Monday, June 13, 2016

Rocky Balboa, Rocky Horror

Note: I had already written most of this piece when I (belatedly) heard about the unspeakably tragic shooting at the club in Orlando. It stopped my fingers dead in their tracks, and it's been a day of miserable contemplation. But I finished, and decided that the subject matter of this post is kind of a fitting tribute to the victims of last night's terrorist hatred, most of whom were homosexual. So I'll post this piece as is without any further comment, and continue to mourn for those we lost. 

This image -- shared to my Flickcharters Facebook group a couple weeks ago, with the witty caption "Did you know?" -- seemed like the perfect thing to share with you the day after I watched a Rocky double feature.

As often happens, the fates aligned (more or less) unintentionally, and I ended up watching Creed and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the same evening. Only one of which features Sylvester Stallone.

This was my third time seeing Creed, which I ranked as my #2 movie of 2015. But my wife had yet to see it, and it made a perfect viewing for a long weekend (we're celebrating the queen's birthday today in Australia, even though her actual birthday is in April). On such long weekends we try extra hard to come up with something good to watch. I was so excited for her to see it that I even splurged the extra dollar for an HD rental.

Then Rocky Horror had been borrowed from the library for more than a month, already surviving one renewal. It needed to get watched as soon as possible, and again, the long weekend seemed like a good excuse.

Since I've already talked plenty about Creed (see here, here and here), I want to spend the lion's share of my post today talking about a movie I hadn't seen in something like 25 years -- and only ever in the theater.

I want to say that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the movie I've seen most in the theater, and it's definitely the movie I'd seen most in the theater without ever seeing it on video. Its only competition for theatrical viewings is Pulp Fiction, which I saw four times in the theater in 1994 and 1995. I can't tell you exactly how many times I went to a midnight screening of Rocky Horror in Boston's Harvard Square in the early 1990s, but it was somewhere between three and five. I guess if it was only three, it would also be competing with The Goonies, the only other film I'm certain I've seen more than twice in the theater (I saw it three times in one week when it first came out). But just for the sake of it, let's say I saw Rocky Horror five times and just crown it the king.

But as much as I loved the experience of going to see the movie -- and of course the movie itself, though they were a bit inseparable -- I had never seen it again since then. I felt something crucial would be lost by watching it at home, without anyone shouting lovingly vulgar supplemental dialogue at the screen, without dodging handfuls of rice and sprays of water, most of it coming from squirt guns. I didn't know if my affection for it could survive the loss of the rowdiness and ecstatic joy of the crowd that was part and parcel to the viewing experience.

So it took a long time to watch it on video. A reallllly long time.

A long time that eventually seemed to be counterproductive. I had to admit to myself that I wasn't likely to attend another midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show anytime soon. So to continue to wait for a day that might never come would just be to deny myself the pleasure -- guilty though it may be -- of immersing myself in this glorious camp once more.

What really amazed me was how many of the audience retorts I remembered, which I hadn't heard in something like 25 years. It wasn't just "Asshole!" when Brad Majors' name was mentioned or "Slut!" when anyone invokes Janet Weiss. It was the alternate lyrics to the songs, and even the additional dialogue that was meant to heighten the double entendres in this screenplay and fill some of its sizeable dead spots in the delivery. Seeing the images and hearing the songs stimulated parts of my brain that I thought no longer retained this information, as though it had been just yesterday.

The thing I noticed straightaway was that the experience of Rocky Horror in Harvard Square was not necessarily universal. My wife watched most of the movie with me, having had something of a similar experience with seeing it at midnight screenings. But even the above epithets for Brad and Janet were too much for her, as if I were insulting dear and sweet members of her family. So I repeated very few of the alternate lyrics that were popping into my head. I did repeat some, as though it were some kind of proof/validation of my legitimate claim to Rocky fandom.

Another thing that occurred to me, as I involuntarily produced some of these rejoinders, was that some of them are more than vulgar -- they're actually politically incorrect. "Dammit, Janet, let's go screw" is not so inflammatory, but how about "Brad, you fag, fuck you too"? I was struck by the strangeness of the fact that an obviously gay-friendly crowd (you can't devote yourself to this movie unless you're gay-friendly) willingly produced one of the more hurtful ways to insult homosexuals, with an unself-conscious glee. I suppose part of that was the era in which I attended those shows, not long after the years when regular people used the word "gay" as a generic adjective meaning "bad" or "dumb." But I'm thinking it was more a form of empowerment. You can only call someone a fag if you are one, just how only black people are allowed to call each other the n-word.

And though I did find that there was a dimension missing from the experience, just being in the presence of these over-the-top characters -- especially Tim Curry's Frank N Furter -- was a grand delight. The shouting of audience members might have also helped keep me awake better, as we did start the movie after 11 and I just don't have the stamina I once did. But I never dozed for more than 30 seconds, and finished the thing before 1, feeling like I'd just sat and chatted with an old friend.

An old friend who wears a garter and lingerie under his mad scientist doctor scrubs, kills and serves fresh biker for dinner, and creates life in a laboratory just so he can fuck it, but an old friend nonetheless.


Wendell Ottley said...

Despite being more than old enough to remember a time when there were plenty of midnight showings of this, I never went to one. I was curious about them since I heard enough to know they were wild affairs. Just don't think my younger self was quite ready for such excitement.

As for the film itself, it's one of those I've seen every part of, but only in bits and pieces, never all at once. I keep telling myself I'm going to give it a proper viewing, just haven't gotten around to it, yet. This review is such a fun read, you've renewed my interest in it. Great job.

Derek Armstrong said...

Thanks! You should definitely give it a whirl, though it helps to be in the right mood. I imagine this still plays at midnight some places ... I can't rightly say whether just watching it straight up on video would be a good introduction, but as you say, you've already kind of had an introduction by seeing all the bits and pieces.