Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Director: Jim Sharman
Screenwriters: Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien (based on the musical play The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien)
Main Cast: Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter - A Scientist); Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss - A Heroine); Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors - A Hero); Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff - A Handyman); Patricia Quinn (Magenta - A Domestic); Little Nell (Columbia - A Groupie); Jonathan Adams (Dr. Everett V. Scott - A Rival Scientist); Peter Hinwood (Rocky Horror - A Creation); Meat Loaf (Eddie - An Ex-Delivery Boy); Charles Gray (The Criminologist - An Expert)

Synopsis: Brad Majors and his fiancee, Janet Weiss, two young ordinary, healthy kids from the small town of Denton, receive a flat tire while going to visit their former teacher, Dr. Everett Scott. Going to a castle they passed, they're greeted by hunchbacked butler Riff-Raff and his sister Magenta, who inform them that their master is hosting an affair. Soon, he arrives: Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a self-professed "Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania". Quickly, they're ushered to another floor, where Frank bring to life a perfectly-formed (albeit mute) man named Rocky Horror for his own pleasure. Frank's gloating is interrupted by the motorcycle-riding Eddie bursting out of a freezer, who catches Rocky's eye. Jealous, Frank kills Eddie with a pick-axe, to the horror of Columbia. Frank escorts Rocky to their "bridal suite", while Riff Raff and Magenta escort Brad and Janet to separate rooms. Frank disguises himself as Brad and seduces Janet, who is shocked when she discovers the truth but ultimately acquiescent. Riff Raff, wanting a little alone time with his sister/lover Magenta, terrorizes Rocky into trying to escape. Frank repeats his deception on Brad, with much the same result, until Riff Raff alerts him to Rocky's escape. I will not reveal subsequent events, but they reveal further why this would be, as the criminologist narrator says, a night out that Brad and Janet would remember for a very long time.

My two cents: Like many other things, I discovered this film via a lifelong love for comic books. Around 2001, when I was but a lad of 14 or so, I was attending the Wizard World Convention here in the Windy City (back when I could afford to go yearly). As per custom, I made sure to visit the booth for my comic shop of choice, the tersely named Chicago Comics. There were several polybagged sets of complete series and miniseries, and I came across a three-issue comic adaptation published by Caliber Press in 1990. I had heard of the movie before, but knew little about it. I did find it to be highly entertaining, especially the guide to audience participation dialogue in the back, and sought out the movie as a result. I was not then the cineaste I am now, but this was one of the first films with which I developed a lasting obsession. Whether seen on VHS (initially), DVD (in the past four years), or the Music Box Theater in Halloween 2008, it remains a beloved film for me. Quite frankly, this film is an ode to two of my (and Richard O'Brien's) favorite things: rock and roll and science fiction movies. It is unpretentious, unabashedly pansexual (which even a straight guy like me can find cool, I like to think), has a great cast of stars both current and future, references a wide array of genre films (both King Kong and Tarantula are name-dropped in "Science Fiction/Double Feature") and benefits tremendously from O'Brien's songwriting abilities. From the immortal "Time Warp" to Susan Sarandon's show-stopping "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me", the music here is all wonderful and memorable, and seldom a month goes by when I don't sing the lyrics to one of the pieces under my breath. And the performances are uniformly excellent: Barry Bostwick as Brad perfectly plays the all-American boy who can't handle a dire situation that calls his own self-image into question. Sarandon convincingly portrays Janet as a virginal girl whose true personality is brought to the forefront by entrance into the world of carnal desire. Little Nell carries off Columbia's bitterness and dancing ability expertly. O'Brien and Patricia Quinn as Riff Raff and Magenta are delightfully sinister, even during the surprising character development they make at the end. Peter Hinwood has only sung dialogue as Rocky, but his expressions and reactions make his performance somewhat more meaningful than one would think. Rock star Meat Loaf's dialogue as Eddie is also sung, but his number "Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul" is a topnotch blend of mean sax playing and typical '50s rock lyrics. Jonathan Adams is entertaining as the stereotypical scientist Dr. Scott...or should I say Dr. VON Scott?...and despite being wheelchair bound, the good doctor even gets to take part in a cancan at the end, which remains one of the movie's funniest images. Charles Gray delivers a suitably staid and bland performance as the Criminologist recounting "the Denton affair", even when he himself does the Time Warp again. And then of course, there's Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a truly unforgettable character. Dressing in sexy women's undies throughout the film, Frank is a not-particularly-discriminate lover who relishes his work and hates insubordination. He loves every minute of his hedonistic behavior and doesn't care if others suffer as a result. Frank is, quite simply, a villain you can't help but love. He also gets some of the film's best numbers, including the funky tune "Sweet Transvestite", the Charles Atlas-inspired "I Can Make You a Man", "Fanfare/Don't Dream It Be It" (my favorite song in the whole movie, it encapsulates RHPS' philosophy perfectly), and the swan song "I'm Going Home". I would definitely recommend this film to anyone with a love for musicals, sci-fi and horror, or exploring sexuality that's outside the box should give this a look. And while it's perfectly entertaining when watched solo on the Fox DVD, joining a midnight audience in commenting on the film in a theater and using props is truly an experience not to be missed, and one I hope I'll one day get a chance to repeat. See this movie and give yourself over to absolute pleasure.