Rose-Tinted World: 45 Years of Rocky Horror

August 15, 2020

Tim Curry in the heartbreaking finale song, "I'm Going Home"
The first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it was on a Saturday afternoon program called VH1 Rocks the Movies. A lifelong cinephile going through my musical phase — by the following summer, I had memorized every song, lyric, and was well prepared to dress like Columbia (haircut and all) to sing along at a live midnight show.
Columbia and Dr. Frank N Furter on the set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Rocky Horror piqued my multiple teenage interests at the time — horror, science-fiction, musicals, and a few new ones. The very first gay wedding I ever saw was in this movie. It opened my eyes to films that explore the LGBTQ+ experience in ways that I had never considered. This midnight cult classic depicts a leading trans character, the sexual exploration of the heterosexual self, the challenging of sexual identity, themes of power struggle, anarchy, murder, voyeurism, self, and external acceptance.

While "Time Warp" is the catchiest and the most iconic song in this musical, it is also the most frivolous in the soundtrack. Songs like "There's a Light," "Rose Tint My World," and "I'm Going Home," Speak to the duality of the human condition, sexual release, confidence, and self-acceptance.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask

After watching Rocky Horror one Saturday afternoon on TV, I began to dig deeper into LGBTQ+ cinema. I discovered films like Torch Song Trilogy, Outrageous!, Victor Victoria, To Wong Foo, Party Monster, Boys Don't Cry, Desert Hearts, My Beautiful Laundrette, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Watermelon Woman — all eye-opening and impactful in their unique ways. I continue to search for more to this day.

It's hard for me to say whether this film holds up for an audience seeing it for the first time in 2020. There are certainly more celebrated films about the trans experience that can serve as a gateway to queer cinema. (For that, see The Salt Mines, or Hedwig and the Angry Inch — another life-changing musical centered around the trans experience, whose themes cover gender identity and self-acceptance amid the backdrop of the Cold War.) Rocky was genuinely unique in bringing Trans subject matter to a sci-horror storyline. It's massive underground cult-following led to more sci-fi b-movies that explored queer identity and androgyny, like Liquid Sky.

Anne Carlisle playing Jimmy and Margaret in Liquid Sky

This 45-year old film helped mold my perspectives as a designer and a person. The Rocky Horror Picture Show boldly merged b-horror sci-fi with the LGBTQ+ experience - an underexplored genre, especially in speculative fiction. Today I hold on to the hope that humans will continue to broaden the minds of new generations through art, regardless of medium, and become more than mere "insects called the human race, lost in time lost in space."

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