‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’

If when watching a film I am confronted with a character who spontaneously breaks into song, I decree the film over. My toes start to involuntarily curl and any investment that I had in the plot is completely destroyed. To be honest, I feel embarrassed. I can’t help but think, “Why are you singing? Do the hills really need to be alive with the sound of music?” I have just never been able to accept the embedded logic of film musicals that utilise singing interludes to develop and punctuate emotionally heightened scenes. There is, however, an exception to this rule: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Yes, it’s camp, kitsch, over the top and burgeoning on tacky, but if you’re going to sing in a film I figure you may as well do it in fishnet tights, lipstick and suspenders (I should stress that this only applies to men so Liza Minnelli’s performance in Cabaret [1972] cannot be included).

“What is Rocky Horror anyway? It’s just some rock and roll music, a little foot tapping, a few jokes, a bit of sex.”

– Richard O’Brien

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which began life as a musical stage production, couldn’t be more perfect for midnight screenings and fervent audience participation. From the opening number “Science Fiction/Double Feature”, the film sets itself up as deliciously self-reflexive, uninhibitedly bizarre and rather enamoured with schlocky B-grade movie clichés. Following the newly engaged Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), the film centres on their encounter with Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and the crazy band of misfits staying in his castle. The birth of gold spandex-wearing Rocky (Peter Hinwood), a handful of murders, an appearance by Meat Loaf, singing, sex, dancing and general madness ensue.

Jim Sharman, who both directed the film and wrote the screenplay with Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien, is predominantly known for his role as a theatre director and this is reflected in his rather straightforward filming style. However, given the film’s blatant homage to British Hammer Horror cinema, Sharman’s approach to film direction can be viewed as a pastiche of the naïve, gothic visual look of these films. From the costuming (Victorian corsets for men, anyone?) to the props to the settings, Rocky Horror gives postmodern appropriation and parody the tongue-in-cheek treatment it deserves.

Looking beyond the fact that the performances are brilliant and the songs are insanely catchy, the film is also a wonderful exploration of subversion – it is sexually subversive, aesthetically subversive and certainly a huge contrast to the majority of saccharine musicals that had previously been cinematically released. I am aware that there are a number of people out there who really don’t like this film. Perhaps they have yet to enjoy the fun of doing the “time warp” or maybe they are unable to appreciate the beauty of Tim Curry dancing around in heels proclaiming that he is a “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.”


October 28, 2010