SCREEN GRABS The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an important part of my young life. I first saw it in a theater in Greenwich Village in 1979, at midnight, sitting in the back row, fooling around with someone I had just met. The floor was sticky; the air was sweet smoky. The audience was throwing rice and toast and toilet paper, and everyone knew every line. Drag queens jumped up and danced on the stage, before, after, and during the movie.
It was all so deliciously dirty. I was hooked.
I watched it again and again while I went to college. I bought the soundtrack and late, late at night, after all the parties ended, we would sit in my friend Paulo’s room and listen to the whole thing, start to finish; with the lights off, you could imagine the rest.
When Paulo and I left the East Coast for San Francisco, we caught a midnight show along the way in Salt Lake City, where all the jokes were about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And I thought: If they can fill the house in Salt Lake City with kids watching this, there must be hope for the world.
See, in 1975, when the movie was made, there were no drag queens in Hollywood. There were no “sweet transvestites from transsexual Transylvania” in popular culture. This was more than edgy; it was radical stuff, gender-blurring, punk-ass, sex-positive slutty cinema in all its musical glory. Plus: Meat Loaf!
So now I’m old and I have teenage kids, and I try to share the great moments of my life with them, and when Fox decided to air a remake – with Laverne Cox, and Adam Lambert, and Victoria Justice (who my daughter Vivian loved from this stupid show) … sorry, the Cubs were playing the Dodgers in Game Five, but the Redmond-Field Household was going to watch Rocky Horror.
I told Viv she had to sit down early on the couch with me. The first part of the movie is the best; we’re supposed to wait for it to roll and shout “LIPS!”
And then it was 8pm. And no lips.
The brilliant, iconic opening – featuring the mouth of Patricia Quinn and the voice of Richard O’Brien, the two minutes that defined Rocky Horror? Gone. Instead, we had some dumb Marilyn Monroe look-alike who jumped out of World War II singing the theme song, badly, lip-synching, badly. Rocky Horror’s original opening scene defined lip-synching; there’s been nothing like it since, ever. And now: Boring.
It didn’t get much better.
Laverne Cox is amazing. She did the best she could. Adam Lambert was the real star, channeling Meat Loaf and showing how you can make the old into the new. Victoria Justice was fine as the innocent, Virginal Janet, but unlike Susan Sarandon, who played the role in the original, she never quite made the necessary transition to Slutty Janet.
Riff Raff (Reeve Carney) and Magenta (Christina Milan) start off just fine, but the scene at the end when they appear in the audience with ridiculous sci-fi outfits on is just pathetic.
Oh, and Rocky? Not anywhere near as studly as the original – and he’s not even wearing the tight gold underpants. No package.
The wonder of the original Rocky Horror was the feeling that anything might happen at any moment; this version was made for Fox, and totally controlled.
It’s one of those strange things in culture: Rocky Horror gets its energy from its time, from the idea that you could actually pull that off in 1975, that audiences all over –even in Salt Lake City – would love it and let it change their lives. Today, you need more than a decent musical performance to do that – and the new version takes absolutely no risks. I would have loved a little wardrobe malfunction.
Oh, and there’s the really, really stupid fail of trying to do a “movie within a movie” and show scenes of what the audience might have been like in the early days, which was wrong (I was there, we were nowhere near that well-behaved) – and the whole idea undermines the wonder of the film. How are you supposed to participate when the participation is already scripted?
I know I am old, and I try not to be a curmudgeon who hates everything new, but Rocky Horror was A Moment, and meant something, and this new version is just a TV movie that nobody will notice when it’s gone.
Too bad. My kids are missing something.
If you want the real experience, Ray of Light Theatre’s powerhouse stage version is coming to Victoria Theater Oct. 26 to Nov. 5. And it features one of our most theatrical drag queens, D’Arcy Drollinger, in the role of Dr. Frank N Furter.