The biggest fear in revisiting your past is that you’ll find the things you used to like have lost their ability to amuse. The novel you liked so much when you were twenty seems childish, the music vapid, and the movie boring. Memories are sometimes best left alone, and not revisited lest they become damaged beyond repair.
So it was with some trepidation that I sat down on Christmas Eve with my wife and friends to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The real big plus I figured was that I’d be able to finally actually watch the movie and hear the dialogue, something I was never able to do back in the seventies when you couldn’t walk into a showing without running into a wall of fishnet stockings and black corsets.
Released in 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show was adapted from Richard O’Brien’s (who plays the role of Riff-Raff) musical. It became an almost instant cult classic and a staple of midnight showings at second run movie theatres.
Audiences would show up for performances dressed as their favourite characters prepared to act out the whole feature in front of the screen as the show progressed. At various points in the movie the audience would respond to cues by throwing rice, the opening wedding scene; calling out responses to lines, and generally becoming a major part of the experience.
For those of you who missed out on it, the plot of the movie is a send up on every B horror and science fiction movie that you can think of. We start off with an innocent young couple Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick) who get lost one dark and stormy night and are stranded by a flat tire.
Fortunately they had just happened to pass an old castle on the road a ways back so they, obviously never having seen the right movies, head on over to use the phone. They find that they’ve walked in on a party in full swing. Their host turns out to be the mysterious cross-dressing, switch-hitting Dr. Frank – N – Furter (Tim Curry) who cordially invites them “to come up to the lab, and see what’s on the slab”.
The movie then follows the path of least resistance and obligingly plays up every cliché in the books. The child like monster who runs away scared, the capture and threatening of the two helpless visitors, the last minute rescue, and the tragic death scene.
It seems ironic to say this about one of the campest movies that’s ever been made, but what makes the film work is the fact that the actors play their character’s straight. From the straight laced Janet and Brad to the more exotic Riff-Raff, Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and Columbia (Little Nell), each character might be a stereotype, but they are played as real as possible.
Of course they are all only set dressing for Tim Curry as the good doctor. I don’t know if there are words to describe his performance except to say that camp doesn’t even come close. He piles more sexual innuendo into words than Mae West, and dresses like a cheap hooker from a bad western. He goes so over the top that if goes beyond ham acting and scene stealing to becoming a virtuoso performance. Although he is chewing the scenery with every raised eyebrow and purse of the hips, he also allows us to see behind the mascara and pancake makeup on occasion.
It’s just enough to show that there’s more to this creature than simple self-indulgence, and to make the character faintly sympathetic. As the lead he is also responsible for the predominate amount of singing. The Rocky Horror Picture Show may not be everyone’s idea of a musical, and the dance numbers are definitely not from Hollywood’s school of choreography, but the highlights are the songs.
From the exuberance of “The Time Warp”, to the idiocy and satire of “I Want To Feel Dirty” the songs are pop music at it’s best. Infectious, fun and exhilarating the music propels this movie into the stratosphere. It allows the actors a chance to add more dimensions to their characters and have a great deal of fun.
I’m sure there are quite a few people who would find the content and subject matter of this movie offensive; cross dressing and blatant bisexuality is not everyone’s cup of tea. But that is also what keeps the movie from being dated. In fact if anything it’s become even more topical now then it was in the seventies.
As an antidote to the repressive nature of our times, with the morality squads peaking in our windows trying to dictate behaviour and turn back the block to the middle ages, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is like a breath of fresh air. There’s no ponderous storyline to make it self-important because of its groundbreaking nature. The characters are all just who they are with nobody making a big deal about it.
For those of you who have not dared to watch this movie since seeing it in a theatre twenty to thirty years ago for fear of spoiling precious memories and to those of you who have never seen it I offer you the immortal words of Dr. Frank-N-Furter : “Be it. Don’t dream it” (forgive me if I’ve got the quote wrong)
It’s a far better movie to see now then it was when you were surrounded by hoards of people shouting along with the script. The jokes are funnier, the music and songs are better, and you can actually here the dialogue. If you’ve never seen it because the whole “cult” thing has put you off, than all the more reason for watching it at home.
Who knows, you may just find yourself standing in front of your television one night doing the “Time Warp” and breaking into song:
“It’s just a step to the left/and a jump to the right/put your hands on your hips/bring your knees in tight/It’s a pelvic thrust that will drive you insane/Let’s do the “Time Warp” again/Let’s do the “Time Warp” again.” “Time Warp”, words and music by Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975.