Monday, January 28, 2013

Liking the problematic: Rocky Horror

We recently went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is touring in its "40th anniversary party" incarnation.

I really like the show and we've been a few times over the years. But it does have some problems that sometimes make me wonder about my enjoyment. I recently read this piece about liking the problematic, and I figured I would take some time to think aloud, as it were, about Rocky Horror.

What do I like about it? Well, it's the taking of the B-movie standards and playing with them - the conscious hat-tips to '50s horror and sci-fi films: the spooky old castle randomly occurring in small-town USA, the silver tunics and ray-guns, the apple-pie conservative couple suddenly plunged into peril. It takes genres I love and has fun with them.

Plus it's a musical with some great catchy songs.  There's a lot to like in that.

I also like the transgressive sexuality and the way it turns the male form into the primary object of desire and subject of the audience's gaze. A man in conventionally female underwear: basque, suspenders & stockings is hot, not ridiculous. Or certainly not when played by Oliver Thornton. Rowf. Frank adopts the uber-'feminine' poses of seduction/glamour models and there's humour in that, but it's not against him.

And what's not to love about a man in such garb, plus white coat, running around with a chain-saw?

For me, the most problematic part of Rocky Horror, are the rape scenes. As a fan it's hard to say the r word, but there's no real way round it. It's not seduction, because Franknfurter creeps into Janet's bed, pretending to be Brad, and has sex with her - and later does the same in reverse with Brad. He then persuades each of them respectively that they enjoyed it and they have sex again willingly.

It may also be a LGBT issue that the transgressor, bisexual transvestite Franknfurter, is a voracious sexual predator, who ends up dead in the end. This resonates to me of horror story tropes where the sexually active teens are always the first to die. Obviously Franknfurter, as a murderer and rapist, is not the same and may deserve his fate, but he is the sexual boundary breaker - so it's an interesting one. It's strange how likeable the character is, despite or perhaps because, of his arrogance and amorality. He's a bit of a tragic figure, because he isn't really capable of love, yet he is much-loved, even by those he betrays and abuses. His exuberance and vitality drive the story.

It's a whole lot of fun to watch 'though and the audience participation & dressing-up makes it an experience.

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