Talk Description to Me

Episode 75 - The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

October 30, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 3 Episode 75
Talk Description to Me
Episode 75 - The Rocky Horror Picture Show!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

There's never a bad time to don fishnet stockings and dance the Time Warp, but if you're looking for an excuse, Halloween is it! This week, Christine and JJ breakdown the visuals of the greatest cult movie of all time: the Rocky Horror Picture Show! Sequinned heels, outrageous makeup,  hunky musclemen, and more corsets than you can shake a feather boa at; the Rocky Horror Picture Show implores us to give ourselves over to absolute pleasure. With a strong penchant for campy, raunchy fun, Talk Description to Me happily indulges!

This episode was inspired by a wonderful virtual event hosted by Amy Amantea of VocalEye that featured JJ's descriptions of Rocky Horror visuals. To learn more about VocalEye, or to check out their calendar of fun and innovative events, please visit: VocalEye.ca

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)
JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description rich conversations

Christine Malec:

it's the Halloween season. And that's the time for dressing up. And what does that make you think of, but the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And it's the time of year for that. And so our episode today is a bit of a follow up to a fabulous event that was hosted by VocalEye in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They're a fabulous organization. And we'll link to them in the show notes. And particularly since the pandemic they've been doing some fantastic online events. So Steph Kirkland and Amy Amantea are the geniuses behind this fantastic series of stuff that's going on. And this previous Wednesday, they invited JJ to come on and talk about the visuals of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And I gotta say, this was a highlight. For me, this is one of those dream come true events that I'd always wanted ever since I was over since I was young. I wanted to know all about the visuals of this this. It's not just a movie. It's a phenomenon. So JJ, do you want to start and just maybe give some background on the movie and the phenomenon that's come out of it?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's such a funny little story how this movie has, you know, become one of the the cult movie of all time. It's the longest running movie in cinema history. I mean, it's just crazy. So Rocky, horror is a sexy can be musical tribute to B movie sci fi and horror films from the 1930s to the 1960s. And it's a story of a young, newly engaged couple, Brad and Janet, whose car breaks down on a rainy night, and they go to a nearby castle to find a phone so they can call for help. But there they discover a mad scientist, Dr. Frank N. Furter, who is hosting a strange convention of sorts. And it turns out that Frank N Furter is an alien and a self described sweet transvestite. And he's been working to create a muscle man to act as his personal plaything. And of course, wouldn't you know it, the night that Brad and Janet show up as the very night that the muscle man is destined to be born and revealed to the castle's gathered guests. So it's this outrageous plot, outrageous characters, outrageous costumes, and it kind of has blossomed into this outrageous cult film. So it began actually, as a musical as a play called The Rocky Horror Show, that premiered in London, England in 1973. And it was quite popular, went international as a piece of live theater. And then in 1975, it was turned into a movie, and Picture was added to the title. So it became the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And when it was first released as a movie, it did very poorly. No one went, it was in fact, pulled from several cities before it even opened. But they had the film, they put the money into it. So the few months later, they decided to try a new approach, a 1936 Anti marijuana propaganda film called Reefer Madness. Do you know Reefer Madness?

Christine Malec:

I do. It's infamous.

JJ Hunt:

It's awesome. It's a great movie. And it was being shown in midnight screenings in a couple of cities in the US, and they were earning money off of this old I think it might have been public domain film even then.

Christine Malec:

Ha! It's brutal.

JJ Hunt:

It's really wonderfully awful. And so it had this it was getting a following, it was earning money. And so the producers of the Rocky Horror Show said, Well, hey, why don't we try the same kind of approach with the Rocky Horror Picture Show? So what they did was they remade the poster. They'd had a pretty dull poster at the beginning, and they remade it into this glossy, very memorable poster. That is kind of iconic. Now I had this poster on my wall as a teenager. black background. A great big set of lips. Glossy red lips, but not smiling a little bit downturned at the corners and the teeth are biting the lower lip. So there's a little bit of I kind of feel to these lips, huge lips, and then underneath in dripping red letters, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then directly under that in in lowercase letters, white on the on the black background, 'a different set of jaws', of course referring to the movie Jaws, which was the number one movie in the theater at the time. So they put out this poster much more alluring as a poster. And they started playing the movie at midnight screenings in just a few theaters across the country. And it was a hit - a real hit. And this was again, like 1975, '76. And it has been playing ever since. In midnight screenings all around not only the States, Canada, Australia, the UK, all around the world, it's been playing. And according to the Rocky Horror Picture Show official website, October 2021. This month, it is screening in over 300 cities in the US alone, so it is massive, it is still going from 1976 It has never stopped. It's been in continuous play since 76.

Christine Malec:

Wow. So it's not only a cult film, it's a cult film that has its own sort of audience script. And there's things that happen in the audience. And should we talk about those first? Or should we talk about the visuals first?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, no, let's let's talk about this audience participation phenomenon, because it really you're right, like, it's what makes it it's not just that when you go to the Rocky Horror Picture, you don't just go to see the movie, you go for the entire experience. So those early midnight audiences, they started to see it over and over again. And they would get rowdy, it's midnight, they're drunk and probably high and just having a great time. And so audience members started yelling things at the screen, funny lines that played off of the dialogue. And then that would make the other audience members laugh. And haha, like everyone was having a good time. And so they did this enough that they developed a kind of a script, so that the audience had a script that was interwoven with the dialogue and the sound effects and whatnot of the film, and everyone started to memorize it. And then to support the midnight screenings, local performance groups were organized and hired to dress up and act out the scenes along with the movie. So you had what's called a shadow cast, you would put a shadow cast in front of the screen, people who would act out the film at the same time as the film was going on. And then people started dressing up, audience members are like, Oh, that they can dress up I'm going to dress up to. So now you have this crazy experience where the audience members are dressed up like characters in the film, there are people who are acting out the movie at the same time as the movies going on. And then people started bringing props to the experience. So for example, there's a wedding at the start of the film and audience members would bring rice and confetti to throw in the air when the bride and groom leave the church. And then when it rains, people would bring water guns and they would squirt water guns into the air, so it was raining inside the theater, as well as on the screen and then other people would would would hold up newspapers over their heads to protect themselves from the rain. Just like the characters in the film. At a creepy formal dinner party in the movie, Franken N. Furter raises his glass and says a toast and the audience goes wild, hurling pieces of toast around the theater, like just crazy, wild, outrageous behavior. And you know, I should note that the audience participation is really really rude and very sexual. Characters are called awful names and people gleefully scream obscenities and, of course the characters on screen and also the audience members are dressed in all kinds of lingerie. It's just fantastically outrageous. And so that is the experience of going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's not just the movie, which is fantastic and campy. It's the experience it's yet you get to memorize the script. You get to yell out your own words at the screen so that you can make your friends and the rest of the audience laugh. It's fantastically outrageous.

Christine Malec:

And the poor theater cleaning people who are those poor sops. Ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

Ha! I remembered that the Toronto theater that we would go to, the Bloor, they asked us to only use rice and not confetti, not paper confetti, for the for the wedding scene because then a few minutes later when everyone shoots water guns, paper water it's just wet paper mache over the whole threate.

Christine Malec:

Ew ew ew!

JJ Hunt:

Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, it's so gross. Oh, so gross and soggy rolls of toilet paper being hurled around. Oh my gawd.

Christine Malec:

Oh gross! Okay, not description related. But JJ's is being rather modest because you were part of the shadow cast, right? I just gotta say that. I love that!

JJ Hunt:

I was. I was when I was in high school. So this would be

Christine Malec:

Wow!

JJ Hunt:

I probably have seen the movie or live productions, like 1990 ish. My girlfriend was obsessed with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And so I went an awful lot. And I got into it pretty heavily, too. I probably, between rehearsals, because we I was part of the shadow cast, and then we put it on as a play at our high school -- I don't k ow how we got away with tha at least 100 times. Yeah, it was it was a huge part of my life for years, and I still have the fishnet stockings to show for it. Huh huh huh!

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha! What did describers do before they were describers? And the question has been answered. Should we talk about costuming is not a place to start for visuals for the movie.

JJ Hunt:

Sure. So the costuming is really what makes the visuals of this like a lot of the other visuals we can talk about or, I mean cheesy and and, you know, they're a bit hit and miss in some cases, but the costumes really are what makes Rocky Horror what it is. They're outstanding. In general, the costumes are like the coolest 1970s Rock and Roll high school kids all went and raided the London and New York thrift shops and took all the coolest vintage clothing they could find. And then on their way home, they found a box of corsets and boas from a trashy Moulin Rouge drag show. And they took all that home and while listening to glam rock music at home, they did their makeup and put on all these things. That's the look of the costumes and we can break it down character by character. But that's kind of the general look of the costumes of this show.

Christine Malec:

And Meatloaf makes a cameo in there, right?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, Meatloaf was in the original theater casts and so Meatloaf's in it, Susan Sarandon is in it. And of course, the fantastic Tim Curry is is Frank N. Furter. It's just an epic cast really, really good.

Christine Malec:

So do you want to take it by character? Where should we start?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, let's break it down character by character. So let's we start with Brad and Janet. So those are our hero and heroine. Barry Bostwick is Brad Majors Janet's fiance. He's a tall thin white man with dark side parted hair, and wears big square glasses that were dorky in the 1970s but are now kind of back in style. So these were like 50 style glasses that made him look dorky in the 70s but now we're working for him again. And when he arrives at the castle, his his primary costume is this tan windbreaker with blue gray slacks. And then he gets very quickly stripped down to high waisted tighty whitey underwear. And that's kind of what he spends a lot of the movie and at some point he gets like a blue silky kimono to wear to cover up his tighty whities. But that's Brad. Janet, that's Susan Sarandon, Brad's fiancee. Young Susan Sarandon was very, very pretty. A doe eyed white woman with a cute little upturned nose and curly shoulder length brown hair that was held back with barrettes. And when she arrives at the castle, she's wearing a pink belted dress that's got a high button up collar and a little flared knee length skirt and she's got a very prim little white cardigan over top. And then again, she also gets stripped down when she arrives at the castle and that reveals her white bra and slip which she later tears up to to help bandage someone so her slip gets shorter and shorter in the front as the as the movie goes on. Then there's Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff, the butler handyman. Richard O'Brien actually is the writer, creator of the original play in the movie. This Riff Raff is a skinny, sallow white man with sunken cheeks and dark circles around his eyes. And he's got this classic horror film hunchback. Riff Raff is balding, with long, scraggly blond hair around the sides and back of his head, and he spends most of the movie wearing a tattered, filthy tuxedo. I mean, it's barely even a tuxedo anymore. It's so gross and dirty and just hanging off of his really skinny body. Patricia Quinn plays Magenta a domestic so she's the kind of the maid and also riffraff sister magenta is a pale white woman with blood red lips, dark circles around her eyes and long frizzy red hair. And she spends most of her time in a very ratty French maid's uniform. So, black knee length dress with a white apron, fishnet stockings in this very small lacy white cap kind of perched atop her head of frizzy hair. And then there's this funny character called Columbia who's a groupie? It's a little bit difficult to tell who Columbia is when you go see the movie The first time because it's so much chaos and she doesn't really seem to fit in. She's an odd character. She's kind of dressed like a sparkly circus ringmaster. Yeah, she's quirky, petite white woman with short dyed cherry red hair. And she's got these painted on arched eyebrows, bright red lips, and she's wearing a gold sequined tuxedo jacket like short and fitted and she's wearing that over a sequence strapless top. She's got sparkly striped shorts, a red sequined bow tie and a gold sequin top hat and of course, fishnet stockings. That's kind of everyone's got to have their fishnet stockings in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Christine Malec:

Can you describe fishnet stockings, please?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so fishnet stockings. So fishnets, I mean, they're called fish nets because it's a it's a net weave, they're woven like a net. And you can have a loose weave or a tight weave. So most of the ones in the in the Rocky Horror Show are pretty tight. So it looks like a net, a very fine net pulled up over your leg and stocking form. And in this case, they all their thigh highs. So they don't, they're not, they're not full tights that come up over the waist, they end up thighs and are usually held up with garter belts. And they allow, they allow a little bit of the look of the leg to come through. So you can see the leg through the fishnet. And I mean, when they're that you can get a really wide weave, so they're very, very thick. So the like big square gaps between the threads of the fishnet, so a lot of the leg comes through, and it's more of a decoration, it doesn't look like a stocking, it looks like you can really see the netting part of it. I think one of the reasons it's sexy to see thigh high stockings is because you're seeing what's usually under the skirt or under the dress. And so you're you're getting the glimpse of what it would normally be hidden. And so that's part of it. And then of course, the the actual design of the of the garter belt and it you know, it's delicate and lacy or it's, you know, black and mysterious, or there's a little bit of vinyls, you know, sometimes there's like a, like a faux leather or vinyl look to some of this kind of lingerie. And yeah, totally alluring. And I got to say, you know, as a high school kid, who was participating in the Rocky Horror Show, to be in a theater filled with people, men and women wearing lingerie, like out and about totally casual --

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

I mean, it messed with me in the best possible way. Because it's totally sexy, like, peak sexy, but casual and not being worn by people who were behaving in a sexual way. Everyone was being goofy and raunchy and, yeah. So why and how it works? I don't know. I mean, I hope some of those descriptions of the visuals help explain it. But there's an intangible, you know?

Christine Malec:

There's one aspect of the visual that's inescapable to me. If a guy is wearing them, his leg hair would be sticking through right?

JJ Hunt:

Totally! And Frank N Rurter has hairy legs. Ok, ok. It's an interesting thing. So Frank N. Furter as a character is really interesting because Frank's not hyper feminine. That's not this idea. The idea here is not that he is in drag in the way that a lot of other drag performers present themselves. Frank is a, Frank's a transvestite, which is an out of date term, but it's how the character identifies and it's the title of the biggest number in the movie so it's what we're gonna go with. He's a transvestite. And Tim Curry was a lean young white man, big dark curly hair, a mouthful of teeth, high tattoo on his right arm up near the shoulder it's a tattoo with a heart with a sword through it and the title Boss above it in imperfect cursive writing. And yeah, so his version of this costume his you know, he's got body hair, leg hair in particular, and his makeup although iconic, so pale powder makeup, glossy red lips with a thin black outline, dark purple eyeshadow that goes all the way up to the curvy, very expressive eyebrows. He's wearing a corset in a sparkly black material like a lame, it's like a vest style corset so laced up the front but goes high on the neck. And he's got these matching fingerless gloves that go to the elbows, matching garter belt, black panties, the thigh high fishnets, and then these chunky black and white sequined high heels and he's got a choker of white, oversized pearls. But even with all this makeup and all this lingerie, he's not pristine, he's rough and tumble and he's like a cigarette smoking, very fit kind of hard-gazing man who wears pearls and black lame corsets and ripped fishnets over his muscular legs.

Christine Malec:

That would kind of mess with your head too.

JJ Hunt:

Totally! This is a character that is I mean, he's an alien, not a man, but an alien who is reveling in whatever pleasures and desires pop into his head. So the lingerie is part of that character. The makeup is part of that character, not part of a drag queen kind of look. Not part of trying to -- not a man trying to dress as a woman. This is -- the alien race from Transexual Transylvania dresses like this. It's the wardrobe of the alien species. I mean, it's just such a strange mashup, and was really liberating for a lot of people to have this kind of playfulness, and this kind of raunch and this kind of sexuality that didn't fit any of the norms of the time at all. It doesn't fit any of the norms of today necessarily. It's still out there.

Christine Malec:

Love it. Love it. Are there other characters to look at?

JJ Hunt:

Tthere are a whole bunch of other ones we could talk about. But you know, just just for time, we should talk about Rocky Horror. So the the actual character of rocky that's the creation of Franken further is hunky white muscle man with platinum blonde bull cut, very strange haircut, and he's ripped. This is Peter Hinwood, who was a model and not really an actor at all, but just absolutely ripped. No visible body fat. You see every single muscle because he spends most of the movie wearing gold LeMay boots and very low writing gold underwear like that's the entire costume. And then you mentioned meatloaf before meatloaf plays Eddie, who is a former delivery boy. And you know, he's a very thick, beefy white man with greasy dark hair and mutton chop sideburns. Wears a leather vest with leopard, fur lapels, and ratty blue jeans, meatloaf rides a motorcycle carries a saxophone and has a long raw scar across his forehead from when half of his brain was removed to make rocking. This is crazy. Yeah, that was my character. I played meatloaf, surprise, surprise, I couldn't I couldn't pull off the corset, but I could pull off a beefy white guy with greasy hair and mutton chops. So that was me.

Christine Malec:

You're too modest. And what about the look of the movie? At the beginning you kind of referenced it. IT referencing previous B movie type genres. So how does that play out visually?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, it's a 1970s movie, playing homage to even earlier B movies from the 30s 40s 50s and 60s. So it looks kind of cheap by today's standards. And I mean, cheap sort of in an intentional way. Some of the sets could be lifted right off of like SCTV, or something like really cheap, low budget sets. And a lot of the like, there are flashing lights and kind of funny sounds in lieu of actual special effects because they didn't have a budget for it. So the lights flash, and boop, boop, boop, boop. And that's the whole, that's the special effect. The musical numbers, they're really tight, often very well choreographed, because they were lifted straight from the stage production. But the scenes between the musical numbers are really cheesy. And if you're listening to the movie, you might hit notice that the dialogue sometimes sounds kind of funny, it sounds a little bit removed from the action of the film. And that's because a lot of the audio was recorded after the fact not during the actual filming. It's cheaper to do it that way. So the dialogue was recorded after the fact and then layered on and not done so and like not done in a particularly seamless way. Right? Sometimes the camera work in Rocky goes handheld, so the image gets a little bit shaky, and this is a thing that would happen in early sci fi movies they would have to because that's What you had access to that camera would be held, instead of put on a nice on a track and rolled back and forth, someone would run with the camera. And so there's a bit of a shaky look. Um, and then sometimes the camera will zoom in on an actor like a real like a tight close up zoom, and you'll actually zoom in. And that's very 70s, that doesn't, that's a very stylized thing to do to actually zoom in. In big motion pictures that doesn't happen that often anymore, only when you're going for a very stylized look. And in fact, sometimes the actors will break the fourth wall and look directly at us. So just like in the office, when you know that an actor will turn to the camera and kind of mug for the camera a little bit like raise an eyebrow or whatever, looking directly at us to make a connection with us. Pretty unusual to do that, especially in a feature film. But the actors do that a couple of times in this movie. And then the other funny thing about Rocky is that these funny wipes between scenes, so wipes are transitions from one scene to another. So instead of just abruptly cutting one scene and then starting the next, you add a transition wipe. So the simplest wipes are like side to side. So the next scene will slide onto the screen until eclipses the last scene. Wow. And they don't, again, they're not used very often. But they're in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they are in B movies. Star Wars famously used a lot of these wipes. So sometimes in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you'll you'll zoom in on the next scene. So there will be a like a heart shape, or through a question mark shape. And so you'll zoom in on the next scene through a heart shape, or a V will open up on the screen, revealing the next scene behind the new scene, or maybe a square or there will be a curtain wipe. So it looks like curtains are are being lifted from the corners. And it's in fact, just the one scene being pulled away to reveal the next scene behind it. Again, pretty campy, you would only use those kinds of effects for you know, you're not you're not doing that to be neutral, you're doing that because you are playing up the the B movie, you're playing up the early sci fi, you're playing up the camp in the Rocky Horror Show using those wipes.

Christine Malec:

As a describer, if you were commissioned to describe the movie like to create audio description for the film itself, what would be the hardest part?

JJ Hunt:

Well, first, if you were just, if I was just going to describe the film as a film, not as an experience, but to describe the movie as a movie. One of the trickiest parts is the music. Because you you do not want to describe over any of that music, you don't want to describe over the lyrics, which are essential. There's a lot going on in those lyrics, as you're explaining the story. And those lyrics and the songs are glorious, that's the best part. So you can't you have these huge blocks of time when you basically are left, just letting the soundtrack play out the audience. If you're a description user, you're going to be missing a lot of important visuals of what's going on. And that's really tricky. The other thing is there's so much -- it's so rich and weird and wonderful and glorious. Even when it's not a musical number... How do you describe that Frank N Furter costume in the three seconds you get to introduce that character? It's impossible, you don't get the opportunity. So things like that. That was why I was so excited to do the event with VocalEye. Because this is actually a much better way to describe the film is to go through it piece by piece and talk about the characters and describe the visuals and get some of the background information so that when you're listening to the soundtrack, when you're listening to the film, you can really revel in it and you can really enjoy it. Having all that information already in your back pocket. The movie is just going to make s nse. And you can just play l ke the rest of the audien e.

Christine Malec:

We hope you're loving the show. We really enjoy the challenge of putting together a new episode each week. To ensure that our efforts are worthwhile. We need to reach as many people as possible. That's where you can help spread the word. Maybe send a podcast link to three friends post about the show on local listservs and Facebook groups. Perhaps tweet about a favorite episode and tag some followers you think might like it, or show your love by becoming a patron. The broader our reach the longer we can stay Boyd and keep afloat with your support will be around for a long time. Thanks for listening and staying connected on social media. It's what makes this so rewarding for us. Have feedback or suggestions of what you you'd like to hear about here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is talk description to [email protected] Our Facebook page is called Talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk Description.

Rocky Horror background
Audience Participation
Costumes and Characters
The film