Science Fiction, Double Feature

If you’re anything like me (and a lot of other people on this wonderful planet), the moment after reading the title of this post, a very particular melody popped into your head.

Doctor X will build a creature…

You may currently be envisioning a pair of giant red lips.

See androids fighting Brad and Janet…

Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve jumped straight to picturing Tim Curry in suspenders.

Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet…

And any moment now, you’re going to feel an almost unstoppable compulsion to stand up and jump to the left. And then step to the righ-igh-igh-igh-ight.

Oh-oh, at the late night, double feature, picture show.

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show at some point. Very possibly at multiple points. I know I have. But last week I had my first opportunity to go and see the show performed live on stage, with Craig McLachlan starring as Frank-N-Furter. It was, in a word, AMAZING.

Rocky Horror

It was everything Rocky Horror should be, and time seemed to disappear into a vortex and fly by at the speed of a super-sonic mansion-shaped alien spaceship.

When we came out of the theatre, I was grinning and glowing. The world was a different place — slightly less predictable, and an awful lot more exciting. Around me, 1999 other people (the show was sold out) were exiting the theatre with the same loopy grin on their faces. When people made eye contact with each other, no one looked away in awkward embarrassment at being caught staring. Instead, they shared a secret grin. People jostled each other, not in their rush to leave, but in that casual way that friends and intimates make occasional body contact, as if assuring themselves that they’re in good company.

And the thing that stood out to me, even more than all of that, was the variety of dress and age of the patrons.

Costumes; wigs; diamond jewelry; suits and ties; after-five gowns; fisher stockings; bright red lips; pale pink nails; sensible shoes; 3-inch heels; pearls; cuff-links.

Eighteen year old kids, and seventy year old couples who clung to the handrails for support as they walked, and everything in between.

And all of them, all of them, grinning and laughing and smirking and walking with just a little bit more hip-swivel than usual.

My friend and I left the theatre, and wandered down the strip looking for a place to sit and have coffee and cake. And as we walked, we talked about Story.

Rocky Horror Picture Show is almost forty years old. Those frail-looking septuagenarians? They were younger than me when the movie came out. They probably saw it at the picture theatre. And here they are, still moved by the story of innocent young lovers, and the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania. As for the 19 year olds? They weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes when the movie came out. But they’ve paid a small fortune to go to the theatre and see it performed live on stage.

But, why?

What is it about Rocky Horror that makes it so enduring?

What is it about the story that keeps us coming back for more? Is it the sexual liberation? The costumes? The catchy songs and dance numbers? Or just the overall antici–*

There have been so many other movies and stage shows over the last forty years that take the theme of sexual liberation even further. Seeing a man in suspenders is no longer quite as risqué as it used to be. And while the songs and dances are great, if that’s all it was about, we’d just buy the music. Or see a performance of the songs, rather than the whole show. But, no. We don’t do that. We don’t put the movie in the DVD player and skip through the boring bits to the songs.

Well, I don’t.

So what is it about the Story of Rocky Horror Picture Show that continues to draw the crowds?

“It’s timeless,” my friend suggested. “People can still relate to it.”

But… can they? I mean, obviously they can, or the show wouldn’t be playing to a sold-out audience every eight times a week for five weeks. In Brisbane. But what about it is timeless? Brad and Janet certainly don’t represent modern teenagers. And the whole “we have to go to the the spooky castle and ask if we can use their phone” is quaint and possibly completely unbelievable to the 19-year-olds in the audience.

So what is it that makes the story so timeless?

“You’re over-thinking it. It’s just a great show.”

That wasn’t my friend. That was a random lady who just happened to be walking in front of us, also having come from the theatre, and also in search of refreshments.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “But we’re writers. We like to try to work out what makes the story so great.”

She and her friend slowed and joined us. “It’s just great,” she said flippantly. “I remember sneaking into the cinema when the movie came out — because we weren’t old enough to get in and see it, but things were more relaxed back then. So we snuck in and watched it, with no idea what it was going to be about. And it was just… It’s the story of Brad and Janet who are so innocent, and they’re exposed to this world… It’s like they go through this whole experience, and then… Oh… The hug at the end. Where they run into each other’s arms…”

The two women looked at each, and one fanned herself with her hand. “It’s like… After everything they’ve been through, they realise they still love each other, and their love is even greater than it was to start with, because they’ve experienced so much more. And they’ve both done it, and they’re still there for each other, and…” She trails off, her voice full of emotion.

The other woman adds, “It’s like a fairytale.”

And that’s what it is.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fairytale.

It’s the tale of a young couple, separated by a wicked (and yet incredibly sweet and high-heeled) witch, forced to undergo emotional trials and come face to face with themselves. But in the end, despite everything that’s happened, they run into each other’s arms.

Safe.

Loved.

Forever.

And the wicked witch, a man so desperate to be loved that he would do whatever it took to create the perfect man — and discard the “failures” on a whim — is bested not by an outside source, but by his own excesses and hubris.

It’s a modern fairytale. A coming of age story that is timeless, because as we start to navigate the adult world, one of the most terrifying things we have to face is our own secret desires and appetites.

Also, there’s killer music, costumes, characters, and a whole lot of antici–

“When we were fifteen and we saw the movie for the first time,” my mystery friend said, “we came out of the cinema, and it was like we had been changed. It didn’t feel like we’d watched a movie. It felt like we’d been to another planet ourselves, and we were entirely different people. Like we suddenly saw the world the way it really was. And now…” She trails off and a little smile plays at the corners of her mouth. “Now, every time I watch it, I feel exactly the same way I felt when I was fifteen.”

And that, my friends, that is what makes a story timeless.

Did I over-think it? Under-think it? Why do you think The Rocky Horror Picture Show has such timeless appeal?

*pation.

11 Comments

Filed under Opinion, The Inner Geek, Writing

11 responses to “Science Fiction, Double Feature

  1. Most of the world seems to believe I overthink things; and I find most of the world misses the great joy of thinking deeper. I feel you got it about right.

    I really like the Rocky Horror Show, although I no longer fit in my Frank costume. Fortunately I can still do a good Riff-Raff.

    • …and now every time I see your picture, I shall be imagining you dressed as Frank. :)

      I’m also often told I overthink things. I tend toward the opinion that too many people underthink.

      • I deliberately didn’t include a photograph of me as Frank.

        I believe overthinking has got the human race many of the benefits it enjoys: sometimes spending hours on the underlying reasons for something merely expands your ability to see the world as it is and might be; but sometimes it also invents penicillin.

        I am fortunate that law is mostly about taking stories apart to see where they are the same or different than other stories, so much of my life overthinking was “a valuable ability to find strong arguments.”

  2. I agree about the fairytale aspect although I had never considered that before. I also think it has appeal because the audience took the movie and made something more out of it…all that participation…it creates a community.

  3. Fellow overthinker here- yes, a fairytale, an ode to the Hero’s Journey, and more.

    It does what any really great story does- gives even the oddest viewer a sense of belonging and participation in the story. We become invested in it. To the degree that even soccer moms want to glam it up, ham it up, and sing an ode to our dear Doctor Frankenfurter.

    I still remember the first time I saw RHPS. I was twelve. I loved horror movies and a friend and I picked it up on a whim during an overnight at her house. I still remember the secret smile her mother gave us. My friend had no idea what to think and fell asleep. I was hooked as soon as those red lips started singing. I went to school the next week and serenaded “Sweet Transvestite” to my friends. (They still remember this.) I taught my sister how to Time Warp. She’s a lifelong fan now.

    Great stories give the reader/viewer a sense of belonging. I knew something early on because of RHPS. I wasn’t the last star child on earth. :)

    • You’re so right — that sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than them. After all, if a sweet transvestite who just wants to be loved isn’t a kindred spirit to all us freaks and outcasts, who is? :)

      Love your story about the first time you watched it!

  4. I think it’s the pelvic thrust. The pelvic thrust gets ‘em every time. I never really loved the story. In fact, I was so put off by the movie the first three times, I had to turn it off. But you hear the songs, you get to know them, and it becomes sort of a macabre Emerald City. I’m going to second the, “It’s just fun!” theory.

    • Well, you know what they say. The pevic thrust can really drive you insa-ay-ay-ay-ane. :)

      Thanks for commenting — it’s always interesting to hear from people who have a completely different take on a topic. And the phrase “a macabre Emerald City” is going to stick with me.

  5. I saw the movie when it was a fixture at a local cinema. I remember that afternoon very, very clearly — pretty much everything about it except the movie itself.

    My attention was focused on the young woman I was with.

    It was explicitly not a date; it was just three friends seeing a movie.

    Halfway through, my friend (the other guy) leaned over and whispered rather resentfully that he was sure she was interested in me. I thought this was just jealousy on his part, but it was a few weeks later, on another very memorable occasion (Oscar night, by the way) that I found out he was right.

    I could see the movie again, these several decades later, I suppose, and actually pay attention this time, but I probably won’t. But I know why it’s memorable to me, even though I don’t remember it.

    • First, I’m incredibly surprised that you haven’t actually watched the movie.

      Second, I love your story. What a great illustration that we can all find the same event memorable for compeltely different reasons

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