot in the air with excess and glowsticks waved before everyone got to their feet to dance The Time Warp. Tim Curry’s entrance as Frank-N-Furter’s was greeted by a rapturous applause, with all the enthusiasm of a rock star. This was up to and including the near-instant marriage to his creation Rocky (Hinwood), where there was a further whiteout, this time thanks to confetti. Come the interval the floor was obscured by mounds of toilet paper, plastic cups, snapped gloves and sequins. Be prepared, this is a messy affair, and all the better for it. On their website Underworld pride themselves on providing the most riotous screenings, and live up to their pledge. Toast aside, the second half was maybe less interactive, though the heightened emotion of the closing floor show (particularly the surprisingly poignant I’m Going Home), and the enthusiastic roar with which it was met, more than made up for that.
I probably ought to comment on the movie now, on the off chance anyone’d think about losing their Rocky Horror virginity this way. Well it’s very difficult to really describe it and make it sound anything other than utterly inept and eccentric, but I’ll try. In short a young, straight laced couple Brad (Botwick) and Janet (Sarandon) break down outside a castle. Mistakenly thinking they could use a phone inside, they’re soon drawn into a number of song and dance numbers featuring the unnerving staff Riff Raff (creator O’Brien) and Magenta (Quinn), along with squeakie voiced groupie Columbia (Campbell), leather clad biker Eddie (Loaf) and the afore mentioned Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Before too long their conservative values are put to the test as they struggle against sexual liberation, gender binaries, temptation and later aliens – all of which they eventually succumb to. The cannibalism, murder and infidelity would make the movie a fairly dark one were it not all so catchy and charming. The tone is very much in tribute to the creature features of the era, using a number of b-movie conventions and clichés. And save for an uncomfortably forceful pair of sex scenes (which were played for laughs when the movie debuted 40 years ago) it drips with retro charm. Yeah the effects have dated, and the music sounds distinctly periodic. But Rocky Horror is so ingrained in the culture, iconography and politics of the time (plus its recently preceding decades) to the extent that it almost revels in the past. The piece is what it is, and that’s darn good fun.
Plus the songs are timeless. Some musicals are best known for a single song (e.g. Wicked and Guys and Dolls) others have a couple of notable entries that outshine the rest of the soundtrack (e.g. Cats and Chicago). Yet, in contrast, the stage and picture shows of Rocky Horror are filled to the brim with classics. Damn It Janet, Time Warp, Sweet Transvestite, Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul, Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me, Rose Tint My World, I’m Going Home and Superheroes are all classics in their own right. And years after my last watch, I was pleasantly surprised by how many I still knew every beat to. Sure, given that the second half of the film appears to very critical of excess and selfishness (with Frank ultimately alienating himself by his terrible mistreatment of others) one could liken these sing-along screenings to the oblivious extravagance of Gatsby parties. Though when the atmosphere is so jubilant, and the plot so incidental to the soundtrack, then who cares? I don’t know if O’Brien was being ironic when he said ‘Don’t dream it, be it’, but I know I’m not when I call myself a fan. Leaving the venue to the much needed attention of cleaning staff, I struggled to think of a more enjoyable way for me and my friend to relive our youths or spend a Saturday night (whatever happened to them?). And in a couple of months I’d definitely do The Time Warp again.
Note that for this first sing-along night Patricia Quinn made a special guest appearance, onstage to open and close the movie with a live performance of Science Fiction Double Feature and meet fans. Though this is unlikely to be a regular occurrence.
Underworld are doing a screening on the first Saturday of every month. Well how about that?