Thursday, July 19, 2007

On “Rocky”

I saw the movie poster outside the Paramount Theatre in Idaho Falls, Idaho one summer day when I was going to go see Star Wars for about the fifth or sixth time. A midnight movie.

I had no idea what it could be about, besides that the name of it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I figured it was obviously a horror movie, and so I’d have none of it. I didn’t like horror movies, as life was frightening enough to me at that age. A midnight movie, though… it had me to wondering, my head trying to grasp why would they show a movie at midnight, and it filled me with a mysterious dread, welling up in my chest that subtly whispered that it wanted to be conquered.

The poster was foreboding enough, with its stark two-color scheme: a pair of blood-red lips, suspended on a black-upon-black background, the red letters of the title, dripping in the classic horror style, as though they were written with an abundance of blood, and just scarcely enough white to accentuate it all.

Was it scary? Was it supposed to be scary? Was it scary for all the wrong reasons? I didn’t know, and I wouldn’t know for some time.

Fade to: a seventh grader, browsing the B. Dalton Bookstore. I head to my favorite sections, the books on movies and science-fiction. There’s a “photonovel” sitting there with about the same motif as that movie poster from years back, but accented with cutout pics of some of the characters, one of which I was pretty sure was a man, despite wearing an abundance of fairly convincing (to a seventh grader from Pocatello) women’s make-up. I pulled it down, and perused it…

The images didn’t make sense to me. Odd costumes, more strange make-up… a shot of a full auditorium that suddenly becomes empty again. Otherwise, nothing that looked like the “horror” I was used to, like psychotic demons slashing up entire sororities, but not before a gratuitous nudity scene… And how does “audience participation” fit into this? I had strange visions of people walking up to the movie screen and just literally joining in the action on screen, and vice versa. What, was there some kind of black magic involved? I put the book back, puzzled as ever, and didn’t see the likes of it for a while.

I don’t know how it happened, maybe I just schmoozed my favorite aunt just right ( I do wish I could remember how I did it), but it so happened sometime when I was in seventh or eighth grade that my favorite aunt and rather cool uncle were meeting some friends at a showing of the movie at the Chief Theatre downtown. I got to go with them. I knew you were supposed to dress weirdly, so I put on about every bad combination of clothes I could think of, and somehow I think I ended up looking like a poor excuse for an Indiana Jones look-alike. Oh, and I also packed a grocery bag full of the props I’d heard people take to the show.

I won’t say it was disappointing… no magically disappearing audience, no characters popping off the screen, just a lot of rowdy twenty-somethings hooting and yelling interesting questions that sounded like the characters were actually answering them, and throwing things at the screen, playing on puns that Richard O’Brien couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

The climax of the evening to me and my adolescently short attention span was “The Time Warp.” To me, this came far too soon, since there was a lot of movie left after that, and my attention was beginning to wander. Even during Susan Sarandon’s big number. I’d wished it was Patricia Quinn doing that song with me as “Rocky.” I took on a nasty crush on her the moment I saw her slide down the banister.

So at school the following Monday, I raved about it. It was the coolest thing, and I got the scoop on something cool that nobody at Franklin Junior High had even heard of! I was in the same league with these high school and college students. It was a rapturous experience that just kept feeding itself.

Naturally, most of the kids I told about this looked at me like I was just being my usual odd self. I was, but I was vindicated some years later when I was a Senior at Highland to see some of the kids from Franklin there, taking it all in as… VIRGINS.

So now, after seeing several showings of the movie, attaining two copies of the script (one became a gift to my cousin and therapist (in other words, a very dear friend of mine), the other one is out “on loan” to someone else), I get to be a part of an actual production. For once, I use the word “awesome” in its original context. I am so awe-stricken with this, I shiver. Badly.

But, you might say, how do I justify being in this rather sexy romp through the classic-style rock n’ roll music in a ‘50’s sci-fi theme? I can’t. I just want to do it, but that’s not to say I haven’t meditated on the themes of the show.

Right. So Richard O’Brien wrote this script and lyrics in homage to the sci-fi movies he grew up on. And he was quite young when he wrote it during the early ‘70’s, so yes, there is sex in it. Why lie about his frame of mind, or the time it was written?

Every script is like an ink blot test. People will look at it and see whatever they want to see. Perhaps. Rocky Horror appeals to many different age groups and sects (sex?)… to the very young, it has a lot of very fun songs to sing and dance to (not the least of which is the “Time Warp”); to the young adult, it’s about sexual exploration, trying to find exactly who and what they are in the scheme of the sexual pecking order (that came out wrong, I know, just snigger to yourself and carry on).

Then there are some of us who see the overall plot and theme, and begin to see something different… at its face, Rocky Horror, is just about having a good time. In this sense, it serves a purpose like the organized fertility festivals of ancient cultures; it is a release, and for the adolescent under tremendous hormonal pressures, it is a very welcome release.

But then, perhaps because I’m now in the role of a parent, myself, I can see it is also about consequences: broken relationships, hurt feelings, loss of innocence, and even death. It almost becomes an object lesson or a morality play on the dangers of “extremes,” as Frank’s servants rebel and halt the floor show, arresting and executing him for such an “extreme lifestyle.” What makes it extreme, we don’t know. As all the characters engage in some form of what was considered sexual deviance when it was written, we may not know. Was it his multiple partners? His casual attitude toward sex? Was it coercing and forcing people to his assume roles in his fantasies? Playing God, both in death and in life? In any event, Frank’s “erotic nightmare” ends abruptly. Looking back, this is almost an allegory for the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, which by many accounts, really did end an era of irresponsible hedonism in the West.

So, is Rocky Horror a warning tale, then? No, probably not really. One thing about Riff Raff’s mutiny against Frank is that it is almost a direct lift from O’Brien’s source material: in many of these movies, the mad scientist archetype eventually falls at the hands of his very “creation,” particularly Frankenstein.

In other words, it’s all in the ink blots.

Why am I doing this? Call it midlife crisis. Why not, everyone else does. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do, since I found out it was a stage play before it was a movie. I didn’t think it would ever come to pass. It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting for for too long. I don’t know what it’ll be like or how it will go over. I don’t know exactly what the stakes are for the other members of our band of producers, I only know it’ll hurt much worse if I do not participate than if I do and fall flat doing my part in it.

Those about to rock, let there be lips.