Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Just Seven Days I Can Make You a Man

Halloween is only a recent import to Deutschland, and though many here may raise their eyebrows at the notion of trick-or-treating and jack-o'-lanterns, any pretext to indulge in Dionysian celebration is met with unmitigated zeal. It is this anything-goes Bacchanalian spirit which marks the ushering in of a new stage revival of The Rocky Horror Show ("reloaded" by original creator Richard O'Brien). It's refreshing to see stark black billboards at every other Haltestelle (bus stop) splashed in the characteristic Rocky font (opting for subtlety, without the vermillion disembodied Mick Jagger lips) with various catchphrases from the stage show, which, depending on your age bracket or degree of interest in film history, may or not pique your memory/interest, zB. "I Can Make You a Man"; "Whatever Happened to Fay Wray?"; "Don't Dream It, Be It". For the uninitiated, these fragments have an enigmatic effect. For everyone else, the idea of a Rocky revival is going to inspire either nostalgia or a shrug.

When I was in high school, the film was considered a badge of alternative cool. Whether or not you believed in the film's message of unbridled pansexualism (and I knew some who enjoyed such hedonistic Saturday nights for whom the reality of homosexuality was anathema), the act of seeing, nay, participating, in the spectacle was a rite of passage. Lobbing rotten vegetables, rice and toast at the screen, shielding oneself from phantom rain with old newspapers , und so weiter, was all done in a spirit of knowing decadence, at a slight remove. One could even dress as one of the film's many colorful characters without fear of reproach. The make-up, and the social stigma, rubbed off with a dab of cold cream come morning. And I knew several girls with quivering pubescent quims for whom Tim Curry's Frank-n-Furter was a reluctant sex symbol, vacillating, much like beleaguered Brad and Janet, between fear, repulsion and titillation. Yes, Rocky Horror ultimately became a catalyst for the "Queer" (Tm) in even the most vanilla cinema-goer (mirroring the transformations in the film of uber-nerdy Brad and Dr. Scott, into fishnet sporting chorines), a democratic sort of way of accessing one's own "funkiness", and an instant badge of quasi-punk cool. And if the collective flesh was willing, the individual spirit was weak at the knees, "quivering with antici....pation." The winking irony fostered by audiences brought up on MTV bent in on itself like a Uri Geller spoon, but the film's power soon snapped under the hyper-meta-consciousness and tongue-in-cheek-ness of the self-same American pop culture.

The message of the original show was quite seriously inspiring, a call to arms for the sexual revolution. The key players who remained from the Broadway show gave an edge to the otherwise watered-down B-Movie conventions of the film's script. But by now it had become so mainstream as to contain all the mojo of a wet noodle. With the advent of video, and the concomitant disappearance of midnight-movie culture, the Rocky Horror phenomenon became superannuated. The film was eventually released to deafening silence in the 90's on VHS and DVD. To me this was the absolute death knell of the cult film.

For some reason, it feels right to have a revival of the show in Berlin now, and the ubiquitous appearance of Rocky ephemera has raised some serious goosebumps on mein Hals. Though the culture wars are still raging in the US, many of the red states are coming out in blue drag for this election. With Obama importuning the world to "Look at Berlin", perhaps, for a season anyway, we can put aside our differences and our You-Tube accounts and revel in the freak nation-state of the German Hauptstadt, where East meets West, Dietrich donned suit-and-tails for von Sternberg, sexual ambiguity reigns and life's a bloody (post-post-modern)cabaret.

*Read an interview with Rocky Horror creator Richard O'Brien at Siegessaeule magazine (leider ist alles auf Deutsch):

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