Rocky Horror FAQ

Oct. 20, 2016
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I thought Rocky Horror Picture Show was a silly mess when it opened in Milwaukee in that long ago time when our city was still a factory town—so long ago that the audience that night still hadn’t memorized the lines. Afterward, I never gave the midnight flick much thought accept to acknowledge that some of my acquaintances—who nowadays would be grouped together under the LGBT heading—found it meaningful.

Not sure if Dave Thompson’s book, The Rocky Horror Picture Show FAQ (Applause Books), will get me out for a midnight screening but… maybe I’ll see if the library has a copy I can borrow. His FAQ isn’t simply a compendium of dates, data, trivia—albeit it serves that purpose. The real kick comes early as the author puts the production’s 1973 debut on the London stage into the context of its origins: the entendre-laden tradition of naughty British humor (Benny Hill in drag?), the rise of glam rock and its affectionate backwards nod toward 1950s rock and roll, and the UK’s recent loosening of theater censorship and decriminalization of homosexuality.

Rocky Horror Show was a creature of its moment and yet, as Thompson writes, “It has outlived pet rocks, it has outlasted disco” and stands with the “most lasting, and successful, contributions” to pop culture from the ‘70s.

According to Thompson, there was the real possibility that the movie version could have been blockbuster-ready with an A-List cast. Mick Jagger, Keith Moon and David Bowie were being considered for starring roles. Instead, director Jim Sharman, who brought the thing to the stage in the first place, stubbornly insisted on the cast he knew so well. As a result, it was launched as a B picture with a budget tight as a pair of fishnets. The Picture Show found its audience organically, not through a well-oiled campaign of Hollywood hype but by “can-you-believe-this?” word of mouth. It’s still playing on big screens 40 years on.

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