Friday, August 14, 2015

Doing the Time Warp

"I'm just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania."

Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry)

On this day in 1975, I don't think anyone really noticed the debut of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." I have no memory of it having a traditional theatrical run — of course, it's possible that the two–screen theater that served my hometown in those days chose not to show it when it had the opportunity — and it might have slipped into movie obscurity altogether had it not been for someone's inspiration to turn it into a cult movie with midnight showings on Friday and Saturday nights.

I don't know who thought of doing that — but whoever it was really earned a bonus for that one. In the late '70s and early '80s, a majority of the theaters in the United States had midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at some point — and nearly everyone in his/her late teens and/or early 20s in those days went to see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at least once. I was in college around that time, and it was a social event on campus — as it was elsewhere. People dressed in costumes inspired by the movie and brought appropriate props with them — toast, rice, umbrellas, newspapers. You probably needed to see the movie once before joining the audience participation — if only to have some idea what was going on.

I don't think it would be an exaggeration to assert that most people probably went to see it dozens of times. That doesn't mean it was a good movie — it certainly was not — but it had a campy appeal that was decidedly its own.

In fact, the more I think about it, a good way to judge the honesty of people of that generation would be to ask them how many times they went to midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." You'll know they're lying if they give you a specific number. If they are truly honest, their answers will be somewhat vague — "Oh, I don't know. Several."

After all, who could be precise after being exposed to all the marijuana smoke those midnight showings always had?

However, there are always those who expect precision of a sort. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "It's one of those movies," he wrote, "you have to use a lot of hyphens to explain. A horror–rock–transvestite–camp–omnisexual–musical parody. It's about two clean–cut kids from the 'Ike Age,' Janet and Brad, who stumble through a time warp and into a sinister Gothic mansion where the annual Transylvanian Convention is taking place (pardon me, boys, is this the Transylvanian orgy?). The mansion is presided over by the bizarre Dr. Frank N. Furter, who is, he explains, a transvestite from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvanian."

And that, in a nutshell, is the plot.

Janet was played by Susan Sarandon, an actress in her 20s but already a veteran of some half a dozen movies. Brad was played by Barry Bostwick, an actor who was about 30 and who probably hasn't had as noteworthy a career as Sarandon. Dr. Frank N. Furter was played by Tim Curry — who always seems to land outrageous roles (and really hit the jackpot with this one).

No one who saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" could ever forget the titles of the songs — "The Time Warp," "Dammit Janet," "Sweet Transvestite," just to name a few.

I keep thinking that, in today's hopelessly politically correct culture, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" would be mercilessly hammered as insensitive — not the generational event that it was.