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November 1, 2005

Creatures of the night should embrace Rocky Horror

The movie Deep Throat is seared into our collective cultural memory, not just because many people saw it—people had watched pornography before its release—but because people saw it so publicly and so audaciously. It was far from being the first or the best porno, but it is the most infamous, having been released in that delicate moment between the anonymous experience of sneaking into a back alley theater with collar upturned and the infinitely more anonymous experience of staring at a computer screen well into the wee hours of the morning.

The history of pornography serves as an apt parallel to film history as well: Both began as novelty, blossomed into exciting events, and now sit neglected in lonely living rooms. This is not to say that great films are extinct, but the community experience of film has vanished for all but the most devoted festival groupies. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, previous years’ blue and red anthems, respectively, were exciting not only because they were wildly polemic, but also because the loud public reactions were throwbacks to the days before decentralized movie watching.

To see The Rocky Horror Picture Show the way God intended it to be seen, with a live cast and a livelier audience, is to re-enter that magical world of community film viewing. Arrive at the beginning of the movie and you’ve already missed half the show. The line stretching out from the theater is full of the most scantily clad, gender-ambiguous, and excited people you could ever hope to meet.

Rocky Horror began as a catchy rock opera with slick dance numbers. The story is lovingly reminiscent of classic science fiction B-movies, injected with a heavy dose of an omnisexual’s wet dream. Nothing is sacred; everything is tongue-in-cheek. The show was adapted for the screen, keeping Tim Curry in the starring role as the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania. The movie flopped so badly that Meat Loaf, one of the stars, and Jim Sharman, the director, recall attending a showing in an otherwise empty theater. But then some brilliant executive at Fox made a midnight show out of it, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show has run continuously ever since.

Rocky Horror has become the stuff of true catharsis. One can attend the event wearing absolutely anything—or very nearly nothing. Standard garb includes a corset, panties, garter belts, fishnets, and heels, but more daring individuals have been known to find that costume to be a little conservative. Sigourney Weaver’s nearly nonexistent little number toward the end of the first Alien movie would feel right at home. The marvelous thing is that Rocky Horror provides an outlet for that dull pencil pusher in a cubicle to be unrestricted and unaccountable for wearing and saying things that would make an off-duty longshoreman blush profusely.

As the film plays, a continuous roar of comments from the audience is shouted at the characters on screen. For instance, Janet, ably played by the remarkably hot Susan Sarandon, is called “slut” every time her name is mentioned. Her boyfriend Brad is “asshole.” And that is just the beginning. There are catcalls about your mother. There are catcalls about God. There are catcalls about your mother and God in the back seat of your car while your kid watches. And there are catcalls about Terry Schiavo, dead babies, incestuous mountain goats, and Siamese twins, all having an orgy in Saddam Hussein’s…well, I think you get the picture.

There are also props to be thrown at certain points in the movie. In these modern times of security and hygiene, lighters have been replaced with glow-sticks and hot dogs with plastic phalluses, but the spirit is still present. It is possible that the most beautiful sight a man can behold is 200 rolls of toilet paper falling slowly back to earth after being thrown in the air simultaneously—at least, if you are stoned or drunk, and as half the audience usually is, I think it is still a fair assessment.

Of course, a limiting factor is that the actors onscreen can’t respond to all the things being yelled at them and thrown around the theater. This drawback is partially solved by the live performers, who stand in front of the screen, lip-synching the lines and mimicking the action. Really good performers will coyly respond to the audience, giving the movie a truly interactive feel. However, many fail to impress, finding it difficult to completely let go of their inhibitions.

Rocky Horror doesn’t feel as dated as it perhaps should. This is in part because the movie alludes to even older films and thus holds water as a parody. But credit is due to the brave audience members who continue to push the envelope by bringing up current events, including mentioning the dead pope, Dubya, and Martha Stewart who are, coincidentally, also having an orgy in Saddam Hussein’s…we’ve covered this already.

Rocky Horror is one of the few truly public movie experiences still available today. The show overflows with energy, sexual and otherwise, that fans must contain for the rest of the year. One gets the sense that some people keep a list of shocking phrases they would like to use, given the proper forum. And is this ever the proper forum.