Despite the devastating impact coronavirus has had on cinemas across the globe, with many tragically closing their doors for good, one small movie house in Portland, USA, is standing defiant.
Called The Clinton Street Theater, it’s stuck two-fingers up to Covid-19 and continued to show the same film it has done every Saturday night for the last 42 years – even if it is sometimes just to one guy and a couple of friends.
That film is the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
‘We basically just take turns saying a few words to start the show,’ said movie host, Nathan Williams, earlier this month, as he explained how he and the theatre’s manager Peter Anderson decided to carry on screening the movie as the country went into lockdown.
‘I showed up and just kept showing up and just kept showing up,’ he added.
Describing why it was paramount that the movie continued, Nathan said: ‘Rocky Horror at Clinton Street is a shining beacon that has lit up the lives of countless people who had no other place to go and be themselves.
‘We’re keeping that alive, even if just in spirit, so people know there’s a place that will always exist where they can go, let their hair down, and not worry about being judged.’
The Clinton Street Theater in Portland defiantly continued to show the same film it has done every Saturday night for the last 42 years
Here in the UK, you can guarantee the movie will be screened somewhere over the Halloween period – Vue cinemas have been showing it since 9 October – before it’s put back into storage for another year.
But while virtually everyone has danced a drunken Time Warp at a wedding reception, for some, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is more than just a fun, campy film with a novelty dance-by-numbers tune.
It has changed lives, acting as a catalyst for romantic relationships, laying the foundations for life-long friendships and offering a sense of community and acceptance.
For those people, Rocky Horror is a way of life.
Released in 1975, two years after the stage show debuted in London, Rocky Horror tells the story of innocent young couple Brad and Janet who stumble across a foreboding castle. Inside they meet sex-crazed transvestite scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter and a host of other strange characters who ensure that the couple’s night out is one to remember for a very long time.
Rocky Horror tells the story of innocent young couple Brad and Janet who stumble across a foreboding castle. (Picture: Twentieth Century Fox)
Inside they meet sex-crazed transvestite scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter and a host of other strange characters. (Picture: Twentieth Century Fox)
Part of the fun of seeing Rocky Horror is finding yourself in the middle of an audience dressed in fishnet stockings, throwing props around and heckling the characters en masse with callbacks, which are in the lexicon of every Rocky fan. After all, can you really call yourself a fan if you don’t know the correct way to enquire after the Criminologist’s testicles? (Look it up).
Stephanie Freeman could perhaps be considered the ultimate Rocky Horror fan, having started the official UK fanclub, TimeWarp, in 1988.
She first laid eyes on future husband David, dressed as Frank’s dishevelled butler Riff Raff, across a sea of fishnets at Rocky Horror live in the late 1980s.
‘I saw David at a stage show wearing his Riff Raff costume and thought I’d like to talk to that guy, but we never got to chat at the show apart from me saying “nice costume”,’ remembers Stephanie, 55.
The couple got engaged just 16 days after their first date. (Picture:Timewarp)
‘We met later at the Screen on Baker Street where David was doing the shadow cast performing to the movie (which is where a live cast performs in front of the screen), and got to talk a lot more.’
David adds: ‘As I chatted to Stephanie at the movie screening, I looked into her eyes and saw my future.’
Brought together by a mutual love of Rocky Horror, the couple got engaged just 16 days after their first date.
They married a year later and spent the first night of their honeymoon at Oakley Court in Windsor – the Victorian gothic country house used as Dr Frank-N-Furter’s castle in the film.
Stephanie and David continued to perform every week in the shadow cast until 1996, stopping three days before Stephanie gave birth to the couple’s first child.
They called him Dana after actor Dana Andrews, who is namechecked in the opening song of Rocky Horror.
Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien joined fans for the celebration (Picture: Timewarp)
The couple began hosting huge fan conventions in the 1990s, including one at Marble Arch, which attracted 800 participants and featured intimate appearances from original cast members.
Since then, Stephanie and David have continued to run TimeWarp from their home in Tonbridge, Kent, organising annual Rocky Horror picnic events at Oakley Court, now a luxury hotel, attracting fans from as far afield as Canada and Australia.
‘It’s fun,’ says David. ‘We would stop in a heartbeat if we didn’t enjoy it.’
While the couple used to post out sackfuls of newsletters each quarter to fans across the UK and beyond, with the advance of new technology and social media they now do it online.
‘It’s nice to have grown up with Rocky,’ says David.
‘We have seen the changes and new people come into it. We even know people who were fans but are no longer with us.
‘Things change, but at the heart of the show remains the love of the fans.’
Explaining the show’s continued appeal, he continues, ‘The whole ethos of Rocky is “don’t dream it, be it”. Live it. And it’s very sad that there are still people out there who do not feel they are.
‘Rocky gives people the opportunity to experience something different and be safe in it.’
In 2018, TimeWarp marked its 30th anniversary with a special shadow cast screening at The Rio, East London, with Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien joining fans for the celebration.
And 30 years on, Stephanie and David remain as devoted to each other as the phenomenon that brought them together.
‘We were just lucky we found each other as we both feel we were always meant to be together,’ says Stephanie.
Jo Stanton was a teenager when she first encountered The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the video bargain bin of her local Woolworths in the early 1990s.
Fast forward a few decades and Rocky Horror now flows strongly through the veins of her family.
Jo dressed up as a Transylvanian and with Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta in the movie (Picture: Jo Stanton)
Jo married her husband Matt at Oakley Court on 4 July 2011 (4711 being the tattoo on the top of Frank-N-Furter’s thigh).
The couple’s two children Chloe, 22, and Michael, 12, have grown up around Rocky Horror and the family regularly enjoy film screenings together and attending the ubiquitous TimeWarp fan club picnic in a dazzling array of costumes.
‘We do like dressing up and we have met some amazing people through Rocky Horror,’ says Jo, who lives in Uppingham, Rutland. ‘You see familiar faces. We first met Stephanie and David on a tour and properly at the very first TimeWarp picnic and we have seen their two boys grow up.’
Although Jo, Matt and Chloe are now connoisseurs of the live show, Michael cannot attend until he is older, as the stage show is raunchier than its celluloid counterpart.
But Jo feels it is important Michael has the full Rocky experience to help broaden his world view.
‘We live in a small, rural, market town and we are still a predominantly white, Christian community,’ she explains. ‘When we go and see Rocky and we are able to take Michael with us, it’s a way of introducing him to the different varieties of people, in terms of beliefs, religion, sexuality. It exposes him to more of the ways of the world.
Rocky Horror now flows strongly through the veins of the Stanton family (Picture: Jo Stanton)
‘If he decides to go to university in one of the big cities, it won’t be a big culture shock.’
Long-time fans like Jo, who now take their children with them, are playing a huge role in passing the baton on the next generation of fans.
The 2016 made-for-TV remake, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, and The Rocky Horror Glee Show have also helped to attract younger fans in recent years.
Part of the appeal of Rocky is that it provides a safe space for people to express themselves freely. It offers a sense of belonging, which is something everyone strives for, particularly during the teenage years.
Rob Bagnall first saw Rocky Horror at the Theatre Royal Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in 1985 when he was just 17. He is now an authority on the musical, owns a wide variety of Rocky memorabilia and has even written a book about his passion.
‘Rocky Horror has played an enormous role in my life from the night that I first saw it,’ he says. ‘It has got me through good times and bad, and has always been that one permanent happy thought in any situation; I never tire of seeing it.
Rob Bagnall first saw Rocky Horror in 1985 when he was just 17. (Picture: Rob Bagnall)
‘For many people in the world of Rocky fandom, I feel that the continued appeal is often largely one of acceptance and community – the chance to dress up, participate, shake off the inhibitions of real life and spend time with like-minded individuals.
‘The show and film boosted my self-esteem,’ adds Rob. ‘It gave me the sense of belonging that a geeky overweight High School kid needed. But for me it is mostly the piece itself; I think it is genuinely a work of perfectly crafted genius.’
Confidence is something that Dr Frank-N-Furter, played by Tim Curry in the film and original stage show, has in spades. Unbridled in his sexuality, his electrifying charisma means viewers either want to be him or sleep with him. Or quite often both.
Marilyn Devonish was a painfully shy student when she was taken by friends to see the film for the very first time at an eye-opening screening in Coventry.
When Frank burst onto the screen, Marilyn found herself mesmerised.
‘I remember sitting there wishing I had some of that sass, some of that attitude, that “don’t give a damn, it’s my house and you are just all visitors in it”. It was almost aspirational.’ remembers the 52-year-old businesswoman.
‘The ensemble cast is a group of misfits, so although it wasn’t and isn’t racially diverse, it gives the feeling of inclusion,’ says Marilyn (Picture: Michael Roman)
‘I thought what must it be like to live your life in that way, to fully inhabit your skin and the body that you are in and just be unapologetic.’
On some level inspired by what she had seen, Marilyn later ditched accountancy for a career as a coach and therapist, channelling what she calls, her ‘inner Tim Curry’ to lead workshops and deliver talks all around the world.
‘I used to always be in the background, she admits. ‘I was a bit of a wallflower, so public speaking or doing any sort of media, didn’t even exist in my universe.’
However things have changed since then for Marilyn. ‘Now, I’m normally the Tim Curry in the room,’ she says. ‘It’s like life imitating art, where I am now the person who will be strutting on stage with the microphone, holding court.’
It is hard to escape the fact that the cast of the original Rocky Horror film isn’t particularly racially diverse – something that the 2016 remake improved upon, with Black transgender actress Laverne Cox leading the way in Dr Frank-N-Furter’s stilettos.
Laverne Cox steps into Dr Frank-N-Furter’s stilettos in The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (Picture: Fox)
Speaking about the original 1975 film, Marilyn – who believes she has seen the film ‘close to one hundred times’ – says: ‘The ensemble cast is a group of misfits, so although it wasn’t and isn’t racially diverse, it gives the feeling of inclusion because they are the typical band of outcasts, all of whom would draw attention while out in society.
‘Rocky Horror, when you allow yourself to get into it, is a state changer,’ she adds. ‘You can lose yourself in it and lose yourself in the characters and it takes you off into another place.’
Sadly, in reality, Rocky Horror fans have found themselves going very few places recently. The European tour, due to start on November 3, has been postponed due to Covid-19. The TimeWarp picnic also had to be cancelled this summer.
Even so, a smattering of fans managed to gather at Oakley Court anyway for a low-key, socially distanced, screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the hotel’s boat house.
Just like the weekly screenings in the Portland movie theatre, it was a small act of defiance against an invisible enemy, which has had such a major impact on the way we live, love and express ourselves.
For over 45 years Rocky Horror has remained a reassuring constant, and fans around the world are keeping the home fires burning in their own way.
Because during these dark times there is a light… and it’s over at the Frankenstein place.
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