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Friday, October 21, 2005
Countdown to Midnight: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Work that bird, grease that pole, eat this donut!
Now, it just wouldn't be a midnight movie list without having RHPS on it somewhere, now would it? I'm sure it will come as a complete surprise to all of you to discover that I'm something of a Rocky Horror fan. I mean, just because I have, within easy access to where I sit now, the film soundtrack on vinyl and CD, the Roxy cast album, the "New Broadway" cast album, the Shock Treatment soundtrack, a disc of punk covers of Rocky Horror songs, "Songs from the Vaults" a collection of rare Rocky Horror related tracks, "Rocky Horror International" which compiles the best of the international cast albums (including the songs cut from the film soundtrack) and the audience participation album. Not to mention a couple of books about Rocky Horror, the comic book adaptation and my personal scriptbook compiling the best lines from the cast I used to be in, casts I've seen perform and online scripts.
Tim Curry shows his stuff.
There's probably not much point in going over the story of the film, but for those unfortunate few who have not had the pleasure of seeing the film, it goes something like this: giant lips appear on screen and sing at you. Brad and Janet go to a wedding then sing at you. Brad and Janet get a flat tire then sing at you. Brad and Janet come to a house filled with freaks and weirdos, and then they sing at you. Franknfurter appears in drag and sings at you. Then the exposition happens and Frank brings Rocky to life, who then sings at you, followed in rapid succession by Frank singing at you, Eddie singing at you and Frank singing at you again. Then Frank has sex with Janet, Frank has sex with Brad and Janet has sex with Rocky, while she sings at you. Dr. Scott shows up, everybody has dinner, and Dr. Scott sings at you, followed by Frank singing at you. We take a quick break for people to yell at one another, then the entire cast sings at you, followed by Frank singing at you. Then Riff and Magenta kill Frank and, depending on which version of the film you're watching, either Brad and Janet sing at you or Charles Gray sings at you.
In other words, what little plot the film has primarily exists to get you to the next song. So, what's the appeal. A lot of people just don't "get" it. Or they think the appeal is just in dressing up and yelling things in a theater. Well, sure, there's that. But that alone doesn't explain the popularity of the film for so many years. There's a certain cathartic anarchism to the film. For a lot of folks, especially gay kids or the freaky kids, going to Rocky Horror is the safest way for them to revel in their outsider status. It's a big party and no one really cares what you're into or who you want to sleep with, because all that really matters is that you come up with a clever line or two every once in awhile or are willing to get up and dance in the aisles.
They're coming to get you Janet!
There's also the fact that, honestly, the film is pretty good. The songs are fun. Say what you will, it's hard to dispute Richard O'Brien's skill as a song-writer. The performances are good as well. The film is most successful in striking the right notes of camp and irony, while still avoiding making a mockery of itself, and a lot of credit for that goes to the actors. Richard O'Brien as Riff, Nell Campbell as Colubia and Patrica Quinn as Magenta do their parts as the domestics pefectly, fading into the background when necessary but surfacing at just the right moments to communicate the menace of their roles. Barry Bostwick is clearly having a ball with his role, and he gets thoroughly into character. Susan Sarandon occasionally stumbles, occasionally gives the impression that she finds herself above this film, but oozes charm all the same. And Tim Curry...most of the credit for the popularity of the film has to go to Tim Curry. He takes the perfect approach to the role. He's hamming it up spectacularly, and he gives these perfectly timed looks to the audience as if to check up on whether or not we've gotten the joke, but still manages to imbue the character of Franknfurter with an equal dose of sinister charm and sympathetic appeal. When Frank meets his fate we feel sorry for him. That's not something you can say about many sexually promiscuous flesh-eating alien mad scientists.
Which isn't to say that the flaws of the film aren't there. Filming in old Hammer sets gives the film a cramped, dingy feel that doesn't always work in its favor. And its hard to tell what they were thinking in letting Charles Gray play the Criminologist. He's clearly in some studio somewhere, months after the rest of the film was shot, with no clue what the hell kind of film he's in.