The Richard O'Brien Crusade



The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Let's do the Time Warp again

The Toronto Star
Peter Howell; 10-28-2000

Just in time for Halloween, Rocky Horror marks 25th birthday with DVD

MOVIE CRITIC After all these years of giving himself over to absolute pleasure, it's still the rice that really gets to Rocky Horror creator Richard O'Brien.

It gets him right on the head.

``Right on my bald head,'' he says in a phone interview from his London home. People keep throwing it at me, and it hurts like bloody hell, I can tell you that.''

Madness takes its toll, as O'Brien's Rocky Horror alter-ego Riff Raff tunefully observed.

Not that O'Brien is complaining. This year marks the 25th anniversary of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the camp sci-fi movie musical that was interactive before people knew what the word meant.

Many Rocky Horror fans have seen the movie hundreds of times, but they still turn out in droves - especially for Halloween screenings. They bring with them an ever-expanding bag of props - including rice, toast and playing cards - which they hurl into the air and at each other when prompted by various visual and audio cues.

Rocky Horror, first a play, then a movie, has made writer/composer/co- star O'Brien a very happy man. It has also made such phrases as ``Give yourself over to absolute pleasure'' and ``Don't dream it, be it,' ' part of the language of pop culture and sex.

O'Brien knows that without flying rice, there would be no Rocky Horror madness, which includes a new stage revival now playing on Broadway to much fanfare.

And the madness is just as strong in Toronto, where the movie has played regularly for the past quarter century. The Bloor Cinema hosts regular weekend screenings featuring The Denton Episcopalians, a local cabaret troupe that leads the audience participation. (There are special Halloween screenings tonight at 9:30 and 11 and Tuesday night at 9:30.)

The movie has also just been released on DVD in a silver anniversary package. It includes outtakes, audience cues and suggestions and a very droll and humourous running commentary by O'Brien and Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta in both the stage and screen versions of Rocky Horror. (Among the trivia treats they reveal is that Quinn's giant glistening red lips are seen during the opening theme song, but it's O'Brien's falsetto heard crooning.)

On the face of it, Rocky Horror is not the stuff of classic movies or stage plays. It's really a silly fable, set to rock songs with whimsical titles like ``Time Warp'' and ``Hot Patootie.'' The plot, what there is of it, features a transvestite alien scientist in fishnet stockings, played with bitchy grandeur by Shakespearean actor Tim Curry, who goes by the ridiculous name of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

So then why all the fuss?

``I think it's because it takes us back on this adolescent journey, '' O'Brien muses. ``I think when you're in adolescent turmoil, which most adolescents are in because their hormones are bubbling, this rite of passage takes place and you start to rebel against your parents and authority. All that kind of s--t starts to kick in, and Rocky does somehow or other manifest all that. And it's also a fairy tale, which gives it its longevity, I think.''

Certainly, no one could have predicted the staying power of Rocky Horror when the film was first released in August, 1975, even though O'Brien's original stage play had been an underground smash in London, New York and Los Angeles.

The film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, was completely baffled by it at first. That's why it ended up having its world premiere in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, of all places, because an early Rocky Horror fan named Wayne Clarkson needed a movie to fill a slot in the FILMEXPO festival he was programming.

``It was August, 1975, and I had called the Fox film office in Toronto, to see if there were any interesting films available,'' recalls Clarkson, who is today the executive director of the Canadian Film Centre .

``And a gentleman there told me a film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just arrived in, and no one knew what to do with it. I said, `Omigod, is it based on the stage play?' ''

It was indeed, the same play Clarkson had seen two years earlier while studying film in London. He brought the film sight unseen to his festival, vaguely concerned that it might be too risque for upright Ottawa. But he needn't have been concerned.

``The usually gray, staid Ottawa crowd loved it, and we sold out all 900 seats in the theatre. It turned out to be the world premiere, because we ran it on a Friday night and its London premiere wasn' t until the Saturday.

``At that time it was quite an unusual film and I only jumped on it because I knew the play. And just look at what a phenomenon in has become.''

Not at first, though, because The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a flop upon its release. It was originally sold as the alternative to the blockbuster Jaws, with a clever - perhaps too clever - use of the iconicred-painted Rocky Horror lips twisted to resemble a shark' s teeth. Underneath was the ad line, ``A Different Set Of Jaws.''

Different is right, especially in its not-so-subtle message that it's okay to be gay. The refrain ``Don't dream it, be it,'' has been the theme song for many a sexual awakening.

``I remember when I saw it in high school, when I was still in the closet,'' says John Kennedy, 32, the editor of the gay bi-weekly fab.

``It was the safest thing you could do that was borderline gay. You didn't feel gay watching it, because both sides (straights and gays) were enjoying it in the theatre together. Sexuality kind of goes out the window.''

Rocky Horror has so long been a part of gay culture, it's surprising that last night's Bloor Cinema screening, which was hosted by fab, was billed as the ``first-ever showing for the gay community and friends.''

That's not as momentous as it sounds, Kennedy says. The combination of the film's silver anniversary and Halloween made a great occasion for a party.

Tickets quickly sold out, and this week's fab included a how-to primer for Rocky Horror virgins (yes, Magenta, there are still a few).

Approved props to take to screenings include rice for the wedding scene (but not confetti, which makes an unholy mess); squirt guns and newspapers for the rain scene with nerd duo Brad and Janet; pieces of toast (not Pop Tarts or melba toast, please) for the toasting scene; flashlights for the singalong ``There's A Light''; playing cards for Frank-N-Furter's ``cards of fate'' drama queen speech; and such all- purpose household items as rubber gloves, toilet paper, noisemakers and bells.

Colin Auld will be on stage at tonight's two screenings, as he has hundreds of times before. He's not just the cast director of The Denton Episcopalians (named for the church in Rocky Horror - but you knew that, right?) he also plays the part of ``faithful handyman'' Riff Raff.

``I chose Riff Raff because he's the most clothed,'' quips Auld, a political science student at the University of Toronto. ``I first saw Rocky Horror at the age of 9, and I've not stopped going since - and I`m now 26.''

Auld says he's seen the movie between 600-700 times and he still can' t figure out its appeal.

``The secret to Rocky Horror's success is a total mystery. Nobody can understand it, because it's based on the people who come to it. We have a theory that you don't find Rocky Horror, it finds you. You' re picked out because it comes to you in some way.''

The audience participation aspect used to attract mostly ``loners, weirdos and people who were drawn to a strange social circle,'' Auld says. But since the movie's video release in 1990, when Rocky Horror came into homes for the first time, a lot of more mainstream types have joined the party, changing the nature of it.

``We find our audiences now are younger and a little more judgmental, which was never a part of Rocky Horror before,'' Auld says.

``They're a little more critical and a little more offended at things - and we do have a few rude callback lines. We yell lines that are offensive to everyone, and if you're just complaining about one, we can't help you with that. Rocky Horror is for the very thick-skinned now.''

The Denton Episcopalians pride themselves on being the most committed and ``out there'' Rocky Horror cast in Canada, but they know there are limits. In the past couple of months, they've started each screening with the disclaimer (``You will be offended by this show'') but that only seems to attract more people, Auld says.

``Rocky Horror is for the people who really enjoy it and don't get caught up in the politics of it,'' he says.

``It's a great excuse to dress up, to yell obscenities if you want to, or just to have a laugh.''

Peter Howell, Let's do the Time Warp again. , The Toronto Star, 10-28-2000.

The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996