Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Another film we're going to mention briefly is the cult-classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

When first released, The Rocky Horror Picture Show seemed doomed to failure, playing to nearly empty theaters across the country. But when midnight movie screenings became popular, this film found its niche, and moviegoers began flocking to see it, drawn not only by its “campiness” but also by the opportunity to “participate” in the show. Patrons began to dress up like the characters, to dance along with the music, to shout out lines to the screen (“How strange was it? So strange they made a movie out of it!”), and to bring along their own props (e.g., rice to toss at the wedding, flashlights to shine during “There’s a Light,” noisemakers to blow when Rocky is born, toasted bread to offer in response to Frank’s dinnertime toast, confetti, toilet paper, playing cards, rubber gloves, newspapers, water pistols, and so forth). Still screened at midnight, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has had the longest theatrical run in history, with no end in sight, as new generations of patrons learn the lines, dress in fishnet stockings and bustiers, and “toast” the movie screen.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show also has a quite memorable dinner scene. Beginning to lose control of his guests, both those invited and those unexpected, Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) invites everyone to join him for dinner. Not knowing the local customs (they are aliens from the planet of Transsexual, after all), Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) have set an eclectic table (with beer steins or coffee mugs serving as wine glasses and at least six spoons per place setting) and proceed to toss, throw, spill, and dribble the meat and drink to the guests. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Rocky (Peter Hinwood), Frank carves the “tender” roast, but when he offers a toast to Eddie (Meat Loaf), everyone finally understands the source of the meal and flees the table, screaming.

Fun Facts:
The original musical play did not feature a dinner, so when Jim Sharman filmed this new scene, the movie actors (especially Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Jonathan Adams, and Peter Hinwood) were completely unprepared for the revelation of the prop corpse of Eddie when Frank (Curry) yanked the tablecloth off the dining table. Their reactions of horror, remorse, outrage, and disgust are quite genuine.

Just before the dinner scene, the Criminologist (Charles Gray) opens his book to a view of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting The Last Supper, a sarcastic tribute to biker Eddie’s sorry life.

Released September 26, 1975
Starring Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss, Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors, Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff, Patricia Quinn as Magenta, Little Nell (Nell Campbell) as Columbia, Jonathan Adams as Dr. Everett Von Scott, Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror, Meat Loaf as Eddie, Charles Gray as the Criminologist
Directed by Jim Sharman
Based on the musical by Richard O’Brien
Written by Richard O’Brien (play) and Jim Sharman (writer)
Awards: 1980 Hall of Fame Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, USA


In addition to featuring the full meals from 15 or so films, we intend to mention briefly a number of movies in which food plays an important role. The first of these is Diner, Barry Levinson's tribute to 1960's Baltimore.

What’s a cookbook without any mention of diner food? Diners have featured in a number of films, from Taxi Driver to A Prairie Home Companion, and breakfasting or lunching at the local diner is a cherished American tradition. Originally lunch wagons, many of the diners of the 1950s and 1960s were actually old railroad cars; today’s diners may never have been rolling stock, but their prefabricated appearance and long, narrow structure are reminiscent of their predecessors’ origins. Most diners serve eggs, waffles, pancakes, French toast, and other hearty, inexpensive breakfast foods day and night, but hamburgers, club sandwiches, and especially French fries are also staples on any diner menu—not to mention the incredible pies, cakes, pastries, and other tempting desserts that fill the large, often rotating display cases that are a main feature of every American diner.

In Diner, much of the “action” takes place in the Fells Point Diner, where the main characters gather for midnight snacking and male bonding. This group of six men share memories of their high school exploits with great zest; now in their mid-twenties, however, they are facing serious choices about what to do with their lives: marry or not; grad school or work; roast beef or fried chicken. Although the diner’s food may not be spectacular, it is both reliable and comforting, providing a realistic backdrop for a running dialogue that showcases the friends’ indecision and questioning as well as their real fondness for one another.

Fun Facts:
Levinson filmed the diner scenes in an actual, working diner in Fells Point, Baltimore, to capture the essence of the city where he grew up. Since most of the scenes in the diner took place after dark, Levinson kept the kitchen running all night long (filming often did not end until sunrise) so that the characters could have real diner food: French fries, eggs, burgers, sandwiches. These scenes were filmed last, after the actors had gotten to know one another, and the dialogue was a combination of scripted lines and improvisation.

At the time of filming, Baltimore had just begun its revitalization effort by renovating its harbor/waterfront area, so much of the scenery Levinson filmed had not changed that much since 1959-1960, the era he was depicting, giving the film an authentic feel.

Released March 5, 1982
Starring Steve Guttenberg as Edward “Eddie” Simmons, Daniel Stern as Laurence “Shrevie” Schreiber, Mickey Rourke as Robert “Boogie” Sheftell, Kevin Bacon as Timothy Fenwick Jr., Tim Daly as William “Billy” Howard, Ellen Barkin as Beth Schreiber, Paul Reiser as Modell
Written and Directed by Barry Levinson
Awards: National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rourke); Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Screenplay (Barry Levinson) and Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rourke)