Thursday, July 17, 2008
Time After Time Warp
"We want lips! We want lips! We want lips!"
That was the chant, no the demand made by the movie theater audience at the Tyler Mall in Riverside, right before the film began and the lights went down. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a rite of passage common to most drama students, and various social misfits and rebels in high school and college (at least, "in the 80's . . ."), going to the midnight showings often enough to memorize the audience participation lines and perhaps come up with a few of your own.
And it was bad. It was considered bad behavior for a goody-goody Christian boy like me. I was so pathetically goody-goody, I once asked my dad for permission to go toilet papering with some of the other band geeks (he said no). When I asked for permission to go see Rocky Horror my father replied sternly, "No! I heard there are transvestites in that movie." This was a real threat to my conservative Christian dad in 1984.
My band geek buddy, Brent, had been the one to initiate me. We had to figure out some euphemism for the film's title when discussing plans to go see the movie, in front of parents. Rita Hayworth had the same initials, so 'Rita' became the code word.
"So, are we going to see Rita tonight?"
"I have to see if I can borrow the car. It's been almost two months since I last saw Rita!"
I was a goody-goody who didn't even cuss until the end of his senior year in high school. Yelling audience participation lines repeatedly helped me to hone my rookie cursing skills:
RH: Hi! Brad Majors!
Criminologist (reading from the dictionary): emotion - an intense feeling as of love, hate, or despair . . .
Audience member: Too bad you can only read about it, you chicken-fucker!
At first, we would bring all of the props, including water pistols and umbrellas for the scene with rain ("There's a liiiight, over at the Frankenstein place"), and dry toast to hurl into the air when Frank proposes, "A toast."
By the time we were sophisticated enough to be experts in all of the participation lines, we would attend midnight showings with a single prop - balloons that we could rub and squeak when Rocky was playing with Janet's boobs ("Touch-a touch-a touch-a touch me"), which we would then pop at the end of the song when Susan Sarandon would swoon with orgasmic delight.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped me to feel a little bit rebellious in a safe, low-risk way. As infantile as the participation may have been, it had helped me to come out of my shy, goody-goody shell. The rules were minimal and there was no need to worry about offending anyone with colorful language. It was encouraged, rather, almost as if it was competition of wit and creativity, and it was all very liberating for me.
And people were very creative. I'll never forget one night when, in the pool scene right before Dr. Frankenfurter kicks a phallic handle that raises a motorized diving board, a young woman had yelled, "Now, kick the dildo and give the pool a hard-on!"
Fierce, confident queens who had grown up in that era owe much to Tim Curry's portrayal of Dr. Frankenfurter. For many of us, even those who grew up to be not-so-fierce, this was our first exposure to any type of drag queen. Although it had taken several years for my overall being to unclench from my Christian upbringing, The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped me to literally take baby steps toward learning how to strut like a fierce, bitchy queen, just by imitating Tim Curry's performance behind closed doors:
"I'm just a sweet transvestite (sweet transvestii-iite), from Transssexual, Transylvaniaaa-uh-huh!"
Okay, so maybe my dad wasn't just being paranoid when he felt threatened.