The impact of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the ‘70s came from a perfect cocktail of several time-specific ingredients: A liberated, post-’60s generation of young people emboldened by glam and the sexual revolution finding their voice; the proliferation of cinemas that found that midnight screenings were good for business; and the need to see a film again and again in a pre-VHS America.
In the above clip from a St. Louis, MO nightly news segment–commenters place it at around 1978–TV reporter Michael Brown interviews the crowd outside a screening at the Varsity Theater, waiting to see the film “that some people obviously think has been here too long” (according to the newscaster) and, instead of finding deviants, discovers some of the first cos-players in history.
One of which–and why the clip was posted in the first place–is a teenage Michael Stipe, years before moving to Georgia and starting R.E.M., in full Frank N. Furter drag, who says this is “normal” dress.
The idea to sell a film (that was originally a flop) as a “midnight movie” started with a loyal following at the Waverly Theater in New York City, and canny studio marketers. According to a 1999 article by Patricia Corrigan,
“Rocky Horror” came to St. Louis in March of 1976, showing at the now-defunct Varsity Theatre in University City. The movie ran every night, as the main feature, for three weeks. Pete Piccione, who owned the Varsity, brought the film back as a midnight movie on occasional weekends for the rest of the year and on through 1977. By May of 1978, “Rocky Horror” was playing every weekend as the midnight show.
In fact, Piccione is in the segment, being asked how he’d feel if his son or daughter attended this film, and well, we won’t ruin the reply. You’ll just have to watch.
Not only is this a great historical vignette, but a reminder that the sight of people in costume gathering to celebrate a pop culture event was once remarkable; now it’s called Comicon.
It’s also worth wondering: apart from the opening night, will we ever again see people gathering in public to watch a film 30, 40, 50 times? And did those newscasters ever get better fashion sense?
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.