Tag Archives: cult

Rocky Horror Picture Show: Magenta on Prince Charles in fishnets, and Richard O’Brien on the secret Frank N Furter

14 Nov
The Rocky Horror Royal box at the Albert Hall. Bottom row, left to right: Rocky Horror Show producer Michael White with his carer Salem; Henry Woolf, producer of Harold Pinter's plays and also the photographer at the start of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with his wife Susan, a famous coach; and Kevin Whitney, Olympic artist and director of Syd Barrett film Psychedelia. Middle row, l to r: film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair; the inimitable Lady Stephens ("Magenta"), and her ex-husband, director Don Hawkins; architect Michael Davis, who designed the Glasshouse for himself and Andrew Logan. Top row, l to r: artist and Alternative Miss World impresario Andrew Logan; rock star Adam Ant; and talent manager Gregor Gee.

The Rocky Horror royal box at the Albert Hall. Bottom left: Rocky Horror Show producer Michael White with his carer Salem. Middle row, left to right: film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair; the inimitable Lady Stephens (“Magenta”), and her ex-husband, director Don Hawkins; Henry Woolf, producer of Harold Pinter’s plays and also the photographer at the start of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with his wife Susan, a famous coach; and Kevin Whitney, Olympic artist and director of Syd Barrett film Psychedelia. Top row, l to r: artist and Alternative Miss World impresario Andrew Logan; the rock star Adam Ant; talent manager Gregor Gee; architect Michael Davis, who designed the Glasshouse for himself and Andrew Logan. Photo by Sam Mardon.

It’s astounding. Time is fleeting. Can it really be 40 years since The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened? Actually, technically, the 40th anniversary is next year; but with a bit of a mind-flip, we were into the time-slip, and celebrated a couple of months early.

I arrived on a rather special night: yesterday The Rocky Horror Picture Show played at the Royal Albert Hall, on a giant screen, introduced by Lady Stephens, the actress formerly known as Patricia Quinn – or as all the unconventional conventionalists who dressed up for the occasion would know her, throaty-voiced Magenta from the planet of Transsexual, Land of Night.

Inspired by the Albert Hall’s royal connections, she told the audience of her own links with royalty. “I went back to playing in The Rocky Horror Show 21 years later,” she said, “and at the time my husband Robert Stephens was playing Lear. Yes, I know. And he received an invitation to Sandringham from Prince Charles. So Magenta hung up her fishnets and Lear hung up his crown and off we went.

“Robert found out Charles was going to be in Sheffield at the same time I was playing in Rocky Horror there, and tried to persuade him to go. The Prince said to me after, ‘Frightfully sorry Pat, but I couldn’t very well turn up in garters and fishnets.’ I said to him, ‘You could have turned up as Brad the nerd!’

“Tomorrow is the Prince of Wales’s birthday, so I sent him a card covered in lips which said, ‘Put on your fishnets tonight and come on down to the Royal Albert Hall.’ So, can we do a search of the Royal box? [Looking up] Ooh, nice calves, sir!”

Prince Charles wasn’t really in the Royal box. But I was.

Rocky Horror Albert HallWhen it all began, I was a regular Frankie fan: I’d sneak off in my teens to the midnight screenings in Ottawa and then New York where audiences would squirt water in the rain scene, and hurl toast across the cinema when Frank N Furter announced “a toast to absent friends”. And now, in one of those dreams/reality confusions that perplexed Dougal in Father Ted, there I was up in the box with Lady Pat and her famous friends (see main picture caption), including Adam Ant and Michael White, the maverick producer and original backer of The Rocky Horror Show – frail following another stroke but stubbornly waving away all offers of a wheelchair, and getting the biggest cheer of the night.

Andrew Logan was there, too. He created the Alternative Miss World, which Marcus Campbell Sinclair is making a documentary about, as well as a doc about the last days of Logan’s famous Glasshouse home/studio (“Like” the Facebook page here). When I spoke to Logan’s partner Michael, he recalled how the Alternative Miss World launched the year before The Rocky Horror Show. “Together we changed the world,” he said, which sounds like a large boast, until you recall that Glam Rock came out of the same creative camp. As Riff-Raff presciently put it, “Nothing will ever be the same.”

Richard O'Brien as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“I think perhaps you’d better both come inside.” Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Speaking of Riff-Raff, I’ve interviewed Richard O’Brien three times, the first way back in 1987. The most recent was for The Times, in 2009, and it was a doozy. This was the first time he had discussed publicly his pain and confusion at feeling “transgender”. He cried as he described how, in the grip of near-insanity, he finally plucked up the courage to confess this to his son, only to be told, “yeah, Dad, we know”. (Presumably, The Rocky Horror Show itself gave some clue!) He’s been taking oestrogen for the last ten years, though it doesn’t stop him standing up to homophobes in the street: “You’re f***ing with the wrong drag addict!”

But there was more — a revelation that, as a lifelong Rocky Horror fan, knocked me sideways. We were talking about Frank N Furter, and what a complicated character he is. On the one hand charismatic, seductive, brilliant, talented; on the other the sort of psychopath who would kill anyone who interfered with his pleasure, and create new life only for the purpose of being his sexual plaything. It’s an astonishing post-‘60s parable – how the hippie ideals of free love and hedonism can so easily be painted black when pursued without regard for the happiness of others.

“He’s a drama queen, really,” O’Brien said of Frank. “He’s a hedonistic, self-indulgent voluptuary, and that’s his downfall. He’s an ego-driven . . . um . . .” and here his voice lowers to a stage whisper, “I was going to say, a bit like my mother.”

Wait – what was that? Is O’Brien really revealing after all these years that the inspiration for Dr. Frank N. Furter was his own mother?

Tim Curry as Frank N Furter: inspired by Richard O'Brien's mum

Tim Curry as Frank N Furter: amazingly, inspired by Richard O’Brien’s mum

“My mother was an unpleasant woman,” O’Brien continued, with sudden venom. “She came from a working-class family: wonderful people, not much money, undereducated but honest, a great moral centre of honesty and probity. And she disowned them. She wanted to be a lady. And consequently became a person who was racist, anti-Semitic . . . It’s such a tragedy to see someone throwing their lives away on this empty journey, and at the same time believing herself superior to other people.

“She was an emotional bully. And sadly all of us, my siblings and I, are all damaged by this. She was bonkers, my mother, and I think by saying that I’m allowing her to be as horrible as she was without condemning her too much.

“I loved her, but stupid, stupid woman, she wouldn’t understand the value of that.”

I have always been struck by the passion with which Riff-Raff suddenly cries out at the end, about Frank, “He didn’t like me! He never liked me!!” It sounds like it’s ripped from somewhere deep down inside of him; gives me goose-bumps every time I see the film (and that’s close on 50 times). Now I know that Frank is inspired by O’Brien’s loveless mother, it makes heartbreaking sense.

Lady Pat Stephens posing with Rocky Horror fans, plus me (second from right) and film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair

Lady Pat Stephens posing with Rocky Horror fans, plus me (second from right) and film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair

After the screening, a bunch of us decamped to the Royal Albert Hall’s one open bar. Marcus was a little nervous: “Pat’s going to get mobbed,” he said. And he was right. But she loved it. “Darlings, don’t you look fabulous!” cried Lady Stephens, much more welcoming than Magenta ever was, as she disappeared into a mass of fishnet stockings and maid’s outfits, and people literally ran to fetch friends and cameras.

Most of these fans were kids, barely into their twenties, who weren’t even alive in the ‘80s, let alone the ‘70s. What an extraordinary film The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, to arouse such a passionate following after all this time.

Don’t dream it. Be it.

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Ghostbusters, 30 years on: proof that Bill Murray is the coolest man alive

21 Aug
Ghostbusters, outdoors at Somerset House

Ghostbusters, outdoors at the historic Somerset House

The Cult of Bill Murray has grown strong over the years. The Toronto Film Festival has declared September 5 “Bill Murray Day”. The internet is awash with posts such as “20 Reasons Why Bill Murray Is The Coolest Human Being Alive”. Even the Guardian headlined a piece on him “Actor, Hipster, Genius, FDR… God.” He crashes random parties. He doesn’t have an agent. He lets students film him walking in slow motion. He made Groundhog Day, a film so brilliant you can watch it again and again – even during the first time you watch it. And most of all, he never, ever, ever (any more) does a film just for the money.

When did you last see Bill Murray propping up some big action blockbuster with a cool supporting role, like every other respected thesp always, eventually, does? I’d put it at Charlie’s Angels (2000). He didn’t sign on for the sequel. I’m not including Zombieland, in which he played himself as a last-minute favour to his friend Woody Harrelson, since that was relatively low-budget and very cool. Okay, Garfield, but that’s just a voice-over.

All of that makes the upcoming US Labor Day 30th anniversary reissue of Ghostbusters, a genuinely good blockbuster in which Murray has, as it were, the starring supporting role, an extra thrill. How does his performance stand the test of time?

I caught up with the film recently at Somerset House’s outdoor Summer Screen series in central London, and it seems as fresh as when I first saw it, at a Saturday matinee at Muswell Hill’s art deco Odeon, packed with kids who screamed ‘GhostBUSTERS!’ during the theme song. Sure, the special effects are ropey, even for the time – the big special-effects houses were pre-booked for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi – but Murray is flat-out fantastic.

Like John Belushi, who was originally slated for Murray’s role in Ghosbusters, but OD’d instead, Murray specialised at the time in teen comedies: Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981). Unlike Belushi, he radiated a keen intelligence while doing so, as though he had already explored every possible intellectual branch of endeavour and decided that dumb comedy was the smartest response to life. A Zen comedian, if you will.

Murray’s skip-hopping walk, when he meets Sigourney Weaver in a public square, is the funniest since John Cleese’s and all the sweeter for being understated.  A lot of his lines are improvised, but also co-writer Harold Ramis had written for him in the above three films, and says he was familiar with “certain insane instincts of his”. The result is a lot of jokes that are strikingly inappropriate for a family audience. “Yes it’s true… this man has no dick.” “Mr Stay Puft’s okay! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!” Not to mention a possessed Sigourney Weaver moaning that she wants him “inside me”: “It sounds like you’ve got at least two or three people in there already.”

One scene, however, has dated badly, in this Operation Yewtree age. The introduction to Murray’s character – intended to showcase him as cool, confident, funny, a rule-breaker, someone to be admired – is him administering a telepathy test to two students. To the man, Murray delivers painful electric shocks, calling all his guesses wrong (even when correct); the attractive blonde he praises for her miraculously correct guesses (even when wrong), and proposes an evening in which they can discuss her gifts further. In other words, he’s using his position of professorial influence to con his way into bed with a young student. Ha ha.

Columbia Pictures are still officially at work on a Ghostbusters III, despite the death in February of Harold Ramis and resultant departure of original director Ivan Reitman. Dan Aykroyd is keen, but on current form Murray will take some persuading to sign up. On Letterman in 2010 he called it “my nightmare”. Earlier this year, he eloquently answered a journalist’s question about whether he would do it with, “Are you thinking of going back to high school?”

Make that 21 reasons why Bill Murray is the Coolest Human Being Alive.