Sunday, May 09, 2004


Let There Be Lips

Part 4: The Rocky Horror Road Show

1990 was a big year for Rocky Horror. The movie’s fifteenth anniversary was being hyped to the gills, with reactions ranging from “wow, I remember going to that,” to, “cheezus, that thing is still playing?” One fortunate side effect was that new theaters were picking it up, and new audiences were being drawn in. And I was able to feel superior to it all, having already been a fan for a full year.

The other side effect, that would in retrospect turn out to be less fortunate, was that the movie was released on home video for the first time.

Up to that point, Rocky had never really been seen as a major success by Twentieth Century Fox. After receiving abysmal reviews upon its completion in 1975, it was unceremoniously dumped into theaters in a handful of markets. New York City, the acknowledged heart of the Rocky Horror phenomenon, had never actually gotten a formal release—it was booked to fill the midnight slot at the Waverly Theater, and despite having changed theaters a few times, had always been the disreputable bastard child. That was why, a good ten years into the home-video era, Rocky Horror had never been given a North American video release.

What that meant, of course, was that actually owning a copy on video became a signifier of one’s status as a “true” Rocky Horror fan. I myself was proud to own an nth generation copy of someone’s copy of someone’s bootleg of the Japanese laserdisc release—easily spotted by the Japanese subtitles. Even rarer were copies of the one-night-only broadcast on a Los Angeles public TV station. These copies were recognized by the inclusion of the song “Superheroes,” deleted from the original theatrical prints and omitted from the Japanese version.

But by the end of 1990, the new theaters were flooded with “Video Virgins” who thought they were exempt from the virgin ceremonies because, “I rented the video!” Our standard response to that was “that’s like watching Deep Throat and saying you’ve had oral sex.”

The bigger problem was that these newbies had no idea of proper Rocky Horror etiquette. I know the idea of etiquette seems counter to the anarchic spirit of Rocky Horror, but any true fan knows you have to have a good relationship with the theater. After all, they’re the ones cleaning up your crap at two AM, so have some respect. Don’t throw stuff right at the expensive screen. Don’t throw hot dogs or other meat products. No squirt guns. No open flames (except for Sal).

But the Video Virgins had no sense of any of this. The short featurette at the beginning of the video showed fans in New York engaging in what looked to the untrained eye like a riot—and with squirt guns. They knew they had heard something about yelling “asshole” and “slut” and throwing things, so there would be shows where groups of malcontents would start immediately tossing their TP immediately, while randomly hurling epithets at the cast.

Of course, we would try to defuse the situation; one memorable occasion ended up with us confronting a gang of fratboys who kept asking us if we wanted to “mix it up.” Of course we whizzed it, and it was up to their poofy-haired girlfriends to usher the alpha monkeys into the car while gigglingly assuring us that “you guys were great! You guys were awesome!”

Before long the theater management had had enough. We showed up one night and were told that we couldn’t perform.

That was the thing—they were keeping the movie. They still drew a good crowd every weekend, and still made good money, so why give that up. They were even willing to let us stay—as long as we didn’t perform, throw anything, or yell anything at the screen. So John—fearless leader—walked into the theater about five minutes to midnight, and announced that the cast were demanding their money back. John walked out, and we followed—and so did the audience. Thirty or so people, all refusing to stay at a showing of Rocky Horror if there was no cast.

Of course, once we all had our money back, there was another problem: what now? We had an audience, a full cast, all in costumes, with props. What were we going to do? Go home?

That’s when Lenny’s mom stepped up. “Everybody come to my house!” she announced.

So we did. A few people lamed out, but we crammed about twenty people, not counting the cast, into the living room of Lenny’s family’s small house, where we did the preshow, including virgin ceremony, then popped in the video. It was a challenge, acting out the movie in a cramped living room with twenty people sitting on the floor, but we managed it with, well, not exactly style and grace, but certainly with enthusiasm. Lenny’s mom even made us frozen pizza.

For the next couple of weeks, we felt like boat people. We were a cast without a theater. We took our show on the road, first to the Gateway in Federal Way (which had gotten Rocky about the same time as Lincoln Plaza), then to the Overlake in Bellevue. The casts there were sympathetic to our cause, letting us make an announcement before the show, where we urged outraged fans to call Lincoln Plaza and demand our return. We also made ourselves available to sub for missing cast members. I myself filled in as Eddie the night we went to the Overlake, where I ended up scaring their poor Columbia—she wasn’t used to an Eddie who actually knew the dance moves.

Meanwhile, there was a small but dedicated campaign going on back at Lincoln Plaza. A small group of regulars was handing out flyers before shows, while a theater employee named Jason was campaigning with the management to get us back in, promising to put himself in charge of keeping the theater clean and the cast respectful.

Our loving audience, not so respectful

So, after three weeks away, we were finally allowed back in the theater. Nothing much had changed; we were a little more adamant about the rules, and we occasionally took a moment during the preshow to applaud Dan the Projectionist, but that was about it. I think they just wanted a little love.

Next: Speaking of love...
Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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