“One of the things I’m most proud of about the movie is how it’s helped in the narration of social issues,” says Barry Bostwick of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “So many people were coming out of the closet and were fighting for their rights at the time. I thought this movie was a message for that.”
Not so its creator, Richard O’Brien, according to Bostwick.
“Richard never saw Rocky Horror as a message movie,” says the actor, beloved for his portrayal of the nerdy Brad Majors, who undergoes a sexual awakening over the course of a very strange evening. “He just saw it as entertainment, a figment of his sort of psychological derangement and his exhibitionism.
“The times that I would talk to Richard after the fact, he would always say, ‘Well, that wasn’t our intention.’ He was just writing about what amused him, about his history with the old sci-fi movies and musicals from the ’50s. I don’t think he had a plan to help change the world. I mean, what was it? Five or eight years before the film came out, homosexuality was still outlawed in England.”
Bostwick is part of a special event coming to D.C. in honor of the film’s 45th anniversary. He’ll appear live at a screening of the movie, complete with a “shadow cast” and costume contest, at D.C.’s Entertainment & Sports Arena on Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31.
Based on a wacky, energetic stage show, the 1975 movie achieved cultural sizzle on the midnight circuit in the ‘70s, along with David Lynch’s Eraserhead and John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. Rocky Horror eventually surpassed both, its appeal rooted in a magnetic leading performance by Tim Curry as the flamboyant Dr. Frank-N-Furter, “a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania,” as well as an ahead-of-its-time, if nonsensical, romp through themes of sexual fluidity. Propelled by a stunning catchy rock score by O’Brien, Rocky Horror is a low-budget treasure that was far ahead of its time. It caught fire — one that still blazes to this day.
“It is the longest continuously playing film ever,” says the 76-year-old Bostwick. “It’s still playing somewhere in the world. It’s never gone dark. Even during the pandemic, there were theaters that, just to keep it alive, would run it to empty houses on a Saturday night at midnight.”
Bostwick is appreciative of the movie’s unique historical place in the annals of cinema.
“I’m very proud of it,” says the actor, whose career included a co-starring stint as the wonderfully obtuse New York City mayor on the Michael J. Fox sitcom Spin City. “When I go out and talk about it, I always try to end with the statement that the film is really about becoming genuinely who you are. Just be who you are and don’t be knocked off your center by all these things that are always trying to knock us around.
“In the movie,” he continues, “everybody comes into [the story] innocently — me and Susan Sarandon’s Janet, and even Frank-N-Furter’s monster. And then they are knocked off their centers. It’s about the loss of innocence on every level.”
Bostwick notes that “Brad and Janet make a full turn, just because they went into a world that forced them into a different reality. It was as if they dropped acid and imagined this whole thing, and then sobered up somewhere on the ground in their bustiers. They’re going, ‘What just happened? Did I just make all this up? Do I really feel that way?’”
As for Brad, Bostwick says, “I think he comes away obviously more confused than anything. And I think the sensuality of what happened has shocked him out of his place. He’s a fighter — and he couldn’t fight his way out of this circumstance. It’s like that line he sings, ‘Help me, mommy.’ He’s at a real turning point. By the end of it, I’m not sure he knows which way to go. I think that he could very easily, as a character, slip back into his macho ‘50s persona and become mayor of New York in a show called Spin City and carry out his clandestine affairs in bathrooms in sordid subway stations.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 45th Anniversary Spectacular is Sunday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. at D.C.’s Entertainment & Sports Arena, 1100 Oak Dr. SE. Tickets are $25 to $45. Visit www.eventsdc.com/events/rocky-horror-picture-show.
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