Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ghosts of Halloween Past: Let's Do the Time Warp, Again!


I was cleaning out some drawers the other day and found this photograph shoved into an old date-book of mine. On the back of it, written in my unmistakable scrawl was , "Halloween Weekend 1981 - Rocky Horror Players Cherry Hill Mall (behind the theatre)".

Funny thing is, I remember taking this out of focus shot with my old Yashica MG-1 camera. I am pretty sure I was under the influence of some mind-altering substance when I shot this...chances are I probably took the photo more than once as I had a habit of forgetting to turn the flash on...

Between 1979 and 1982, I must have seen The Rocky Horror Picture show at least fifty or sixty times. Me and my posse of suburban pals would pile in to a couple of cars and head on over to the Cherry Hill Mall and spend an hour and half enjoying a communal experience at it's purest.

Back in those days, RHPS was the only midnight movie that mattered. It might astonish people today to see a theatre full of bizarrely attired suburbanites not only watching a film, but acting it out...talking back to the characters on the screen, singing along with the songs, dancing along with the dances, throwing handfuls of rice as well as rolls of toilet tissue and pieces of toast at the appropriate times, holding matches and lighters high during one number (oh god, could you imagine anyone doing that today? ). And it was a strangely religious experience for most, if not all, of the participants.

My friends and I used to say we were "going to church" when we headed out to see this film...
...and, in a way, it was like going to church; in that church is usually a colony of the like minded, or something like that.

What a wild time that was. Picture it; the theatre is packed, it's almost midnight, people are smoking (all kinds of things), beer is smuggled in and cans of cheap brew are passed down the rows to friends and for a while, all was right with the world. High school quarterbacks sat next to artsy kids. Punks and heavy metal types co-existed. Button-down folks would be seduced in to peeling down to their skivvies and dancing ("Let's do the time warp again!").

What Rocky Horror succeeded in doing, the United Nations still can not achieve.

What made the Rocky Horror experience so special to so many, I think, was the fact that the film's hero is a cross dressing mad scientist (played to the hilt by Tim Curry); frankly it did my young gay heart good to hear people cheering for this character(especially in the early 80's when being gay in a small town south joisey was something one kept hidden)...if you've ever been to a screening you know that the roof is practically blown off the house when Frank N Furter makes his grand entrance and removes his cape revealing his torn fishnets and corset.

Beyond the film's sexual shenanigans, a message of individualism was preached to the kids of this era; "Don't dream it, be it". I like to think that many of us took those words to heart and later in life made that our mantra...hell, maybe even a young Bill Gates saw this film!

Another thing that RHPS seemed to be celebrating was the dissolution of the 50's ideal. At the film's start our hero and heroine, Brad and Janet (a very young Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) are at a wedding of some mutual friends (hence the tossing of rice at the screen by the audience), and before to long, they themselves are engaged to be married. Overjoyed by this turn of events they set out to break the news to their old science professor (makes sense) ; however, a flat tire and a rainy night conspire against our two Eisenhower era protagonists, and by the end of their story they've both been seduced by the crazy Doctor and are left in a field like discarded items from another era.

What is celebrated in RHPS is an alternative lifestyle (and how!); Frank, the mad-doctor, is creating the perfect man for himself (and who wouldn't want to do that?), and on the night of Brad and Janet's ill-timed arrival, he's about to reveal his new creation to the world...his creature is named, Rocky(Peter Hinwood), a buff blond who does not say much (but can sing), and who spends most of the film wearing nothing more than a pair of gold lame' swim trunks. You see all Frank wants is a happy domestic life, and who can blame him?

Much madness ensues from this point on and there is blood-letting, cannibalism, lesbianism, incestuous suggestions, and a lot of catchy rock-and-roll songs, what was not to love about this film? Shit, it was as good as The Sound of Music!

I suppose that by today's standards, RHPS's premise would be considered rather tame, though I am sure that there are still theatres through out the nation that run it on occasion, if not every weekend, and I hope that somehwere, there is a young gay kid who tagged along with his pals and for an awhile thought to himself, "Wow, I'll bet at least half the people here tonight are gay! I guess I'm not the only one!"







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