Riding High With Film's Theater, Stage Runs, Debut On DVD
For lack of better words, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"
creator and co-star Richard (Riff Raff) O'Brien really is stuck
"time warp." I mean, how couldn't you be when your
film has been around for 25 years -- and has never left the
Life is indeed a dance.
I'm not making this
up: "Rocky Horror" is the longest continually running
theatrical film ever. Of course, it's been a weekend midnight
ritual in the U.S. for years, and in other parts of the world,
the "Show" just goes on and on and on ...
"In New Zealand
and Australia, they show it on a weekly basis, and there's a
cinema in Munich which has been
showing the movie continually on a daily basis for over 20 years,"
O'Brien told me in a recent interview. The
burning question, of course, is "Why?"
"I don't think
many people understand why it has its longevity -- even a good
psychologist or sociologist would have a hard time trying to
determine what nerve this movie and stage show touches,"
"I think the
nerve of exhibitionism is there. I think narcissism and exhibition
are fairly close to the surface in all of us, yet we don't hone
up to it for various reasons. There are a lot of fantasy areas
of ourselves that we don't socially indulge in because it ouldn't
do us any favors."
For those of you
who have been living under a rock (or is it Rocky?) for all
these years, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is, ithout
question, the ultimate audience participation film. Adapted
from O'Brien's own stage play (for which he also wrote the music
and lyrics) that debuted in 1973 at London's Royal Court Experimental
Theater, the "show" follows the exploits of a ewly
engaged couple, Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick),
who stumble upon the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry)
after they get lost in a rainstorm.
the way, happens to be a transvestite who is hosting an annual
convention of visitors from the planet transsexual. O'Brien,
of course, plays the castle's Butler, Riff Raff, who is joined
by such memorable characters as Magenta (Patricia Quinn), Columbia
(Nell Campbell) and Frank-N-Furter's creation himself, Rocky
(Peter Hinwood). O'Brien and director Jim Sharman also serve
up a slice of the singer Meat Loaf, too, who as Eddie does the
What makes the experience
even more wild (to call "Rocky Horror" just a movie
would be a gross understatement) is that it exists in several
parallel universes. In addition to the big screen, it recently
made its debut with extras galore on a double-disc DVD. Better
yet, the experience continues to take the stage all over the
world, and it will even enjoy its renaissance on
Broadway in November.
While O'Brien had
confidence in the stage version, he oddly didn't share the same
sentiment when filming was completed on the movie version.
"We were very
disappointed with the movie when it first came out -- it seemed
so slow, it just didn't seem to have the energy of the stage
show," said O'Brien, who composed the production's musical
numbers. "It became a different experience, almost a surreal,
dreamlike experience. There's kind of a strange quality to the
Oddly enough, that
"strange" quality and the "slow" pacing
ended up being a serendipitous bit of movie magic. That's because
it allowed the "room," so to speak, for audiences
to participate in the experience -- and the rest, as they say,
"The fans have
asked me over the years whether we put the gaps between the
lines for them to pick up the cues and shout lines in between,"
O'Brien said. "The answer is 'No,' actually -- we were
pretty lucky there.
"I don't believe
in manipulating the audience that much," O'Brien said,
referring to the energy that the audience provides the players
in the stage version. "It's one thing laying out tragedy
and humor and asking people to laugh through the interpretation
of the words and reacting to what they see on stage, but that's
a different journey than trying a nudge and wink at the audience
(with a film)."
When the participation
did develop, O'Brien says that it didn't come in the form of
mockery. In other words, audiences have always been laughing
with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," not at it. It
is, after all, a piece that salutes the twisted world
of horror and sci-fi B movies, complemented by a song score
of rock 'n' roll music.
"There is a
difference between intentionally funny and unintentionally funny,"
O'Brien said. "I've read a review of the DVD, and the chap
said, 'It's so bad it's good.' Well, he's kind of missing the
point, because those were the kinds of films we were parodying.
It's a bit of a harsh judgment to lie upon us, yet at the same
time it's the most wonderful accolade and compliment we could
"When we were
doing it on the stage, it was very easy to see that we were
parodying the 'B movie' with the wooden and clichéd dialogue
and the stereotypical characters. But then Jim Sharman and I
had the conversation wondering whether people would get the
point once we transferred it back to the very medium that it
came from. The whole thing about those other
films is that they were unintentionally funny -- the more wooden
the dialogue and the acting, the funnier they became."
Bringing The 'Experience'
Of course, while
"Rocky Horror" has made its indelible marks on both
the stage and screen, one has to wonder what sort of impact
it will make on DVD. For one, the DVD is an experience unto
itself, considering the myriad of bonus features that
include outtakes, interviews and commentary by O'Brien and Quinn.
But perhaps the greatest
feature of all is the "Theatrical Experience" version
of the film, where you can view "Rocky Horror" as
if you were in the theater. It includes an introduction by "Rocky
Horror" fan club president Sal Piro, then audiences can
go on to see audience reactions and performers going in front
of the screen during certain parts of the film.
Of course, that's
not to say that you can't get a gaggle of friends together and
share the experience in your living room, complete with toast,
squirt guns, toilet paper and a battery of other accessories.
Then again, you do run the risk of trashing your house.
your lingerie drawer," O'Brien said with a laugh.
Speaking of lingerie,
you can't, of course, do an interview with O'Brien without mentioning
Tim Curry, who is a scream in this ultimate gender-bender role.
And while it's clearly parody, it's still hard to imagine seeing
our actors of today taking the same risk that Curry did by taking
the role. Or was it a risk?
"It was no risk
at all," O'Brien said. "It was job we did when we
were young and we did it to the best of our abilities. I was
very lucky as a writer to have consummate performers coming
on board. With all honesty, 'Rocky' was very useful to Tim's
career -- there's no doubt about that.
"I brought him
from England to Los Angeles and gave him a name and a profile,
but at the same time, he returned that favor in spades. He was
so good in the role, but not doing it wouldn't have stopped
him from becoming a success, nor would it have stopped Susan
from becoming a success. She's just great."
It's clear from talking
with O'Brien that he loves to talk about the whole "Rocky
Horror" experience, even though
he's likely heard the same questions from interviewers and fans
over and over again. "It's really nice to be a part of
something that's made both theatrical and cinematic history,"
O'Brien told me proudly.
"To be the author
of it and having contributed to such a large part of it is a
good feeling. It continues to astonish me -- it always did --
from day one ... the gift of life is phenomenal -- it's lovely.
Every day is a gift."
even enjoyed the "Rocky Horror" experience as an observer,
although telling people that he was Richard O'Brien, the creator
and co-star, held no water whatsoever.
I actually said 'Thank
you' to the people who were around and performing, and they
kind of looked at me suspiciously and said, 'Yeah, thank you
very much -- now f*** off,'" O'Brien said, roaring with
Here's to another
25 years, Richard.