As a punk as heart who loves counter culture, I want to reflect a little bit about Rocky Horror Picture show (1975) because, for over 40 years it has been a cultural phenomenon. What started out as an off Broadway kitschy, play in the late 70s that talked about risqué topics like transvestites, transsexuals and homosexuality gave it all license to be exposed. Then mixed that with the 70s cultural presence of UFOs that had the mainstream audiences attention. But went further adding the creating some type of homage to the great science fiction and horror pictures of the 40’s and 50s like Frankenstein, King Kong and Rear Window to create a fantasy world caught between real life and the movies. Thanks to Producer Lou Adler, a well known record producer, Rocky Horror (as it was referred to)
became known as a provocative work of rock theatrics music, intense choreography, innovative costumes, film retrospective lighting and an acerbic comedy lounge that all tied together to represent the decadent American seventies.
When we first see Susan Sarandon’s – Janet and Brian Bostwick’s – Brad at the wedding scene, look closely to see Tim Curry as the minister and other characters playing out the American Gothic in the background.
The fun graffiti on the car is much more overly sexual than one would expect. But it’s with the repeated viewings that the attendees of the wedding are realized as the same guests in Dr. Frank N Furters castle. This creating a dream like state of the characters and gets the audience questioning: is this reality or fantasy? All the while, this film has been perplexing movie goers. Most revel in the original music and the bizarre ritual of film attendees to act out and talk back to the screen; throw toast, use noisemakers and many other carnival like actions, to enhance the experience. Thirty-five years that has been going on!
When you take a look at the film Rocky Horror itself, it is very low cost “indie production” shot in England all done on a studio back lot to minimize costs. Creative costs were controlled – hired the playwright to be the film’s scriptwriter, as well as the composer and the choreographer. It’s because they could – all due to Richard O’Brien.
He did a tremendous job in all those positions. But went one step farther as the second lead in the film. He visually articulated the sort of creepy image/imagination of what could happen to conventional early 1960’s young couple when they take a wrong turn. His performance in character as Riff-Raff, added to Magenta and Columbia, all crafted the obtuse dimension and design of the film.
This is where Rocky Horror begins to buck every convention that existed in the film business – horror, young love, mysteries, science fiction, suspense and spy stories. It pays homage to classic films like Frankenstein, Hong Kong, Rear Window and even Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, – Rock and Roll High schoooool! Was an anthem of my youth’s culture. Graduating a suburban New Jersey high school in 1982 during a time of Reagan era politics and anti-establishment thinking, it made the band The Ramones a poster child for self-expression through rock music. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) was a bit of an homage to A Hard Days Night where there the band is real and the settings around them are scripted comedy displaying the popularity of the band. While Rocky Horror can be compared with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School displaying the angst of youth, it’s in the execution of the display that is tremendously contrasting.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School takes a page from The Beatles film playlist where it makes the band the center focus of a film, creates comedic and nonsensical youth based actions and wraps them around live performances. Again, a low cost “indie production” but done in a way that shows the band on equal footing with the youth who rebel against the school.
Directors Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, Jerry Zucker (pre-Airplane!, the movie) were able to take the energy of the anti-establishment mindset that grew in the late 60s and early 70s and channel it into a story about youth trying to find their own way their own path; young girls looking for their own identity. But they are doing it through rock ‘n’ roll as the school administration, portrayed in Nazi like manner, is declaring that rock music will imperil society.
The Ramones and punk music allowed youth to use rock ‘n’ roll as a vehicle for their emotions, their attitudes, their political expression – thus the band became sort of a cultural icon quickly. For 40 years they have been looked up to as making anti-authority cool, and that rock & roll is independence. In the film, the artists sing, act and are publically revered and vilified. The film allows seedy back stage antics of the rock and roll world to be exposed.
They show that music is power and that sex is something everybody wants – even the nerdiest types. Again, the pent up frustration of youth and high school culture is played out in bathroom executive offices, mean administrators labs and the classic scenic overlook or a tricked out van as locales for finding some ‘action’.
Another interesting aspect of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is the way it welcomed into mainstream the punk generation. Coming alive in the early 1970s punk was a avant-garde music follow up to Elvis Presley hips not being show on Ed Sullivan and Jim Morrison saying “girl we couldn’t get much higher” direct camera over Sullivan’s CBS network sensors disapproval. Music has always allowed youth to express themselves in new forms.
The punk generation was partially kicked off by the Ramones. They motivated bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. There was sort of a similar back-and-forth challenge of musical endeavors like the Beach Boys and Beatles had in the mid 1960’s. This mix of music and cultural angst equally influenced 1970-80’s artists and young adults that resulted in Live Aid; Farm Aid; Red, Hot + Blue and the Amnesty International tour.
Both films make the performance focus of the artist essential to their stories moral. Question authority; sexual expression is freedom; and live, laugh, love. Moreover, Rocky Horror is unique in its musicality and presentation of how far people will go for love.
The rock and roll, radio, concert and film industries are parried and exposed a bit in both films yet the world’s evil – tyrants and extraterrestrials are exposed through rock and roll. Music creates fame, love and attention. Sex is the reason for the season. Inside jokes are the directors irreverent wink of eye to viewers, making known that even the conventions of film and music should not be taken too seriously. And that Rock ‘n’ Roll is king!