Ok, then consider it a “big, heartfelt, neon lit, dressed-up, in tune ‘fuck you’”.
Yes, Eraserhead is miles ahead, but an entirely different proposition altogether.
You guys do understand the Carnivalesque, right?
Considering it’s Halloween, it might be time to refresh.
Ritualized, popularized, socially acceptible “subversiveness” is not really about true “subversiveness” but the ability for people to put on, take on the identity of, play out a cathartic representation of alternativeness. Yes, this is harder to appreciate in a world where every teen idiot dresses as a fool for some subcultural pretention of being “different” but it is still a powerful social activity. The biggest part of the Rocky Horror event is that it is ritualized. It is a safe zone escape into that glam rock tranny b-movie kitsch wasteland that allows people to put on clothing from a friend’s closet and express themselves in ways normally not really productive or welcome.
Less you consider this a bad thing, keep in mind that ritual is a huge part of cultural expression and identity, and is understandable as an alternative mode of expression whereby it literally takes you out of everyday custom and habit and allows you to recognize/express things that you otherwise do not spend a whole lot of time thinking of, like ritualized prayer, rites of passage, holidays and annual events, and so on. A culture’s rituals are very much a part of how the culture comes to express itself openly whereby otherwise the daily life of the culture’s participants are involved in more, say, practical things.
This is hugely important for Halloween, and why Rocky Horror plays so often around that time, as Halloween is pretty much the Superbowl of the Carnivalesque. Everyone lets their inner monsters out in safe and understanding ways (usually) by dressing up, taking on the persona of the monstrous, the Other, or, you notice quite quite often in the case of adolescence, males dressing as females and females dressing as witches, princesses, and sexy fairies. It is permissive social “try this on for size”.
Rocky Horror glories in just that. Everyone is accepted and becomes tranny chic, throws popcorn and rice, yells at the screen, all the things you sometimes want to do in a movie theatre but can’t. It’s not fucking Eraserhead! You can’t dance to that shit!
Please also acknowledge that dance in and of itself is a very potent method of outward social expression that draws a very, very large crowd of interested participants. Let’s do the time warp again!
It’s not about “popularity” and popularity’s being good or bad—it’s about a shared experience of the Carnivalesque. You can’t have that if you don’t have participants, and Rocky Horror is currently unmatched for its ritualized appreciation of camp.
-You guys do understand the Carnivalesque, right?-
Yeah, Bakhtin, but I took Ari’s intitial question to be something along the lines of “how did RHPS go from being a film to being an event in which the film is just a participant (and, in fact, sometimes the film isn’t present at all if it’s done as theater)?”.
Read “Midnight Movies” by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum. it tells the entire story of how “Rocky Horror” became a cult, how the audience “script” was created and much much more.
Remember the show was a hit in the UK but not in thr U.S. A film was made anyway and released in 1975 to no effect. Then someone thought of showing it at midnight screenings and after awhile it took off. IOW this is a film created not by the filmmakrs but by the audience.
The cult’s heyday was the 1980’s. It was tons of funs.
But not for the humorless and rigidly uptight.
Or as Frank would say “I didn’t make him for YOU!!!!!!!”
I’ve read Midnight Movies. It’s a great book and I can dig the appeal of every single other film that they discuss but not Rocky Horror. Also, maybe revealing that Rocky Horror was the one studio film on that particular circuit. Coincidence that it was the only one that survived and is continually revived? Follow the money. In fact, probably Rocky Horror helped to kill the midnight screening more than anything.
Of course, even though I swear my intentions on having a good debate about the film were pure, I didn’t exactly start this thread off well with the admitedly assholish “this movie sucks/explain why you idiots like it” style opening. But, on the other hand, something about its rabid fans annoy me and this thread hits it exactly. If you don’t “dig” the film, it’s because you don’t like fun or because you’re uptight. A nice load of utter bullshit.
I saw the film first on video when I was a kid and it was released in the late 80s/early 90s. I was unimpressed. I was then told repeatedly that you had to experience the “live” event to get it. So I did. And I was so utterly unimpressed by the stage “show”. In any case, I suggest a film needs to stand on its own merits in order to be fully appreciate and, second, why is the contrived participatory experience interesting? Are the sexual politics of the film actually that radical? I think not (fuck, how many years earlier was Mick Jagger’s performance in Performance? Or David Bowie in general for that matter. Or Warhol films, Or John Waters, Or, as Ralch pointed out, Flaming Creatures etc,etc,etc). The fact that a big studio felt it was safe to make the film already says something. Face it, the film’s enduring popularity is a product of the fact that its pure rebel consumerism and fake transgression. But I think Matt already nicely argued that.
Also, Polaris, if Rocky Horror is a safe outlet to express our inner monsters, it just goes to show the poverty of contemporary culture! As rituals go, there’s not really too much going on here (besides some very empty mimesis):
The thing about going to see “Rocky Horror” for me was I wore my “regular” clothes…which can be quite loud. Maybe some people thought I dressed especially for the screening.
There is an element of mass manufactured pseudo rebellion attached to “Rocky Horror”, the same formula used by Eminem (i.e. an overprivileged and overexposed multimillionaire complaining how the whole world is against him). That can make it difficult to enjoy.
Ari, “Phantom” is by no means weak and I enjoy it at least as much as any other Brian DePalma flick from the 1970s.
Ritualized expression indicates a poverty of culture?!
Tell that to the Japanese…
I’m sorry, but to speak of radical as directly proportional with quality is a fallacy, as far as I’m concerned. Some of the greatest films have been produced by studios, in cases where, to a higher or lesser degree, the vision of the work’s author has been respected. Rocky Horror Picture Show may or may not appeal to all people, and it doesn’t play it safe in attempting to, either, what with the kitsch and glossiness and cheap special effects, but it’s, again, a fallacy to say it’s “fake”, “pseudo”, “safe”, “mainstream”, etc. because a studio saw a niche for it to make a profit. It is comparatively more mainstream and less daring than Waters’s films and others, but the makers of RHPS set out to do another thing, and they did.
Too much posturing going on, methinks.
The thing I have carried with me after having seen the film once (as it should be seen: while drunk and with drunk college students) is one song.
Once you are away from the flying toast, the spraying water bottles and the general mayhem, the most shocking thing to me is that, despite the rickety quality to some of the rock tunes, “Science Fiction Double Feature”, which ends the film, is actually quite poignant and sad.
“Michael Rennie was ill the day the Earth stood still….”
When listened to on the soundtrack album, there is a “weight” to the song that suggests the whole project could in fact have had a slightly different tone altogether.
Ralch, I don’t see any posturing here beyond what’s in the film itself. Nobody even called the film fake rebellion or mainstream until you brought up the idea that the film’s appeal was in its rejection of the mainstream. Sure, I think that’s how people see the film but once you bring that up, yes, then the fact that a major studio produced the picture is pertinent to questioning that part of the film’s appeal. And, yes, it is worth observing that the film was a marketing product of studios taking advantage of what was an independent niche and now RHPS is THE dominant midnight movie (try to find a midnight screening of Pink Flamingos or El Topo or even Eraserhead versus ubiquitous Rocky Horror screenings) . Also, it has nothing to do with bashing studios in pointing out that there might be a problem when major corporations start peddling subversion and rebellion.
But, what the hell, on the other hand, I might hazard a guest that numerous sold out screenings of RHPS has potentially saved a financially struggling independent art house cinema from going under. So, with that consideration, please carry on without me!
Well, that’s a fair point, Ari, but I still find it fallacious that “studio-made” represents only one (extreme) degree of “selling out” so often. The studios will make anything that can sell, and something like RHPS happened amidst a sea of “consumer-friendly” rebellion that also provided some pretty awesome things (like rock music and films such as Taxi Driver and, ahem, Network). The studio took something that already existed in another medium and bet on it for money; it did not commission its fabrication from scratch. A safer bet than what its predecessors did? Sure, but still daring and rebellious (and fun) in my book.
-try to find a midnight screening of Pink Flamingos or El Topo or even Eraserhead versus ubiquitous Rocky Horror screenings-
And even if you find one, people aren’t going to show up dressed as Henry Spencer and throw Pink Pearls at the screen, etc.
stupid Pulp Fiction and a Clockwork orange are the only midnight showings around here.
Never ever liked it. In the same “not interested” category as Dirty Dancing and Grease. Blah
“And even if you find one, people aren’t going to show up dressed as Henry Spencer and throw Pink Pearls at the screen, etc.”
Now that’s a pretty good idea!
There are some interesting snippets of conversation here. To respond…
I agree with Ari very much on this subject. Ralch, nobody is bashing major studios here. The fact is rebellion can be packaged for mass consumption by anyone and as pretty much anything. A lot of independent cinema and independent music attracts a certain niche of people and the cult eventually grows into a mainstream movement. Paradoxically, “Rocky Horror” actually has a “normalising” impact on society—that is, “dressing up” like a weirdo is something you’re only supposed to do on Halloween or for “Rocky Horror”. If people dressed like freaks all the time, perhaps events like “Rocky Horror” singalongs would lose much of their impact.
To elaborate, I am constantly asked things like “are you going to a party?” or “do you always dress like that?” I don’t think my look is too extreme, but because we have been homogenised, normalised, mass produced, any deviation from the status quo makes you an oddity.
To call “Rocky Horror” poignant is like calling “Rambo” subtle. I don’t see how the two fit together. “Rocky Horror” spends eighty minutes smacking its audience over the head with one screaming joke, one shrill pop song after another, then tries to have it both ways by delivering a “touching” conclusion. But “touching” simply doesn’t run in a film where nothing in the previous eighty minutes has been demanded to be taken seriously by its audience. Okay, so we’ve been dancing around like fools in our best 1970s glam rock drag for almost an hour and a half (hey, NOTHING wrong with that!), but now you want us to…get all weepy? Psychologically, it doesn’t work.
By contrast, “Phantom of the Paradise” has a poignant ending that DOES work because amidst the glam and glitter along the way, there ARE strong moments of dramatic impact (some of them semi-played for laughs, mind you) and a despicable villain whom we are begging to see receive his comeuppance. We care for Winslow/Phantom because when Phoenix is taken away from him by Swan, it represents what I might as well call “Carrie Syndrome” (to reference another Brian DePalma film). That is, the character losing his/her romantic interest to a “popular” person, or simply duped most by a popular, evil figure, causing us to cheer for the victim when he/she takes his/her bloody revenge.
Films like “Phantom of the Paradise” and “Carrie” are great cathartic movies for anyone who despises bullies in society always getting the boy or girl by underhanded means. Carrie White is escorted to the high school prom by Mister Popularity as part of a practical joke and takes her revenge in the most gruesome manner possible…and even though what follows is a murderous bloodfest, damn it all if we’re not backing Carrie 100 percent of the way (I have a “Diabolical Murderous Fiends” thread elsewhere that deals with this). “Phantom” is the same way: it shows the outcast turning the tables and showing his affection for Phoenix, and quite simply, “Rocky Horror” has nothing like this in terms of poignancy.
If you think “Rocky Horror” has a weight all of its own as a soundtrack removed from the film, try “Faust” from “Phantom of the Paradise”—
I was not myself last night
Couldn’t set things right
With apologies or flowers
Out of place as a cryin’ clown
Who could only frown
And the play went on for hours
And as I lived my role
I swore I’d sell my soul
For one love who would stand by me
And give me back the gift of laughter…
I was going to mention “Network” and I’m glad you did, but I don’t necessarily see “Network” as “consumer friendly” rebellion. It’s far from inaccessible, but I think especially these days, you’d have a difficult time getting the mainstream to take its message to heart. Watching something and getting it are two different things. “Network” was a major hit in its time, and it was a radical film BECAUSE it was released thourgh a major studio, leaving one to think “how DID they allow that film to be released?”, because really, if there were more thinkers in this world, a film like “Network”, released to the mainstream, has the power to cripple Madison Avenue (but of course, one thing the “Establishment” also banks upon is people having short memories upon leaving the cinema. Alas, the “Establishment” banks correctly).
Another interesting point: “Network” actually shows, very clearly, how rebellion gets repackaged as something palatable and “hip” to the mainstream, in the form of Howard Beale’s “I’m as mad as hell” catchphrase being used as a “crowd warm up device” for The Network News Hour.
“Folks, how do you feel?”
“WE’RE AS MAD AS HELL, AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
I don’t think “Taxi Driver” is what you’d call “consumer friendly” either—the subject matter and explicit nature of the film is still potent enough to make it not exactly something that you’d call consumer friendly, which is to say, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Or to put it another way, you won’t see Travis Bickle lunchboxes anytime soon. You can’t “market” a film like “Taxi Driver” in the same way you could with “Rocky Horror”.
“A Clockwork Orange” is a great midnight film, as that’s how I first experienced it.
“Pulp Fiction” is possibly the most overrated film of its decade. “Ed Wood”, “Fresh”, “The Professional” and “Quiz Show” are all superior films to be released in 1994, so I cannot understand how a film that hit screens in 1994 has garnered so much acclaim—and continues to do so—when there are many other films from said year that deserve to be remembered more fondly than Quentin’s most famous work.
“Rocky Horror” normally plays New Year’s Eve at the Astor, so when it appeared in October for a change, I decided to give it a shot. Quite frankly, I would’ve been better off staying at home and catching up on some sleep that evening. It’s not a “must see” film like people claim it to be. “Dirty Dancing” also fills me with apathy and I am in no hurry to see “Grease” either.
That’s what really annoys me—people who question my film buff credentials because I haven’t seen (insert extremely popular film title here). These folks don’t realise that being a cinematic sensationalist (thanks, Seleana!) is about talking a stroll off the beaten track, about finding things that EXPAND one’s perception and appreciation of cinema. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” doesn’t fit into said category.
This is why I support lesser known films and old classics, popular and otherwise, instead of simply following the status quo. To suggest someone is “missing out” because they haven’t seen “Dirty Dancing” or “Grease” is probably the type of speak you’d hear from someone who hasn’t witnessed films like “West Side Story”, “Cabaret” or “Hair” on the big screen. As far as I’m concerned, Baby can STAY in the fucking corner.
And yes, I grew up in the ‘80s. Do you know how many times I’ve had to hear “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life”? People telling me what a wonderful film “Dirty Dancing” is? “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” called one of the 20 greatest film lines of all-time? Give ME a break!
To conclude, I don’t think anyone has answered Ari’s question in a satisfactory manner. The grand appeal of “Rocky Horror” to the masses remains a mystery, much like the popularity of Justin Timberlake and the invention of the Snuggie.
Mark, the connection I made between Taxi Driver and Network with “consumer friendly” (purposefully between quotation marks) was very loose, but you are correct in pointing it out. Anyway, the main idea of connecting them is stressing exactly what you are saying about the possibility of having some ideologically charged and subversive works coming out of the studios (in Hollywood or elsewhere that has studios).
I’d just like to take this opportunity to make clear that the “Ari” who started this thread is not the same Ari as maintains the Phantom of the Paradise fansite “The Swan Archives,” at http://www.swanarchives.org , though it is very easy to understand how some folks reading this thread might assume that he is.
Best to all,
Ari the Archivist (“the other Ari”) at
The Swan Archives
Does nobody get the Frankenstein story line? like at all? grr. I love this because it is such a wonderful take on Frankenstein
“Does nobody get the Frankenstein story line?”
Well, they call the guy Dr. Frank-N-Furter and everything so, you know, I think people do get it.
LOL @ “the other Ari”. It would be funny for this Ari to be “the other Ari” since this Ari does not like the Phantom of the Paradise and said as much on this thread so for this Ari to run a fansite in praise of that film would certainly be a bit schizophrenic.
lol Ari — from page 1: “I hate fun.”
But honestly, this was a big deal back when it came out. Then the ’70s ended.
So I don’t get it either. Especially in 2012.
But I guess I’m too old for this shit, as the saying goes. ;)
Polaris gets it right in his carnivalesque post. Except RHPS wasn’t originally a Halloween thing (other than Halloween every weekend at midnight), it was a midnight movie experience, the first one to bring in the bridge and tunnel crowd.
“bridge and tunnel crowd” – ha ha! I recognize that, Girlfriend — are you from NYC? :D
No, but I Iived there for many years.
It’s such a Manhattanite phrase, isn’t it.
Yes, it’s just a NYC phrase though too. Even if you don’t live in Manhattan.
BTW I was horrified to find out that this movie has the same sort of ritual, etc. going on out here (L.A.). Still.
Oh well, not my cup of tea, no biggie.
Sorry. I was just curious. I can’t explain the cult following, but I just wanted to point out maybe it’s managed to hang on so long because it’s a simple version of Frankenstein (with singing and campy costumes), because that is certainly its appeal to someone who loves Frankenstein (the novel) like I do.
I watched the film for the first time two days ago. I think BRAD S. summed up the reasons why people enjoy it, now, and then, quite adroitly . Im surprised ARI you didn’t acknowledge it.
“Let me give this a shot. It has everything to do with the culture of the time it was released and our nostalgia for that time. The counter-culture idealism of the sixties had given way to a more gritty realism. Sex drugs and rock n roll were still going strong in the mid-seventies, but without all that pesky idealism. Glam was in full swing, punk was on its way. Somewhere on the way to the “me generation’s” enbrace of disco, free love crossed pathes with self identification and the result was “don’t dream it – be it.” Rocky Horror’s audience participation allowed perpetual outsider teens a place to belong. We now live in a time where nostalgia for the seventies is as strong as nostalgia for the 50’s was back then.”
(I’ve not included the final line of the comment which had something about it being “fun”, so for your sake, you now have a perfectly emotion free critical statement that hopefully ends the discussion :)
It’s a pretty fun movie to go to when you’re a virgin senior in high school new to driving and liberated by the fact that mom won’t have to come pick you up.
But I went last summer after having gone to work on Friday and it was pretty miserable. It was obnoxious and I was soooo tired.
I don’t see it either, but I see why it’s fun for some people.