Rocky Horror Picture Show

"I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey."

Many moons ago, the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been around forever but I had never seen it. I was sort of semi-aware of it without knowing what it was. Of course, I'd noticed the sign on the local theater for a midnight showing, and heard references to it that I pretty much ignored. And then one day I rented it. I got about ten minutes into it, stopped, and went to fetch Dan from a neighbor's. "You've got to see this," I told him.

RHPS is one of those extreme movie experiences that you either love or you don't. I loved it. Fortunately, Dan loved it, too; he says RHPS is the very definition of something that's so bad that it's good. I loaned it to a close friend the next day, and she hated it. Why? I have absolutely no idea.

But we're talking about me. Why do I enjoy RHPS? Why does anyone love anything? There's something about this stupid movie that speaks to me, and it has nothing to do with cross-dressing or throwing toast. RHPS has become a camp classic because it has a strong theme that resonated with its original audience. It's about sexual freedom and personal expression. It's about breaking out of your societal straitjacket and fulfilling your dreams. In a way, even though it's not really science fiction, it does what science fiction does: its very unreality can make you see things from a different perspective.

RHPS makes me laugh. I sing along. I quote the dialogue. Yes, I'll readily admit that there are some weak bits (Columbia's lyrics are incomprehensible, and Rocky himself is awful) and I like first half of the movie better than the second. But I enjoy it every time I watch it, and how many movies can you say that about? The music is extremely catchy and memorable; I saw the movie once and was singing bits from it for days. The acting is surprisingly good; they lucked into the young Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. Composer/writer Richard O'Brien is memorable as Riff Raff, and I've always liked Patricia Quinn as Magenta, too; her expressions in particular are very droll. And of course, Tim Curry's vibrant, scene-stealing performance as Frank-N-Furter is the heart of the movie.

Do I go to midnight showings? No. I went once. For me, once was enough; it's not my thing. But I have danced to the Time Warp at sci-fi conventions. I have no excuse, other than being on a dance floor with a huge group of science fiction fans, many of whom are in costume, is strangely liberating.

Any listing of favorite moments, lyrics, or quotes would be incomplete. So I'm going to just give my favorites.

Favorite songs:

— "Science Fiction Double Feature": What a terrific and memorable song. They got caught in a celluloid jam. Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet. I had a friend once who attempted to review every movie they mention in this song.

— "Dammit, Janet": There's three ways that love can go. That's good, bad or mediocre.

— "There's a light (over at the Frankenstein place)": Really a very sweet song about hope, and the moment when I knew I was going to love this movie.

— "The Time Warp": It's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane. The criminologist diagramming the steps and dancing on his desk always makes me laugh out loud.

— "Sweet Transvestite": I'll get you a satanic mechanic. I'm just a sweet transvestite... from Transsexual... Transylvania. Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. I see you shiver with antici...pation.

— "Saturday Night": Hot patootie, bless my soul. I really love that rock n' roll.

— "Toucha toucha toucha touch me": Although I liked Columbia, the Mickey Mouse ears, Magenta and the hair dryer more than the song.

— "Eddie's Teddy". When Eddie said he didn't like his teddy, I knew he was a no good kid.

— "Don't Dream It, Be It". Gotta love a swimming pool coming out of freaking nowhere.

Favorite moments, bits and pieces:

— There are tons of small visual jokes and interesting bits throughout the movie. Nixon's resignation speech on the car radio; the Zen room; the Charles Atlas stained glass window; the life preserver from the Titanic.

— The scenes where Frank seduced Janet and then seduced Brad featured the exact same dialogue.

— The negative "conventional" wedding was echoed by the raucous "unconventional" wedding.

— I particularly liked Frank wearing a pink triangle, which I've always assumed was an acknowledgment of Nazi persecution of gays.

— The long mix of songs in the floor show never did much for me, but I loved Barry Bostwick wearing what must have been the world's largest high heels. The heels and fishnet stockings creeping out from under Dr. Scott's blanket have always made me laugh, too.

Quotes:

Criminologist: "It's true there were dark storm clouds, heavy, black and pendulous, towards which they were traveling." I don't know why this line always makes me laugh, but it does.

Brad: "Didn't we pass a castle back down the road a few miles?"
This line always makes me laugh, too.

Riff Raff: "You're wet."
Janet: (totally soaked, standing in the rain) "Yes. It's raining."
Susan Sarandon's expression is what makes this one funny.

Brad: "Just a moment, Janet. We don't want to interfere with their celebration."
Janet: "This isn't the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Brad."

Frank: "How nice. And what charming underclothes you both have."

Janet: "I don't like men with too many muscles."
Frank: "I didn't make him for you!"

Frank: "Do you think I made a mistake splitting his brain between the two of them?"

Janet: "If only we were amongst friends, or sane persons!"

Frank: "A mental mind fuck can be nice."

"Janet!"
"Dr. Scott!"
"Janet!"
"Brad!"
"Rocky!"

I could rate this movie one star, two, three, or four, and easily justify each rating. So please feel free to post your own. And if you feel inspired to do so, I'd love it if you posted a comment on how you first encountered RHPS, what it means to you (even if you hate it), your favorite lyrics, quotes, scenes, and so on.

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

10 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

I bought this on DVD years ago and I've been watching it again in preparation for Glee's take on it next week.

It's definitely a movie that sticks with because it's so bonkers but better than it making no impression at all.

Susan Sarandon was quite brilliant in parts of this movie as well as Tim Curry and Patricia Quinn.

Fave song - Planet Schmanet Janet works for me.

Gustavo Brunetti said...

I watched it when I was about 13 years old late at night (I've always been a night owl), and was completely unprepared for what I saw. My English was not so good, so I had to rely on the subtitles, which are always bad in musicals. Anyway, I really liked it. Tim Curry's performance was burned on my mind. And the fact that he jumps into both the woman's and the man's bed, in particular, surprised me, because I had never been exposed to the notion of bisexuality, and it was presented in such a positive way that I didn't receive it with prejudice. And that's probably one of the reasons I'm so accepting of different sexualities today. Every kid should watch it.

Josie Kafka said...

I’ve only seen Rocky Horror, once, on my sixteenth birthday.

My dad had given me the most wonderful gift in the world: a navy blue Volvo sedan that he’d bought the year I was born. It had AM radio and a moon roof, and shook so badly at anything over 40 miles an hour that I couldn’t ever take the freeway. It brought me more joy than any other object I have ever owned.

I knew I wanted to do something special to celebrate my car, so I rounded up a bunch of friends and demanded they come with me to a midnight screening of Rocky Horror. I’d always wanted to go, but—dependent on others for transportation—couldn’t ever get anyone to agree until I offered to drive and let them get drunk. After killing time for most of the night (I vaguely recall the liberal application of bumper stickers), we made our way to the independently owned theatre that showed Rocky Horror every Saturday night. We piled into the lobby, expecting crazy outfits and lots of screaming college students from the nearby university. My friends were drunk, and I was so happy about the car that I was just as silly. It was going to be a wild night of stupid dancing.

Except that the theatre was nearly empty. It was the five of us, and two other couples. No one danced. No one sang. We just sat there and started to get sleepy. I don’t even remember if we stayed for the entire show. I’d wanted high camp, and gotten…something else. Eventually, we left, and I took my drowsy friends home. It wasn’t quite the wonderful night I wanted, but as I drove home late at night, the street to myself, in my very own car, I realized that didn’t matter. It was that now, I could do something like that if I wanted to. I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to take me, or hope that the bus ride wouldn’t take hours of my life away. I could spend all night driving up and down empty streets in a desert town.

The theatre is now closed. I think it’s an upscale furniture store. I haven’t seen any of those friends in at least ten years. My dad, in a fit of pique, donated the car to Catholic Social Services (without telling me) once I left for college. I don’t enjoy re-visiting my hometown, but whenever I do, I sneak out of the house, late at night, and—in whatever car I have access to—go for a drive.

Billie Doux said...

Gustavo, what a lovely comment.

Josie, your experience with RHPS wasn't a success, but you now associate it with your own personal freedom. That's rather cool.

The one time we went to a midnight showing, it was so crowded and raucous that I was a bit freaked out. That was the experience you should have had.

Heather1 said...

I used to go RHPS at the Seville Theatre in Montréal (or sometimes Cinema V). I lost track at 100. The crowd was ALWAYS crazy... especially at Halloween. It too me many viewings before I could figure out all that the announcer was saying because of course, everyone would boo like crazy whenever he would come on screen. When DVDs arrived and I finally got RHPS on DVD and watched it with friends in the sanity of my living room, it just wasn't the same. Part of the experience of the craziness in the theatre was that we were all on the same wavelength. Yes, no matter your experience with RHPS, it's about freedom. But what we were "saying" in that theatre was that we ALL felt that way. And that is powerful (and just plain fun). Plus, I just LOVED Frankie!!

I saw Tim Curry in performance at a club around that time. There were a few impersonators in the audience and he steadfastly tried to ignore them. Until finally, he acknowledged one of them, but only slightly. He was trying to distance himself from that whole thing, and I respected that even then... but the feeling was not to be denied!

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

Because you asked, Billie:

"Why Being Fringe Is Overrated"
a pointless novel of a comment by Dimitri a.k.a He Who Poops on Others' Parties

I was seventeen the first and only time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was at a midnight screening full of enthusiastic grungy, gothy, hippie and hipster types, among them my then girlfriend, whom we’ll call Lollipop for no other reason than I see one lying on the table. I fit right in with the crowd of would-be misfits, owing largely to my profound affection at the time for black clothing, trench coats, and silver amulets.

Waiting in line a couple of heads in front of me was a guy who did not fit in. I don’t remember what he looked like, but in my mind’s eye he’s sporting a high school football jacket with fifties frat boy hair. People were jeering at him, pushing him around, and calling him names like “preppy [deleted expletive]”, “sell-out [deleted expletive] mama’s boy”, and whatnot. I should note that these lame examples mostly came from Lollipop, who was not quite as witty as she liked to think.

Anyway, the harassment turned into a fight, and, by the time I decided to intervene, the boy that did not fit in got punched in the jaw and decided to retreat home. It is not, I must confess, that the degradation was quick but rather that I had hesitated forever, motivated either by perverse curiosity or just plain cowardice. This upset me, and I asked Lollipop if she knew the guy or what he did that prompted everyone to turn on him. I was hoping for a good reason why I did a whole lot of nothing. She explained to me that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was about celebrating difference and that people like him did not belong. The irony did not dawn on me right away, but I did ask why, to which she answered, “You just don’t get it.”

The movie experience itself was a disappointment. I had been properly coached in all the rituals, but I did not want to partake in them anymore. You see, the whole Rocky Horror Picture Show experience is a communal one, but I did not see a community around me at that point. I saw a mob. As such, I was left to evaluate the merits of a movie that was constantly being undercut by its audience. I think you nailed it, Billie, when you wrote the film is so bad it’s good, and, since I was in a foul mood, I only saw the bad.

Then my mind started to wander, and it occurred to me that celebrating difference was missing the point. I realise what I’m about to write will probably make me very unpopular, but difference is not a virtue. It’s a meaningless attribute, like having brown eyes or wearing a green shirt. Hating a person for being different is like hating someone for wearing pants you don’t like: it makes you a bigot and a bit of an idiot. By the same token, celebrating people for being different is like praising them for wearing those same pants: it makes you someone who desperately needs to look up the word “achievement” in the dictionary. And, of course, hating someone for not wearing the pants, well, that’s bigotry too, isn’t it?

After the movie, Lollipop asked me what my problem was, and I explained that I was upset about her encouraging a complete stranger to get beat up. This lead to a big argument, and, after we exchanged a few harsh words, I ended the relationship based purely on abstract principles and maybe a little bit of projected guilt. All and all, I maintain I did the right thing.

In short, regardless of the filmmakers’ actual intent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the reasons I refuse to this day to buy a Mac computer: whenever I see one of them Justin Long ads, I can’t help but think, “What’s so wrong with being a chubby myopic guy in a suit? Unhip normal people are people too, dammit.”

Josie Kafka said...

Dimitri, you'll always be popular to me.

(I have no idea what that means, but it's meant well.)

The Irish Cowgirl said...

I have a midnight screening story to beat the band.

I did used to go to midnight screenings in high school with a bunch of my high school drama geeks pals. We had a lot of fun back then, due in part to the fact that the people who ran the screenings were pretty good about organizing the whole thing. They kept it from getting TOO out of hand, meaning it had all the boisterousness and scandalousness that teenagers love without the messy drunks trying to fight or throw up on you.

Anyway, after going to a few of the shows, we got word that the theater that the screenings were held at was closing down, and the organizers had no choice to throw in the towel, but not before one last blowout show. I was discussing this with my parents while I was working on my costume (my step-father is an ex-hippie who went to the original RHPS screenings in the 70's), and my mom asked if she could come along this time.

Let me explain why this is funny. My mom is the most tightly-wound human being on the planet. This is a woman who never leaves the house without putting away the dishes, folding the laundry, and making sure every hair is in place. Her idea of a raucous party is going to one that has Chicago on the stereo. So OF COURSE I said yes.

We got there, and I immediately started telling all my friends in the company and from school that my mom was there, and she was a RHPS virgin. She let people draw a "V" on her forehead in lipstick, and we generally had a good laugh about it, because she thought her humiliation was over then. Oh no.

So as I mentioned, they have a floor show before the movie that includes "The Virgin Games" which is when they pick about five "virgins" out of the audience and have them do something silly and suggestive to win a part in the wedding scene. I immediately found a friend of mine in the cast and told him about my very special virgin, and he said, "Oh, GOD! Just tell me where you're sitting, and we'll get her!" As it turns out, we were sitting in two rows that were completely made up of my high school drama classmates, so it was a friendly crowd.

They start the virgin games, and naturally, my mom is picked to go up on stage. And then the reveal: the game for the night was bobbing in a kiddie pool full of whipped cream for carrots. And God bless my mom, she tied for first.

So the emcee decided to take it to a vote. Now I should mention that when a 55 year old lady went up on stage with a bunch of teenage and twenty-year old girls, people took notice. And word had begun to spread amongst our two rows that that lady up there was my mom. So when the emcee decided to have the audience vote by round of applause, the first gal got a decent smattering, but my mom got screaming and yelling and two rows of high school students chanting "BAR-BARA! BAR-BARA! BAR-BARA!" And the chant spread. Need I say it? She won.

I love RHPS for all it's campy glory, but I'll always worship it for giving me one of the happiest and most touching memories of my life: my mom standing on a stage with lipstick and whipped cream all over her face, grinning with a carrot in her mouth, hearing a room full of people chant her name, and finally understanding why it was okay that her daughter was a little bit different. I have never been more proud of my mom, and I never felt closer to her, so thanks Rocky Horror.

Post script to that story: For weeks, my Mom was a rockstar at my school. Kids would constantly come up to me and tell me that I had the coolest mom in history, and I had to agree.

Katherine said...

I was innocently corrupted by my best friend, who was living with us for a year at the time, and one of her school friends. They were both a year older than my 13 years, but probably 10 times less innocent and naive. I also saw Austin Powers for the first time that night.

I remember loving it from the first moment the lips appeared, and I remember Loy turning to me and asking, surprised, if I'd seen it before, as I was able to hum along to all of the songs.

Being young and impressionable I was fascinated by it, but I had been lucky enough to grow up with open and liberal parents. So I wasn't disturbed or shocked, just fascinated. And I loved the songs so much!

Another movie I saw a year or two later, was Velvet Goldmine, starring Johnathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor. It very different, but it does raise some of the same issues and has some fantastic musical numbers, and was up there shaping me and my worldviews. I'd love to hear your take on it Billie!

Great PurpleRobe said...

You always have that one friend... the one who shows you the cool stuff.

My cool friend Marjie, who, for some reason, decided to show me the cool stuff (and, 35 years later, is still my friend). The coolest thing she showed me was the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I actually heard the soundtrack long before attending my first midnight showing (sometime in 1978), and the songs are great, all by themselves. They're catchy, rock-n-roll oriented pop songs, that could have made traction on the Billboard Hot 100 all by themselves.

The movie itself - eh. So bad it's good, sure, but I have found over the years that the movie serves as the toasted bread. What makes it great is the layer of goodies on top of the toast. Jelly, cream cheese, peanut butter -- that's the Audience Participation!

Most of the fun of the show is shouting lines to fill in the gaps in dialog, ("Will make him glisten... {What's your favorite toothpaste?} and gleam...) dancing, singing along, throwing stuff at the screen. That's what completes the meal, as it were.

Thanks, Marjie. Let's do the Time Warp again!