Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rocky Horror Picture Show 2016: A Very Incomplete Review

I will say flat out that I don't go into this unbiased. My love for the original is too intense for that, and I guess most of us go into remakes of beloved classics with a certain sense of impending doom, dark stormclouds, heavy, black, and pendulous. My first impulse when I heard that they were doing a remake was somewhere in-between "oh no" and "so what". A mental mind-fuck can be nice, right?

So I only saw the few bits that Fox put on youtube. I won't watch the whole thing. What I have seen was quite enough.

Every bit of it feels like plastic dolls walking awkwardly in a perfect doll's house. It feels like something straight from the pits of the marketing department. It feels like something that should be a bit shoddy, a bit worn down, but has been re-edited, re-shot, re-synthesized into perfection until it was so perfect as to make everyone puke.

Let's talk about "Science Fiction / Double Feature". The singing is close to perfect, as far as I can tell. And Ivy Levan sure is a stunningly beautiful woman. But there is a distinct lack of dirty in this version. It sounds like soul music. The role of the singer as an usher is ironically fitting - she's there to preserve order and keep those messy kids from putting their shoes up on the backrest. And, while she acts sexy, and as I said above she is definitely very pretty, somehow she really does not come off as sexy at all. It's like a sideshow act after it was processed multiple times by the marketing deparment's washing mashine.

The same goes for "Sweet Transvestite". So, now we have to talk about Laverne Cox. I actually think she did a terrific job there. It was not her acting that was wrong, nor her singing. What's wrong is the context. (It is in all the details: The elevator versus that... whatever... ramp thingie. The tights compared to that... weird... whatever... mask.)

I remember when I first saw - nay, experienced Rocky Horror. I must have been 14 or 15. There was a distinct feeling of doing something forbidden, of crossing a line of some sorts. Well, the whole thing had the word "Horror" in its title. Back in the 80s, this was not a clear sign for a teenager to go for it. There was danger in the air.

Enter Tim Curry as Dr. Frank'n'Furter.

He was in drag. He was under heavy make-up. He wore suspenders and a corset and stockings. He was dominant, domineering, excentric, fabulous and, well, ahem, extremely attractive.

And that was what made his appearance so delightfully charming: it confused the hell out of me, without me even realizing it until very much later.

Laverne Cox, on the other hand, is a woman. A transgendered woman (well, duh), and a black woman (again, so what). And she's singing about being a "sweet transvestite", which is wrong on many more levels than I care to count.

Not only can I clearly hear the marketing guys who controlled that whole production going "Hey, how do you think we're gonna one-up the original?" - "Ah yes I know, we'll cast a black transwoman!" Only, this does not work. At all. There is nothing intrinsically challenging in that for anyone -- except, I guess, for Fox Network execs, which is a point of unintentional irony in and of itself. Back in the 70s and 80s, a guy in drag, to most of us, felt somewhat wrong. We might have felt a bit like we were caught in the act, and it was a double trap: On the one hand, we felt dirty for our attraction for someone we were not supposed to feel attracted to (they may do some more folk-dancing); on the other hand, there was a little bit of shame for our hypocrisy in precisely that feeling of doing something wrong (I'm a muscle fan!). The film made all that rather obvious by the simple device of an utterly manly guy in drag. You cannot achieve that easily in 2016, and you can definitely not achieve it by casting a woman as Frank.

The new casting also completely takes away one of the most interesting aspects of the show: The huge difference and conflict between Brad and Frank, Janet's internal troubles being caught between those two, which triggers her transformation. By the ending credits, Brad ("help me mommy"), in all his clean-cut, suit-wearing, career-promising unglory is completely defeated. But neither does Frank win -- how sentimental, and even pretentious of him. The real winners here are Riff Raff, Magenta, and Janet. The first two, who have overcome the physical and financial oppression by an egomaniac leader, will go back to the planet of Transilvania and our whole world will do the Time Warp again! -- while the latter has grown into acceptance of her own sexuality, and superheroes come to feast, and is a far way from relying on Brad's brittle protection or indeed his career. *)

This was very relevant in the 70s when they created the show, and the 80s when I first watched it, and it is still relevant today, albeit in different ways. And The Rocky Horror Picture Show totally achieved all that, probably, without even trying.

I have no clue how they try to resolve that issue in the remake; but, sadly, my guess is that they simply don't. It doesn't have to be relevant or vibrant or alive, as long as it's shiny, conformant, and nonthreatening.

Ultimately, I think, this is my verdict about the New Rocky Horror Picture Show: It is totally nonthreatening. In art, this is a death sentence.

The New Rocky Horror Picture Show is to Real Rocky Horror Picture Show precisely what Brad is to Frank: a product of prude sexual repression bound to live a sterile beaurocratic life, bring home the money and die without anybody taking note. A result of postmodern prudery, brought on not by political machination, but by capitalist pondering to the lowest common denominator in the name of profit.

Quite ironic, that.


*) I guess a point could be made just by observing who lives and who doesn't: Rocky's dumb maleness, Eddie's macho attitude, and Frank's over-the-top arrogance don't make it; Dr. Scott, Riff-Raff, Magenta, Brad and Janet survive; but only Janet is transformed in a positive way by her experience

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