Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—“classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.
With October fast approaching, I want to start delving into some scary films for the next couple weeks. What better way to start than to talk about a sci-fi, horror (to some), musical, camp extravaganza. I was introduced to Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) in high school. A group of friends and I left our quaint houses in the suburbs and ventured “downtown” to take in a midnight showing at the Uptown Theatre. Visions of Chris Parker’s life from Adventures in Babysitting ran through my head. A few of us had never gone downtown that late before. I was definitely expecting to have to “sing the blues” or some such over-imaginative ideal.
But we made it to the theater with no problems, got our tickets, and went in to find seats. The crowd was loud, boisterous, and you could tell they were there to just have fun. There were regulars there, and it was evident they went every week. Some were dressed up and some weren’t, but everyone was very friendly and wanted to make sure the Rocky “virgins” had a good time.
Before the movie started, an emcee came out and went through the rules, then he asked the audience how many people had never seen the movie before. My friends and I looked at each other, wondering whether we could get off on a technicality. Like so many before us, we had been prepping for this night for a month—watching the movie non-stop on our VCRs, listening to the audience participation album, singing along to the soundtrack, and pulling all of the information we could out of our older friends (there was of course no internet back then). So w figured we weren’t complete virgins to the experience. We knew what we were doing. We were sophomores in high school, after all. We were experienced. But then the folks around us began to draw the attention of the emcee our way.
“They’ve never seen it in the theatre!” They screamed.
“Well then, you haven’t experienced Rocky, and you better get your virgin butts down front here with the rest of the new folks for initiation.”
We slowly made our way to the front of the theater where we were inducted into the Rocky Horror experience. I hesitate to go into more detail in case I ruin the experience for other “virgins” out there, but if you get a chance to see the movie at midnight in the theater, do make a night of it. Currently Minneapolis has a monthly showing at the Uptown Theatre with Transvestite Soup, Minnesota’s long-running shadow cast. It runs the last Saturday of every month, and trust me when I say they will take good care of you.
This column could easily focus on losing my Rocky virginity, but I want to broaden it up a bit and talk about the film itself. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, after all, is the longest running midnight movie in the United States. It is always playing somewhere at the witching hour, all thanks to a wonderful, accepting, very unique fan movement. But what makes the movie itself so appealing? I could tell you about the clear influences and tribute to 1950’s sci-fi films, the amazing and fun music, the incredible campy nature of the performances, the colorful costumes that jump off the screen, or other blatantly obvious elements of appeal. The film, after all, has all of those things. But really it’s the theme of acceptance that makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show so transcendent.
The film follows a couple of squares, Brad and Janet, as they encounter unfortunate circumstances and happen upon a secluded castle in the woods. But arguably the main character is Dr. Frank N. Furter, a “sweet transvestite” from Transsexual Transylvania. Is he an alien? Oh, he’s an alien alright—who just happens to also be a transvestite. He likes to wear women’s clothes, and it seems everyone takes this in stride. It’s not something to be ridiculed or made fun of; it’s just a part of him. (A flamboyant part, but just a part.) He’s also a scientist who creates and brings a male plaything to life, all the while also seducing everyone and everything. He’s a vibrant being and played memorably by Tim Curry. I think even Curry would admit he’s not the most attractive guy in the world, but he imbues Frank with something so raw and primal you can’t help but be drawn to him. Rocky Horror also a subtheme of “everything in moderation” but that’s more a bookend. Really, the film is all about Frank being Frank.
It is a great experience to see it in the theatre, but I think the movie also stands on its own as a fun, campy hour-and-a-half, and would recommend watching it at home. In fact, if you’re like me you might even want to watch it through a number of times before you venture out “downtown”. I don’t mind saying The Rocky Horror Picture Show holds a special place in my heart of a time when I started to realize there was more out there in the world and, that I should relish new experiences, and that there’s always somewhere everyone will be accepted. However, I think the film has continued to grow on me as the years have passed. It’s just fun. And sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that.
I will mention that there was a film sequel released in 1981 called Shock Treatment, which actually had better music, but isn’t nearly as fun. A number of the cast came back in different roles, but it is definitely missing the spark that Tim Curry brought to the original. On a good note, Richard O’Brien recently created a stage version of Shock Treatment and it just finished up its run in London. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a chance to see it here in the States.
I noted above the year-round monthly showing in MN hosted by Transvestite Soup, which is a lot of fun, but the movie (celebrating its 40th anniversary this year) is based on the stage play The Rocky Horror Show, and there is a local chance to see it over the next few weeks! The Chameleon Theatre Circle in Burnsville is producing the musical running from September 25 through October 18th, 2015. It promises to be a fun, intimate experience that I’ve been told will also include audience par-tic-i- . . . pation. You can find more details on their Facebook Event or on their website.
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix rental and streaming right now, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.