As fans of cinema, we are often asked one icebreaking question; ‘What’s your favourite film of all time?’, whether it be on a first date, an app messenger or even a team building exercise, it’s an answer we have firmly placed under our belt to give an idea of our tastes and personality. It’s just as much a part of us as the colour of our eyes or favourite Madonna era.
But I ask you a different kind of question, what film helped to shape you to be the person you are? You might think that something that only runs on average about ninety minutes long can’t possibly hold such an impact on one person, well, you’re right. It’s managed to impact several generations since its initial 1975 release date as well as one person. The film in question is ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, the greatest and most beloved cult film of all time which is still in its theatrical run, the longest of all time.
I ultimately find it hard to describe my utter adoration and respect for this film because ever since my first viewing at thirteen years old (and the subsequent two other viewings I sat through immediately after that first one), it has been such an omnipresent part of my life. I’ve seen the film more times than any other film, I own multiple soundtracks, I’ve been to the stage shows multiple times, lip synced the songs, performed drunken karaoke, shadow casted the performance (from the comfort of my own home, albeit, no shame admitting) and of course, I’ve dressed up to attend it in full Sweet Transvestite garb. For fans, it speaks to our fantastical outlook on life and parodies social constructs of normality and gender association, allowing us to poke fun and rebel against what isn’t set in stone but is ultimately enforced and expected.
A little backstory. ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is a musical created by national treasure, Richard O’Brien, in 1973 which acts as a tribute to Horror and Sci-Fi B-Films of the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and early 1970’s, the opening song ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ being a particularly notable example of this. The plot focuses on a newly engaged American vanilla couple becoming stranded in a rainstorm and seeking refuge in the castle of a mad transvestite scientist from outer space who aims to create the perfect man for his own sexual gratification, ‘Rocky Horror’. The stage show was adapted into a film in 1975, starring Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff and some of the original cast such as Patricia Quinn as Magenta, Little Nell as Columbia and of course, most notably, the legendary Tim Curry who created magic and gave us one of the most iconic roles in cinematic history, Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
The film was ultimately a flop in its initial theatrical run but soon found its way to the midnight movie circuit, as most cult films do. This is where it took on a whole new level of notoriety and success, particularly when the audience participation began. This is how the film was cemented into legendary status, we have shadow casts (live actors who perform the exact sequences in front of the projected film), sing-alongs and of course, the infamous heckling. It has since become a tornado in a bottle of pop culture importance which has spread across audiences and individuals of various backgrounds and identities, some may just know if for the ‘Time Warp’ whereas others, like myself, can just about recite the film line for line and know such obscure facts like the film was meant to be black and white up until a certain character’s big reveal.
As I previously mentioned, I first saw ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ when I was thirteen years old, a tough time for anyone, a time when you struggle to find out your identity. Particularly for an LGBT individual, this time is particularly hard, I didn’t have the easiest time coming to terms with my own sexuality and identity. That’s until I saw ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, much like when Dr. Frank-N-Furter throws the switch on Medusa Transducer, something changed. Granted, it wasn’t an instant process but after that first viewing, I immediately took to the main themes of the film, awakening and acceptance. Becoming assimilated into the genetic coding of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ doesn’t necessarily mean having to wear six inch stilettos and donning a bedazzled corset (although, who wouldn’t when offered?), it means becoming a collective society of compliance. The way I see it, the film is a rite of passage, it manages to encompass my transition from a confused and anxious pre-teen to a full on queen, for better or worse. The motto of the film, ‘Don’t dream it, Be it’ has become synonymous with generations of fans and freaks alike. One particular coming of age film, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (fantastic film by the way, go see it) even included this.
With all intents and purposes, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a milestone of LGBT and queer cinema primarily focusing on drag culture and sexual identification. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a self proclaimed ‘Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania’ and certainly has no issues with blurring the lines of gender identity, expectations and provocativeness. The film is laced with LGBT imagery from the rainbow coloured amniotic fluid which Rocky is born from to the upside pink triangle worn on Frank’s laboratory jacket, a symbol of gay pride, denoting Nazi concentration camp ideology. Hell, there is even a same-sex wedding that takes place and an on-screen male on male sex scene (albeit obscured by shadows). Speaking about pride, the last time I viewed the film was just before I went out to celebrate Glasgow’s gay pride and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate it. Well, actually I could because I pressed play as soon as the film ended so I could celebrate just one more time before having to leave to join all the other creatures of the night.
There is also a level of punk rock to the film, although it’s not necessarily punk rock with its songs (there exists the fantastic ‘The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show’ for that) the essence of the film, very much is. Punk rock was created as a combatant against mainstream constructions and an outlet for rebellion against authority and preconceived society. Although the main fundamentals are focused on awakening and acceptance, the theme of rebellion is very omnipresent, even integrated into the plotline through the characters of Eddie and Rocky Horror as well as ultimately, Frank’s own servants.
I guess my adoration for this film comes from the family that you are welcomed to once you watch it, never have I experienced a feeling of acceptance and togetherness from a wide variety of freaks and geeks alike, when you mention those four collective words to another fan, instant connection is made, I know this is the case with pretty much all other fanbases but there is just something magical about being part of the collective hive for something that has transcended over forty years. I’ve always wanted there to be more of a Rocky Horror scene in Glasgow, maybe the time is right with its drag and club kid scene building more and more with each passing month, I sure as hell know if there was a weekly/monthly midnight showing, I’d be there with bells and fishnets on.
I really can’t recommend the experience enough, because that what it is at the core. You might not be transformed as a person after watching it, hell, you might not even care for it, however, you cannot deny its cultural importance still to this day and its influences to both LGBT and mainstream culture as well as the life-force of contemporary rebellion.
So go ahead, give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
By Jozef Hamilton
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