Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rocky Watch: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

So, Spring, Texas, as suburb of Houston, is pretty well situated along the Bible Belt.  Having had grown up mostly in Austin, a lot of what was a bit more flexible in perspective was, shall we say, of a more singular perspective when I got picked up and moved back to Spring a couple weeks shy of my sophomore year of high school.  It was a bit of an odd transition, and I'm not sure it ever took.

1990 saw the 15th Anniversary of the release of Rocky Horror, not knowing what it really was other than that it had midnight showings, I slipped it in the stack.

Now, it's true that my freshman year I was supposed to go see the movie one night with some friends who had parents who were, I guess, willing to drive us to the midnight show and back.  Little known fact:  Austin was one of the original locations where the midnight screenings took off as early as 1976, so its likely someone a bit more plugged in may have suggested the KareBear's youngest was a bit too fragile for the film, and the whole thing fell apart.  Age 40, I've still never been to amidnight screening.

But on VHS, nobody cared what I was watching.  We'd crossed the Rated-R threshold by accident when my mom took me to see Beverly Hills Cop somewhat by accident when I was 10 and my folks were dropping us off for Rated-R movies at the Showplace 6 by the time I was in 7th grade.*

Those of you of my generation will recall that issues of gender and sexuality were pretty straightforward in Ronald Reagan's America, and being raised in the aforementioned Bible Belt Texas suburbs may not have been the most open-minded of environments in which to ponder such topics.  So, I'd argue I had a lot to process during that initial viewing of the movie, well beyond Susan Sarandon in her underwear.  I don't recall knowing anyone who was "out" at the time (which, now working on a college campus, ha).  Suspicions about confirmed bachelors, etc... were raised in whispers, and, I recall that as a younger kid, we'd toss around a few slurs to insult other dudes in the school yard.  None of that is stuff I'm proud of, but, you know, it happened.

So, it was a tad eye-opening to work through the narrative of Rocky Horror Picture Show, sort out Frank's fluid sexuality and sexual presentation, as well as all the male (and, to a lesser extent, female) relations in the film, and get that this was a subcultural world that was very much alive and out there as of 15 years prior to my viewing of the movie.

The joke was on the straight-laced squares, our heroes from dozens of other movies.  They'd fallen into a new world, both real and metaphorical, where the unspoken bits of lives of of "those types" were on display, and the rule book had been tossed out the window.  The usual background or joke roles played by effeminate or gay characters in popular TV and film were upended, and the time-worn gender roles and sexual expectations were tossed out the window.  Janet discovers her sexuality, Brad discovers his own sexuality might be a lot more flexible than he'd believed, and, tossed back out into the world at the end of the film, we really do wonder what lays in store for the characters (no, I've never seen the little discussed or regarded sequel Shock Treatment to find out).

It's still an interesting movie to pull apart, and seems as if it would be no less surprising today to stage - though you'd probably have fewer fifteen year old straight dudes having to do so much mental calculus.

That last act of Rocky Horror is so tonally different from the prior two, it's harder to read.  For the first time, the movie asks that we aren't just laughing along with or find ourselves horrified by Frank, but that we sympathize with him a bit, despite everything going on.  It complicates the movie a great deal, and through me off substantially the first time or two I saw the film, but it's an important bit.  Frank's a wayward child, and even in his own kingdom, he's unable to behave, with no place to call "home", having pressed on Earth's imagination too far, and - we find - the rules of Planet Transsexual (as muddy as those rules may be to the audience).

Plus, the soundtrack remains one of the best soundtracks to any musical in the past fifty years.  A staple for every disaffected suburban kid.  Writing about the music would be a whole post per song, so we're going to just forego that option this go-round.

I've seen the movie a dozen times or so at this point.  It's absolutely one I'll stop on once a year or so when it comes on (as I did last night as Jamie toddled off to bed), and I never get bored of it.  I suppose on this viewing I started really thinking about the context in which I first saw the movie and where I was at during that first viewing.  What made me reach for the tape in the first place, I don't really know.  I was aware of the film's cult status and still wrankled a bit that I'd been told I couldn't go see the movie previously, I guess.  It didn't hurt that it was a mix of old-school sci-fi, a musical and sex, from what I could tell from the box.

While Spring, Texas kept on being Spring, Texas (and continues to be very much so, so far as I can tell), I know by my senior year none of this was remotely surprising or shocking.  Three years of high school theater, 7 weeks of theater camp and you used to a lot of personalities.  Add in reading and getting to know people, and you can grow up a bit.  Hopefully.  And by the time I showed up at Univ. of Texas as a freshman, the category of things that made me raise an eyebrow had changed substantially.

The film hits its 40th Anniversary this year, and a BluRay set hit with virtually no fanfare.   The cast is now scattered.  Tim Curry suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is now wheelchair bound.  Barry Bostwick still pops up on TV and in movies.  Patricia Quinn is royalty by marriage somewhere in England.  Little Nell seems to have left her life of club and restaurant ownership in New York and returned to her native Australia.  Susan Sarandon is still somewhere being a fox, still an A-lister.  Richard O'Brien still works all the time, including as a voice on Disney's Phineas and Ferb.

At some point, I need to get off my ass and go see a midnight show.

*eat it, helicopter parents

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