You can blame me. That's right, you can declare me guilty as all manner of sin. As a teenager growing up in the '70s (that's 30+ years ago, for you messageboard mercenaries), the lure of a Midnight Movie was something quite special. It was forbidden fruit, an opportunity to stay out late, settle in with a like minded group of film fans, and see something startlingly outside the norm. We thrived on Eraserhead, kept our Pancake House dinner down during Pink Flamingos. We even wandered into the occasional screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, just to figure out why it was given the late night treatment (conclusion - clueless theater manager). It was dorks like me, however, who clung to a campy, kitschy terror trip with a kickass rock and roll soundtrack, returning weekly for months until we made it a phenomenon. You guessed it - like elsewhere in the meandering Me Decade, we Tampa adolescents turned The Rocky Horror Picture Show into the cult cause it's known as today. Yet after seeing a recent anniversary tribute staged by creator/composer Richard O'Brien (now on DVD), I'm starting to wonder what all the fuss is about.
In order to celebrate The Rocky Horror Show's 33rd anniversary, a star-studded line-up of past and promised cast members descended on the Royal Court Theater to stage one of those notorious "live soundtrack" showcases. Featuring some of the classic company from the hit film and stage show (Little Nell, Patricia Quinn) and individuals who first brought O'Brien's characters to life (like infamous Frank-N-Furter Anthony Head), the entire score is presented concert style, including a couple of songs some fans may or may not have known were in the show. Along with Young One's Adrian Edmondson as Brad and Sophie Lawrence as Janet, the fast paced 65 minutes bring the following numbers to life:
"Science Fiction/Double Feature"
"Over at the Frankenstein Place"
"The Sword of Damocles"
"Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul"
"Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me"
"Once in a While"
"Planet Schmanet Janet"
"Rose Tint My World"
"Don't Dream It, Be It"
"Wild and Untamed Thing"
"I'm Going Home"
"Time Warp Reprise"
This is a hard DVD review to write. For those of us who discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show when it was still just a twinkle in the film Fame's eye, long before it became a talking point for television magazine programs and local news outlets, there was a Biblical, near religious quality to the entire schlock rock experience. We memorized the music, worked out elaborate tricks for the various "participation" bits. On Halloween we'd dress up as favorite characters (or a close homemade proximity thereof) and slander the "virgins" who walked in wondering what all the hubbub was. For us, seeing it 50 or 60 times was not out of the question. One friend visited the Friday and Saturday showings every week for 16 months. So going into Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Tribute Show, mixed feelings meshed with even more confusing expectations. Was it possible to divorce oneself from a lifetime of fandom, from the muscle memory of certain tunes crooned in a particular fashion and enjoy what the original Riff Raff and his pals put forth? Or would there be so much baggage, so much devotion to those formative years and the memories built out of so many nights spent revisiting the tiny town of Denton.
The answer is a bit of a disappointment, just like the DVD. If you have images of Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Meatloaf, and most importantly, Tim Curry, burned into your beleaguered brain pan, if you can't imagine ANYONE else playing these iconic roles, Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Tribute Show will sideswipe your sensibilities. It happens almost immediately, when Patricia Quinn (the film's fab-o Magenta) steps up to sing the opening ode to b-movie bliss, "Science Fiction/Double Feature". Yes, she crooned it originally (when the theatrical production was 'introduced' by an usherette), but it can't match the massive movie screen lips offering up O'Brien's brilliant drone. This happens a lot - the present talent asked to reprise these sonic stalwarts just can't match the myth. We want to hear Bostwick bemoan his fate with his frigid lady love, not the guy who played Vivian (as good as Edmonson is here). And as interesting as Head is at playing the terrific transvestite, he's not even as good as the other Frank on the bill (one Michael Ball).
And where is the trademark track "I Can Make You a Man"? Does Charles Atlas have a restraining order out against O'Brien? It was a highlight of the whole "Rocky Comes Alive" section of the First Act, and offered Frank-N-Furter a chance to truly shine. It's not here. While it's a great deal of fun to revisit this material and see how the concert audience reacts to the smallest tongue and cheek wink from the performers, it feels like there's something amiss here. Again, it comes from this critic's personal perspective, but it's relatively easy to extrapolate said feeling out among most of the old guard. We're just too enamored of the past. Still, if you can remove yourself from your past, if you can put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and view this product as separate from your frequent bouts of the Time Warp, you'll adore it. Of all the rock based theater pieces ever to grace the West End (or Broadway) stage, The Rocky Horror Show stands as something quite special. It's an inventive, backwards glancing delight, encompassing American culture through a classic British awareness. Hearing it all again always has its rewards. Keep your reminiscences to a minimum, and you'll truly enjoy yourself.
Crisp and bright with a surprising amount of detail, the DVD release of Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Tribute Show is hampered by only one minor media misstep - it's not presented in a widescreen anamorphic transfer. Instead, we are treated to a colorful and clear 1.33:1 full screen image that's very, very good. Of course, that's no consolation for 16x9 aficionados and those who've switched over to the new rectangular TV type. Again the visual appeal is palpable. The technical take is not too cool.
Fans might also be flummoxed at the choice to render the concert experience moot by mixing the material into a non-immersive, speaker limiting Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0. It's not like this show was recorded back in the days of two channel choices. There had to be a multichannel option - it was presented in 2006, for crying out loud. What we have here is fine. It could have been so much better, sonically.
Sadly, there are none. Kultur is not known for tricking out their digital packages, but the lack of added material is pathetic. This is The Rocky Horror Picture Show we're talking about, perhaps one of the most written about and discussed phenomenons in all of outside the mainstream movies. Something could have been cobbled together - a cast outline, a list of when each participant played in the production previously. Instead, it's a basic, barebones offering - nothing more and a whole lot less.
My Rocky Horror tolerances ended when I hit my 30s. I no longer loved the film and would seek out the soundtrack for an occasional dose of Tim Curry belting out "I'm Going Home." As the VCR gave way to the DVD, I bought my mandatory copy of the 'specialest' edition available, and then watched as it sat on my shelf. It's still there, along with thousands of other titles that I'll probably never find the time to revisit. Still, as a wigged out wake-up call for why I loved the musical in the first place, Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Tribute Show deserves a Highly Recommended rating. I will probably never watch it again, but that's par for the cult classic course when it comes to this amazing property. No matter the format - play, film, album, CD, or DVD - there is something eternal about Richard O'Brien's retro-revivalism. Nothing about this version can ruin that - and frankly, it really doesn't try. It's just that the memories occasionally get in the way.