The Rocky Horror Picture Show cult following
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The Rocky Horror Picture Show cult following describes the cultural phenomenon surrounding the large fan base of enthusiastic participants of the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, generally credited as being the best-known if not the first cinematic "midnight movie". The following resembles (to some extent) the fandom of other fantasy and science fiction films, with its own fan conventions, websites and YouTube videos.
History and background
The film The Rocky Horror Picture Show came about due to the tremendous success of the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show and opened in the United States at the United Artists Theater in Westwood, California, on September 26, 1975. Although the theater was selling out every night, it was noted that many of the same people were returning to see the movie. This turned out to be an exception, not the rule as it was not doing well elsewhere in the US.
The film was then re-launched as a midnight movie, beginning its run at the Waverly Theatre in New York City on April 1, 1976. The Riverside Twin in Austin, Texas, became the second location to run the film as a midnighter. Over time, people began shouting responses to the characters' statements on the screen. Schoolteacher Louis Farese, Jr., is credited by some with starting the convention of talking back to the film on Labor Day weekend, 1976, at the Waverly Theatre. (These mostly include melodramatic abuse of the characters or actors, vulgar sex jokes, puns, or pop culture references.) A showing of the film at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention spread its fame to a new cadre of enthusiasts.
Midnight screenings of the film soon became a national sensation. All across the country people were lining up on Friday and Saturday nights to see this unique film experience. In New York, the film relocated from the Waverly after a house record ninety-five weeks to the 8th Street Playhouse. By summer 1979, the film was playing on weekend midnights in twenty-odd suburban theaters in the New York region alone; 20th Century-Fox had approximately two hundred prints of the movie in circulation for midnight shows around the country. The Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee, where the film has played as a Saturday midnight film since January 1978, is the world record holder for continuous showings. The next longest run is believed to be at the Clinton Street Theater in Portland, Oregon, tracing its history to April 1978.
The film gained popularity as much because of the fan participation as anything else. Interactive shows featuring "Shadow Casts" of fans acting out the entire movie below, or in some cases directly in front of the screen are almost always present at showings. In San Francisco at the Strand Theatre on the south side Market Street just west of 7th St., fans came to see the well organized group there, coordinated by Grady Broyles, performing with sets and props like a professional theatre troupe. In Los Angeles, fans included a transsexual performing as Frank N Furter at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Blvd, just a few blocks away from the Roxy Theatre where the Rocky Horror Show made its American debut.
Other audience participation includes dancing the Time Warp along with the film, and throwing toast, water, toilet paper, hot dogs, and rice at the appropriate points in the movie. Many theatres forbid throwing items that are difficult to clean up. In many cases a total ban of throwing anything at all have been instituted due to severe damage to screens. Fans often attend shows in costume as the characters, while an onstage "shadowcast" act out the movie. At a now defunct theater in New Orleans the local Eddie would ride his motorcycle down the aisle during Meat Loaf's/Eddie's song, "Hot Patootie." Audience members also use newspapers to cover their heads and squirt guns for rain during the "Over at the Frankenstein Place" musical sequence, and use noise makers during the scene in which Rocky is unveiled. The whole phenomenon got a boost in 1980, with the release of the movie Fame, in which some characters attend a screening of Rocky Horror at the 8th Street Playhouse. It was this feature film that introduced America to Sal Piro, the president of the National Fan Club. Piro made an appearance in the film playing himself during the screening of Rocky Horror.
There are many aspects and levels to participating at a showing of this movie. Many people just yell at the screen while others go much deeper. Many people develop over time into die hard fans. During the song "Time Warp" in many theaters nearly everyone stands up and does the dance. Costumes, props, and verbal dialogue are all tools in participating.
What were ad lib responses, more commonly known as call backs or audience participation (AP) lines by followers, from the audience are now, in a few locales, as tightly scripted as any screenplay. Audience members who provide "incorrect" or poorly timed responses may find themselves angrily shouted down just as if they were being disruptive in a normal movie. However, creative new lines are usually applauded and even added to the local repertoire.
There have been audience participation albums recorded and scripts published. However, most fans feel that it is preferable for responses to grow organically from the local culture. For example, the audience members in Salt Lake City have utilized frequent references to the LDS Church and Brigham Young University as well as having the shadowcast name of The Latter Day Transvestites. In most locales, new responses are regularly added to the canon (for example the introduction of references to South Park character Timmy at times when the paraplegic Dr. Scott is in a scene). Additionally, in some areas, the lines take note of current events (for example, the use of the name of a recent famous deceased in the line "Show Me (Name)", when Riff-Raff opens the coffin at the beginning of the "Time Warp").
In Paris, where it's been shown twice a week for 20 years, the audience makes puns not only around the audio dialogs, but also with the French subtitles.
Theatre "Shadow Casts"
Some arthouse cinemas have a tradition of regularly playing the film on a particular date, especially Halloween. After nearly 40 years, regular weekend showings can still be found in many cities throughout the world. Over 200 showings of Rocky are found worldwide.
In cinemas where the film plays on a regular or semi-regular basis, groups of fans have formed casts. These casts act out the movie on a stage, or on the floor in front of the movie screen, or even behind it for ghostly effects (Studio Galande, Paris). Among many Rocky Horror casts there is a perpetual quest for "screen-accuracy", meaning that everything from costumes to props to the motions that actors make on stage match the movie exactly. Other casts focus on innovation or simply giving the audience a good time. Most casts usually try to achieve both of these philosophies.
Largest showing ever: over 9400 fans at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in August 2013.
Typically, a showing that uses a shadow cast will include a pre-show ritual that involves calling attention to anyone who hasn't seen the film in a theater. Those who haven't experienced Rocky Horror "live" are considered "Virgins", often having a 'V' marked on their foreheads with red lipstick. Depending on the theater and shadow cast, Virgins will be called out, mocked, made fun of (usually in a good-natured-but-vulgar way) and encouraged to participate in party tricks and games that might be considered racy or demeaning. It is common to have rubber balloons (or even inflated condoms) placed between a "virgin's" knees to be popped by cast members. In the 1990s, casts in New York and Virginia would fill a "Virgin's" mouth with whipped cream and put a cherry on top, etc. A Nashville-based pre-show includes parading the "Virgins" up and down the aisles of the theater with balloons (referred to as "cherries") held between their knees, while "The Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack plays throughout the house.
Costume designer Sue Blane's original designs for the film are recreated by fans in great detail. Costumes range from the very simple to extremely elaborate. Fans can be very serious about their recreations and take great pride in entering costume contests at conventions and debating various techniques and materials used to build them. However, plainclothes are considered acceptable among those who are not as serious.
Use of objects
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During select moments of the film, audience members will use select props they had brought for the film, or bought at the venue itself. For instance, when Brad and Janet start running in the rain, some audience members will fire off loaded water pistols into the air, while others cover their heads with newspaper as Janet does in the scene. Many fans will fling toast into the air when the line "A toast!" is said, Scott brand toilet paper at the line "Great Scott!", and playing cards are often thrown when Frank N. Furter sings the line "cards for sorrow, cards for pain" in "I'm Going Home".
Some props and participation have evolved regionally. In semi-regular screenings of the Rocky Horror at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee the longtime MC and shadow cast host has been known to throw a large bucket of water from the back of the cinema when Curry's character tosses a cup of water at the camera during a song. Those in the "know" have adapted to the surprise while the uninitiated in the audience become doused.
At the Joyo Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska, it is customary for frozen meatballs to be thrown when Eddie (Meat Loaf) rides his motorcycle out of the deep freeze (beginning the song "Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul").
However, due to both the added burden of cleanup and the potential for more serious damage to the facility, not all theatres which screen Rocky Horror permit the use of props.
- Macor, Alison. "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture 2 Mar, 2009
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- Interview with SF writer Gene DeWeese
- Hoberman and Rosenbaum (1983), p. 13.
- Devlin, Ryan; "Let's do the Time Warp Again. And Again. And Again"; Premiere v. 18 no. 9 (June 2005) p. 58-60, 62-3
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- Lucas, Drake (2005-10-20). "Rocky Horror Rolls On". The Patriot Ledger. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
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