The Rocky Horror Picture Show: On-This-Day Thursday
Every Thursday, an older film released on this opening weekend years ago will be reviewed. They can be classics, or simply popular films that happened to be released to the world on the same date.
For August 14th, we are going to have a look at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I'm not even sure where to begin with this one. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of cinematic pop culture's greatest miasmas: a battle between shlock and a much needed pulse and voice. Jim Sharman believed there would be audiences out there when he brought his progressive vision to the stage, and then later to the screen. Today, Rocky Horror continues to be the Halloween or midnight plans of many, with a staying power as strong as needing to water your plants every few days. It was a much needed gigantic slap across the faces of the willfully ignorant, and the vibrant party many of the ignored always vowed to have. Whether you enjoy its camp or its aesthetic chances are your opinion on Rocky Horror won't change anytime soon.
What's strange is how much Rocky Horror continues to feel like a best kept secret to its masses, and yet I'd argue everyone in tune with mainstream culture knows every detail about the film. It's a feature that thrives on response. Where were you when you first saw Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter? Even the early use of "Dammit Janet" was a sign of what was to come. Show tunes just aren't called that (at least not back in the day). You knew the film was itching to unveil its eccentric contents from second one. I, of course, am too young to have been a part of the initial audience that happened to stumble across this and think "What the ever loving hell is this, and why do I love it?". Like knowing about Darth Vader's parental woes, you know what you are expecting if you watch Rocky Horror now; that doesn't eliminate any of its goofy charm, though.
The main question here is whether or not Rocky Horror is actually good. It's got a cult following, but many films great and terrible do (let's not pretend like The Room is actually genius despite our love for it). Well, Rocky Horror kind of falls in a unique category, as if guided by the film school of John Waters, where low budgets, shock, and uncontrollable hysteria are a part of a cinematic experience. Rocky Horror can be picked apart greatly if we really were to analyze it like any other film. But we're not going to do that, darling. It isn't a suggestion that Rocky Horror's infectiousness can excuse its mistakes, but some films just know how to break out of the typical molds and resonate in ways that many works fail to do so. It's why cult films exist in the first place.
I'm going to be honest. I'm much more of a Phantom of the Paradise kind of guy myself, but that's me acknowledging my understanding with how Rocky Horror has been able to command such an audience. You remember the songs. You're hypnotized by Tim Curry (regardless of how you feel about the film, it cannot be doubted that Curry is fantastic here). You're rendered speechless by some of the more out there moments. Rocky Horror is about transporting you to somewhere else, and by God it manages to do just that. Rocky Horror is all about spectatorship: what the audience witnesses, and what they take away. Not many films can pull off quite what Rocky Horror has (not even Paradise to some degree, and I'm saying that as a Paradise nut).
Whether you hear a song, see a costume, or even witness a line, Rocky Horror is so ingrained in our consciousness. As a game changer in terms of even discussing gender fluidity and sexualities outside of heterosexual, Rocky Horror didn't mind having the conversation no one else at the time was having (why not? It played by its own rules anyway). Decades later, work still has to be done with proper, consistent representation in mainstream cinema. Rocky Horror no longer has to be the initiated dialogue, but it remains a festive, twisted staple nonetheless. With audience members visiting extremely late showtimes in costume, a bridge was being made between film and culture, and this included sexual and gender stigmas being removed. How could you champion an androgynous character and still claim bigoted thoughts that would step on such a person out loud? It shouldn't make sense, because it doesn't make sense.
There are many reasons why people adore The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I'm sure I haven't picked up on many of them. It's a rare instance where so many individual and non-related reasons are acceptable, because the audience was always placed first. No matter who you are, the film was meant for you. Whether you actually like the film or not is up to you, of course. There's no use in forcing yourself to neglect its impact, though. The film even mocks nostalgia obsession with its "Time Warp" song (all while not pitying you for being nostalgic, though). This entire Thursday column is dedicated to reflection on the past. Maybe it's still hip to joke about rewinding, because Rocky Horror just somehow knew it would always feel current to some degree. It's a non conventional film that has become the conventional norm for cult flicks; how undeniable is that?
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.