The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Don't dream it, be it
If you’ve been itching for an opportunity to slip out in public dressed in just fishnet stockings, high heels and corset, you’ll be thrilled to hear that at Kino Scala they are showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show as part of this year’s Mezipatra Queer Film Festival. It’s an extra cause for celebration because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the cult classic.
By turn a musical, gaudy pastiche of 30s and 50s sci-fi monster movies, and creaky sex farce, Rocky originally bombed at the box office before being immediately picked up by a young, hip, counterculture crowd who turned late night screenings into a riotous exhibition of dress up, props, sing-a-longs and dancing in the aisles.
The story – for what it’s worth – concerns a young clean cut couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), caught out one stormy night when their car breaks down. They stumble upon the spooky mansion of Dr Frank N Furter (Tim Curry), on a night of celebration – he is about to reveal to his “unconventional conventionalists” an amazing scientific breakthrough, namely building a musclebound blond hunk named Rocky (Peter Hinwood) for his own sexual pleasure.
Here it is worth noting Rocky‘s similarities to this year’s highly acclaimed Ex Machina. While the tone, approach and message couldn’t be much more different, both films fall into the “Mad Scientist” sub genre of sci-fi, and the answer to the question: What would man do if he created artificial life/intelligence? is basically the same – have sex with it!
The sketchy plot takes in various other weird and wonderful waifs and strays, from Frank’s not-so-loyal servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn), lovelorn groupie Columbia (Little Nell), Frankie’s neanderthal old biker flame Eddie (Meatloaf) and wheelchair bound Ufologist Dr Scott (Jonathan Adams).
Viewed objectively – this coming from someone who has seen the film perhaps fifty times – The Rocky Horror Picture Show is barely functional as a standard movie. It doesn’t really get into gear until Frank’s unforgettable entrance with the only true showstopper, Sweet Transvestite, some scenes drag on forever, a couple of songs could be chopped, and it ends on a bit of a downer.
Despite the occasional dull moment, the central performance by Tim Curry is outstanding. Deliciously debauched, Frank N Furter is simply the most entertaining party host you could imagine, even after it is revealed that he’s a murderer and a cannibal. Like Anthony Perkins in Psycho and Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Curry never really managed to escape the shadow of his most iconic role.
After its initial failure at the box office, The Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to chime with alternative audiences, perhaps because it is a cheeky victory for the Hippies over the Squares, with the extremely liberal Frank corrupting the ultra conservative Brad and Janet. It feels like a movie made by outsiders for outsiders, and like many of the best cult films, has a ragged, threadbare edge that makes it feel a bit daring and dangerous, even if the actual content is mild by today’s standards.
It took me a long while to figure out why Rocky meant so much to me, although in retrospect it’s so obvious. “Don’t dream it, be it” is repeated like a mantra towards the end of the film. What a wonderful piece of advice. If I hadn’t taken that central message to heart, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review for you wonderful people right now.
As a straight guy, I’ve often met with odd reactions from more conservatively straight people when I’ve said that Rocky is one of my favourite films. The same with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as if loving a film involving transvestites or transgender characters somehow makes you a bit strange.
I don’t think Rocky is necessarily a queer film. For me, it is about people daring to be different, recognising their innermost desires, and living their dreams. That is a liberating message, whether you’re gay, straight, bi, something in between or something all around.
Catch the movie at Kino Scala on Saturday, November 14 at 8.30 pm.