The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a combination of many things: part rite of passage, part ultimate movie-going experience, and for Montrealers, part of a Halloween weekend chock-full of festivities. It is also one big paradox.
Philippe Spurrell has produced the show for the past 12 years. He describes the original 1975 film as a “unique beast,” yet every year, hundreds of fans gather to perpetuate, and add to, the phenomenon.
That all started with Richard O’Brien’s 1973 play The Rocky Horror Show, which was adapted to the big screen two years later. However, as any connoisseur will tell you &- and producer Spurrell certainly fits that bill &- the original release was not an instant success. After 20th Century Fox relegated it to the midnight showings, it gained a reputation for being wild and over the top (as did its audience) and the following grew.
2010 is a milestone year for Rocky Horror, as the movie celebrates its 35th anniversary. Its original fans are older still, but the mythology they created continues to grow.
It’s difficult to pinpoint how a film that is so obviously a product of its era has managed to retain relevance. “The film particularly […] relates to sexuality, sexual orientation, and so on,” Spurrell remarked. While the subject matter remains timeless, many other things have changed in the 35 years that have elapsed.
For one, with the rise of pay-per view services and the Internet, fewer people are making the trip to the theatre, a trend that Spurrell is attempting to combat: “One of my major philosophies of life is just trying to get people together,” he said. “I guess it’s another reason why I’m excited about Rocky Horror Picture Show — because it’s something that people actually get out of the house and get together for.”
The generalized decrease in ticket sales in the movie industry has not affected the annual event. Attendance has risen in the 12 years that Spurrell has produced the show. Spurrell noted that a contributing factor to its continued success in Montreal is the city’s cemented status as one of the most open in North America. “Early on one of our cast members came up with the term “Montreal is North America’s G-Spot,'” he quipped.
Spurrell made the conscious choice to only show it once a year in Montreal, as opposed to other North American cities.
However, Montreal faces a unique problem: the language barrier. As Spurrell pointed out, “It’s more of a phenomenon amongst English-speaking people,” although he’s made efforts to attract more francophones.
Thankfully for the crowd, “sex is a kind of universal language,” so even if non-English speakers don’t catch all the call-back lines, the gist of the story is understood by all.
Not only does Rocky Horror transcend language, it also continues to unite people of all ages. Spurrell noted that parents will bring their 10- or 12-year-old children to the show. He always takes care to point out that content is sometimes risquÃ©, but the parents are unfazed: “They say, “You can see a lot worse on the Internet.’ If a five-year-old can download hardcore porn what’s a little titty flash on stage? It’s no big deal, really.”
First-timers need not be worried. Spurrell estimates that one half to two-thirds of audience members are so-called Rocky Horror virgins. He advises newbies to consult the website for a rundown of things to bring. Costumes are encouraged, as there is a costume contest before the beginning of the movie. Spurrell also recommends that people go to the Thursday and Friday night showings, as Halloween night tends to be packed.
Even if the reasons for its enduring popularity remain baffling, one aspect of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will never change: “It’ll be one big, big party.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball will be held at the Rialto Theatre Oct. 28 &- 31. For show times and ticket prices, consult www.rockyhorrormontreal.com. In light of the 35th anniversary, the Thursday night showing will offer a reduced ticket price for all students.