Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Light: Over At The Frankenstein Place

Rocky Horror Picture Show: Over At The Frankenstein Place
[purchase the DVD]

Back in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, going to the midnight show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a theater in Nyack became the thing to do on Saturday night. I’m not sure how many times I went, but it was a pretty high number, and while I never dressed up as a character (I’ve never been much of a fan of costumes), I did start bringing props with me. Because there were really three reasons to see the movie, which is actually a bad movie (and the contemporary, pre-cult phenomenon reviews bear this out)—the music was pretty good, it was about some edgy sex stuff that in the pre-Internet, pre-million cable stations days was kind of titillating to teenagers, and, I think most of all, participating meant that you became part of an in-crowd, all of whom seemed to know exactly what to do or say in response to what was happening on the screen.

After I headed off to college, and saw it at least once on campus (where I found out that there were regional variations on the crowd responses because there was no Internet to create a Rocky Horror Wiki and establish a standard canon), I sort of grew out of it. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a Halloween season showing at the Tarrytown Music Hall, and I found myself mostly bored with the whole thing. I’d like to think that growing up hasn’t completely beat the fun out of me, but it isn’t surprising that some things you enjoyed when you were young aren’t enjoyable when you age. (Monty Python, however, is still brilliant.)

One interesting thing about Rocky Horror is how many people who appeared in it moved on to bigger and better things. Susan Sarandon, who played Janet, had previously had some film roles and was in soap operas before appearing in the movie. Right after, she was in a movie with Robert Redford, then was Brooke Shields’ mother in Pretty Baby before her breakout role-and first Academy Award nomination—in Atlantic City. She became a huge star, acting in major movies, on stage and on TV. She has won an Oscar, for her role in Dead Man Walking, and has been honored for her political activism.

Her movie fiancé, Brad, was played by Barry Bostwick, a theater actor who had a Tony nomination as the original Danny Zuko in Grease. Rocky Horror was his first film, and he has gone on to a long, busy career as a character actor on TV (maybe most famously as Mayor Randall Winston in Spin City), in films and on stage.

Tim Curry, who played Dr. Frank-N-Furter, was in the original London cast of Hair before being cast as the lead in the stage play The Rocky Horror Show. The film version was Curry’s first movie role. Afterwards, Curry had a successful career on stage, in both London and on Broadway, in movies and on TV, as well as releasing three albums as a musician.

Nell Campbell, who was Columbia, ended up as a well-known night club owner and restauranteur.

Meatloaf, who played the small part of Eddie, released an album that sold 43 million copies. Something about a bat.

This all is to contrast with the career of the guy who made the Rocky Horror phenomenon possible, Richard O’Brien, who created and wrote the play—music, book and lyrics—and collaborated on the screenplay with the movie’s director, Jim Sharman. (Interesting side notes—O’Brien, an unemployed actor, wrote the play, and showed a draft to Sharman, who had directed him in the original London production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Sharman decided to direct a small production of the play, then called They Came from Denton High, in a 60-seat theater. The second night audience included Jonathan King, who had discovered Genesis and produced their first album. King produced the original cast recording in 48 hours and rushed it out.) O’Brien, despite writing a few more plays and acting in some mostly cult movies, never repeated the fluke success of Rocky Horror. His greatest fame came as an eccentric game show host in England in the 1990s (from which he was replaced by Edward Tudor-Pole, of the band Tenpole Tudor). O’Brien has been, however, memorialized with a statue of his Rocky Horror character, Riff-Raff, in New Zealand, where he spent much of his youth.

The song, the third in the movie, is performed by Sarandon, Bostwick and O’Brien, and it uses the light in the Frankenstein Place, as a symbol of hope for the stranded Brad and Janet. Little did they know what was in store.

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