A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 245 – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – October 31st, 2010

When I was in college I saw a sign hanging on a bulletin board in front of one of the dining halls. It was a hastily made sign advertising for auditions for a campus production of Rocky Horror. I didn’t know anyone involved at the time but I went anyhow. Turned out the woman playing Frank (women’s college = all female cast) was in two of my classes and I landed an awesome part. That one thing ended up being hugely influential to the rest of my social life in college. We rehearsed once a week and performed once a semester for other students in a cavernous dorm living room. It was fantastic and I’ve totally blocked out the stressful bits, of which there were many. It was theater, after all.

By the time I graduated I had played three parts in the show (guess which) and knew every line of every song, all the big callbacks and a ton of regional and school-specific ones. Watching this movie at midnight last night I was both overwhelmed with nostalgia and amazed not so much by what I remembered as shat I’d forgotten. There was a point when I could recite this movie and the callbacks from memory in its entirety. Andy and I did that once while at the mall. And while a ton of the callbacks and blocking came right back, there were a number of moment when I thought “there’s a line here and I cannot for the life of me remember it.”. That was a lot more depressing than I thought it would be. Regardless, I had a fantastic time watching. We put it in at midnight because we agreed that it just wouldn’t be right to watch it in the early morning or mid-afternoon.

I honestly don’t think I need to do much in terms of explaining this movie. Do I? This isn’t just a movie, it’s a whole big cultural thing. It sounds cliched to use the term “phenomenon” but it is somewhat accurate. No, shouting at movies didn’t start with RHPS but the whole thing with established jokes and props and people mockingly performing the show in front of the screen? I can’t say I know of anything quite the same before it. Some bits here and others there, yes, but not everything together. And still a cultural touchstone even now. There’s a story all about the experience of going to the midnight shows and dressing up in the book Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. A certain television show I don’t watch (and never will, even if the episode in question was directed by Adam Shankman) recently did a tribute to RHPS. This movie is ubiquitous.

But why is that? Why does a bizarre lowish budget musical sci-fi monster horror movie tribute starring Tim Curry make people want to watch it over and over and over again? Sure, shouting at a bad movie is fun. I am an MST3K fan, after all. But this movie isn’t Manos level bad. It’s not even Space Mutiny level bad. It seems like it’s almost but not quite self aware. I think Richard O’Brien, who wrote it and starred as Riff Raff, was likely fully aware of what this movie was. O’Brien walked a very fine line here, melding homage and parody and earnestness into a unique item. The plot, about an innocent young couple who end up trapped in a castle full of aliens, one of whom has just created the perfect man for his own sexual appetites, and how said couple ends up seduced and involved in a song and dance number, wearing corsets and heels, well. The plot is poking at tropes all over the place. So all over the place that it’s impossible to fully pin down.

There’s really just something intangible about this movie that makes it charming and fun and the perfect thing for people a little (or a lot) outside the norm to rally around. Sure, it’s more mainstream now, but its roots are in midnight shows and Tim Curry in drag from well before Ru Paul had her own television show. I really do miss the Thursday night rehearsals and the big boxes of make-shift props and costumes. I miss knowing every single line and callback. But even though I’ve forgotten some, it’s still the same movie and it’s still every bit as much fun to watch as it always was.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

October 31, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Back in 1991 or 1992 after my adventures in LA I came back to the Boston area and was living in a place out in Somerville with my sister. That winter I made it a habit to go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Harvard Square at midnight every Saturday night. Every single week. For about half a year. I suppose it was the closest in my adult life that I came to attending a weekly religious service, in that it was something I did every Sunday. I didn’t think about it that way at the time, but I was making time in my schedule every week to get together with a group of like minded people and engage in repetitive recitations. These were people I never knew except in their Rocky garb and then only by their handles. “Mammal.” “Naked.” The delightful pit-dwellers of Harvard Square. Later on Amanda directed and starred in her college production of Rocky, which involved weekly rehearsals leading up to the big Halloween performance.

As we watch it tonight I realize just how impossible it is to watch this movie without reciting the litany from those days. Every line in this movie and every callback is by now deeply ingrained in my subconsciousness. I cannot help crying out the responses and singing along to the songs. (Again – I suppose that this is what it must be like for those who take part in any form of organised religion.) I suppose it makes sense for me – I have a predisposition towards activities that make fun of movies. Witness my long fandom for MST3K, Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic and all their ilk.

Note that I do not say “bad movies.” This is because this movie is actually not bad at all. Oh, sure it’s not as much fun without the screaming crowd and flying toast, but it’s got a good cast, better production values than your average cheesy movie and a whole lot of really catchy songs. As a fan of monster movies and of all the pretty crazy freaks I can honestly say that I’d probably enjoy this movie on its own merits even without the larger sensation that it has become. But it’s the sensation that you think of when you think of Rocky Horror. It’s the midnight shows. It’s the goths and punks and other strange people of the night. It’s the fun of being permitted once a week to let go of all your inhibitions and scream at a movie screen along with everybody else.

This movie, and the phenomenon it spawned, has real lasting power. The DVD we own, bought about a decade ago, declares itself the 25th anniversary edition, so that’s about 35 years of people yelling back at the screen and throwing stuff (depending on what’s permissible in their particular theater of choice.) The riffs evolve with time – according to current topics. (Particularly the “hunting lodge for rich weirdos” and “I think we can do better than that” lines.) But the core of the event stays the same – it’s a bunch of people enjoying the same experience. A bunch of happy freaks scaring the squares.

And look at all the big name stars in this weird little movie! Susan Sarandon of course went on to a mighty and impressive career (when we decide to do a baseball week we’ll be reviewing Bull Durham.) Tim Curry is fabulous in everything he does (we’re looking forward to Clue, and he played one of the bad guys in Dragon Age: Origins which was one of my favorite video games of the last few years.) Richard O’Brien was one of the big draws when I first watched Dark City – one of my favorite movies of all time. Meat Loaf is still making movies to this day – Fight Club amongst the most successful. We even have other movies to review for our project that feature Barry Bostwick and Patricia Quinn.

We’re up to the closing credits now so it’s time for me to wrap things up for tonight. We have a full day planned for Sunday and more riffing if we’re lucky. I kind of wish that we had had the time to go to the theater tonight and see it as it was meant to be seen, but at least we got to see it at midnight. Now, tired and happy, we can collapse with visions of the inimitable Tim Curry in his garters and high heels. Sweet transvestite. And the songs are all caught in my head again.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment