This week we get our freak on here at Film School & Chill, with Rohan Stephens delving into the trampy aesthetic, time warped setting, and trans-style shenanigans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s the film critics never thought would possess the popularity it still has today.
It’s just a jump to the left…
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975. Dir., Jim Sharman.
What is it?
You’ve definitely heard the song Time Warp played more than once at a wedding or some dicey pub in the suburbs. And you ought to have witnessed baby boomers getting up to dance – fingers pointed while sing/screaming every word. You probably know some of the lyrics yourself, maybe even the moves to that strange dance instruction that just makes people bounce about with their hands on their hips and knees pulled in tight. Maybe you’ve even seen the music video. But have you ever seen the film?
The Rocky Horror Picture Show began life as a rather short ramshackle of a musical in Sloane Square, London in 1974, that followed the story of two strait-laced young lovers whose car breaks down in an isolated country town in the middle of the night. Rushing to the nearest residence they find themselves in the company of Dr. Frank-N-Further, a mad scientist and transvestite just about to unveil his latest creation to an eager crowd of fans.
Part piss-take and part tribute to early science fiction and B-grade horror films, ‘Rocky Horror’s story, characters and soundtrack reference classics from the genre such as ‘Frankenstein’, ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, ‘King Kong’, ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Forbidden Planet’.
The stage production slowly gained enough popularity through its campy songs and strong association to glam rock (then popular with the likes of T-Rex heading the charts), to move to Broadway in 1975. Shortly after, it was turned into the film we have today starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf.
Part piss-take and part tribute to early science fiction and B-grade horror films, Rocky Horror’s story, characters and soundtrack heavily reference classics from the genre such as Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Day the Earth Stood Still, King Kong, Flash Gordon and Forbidden Planet.
Panned by critics and considered a commercial flop upon its release, Fox, the film’s distributor, decided to cash in on the popularity of late-night movies at the time – with cult classics such as John Water’s Pink Flamingos being shown at special midnight screenings – and Rocky Horror was promptly added to bill. The result was the development of a sub-culture of cinema viewing that allowed for audiences to interact with more alternative films on a different level, away from more mainstream theatre-goers.
The film’s strong queer references, story-line and brilliant soundtrack quickly drew it a loyal following within the LGBT communities across the UK and the US which in turn developed into a culture of heavy ‘audience participation’, with cinema-goers being offered free tickets for things like appearing at a screening in costume, being actively encouraged to bring props into the theatre, and to openly sing along to musical numbers.
It’s like an incredibly elaborate music video – a 1970s hit machine – all in one movie.
It’s hard to tell sometimes with Rocky Horror if the soundtrack itself compliments the story or if the film is simply one long, incredibly elaborate music video. The songs are all such stand-alone classics and only get better from the most recognisable Time Warp. From the opening Science Fiction Double Feature (an ode to the genre) and Dammit Janet, to Toucha Toucha Touch Me (sung by Sarandon) and Hot Patootie (belted out by Meat Loaf), it’s a 1970s hit machine all in one movie.
Why should I have already seen it?
The phrase ‘cult classic’ in cinema is rarely ever explained without reference to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a brilliant example of what happens when a sub-culture’s love and appreciation for something is far more resilient than revenue or critical acclaim. And aside from being just a bloody brilliant film to watch, it’s another great example of queer culture subsuming something into its canon that had been actively rejected by the mainstream. Seeing Tim Curry strut around on stage in platform heels, a corset and torn fishnets singing Sweet Transvestite clearly proved too much for the everyday cinema-goer, but not for others.
Having the ability to watch the film after hours away from the scrutiny of a society still coming to terms with queer culture, to scream and laugh out loud at the campiest, dirtiest bits of dialogue, to drag up as your favourite characters, and to sing and ultimately feel part of that strange world on-screen, solidified it as a truly special moment in film history.
Where do I find it?