me to point out that this is simply a cut and paste job, and
"me" does not refer to me, but the author as noted
By Howard Waldrop
I'm no fanatic.
I only saw Rocky
Horror Picture Show twenty times before the dress-up crowd began
to show up and make the soundtrack inaudible.
I know that I'd never
seen a movie like it before, and neither had a lot of other
people, to judge by the reactions in those first six months
of its run in Austin.
Those pre-Rocky days
seem like the Lower Pleistocene now, and the film is a midnight
show fixture throughout the l country. Dr. Frank N. Furter,
Brad, Janet and Dr. Scott seem to have entered our collective
psyches since those dim times.
Richard O'Brien wrote
the original Rocky Horror Show play, adapted it for the screen,
and played Riff-Raff in both. He was in town on a promotional
tour for his new film, Shock Treatment.
I entered his hotel
room. O'Brien is incredibly thin, looks a little like Max Schreck
from the original Nosferatu. His features are as sharp as Agnes
Moorehead's axe, and his head is shaved for the tour.
He wore Riff-Raff
black clothing, white spats and python shoes. He moved with
an actor's grace and offered me a glass of wine.
He doesn't strike
me as the type to go walking down Congress Avenue early in the
morning, but that's just what he had finished doing.
"If the street
were half as wide, it could almost be Tauranga (a town near
Aukland in New Zealand where he grew up). Same age buildings,
atmosphere. On tours like this, one never gets to see the cities.
I think the only way to get to know a town is by walking it,
don't you?" he asks.
ME: Did you know
you were creating a whole Saturday night business when you wrote
O'BRIEN: Not at all.
It was originally supposed to be a bit of nonsense to fill up
five weeks in London. It eventually played seven years. We took
it to LA in 1973, and it was a hit there. We brought it to New
York and told them, "This is the hit play you've heard
about." The critics there said, "No, we tell you when
you have a hit. You don't have a hit."
ME: Did you have
any large expectations about the movie?
O'BRIEN: No. We made
it, and we went through the New York thing, and the movie went
into release and seemed to have gone nowhere. It was so left
field, I'm not sure they knew how to advertise it. I was doing
other things, busy, you know, and about nine months later it
began its runs as midnighters, all that. It didn't turn the
financial corner until three years after it was released.
ME: What does the
sight of 5000 people doing the Time Warp do to you?
O'BRIEN: It's sort
of amazing. Anytime you see, hear anyone singing or doing bits
you, as a writer or actor, created there's sort of a feeling
of disbelief. Nice, too.
ME: Since you were
involved in so many phases of it, how did Rocky Horror change
while you were filming it?
O'BRIEN: Most of
the changes actually came during the play's rehearsal. So many
ideas were flying around. For about five weeks, we added, changed,
expanded. I tend to underwrite. That keeps me from having to
cut a line later. We'd finish rehearsal and aim Sharman would
say, "Good. By the way, Richard, I need a song right here
in the script."
I'd say, 'Oh, God';
go home, wash up and drink something, and start playing the
guitar. "Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me" was written like
that, overnight. Some of the things I sweated on three weeks
were never used. I wrote a song literally in the shower for
ME: Okay, is Shock
Treatment a sequel, prequel, or what?
O'BRIEN: It's an
equal. We started at one time to do a sequel. Got part way through
with the script and said, this, this is just Brad and Janet
in Another World. Same thing. Decided that wasn't the way to
go, at all. It ran through five drafts, and now we have Shock
ME: An equal?
O'BRIEN: Yes. It's
a movie that delves into marriage, into manipulation. We explore
the characters in a controlled setting, seeing what makes them
go, what motivates them. We see how people can use each other,
what they do, how they change. We see a woman trying to find
those things which she thought marriage would give her but hasn't.
We see what happens when a man becomes uncentered.
ME: All this through
Brad and Janet?
ME: Shock Treatment,
like Rocky Horror, is relatively low budget. In these days of
super blockbusters, were there any problems getting it financed?
O'BRIEN: No, we were
promised the money from the start. But by a fortunate stroke
of luck, there was an actor's strike or something, and the funds
were frozen. This made us change things, find new ways to do
it, cut corners. Then we hit on the idea of doing it in a TV
studio, in a controlled environment keeping everything close.
I think it worked creatively, and we saved a million from the
ME: Do you think
lower-budget films are going to make a comeback?
O'BRIEN: I hope Shock
Treatment is one of the first. It makes sense to do five movies
for thirty million, hoping three will do well, rather than rolling
it all on one film.
ME: You're a writer,
lyricist, actor. Do you enjoy any one of these more than the
O'BRIEN: No, I like
them all. Doing different things, especially going from one
to the other. If the writing is going badly, you can pick up
the guitar and work on songs. Acting takes you away from those.
I've done some acting lately on things which I had no hand in,
creatively. It was nice to do that for a while, being an actor
only, rather than trying to handle three or four jobs. But I
like the challenge of each.
ME: Were you as changed
by seeing Attack of the 55 Foot Woman (1958) as I was?
O'BRIEN: I don't
think that one ever made it to Britain. But I do remember the
final lines from The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), where
Grant Williams steps through the windowscreen and says. ..
And O'Brien gives
the ten or twelve lines verbatim. O'Brien has been animated,
laughing, talking during the interview. The photographer gets
ready to take some pictures.. Each time the shutter is about
to click, O'Brien goof into the narrow eyed look with which
Riff-Raff first greets Brad and Janet.
He gave a particularly
glum scowl for the last shot.
"I'd like two
prints of that one," he said.