KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

I have been an apologist for this movie since the very first time I saw it, which unfortunately was not during it’s original theatrical run. My friend Dan had recommended it, I have no idea why he had seen it and I had not, but it was not until two years later, when it was becoming a cult phenomena, that I discovered the joys of “Rocky Horror”. I have heard people say that the movie is terrible and stupid, it’s my opinion that those descriptions apply to those critics rather than the film. This is a perfect satire of the culture, science fiction films, and musical theater, all wrapped up as a filmed entertainment. 

I will get to the cult audiences in a little bit, I want to start with the film itself. Brad and Janet are like all young couples in horror movies like “The Blob” from the 50s, they get stranded in a rainstorm and end up asking for help at the nearest house. Hysterically, Brad says “Didn’t we pass a castle a castle back down the road a few miles?”  How can you not be in on the joke at this point? We have already had a corny song about their love, with a deadpan chorus of future characters in the background, and the narrator has pontificated in solemn tones with a melodramatic pause in just the right places. I was laughing at every second glance, cliché, and sly reference to sci/fi horror films. 

The title sequence is famous for the close up of the red lips and mouth, this image was used on much of the promotional material as well. When you listen to the lyrics of the song, you should be doing an inventory of all those old movies from RKO, Universal and others that are being referenced so cleverly. The Dana Andrews line should make you plotz. This film version of the stage play was my chance to see the story that had been a popular live show in Los Angeles in 1973. I remember seeing a billboard sized ad on the Shrine Auditorium, for the show that was playing in Hollywood at the Roxy Theater. In the summer of 1973, I attended a workshop for a month at U.S.C. right across from that ad and I thought it was intriguing, but I was too young to be driving over to Hollywood on my own to see the play. 

I have always been a fan of musicals, and having seen “Jesus Christ Superstar”, I was especially entranced by the Rock musicals of the era. The year before this opened, I’d seen Brian DePalma’s “Phantom of the Paradise”, which has only a little bit of the tongue in cheek attitude of this film. When Riff Raff points out that Brad and Janet are wet, and she says “Yes, it’s raining”, the on the nose sarcasm is amusing as heck. And then “The Time Warp”. Director Jim Sharman, who had done the play, took full advantage of the film formant to shoot this sequence in interesting Dutch angles, over head Busbee Berkley inspired shots and a cast of background dancers that is demented and dressed to suit that dementia. Having the Criminologist describe the dance and lead us through the steps in inserts during the song is additional icing on the humor of this movie. 

When star Tim Curry is slowly revealed as descending in an elevator, the shots are nicely matched with the rhythm transition to his introductory song, and when he throws off his cloak, revealing his get up, if you are not all in at this point, you better just give up, and I pity you. This is a performance that is fully committed, exuberant and just plain old fun. Maybe these days it would not seem shocking, since there seem to be drag performers everywhere, but in 1975, it was audacious. The juxtaposition with the straight laced Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon in their square cloths is another way we are being let in on the outrageous joke that everyone is involved with here.  

The creepy old house has the requisite living room for our dance sequence, but there is a delightful shot of the laboratory from the elevator perspective which focuses on a color change nearly as dramatic as when Dorothy arrived in Oz. The pink tile floors and walls assault our sense of what a “lab” should be, and the red instrumentation is flashing out at us as a production design made to draw attention to the color scheme.   As Brad and Janet step into the scene in their charming underclothes, their sense of alienness is exacerbated. Curry’s Colin Clive style delivery of his speech to the conventioneers and the guests, is another salute to the old style of the classic Hollywood horror films. Sarandon and Bostwick are terrific in their uptight, wooden mimicking of the innocent bystanders. 

Almost every number is a showstopper, but it never feels like they are trying to outdo themselves from one song to the next. The progression of songs feels organic to the weird nature of the story. Meat Loaf shows up in a spotlight performance which is maybe the one segment that feels a little inorganic, but who cares “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul” is a smoking solo number that gives us a motorcycle sequence, an axe murder and a chorus line dance, all in a short order and we get saxophone solos. The fifties sensibility with “Eddie” the greaser biker played by MeatLoaf reinforces the rock and roll roots of the musical and the time period of films that are being saluted here. 

Several sequences feature musical instruments being used in unusual ways. There is an organ pumping out gothic tunes at first in the scene where Riff Raff is teasing Rocky. Then there is a drum machine and an electronic organ to follow up. The guitars and piano in so many of the songs are more reflective of older style rock songs. The guitar plucking during “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” reminded me of Elton John’s Crocodile Rock. Rock and Roll Porn!The Experience

When I finally caught up with the film, it was in the Midnight Screenings that happened at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena on Saturday Nights. In the summer 1977, my then girlfriend and future wife, would drive down to Hollywood for “Star Wars” at the Chinese Theater, and then on Saturday Night, go up to the Rialto for Rocky Horror. The audience participation there was full of the call outs and props that were probably found in other venues around the country. The Janet Umbrella was accompanied by showers provided by squirt guns. Cards and Toast were tossed at the right moments, and the swaying matches during “Over at the Frankenstein Place” probably violated a hundred local codes, but we did not care.  When we ventured to the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood, we were surprised that there was cosplay and that the people dressing up acted out the movie in front of the screen. There was a guy who sold supplies to people in line. He would walk up and down the line with the refrain “Rocky Rice 25, Rocky Matches 10”, and he had little bags with the logo filled with rice and matchbooks with the title on them. So for 35 cents you could participate too. 

This was a soundtrack that we played in Dolores’s dorm room and in the car on a cassette player. The first MeatLoaf album also came out that year and we paired those two together on a regular basis. Oh to be young and in love with the movies.