If you’re one of those people who grabbed their toast, their rice and their water guns and got on the line to the Waverly Theatre on weekends in time for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you probably already know most of what you’re likely to find in the latest entry in the Music on Film series, Dave Thompson’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you’ve never had the pleasure of standing in that line in your corset or maid costume, you probably won’t care. Those who love the cult classic can’t get enough; the rest of the world more than likely has had its fill.
Like the others in the series, Thompson’s little book aims at giving the reader a capsule history of the film from its inception and creation to its reception by the public and the critics. Conceived of originally as a play by actor Richard O’Brien, it was an unexpected success on the London Stage. Scheduled for only five weeks at the 63 seat Royal Court in London, it played for 2,960 performances at three different theatres. Bought for a movie project, the theatre version moved to Los Angeles for another successful run. Although the play didn’t succeed on Broadway when it opened in 1975, it had already begun filming at Hammer Studios in England the year earlier. Like the Broadway version, the film did poorly upon its release.
It was when they noticed that, although it wasn’t filling seats in most theatres, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was attracting a dedicated audience of fans who would come again and again, that executive producer Lou Adler got the idea to keep it alive for the “fit though few.” And so began the late night showings, first in New York and then throughout the country, and the cult was born.
Thompson talks about how each member of the London cast as well as the technical staff became involved in the original production, and he does the same for the film. He talks about each of the songs, and the changes that were made in the transition to the screen. So, for example, the opening number, “Science Fiction,” sung by Patricia Quinn with a chorus in the play was given to O’Brien, lips and all, in what was to become perhaps the most iconic image in a film filled with iconic images. He spends a little time on the discomforts and problems involved in shooting in cold and damp England. He has a little to say about all of the songs, and provides a list of all the movies mentioned in “Science Fiction” along with a sentence or two about them.
Perhaps the most engaging things in a book like this are the little anecdotes and stories, the little unexpected bits of information the author provides. O’Brien started his theatrical career as a stuntman riding horses. He started to write the show, when he left the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar because he wanted to play Herod as an Elvis clone. “The Time Warp,” perhaps the most famous song from the show was added only when it was learned that Little Nell could tap dance. These are the kinds of tidbits that bring the narrative alive.
For anyone who has never attended one of the late night showings, Thompson includes “The Rocky Horror Picture Show Audience Participation Survival Kit.” If you can find the film playing within a 50 mile radius, you don’t want to leave home without it.