“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) dir. Jim Sharman, scr. Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman

It’s Halloween time and I guess it’s now appropriate to talk about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the most famous “Midnight Movie” of all-time.  The term “Midnight Movie” will likely be alien to anyone born after 1975 or so, but in the days before cable TV, VCRs, DVD players, Blu-Ray, streaming, etc. … most people could only see movies in actual movie theaters.  And many theaters would host special midnight screenings of certain films that weren’t playing during the daylight or early evening hours because the special nature of such films would bring out a certain crowd of (mainly young) night owls looking for fun on a Friday and Saturday night.  These films were often ones that would not appeal to either older adults or young kids … they were aimed at teenagers and hip young adults.

“Rocky Horror” may not have been the first “Midnight Movie” blockbuster, but it was the most famous.  It was a film adaptation of a very popular British rock musical from the early 1970s called “The Rocky Horror Show.”  A Broadway adaptation in the mid-1970s flopped, but a version staged in Los Angeles at Lou Adler’s Roxy Theater was a big success.  Based on the popularity of the LA version, Adler convinced 20th Century Fox to pony up for a film adaptation.  With the exception of LA, the film flopped just as badly as the original Broadway version.  But … something curious started happening in New York City.  The film was booked into some midnight screenings in NYC after its main theatrical run and a small, but devoted group of fans started coming to screenings every week.  They became so familiar with the film that they started having fun with it … talking back to the screen, dancing in the aisles during the frequent musical numbers, and ultimately, dressing up like the characters.  Word started to spread about this phenomenon and more people started to attend screenings not just in NYC … but in every major city in North America.  Soon, 20th Century Fox had a major hit on their hands.  Over the past 40 years, the film has grossed … adjusted for inflation … the equivalent of $447 million, according to Box Office Mojo, making it the 73rd most popular film of all-time, behind “Lawrence of Arabia” and … ironically … before “Rocky.”

I finally saw “Rocky Horror” in the fall of 1985 at the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk, Virginia, a terrific venue for seeing the film because unlike other theaters in the area, they let people throw rice, shoot water pistols, dance in the aisles, etc.  The only rule is that no one could throw anything at the screen, but otherwise … anything went.  The experience was a blast and I wound up going back at least 4 more times, including a very memorable Halloween screening in 1987 where … I kid you not … a black man wearing a full Ku Klux Klan outfit strutted to the front of the theater … which had everyone convulsing in hysterics.

As fun as those screenings were … it was a screening a few months later that ended the fun for me.  In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to get sour about, but it was an event that put a damper on my enjoyment for many years.  As I was shouting things at the screen with the rest of the audience, some “Rocky Horror” “fan” in the other aisle started loudly criticizing me for what I was shouting out.  I guess I was saying things that were no longer “cool” at a “Rocky Horror” screening because … well … my life didn’t revolve around the film as much as it did for this person.  And it was at this moment that I thought “I may not be cool … but I’m much cooler that this nerd” and that, my friends, was that.  I never attended another screening and it was years before I watched it again on video because I held the film and its “cult” audience in contempt for being as elitist as the people they escaped from every Friday and Saturday night to have some fun. I later realized that I was letting one fascist geek ruin a genuinely fun event and I warmed to the film again when I picked up a Special Edition DVD at Target for a ridiculously low $5.

My feelings about the film today?  It’s not a great film, by any means.  There’s many rock musicals that are much better, specifically the gender-bending rock art films “Velvet Goldmine” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”  Yet as much as “Goldmine” and “Hedwig” are better films than “Rocky Horror,” they aren’t nearly as much fun.   “Rocky Horror” is still playing midnight screenings in the US and while I don’t know what’s allowed and what’s not at such screenings these days (I can only imagine the screenings are much more conservative), I would love to take my kids to a screening because I’m sure it’ll be way more fun than any theater experience they’ve ever had.

If you’re a fan … or curious about the phenomenon … you are encouraged to check out the terrific, nearly 4-hour podcast about the film from The Projection Booth at the link below:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/10/special-report-rocky-horror-picture-show.html

And here’s some links to some of the more memorable songs from the film:

“The Time Warp”

“Sweet Transvestite”

“Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is my all-time favorite romantic scene from a film. From the Quentin Tarantino-scripted / Tony Scott-directed 1993 cult classic “True Romance,” I first saw this at a time when I was a lot like Christian Slater’s character Clarence. This movie gave me hope at a bleak time in my life. Eventually, I found my Alabama … ironically in Alabama … three years later. Thankfully, she was not a call girl, four-days on the job or otherwise. And yes, I’m envious of my friends in Norfolk, Virginia who are watching this on a big screen tonight at the Naro in Norfolk, Virginia.

“The Rep” (2013) dir. Morgan White

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Back before you could find virtually any movie on cable TV, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix, etc., you had to rely on a local repertory movie theater to see movies that fell outside the mainstream. These films were not only the edgy independent ones, but also foreign and classic films that hadn’t been shown in theaters for years. The local repertory theater where I grew up … the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk, VA … showed a terrific mix of all these genres and some of the best moviegoing memories of my youth and young adulthood took place at the Naro.

The Naro is still open, but is in the midst of desperately trying to raise funds to buy a digital projector before the end of the calendar year. The reason is because after December 31 this year, most Hollywood studios will no longer be supplying theaters with 35mm film prints, the primary means of projecting films for several decades. The big first-run chains (Regal, Cinemark, AMC, etc.) aren’t worried since most are already showing digital prints exclusively (and their conversion was subsidized by the studios) . But the smaller, independent theaters are the ones that are hurting the most. It’s like one final kick to the teeth to what has been a filmgoing tradition for several years.  Strangely, I live in a town that’s 1/10 the size of the Tidewater, Virginia metro area and our local repertory house already finished their digital projector campaign … but I digress …

I thought a lot about the Naro while watching “The Rep,” a terrific documentary about the current struggle repertory theaters face, specifically one in Toronto, Ontario called “Toronto Underground Cinema” that started in 2010 and the owners’ oftentimes desperate efforts to keep their theater afloat. Granted, the notion of starting a business like this in a modern era … where most people (including myself) are now comfortably watching movies on large-screen televisions in HD … seems foolhardy at best.  But as a film-lover, I can’t help but feel my heart break when these cinephiles put their hearts and souls into programming great movies for people to watch … only to have 5 or less people show up for a screening.  It becomes apparent that the owners are not the best businessmen, but damn if their hearts aren’t in the right place.  In addition to showing the struggles of the Toronto Underground Cinema, “The Rep” interviews other theater owners and filmmakers (Kevin Smith, John Water, Atom Egoyan) about their own experiences with repertory cinema.

Look, if you really care about moviegoing … and there’s a local repertory theater in your town … do the right thing and check out a movie there every now and then …. even if you can instantly watch it on Xfinity or iTunes right now.  If that repertory theater shows second-run Hollywood films on occasion to pay its nut and support edgier fare at other times, wait to see that blockbuster you would otherwise see at the multiplex and pay to see it at the rep.   Because the people that run those places care about movies … far more than the dips–ts working at the multiplex … and are probably are working there for free mainly because they see a value in preserving the filmgoing experience many of us grew up on.

Of course, the crowning irony of this tirade is that I had to watch “The Rep” through a download from Amazon.  Regardless … this is a movie worth checking out however you see it … and hopefully it will inspire  you to check out a repertory theater near you.