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Print this pageEmail to a friendCultographies - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (book)
by Jeffrey Weinstock
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Cultographies: RHPS by Jeffrey WeinstockJust released in the UK is this new book by Jeffrey Weinstock.

For those used to more familiar fan based Rocky books, this publication will certainly seem different, this is no light reading.

Jeffrey Weinstock offers his academic analysis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and it's surrounding cult of devotees. Citing political, social and economic factors of the time and showing their relevance to the movie. He also documents his theories of how the movie affected and influenced later films.

Attention is also drawn to the 'cult' status of Rocky Horror, but as Jeffrey says in his opening sentence {quote} "The Rocky Horror Picture Show has never taken place ... at least not for me", he does not seem to be someone that has ever really got the idea of the Rocky experience. This in itself does not negate his opinions, in fact I think his perspective is better for the fact that he approaches the subject as more of an outsider.

The book is of course very much about the movie, mentioning only briefly the original stage productions and the USA revival in 2000. It is also very much written from an American perspective of the movie defining Rocky Horror. Here in the UK the stage show is far more important than it ever was in the USA. The book touches on Audience-Participation and call backs, but (as many do) relies on the very old Audience Participation scripts that float around the net. Audience Participation evolves to suit the moment, and that in itself is one of the appeals of Rocky to many fans, a point not mentioned in the book.

As a personal note I think that Rocky is by it's nature something that cannot be classified as one thing or another, there is something about the whole experience that makes it what it is. To analyze it to that detail is akin to talking about the paint and canvas that makes up the Mona Lisa, you end up missing the big picture (pun intended). I have often thought that where people say "The Cult of Rocky Horror", they should say "The Family of Rocky Horror".

Overall the book does what is says on the cover and is a very interesting critique of the movie, offering some useful information as to the origins of some of the icons seen in the film such as Frank's pink triangle on the lab coat. However the book also offers many possible meanings to characters or costumes that I think were not intended at the time. To say that there could be a connection with the war and filming location Oakley Court on the basis of the Court being a wartime home of one of the leaders is a real stretch. Oakley Court was chosen as it was derelict at the time, next to Bray and had previously been used for other horror films.

Just remember that Richard O'Brien has often been quoted in saying he 'just wanted to write a Rock and Roll musical'.

Recommended, just don't expect this to be a fan book of images!
(I can't wait to see what Rob thinks, maybe a review from him to would be helpful for you all.)

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Rob's ReviewCultographies: THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW
by Jeffrey Weinstock
Wallflower Press 2007
a book review by Rob Bagnall

Jeffrey Weinstock is Associate Professor of English at Central Michigan University, and it shows. His book about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and his attempt to be seriously analytical about the film itself and the devotion of its fans, reads a bit like an overblown student paper, full of big words and possibly dubious "facts", pulled directly from a thesaurus in order to try and impress an Examination Board. He also repeats himself a lot, often saying the same thing twice or three times within a couple of paragraphs, to really hammer his points across.

The first part of the book attempts to explore the psychology of the film's fans and their habit of calling out lines, throwing props and even acting out the entire movie in front of the screen. He seems to think that those who participate in screenings and call out their own lines have a desperate desire to own the film and control it, which, as he gleefully points out, they can never do (as the movie remains the same and the talkback is always at the mercy of the film's never changing action, dialogue and pauses). My own opinion is that Mr. Weinstock is reading a little too much into this. Of course the fans know that they can't control or change the film, and that, when characters seem to answer their "anticipatory" lines, they haven't really influenced or spoken to the movie itself. Most Rocky fans I know do not have any dark psychological problems or some kind of identity crisis; they are just having fun with the movie and showing off a little by proving that they know what's coming next. Even though I'm fully aware that virgins and non-devotees, although possibly amused by my talkback, might also be thinking what a sad loser I am for knowing a thirty year old film so well (it's that "get a life" opinion we've heard all too often), I still feel cool for a brief moment when someone laughs at one of my AP lines.

Thankfully, after a rather pretentious opening, where we learn that although Mr. Weinstock is quite clearly an admirer of the film, he has never really got the cult which surrounds it (he had more than one unsuccessful Rocky Horror initiation in his youth, but remained, as many do, confused and unmoved by it all), the book settles down and delves deeply into the "hidden" (for some people) meanings within the script and design of the movie. Many of these were probably unintentional while the film was being made (as Richard O'Brien himself has admitted on many occasions - he was being far more clever than he actually realised at the time), which is why I am not convinced by all of Mr. Weinstock's suggestions that certain things were intentional. After all, fans (myself included) have been speculating and analysing Rocky Horror in this way for three decades.

I do feel, for example, that some of the attention to the symbolism of things like Frank's tattoos and the triangle on his lab gown remain incomplete and inconclusive. Much is made about the wearing of pink triangles by homosexuals in nazi concentration camps in World War II and what exactly Frank's similar symbol represents in this context. However, I have always thought that, in most prints of the film I've seen, Frank's triangle actually looks more red than pink. In his book Cosmic Light: The Birth Of A Cult classic (still my favourite book on the subject of Rocky Horror), author Jim Whittaker points out that different prisoners were made to wear different symbols (a Star of David for Jews, a pink triangle for homosexuals, and a red triangle for political prisoners). I have seen Frank wear a definite pink triangle (as well as other curious symbols or even a splatter of blood) in various stage productions of Rocky Horror over the years, which may indicate designers trying to make an intentional statement, but the one in the movie still appears red to me. Sue Blane has said in interviews that she originally put the triangle on Frank's gown because it looked strange and extra-terrestrial and she only learned of its darker symbolic history much later.
Similarly, Weinstock's reference to Frank's "Boss" tattoo looks at it solely from the meaning that "Boss" indicates Frank as an authority figure and the man in charge. However, I've often thought that the word Boss on Frank's arm could also be interpreted in the context of a hip teen slang expression (used mainly in the fifties and sixties) and be just another word for "good" or "cool".

Quite a lot is made about the nazi over-tones and in-jokes - with regard to both Dr. Scott and his seemingly liberal minded (but also narcisistic, controlling, murderous) Transexual nemesis - as well as very interesting references to the sexual politics of the late sixties and early seventies (the Women's Movement, early Gay Liberation, and 1970s porn chic) and the part they clearly played in Rocky Horror's overall themes and ultimate success, and also Rocky's apparent opinions about conventional sexuality, traditional marriage and the fine line between marriage and death.

There is engaging reading to be had throughout, as we get a potted history of the black leather jacket and its part in youth culture, and, of particular interest to me, plenty about the movies and pop-culture which Rocky famously and obviously sends up. Weinstock seems to think, however, that Richard O'Brien's reference to George Pal (and his bride) is some sort of goof on O'Brien's part, as Pal was the producer of When Worlds Collide and not its star ("O'Brien likely means actor Richard Derr" he points out unnecessarily in his notes at the back of the book). I would argue that Richard O'Brien knew exactly what role George Pal played in the creation of this landmark science fiction classic, and made the reference on purpose because Pal was the most well known name attached to the movie.

What Weinstock continually refers to as Rocky Horror's "queering of cinematic history" is quite fascinating and valid, and ultimately one of the book's strongest points. As well as its lampooning of the Frankenstein theme in this way, he also points out how Rocky Horror overtly homoeroticises Dracula and cinematic vampire lore with Frank-n-Furter's seduction of both women and men (for his own insatiable sexual gratification rather than for blood lust) "queering" Bram Stoker's very chauvinistic masculine attitudes; as well as how the very participation of men in a highly sexed-up version of an old Esther Williams style aqua ballet or Busby Berkeley routine, traditionally an all female (and strangely sexless) affair, exposes the repressed sexual undertones of these oh-so-innocent forms of entertainment.

Whenever a new book about my favourite subject comes along, I always say how difficult it is to be objective about it because of how few have been written. Even Jeffrey Weinstock himself refers to the fact that surprisingly few serious studies have been written about Rocky Horror.
As a devoted fan, with my own personal reasons for loving both The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and no need or desire to be convinced of its continuing appeal or any theoretical psychological reasons for it, I actually much prefer the usual type of Rocky book which tells the history of the show and the film and celebrates the phenomenon surrounding it, and I definitely think there is room for the definitive book of this nature.
Any serious study or analysis of the themes, politics, undertones and metaphors within the work itself is always going to remain one person's opinion and never be completely conclusive. Jeffrey Weinstock's work is interesting, often compelling, and occasionally annoying; he does see things within Richard O'Brien's text which I hadn't considered, some of which I agree with and some that I do not, but then I am sure that I (or any number of Rocky's dedicated followers) will see plenty of things in it that Mr. Weinstock has never even noticed. With this in mind, he pretty much gives himself a get out clause at the end of the book when he says precisely the same thing: "My Rocky Horror, in short, is not your Rocky Horror", saying, quite correctly, that the film will be interpreted completely differently by a B-movie film buff than it will by someone without that knowledge of film lore, and that it will probably be appreciated differently by the liberally minded and free-spirited than those with more conservative attitudes to sex and hedonism.

This is absolutely correct, and one of the many reasons why I love Rocky Horror so much; it does work on multiple levels and is accessible to many different types of people. To his credit, Weinstock remains fairly uncritical of the film itself (this being an in-depth analysis rather than a review), and he does actually seem rather fond of the movie. He ends on a pretty positive note, saying that, despite changing audiences and public attitudes (viewers are now seeing the movie with an entirely different attitude to that of the naive, and more easily shockable, 1970s audiences), and the fact that the number of midnight screenings and shadow casts have waned, as most now have their first Rocky experience watching the movie on video or DVD rather than being showered by rice and water in a darkened theatre, The Rocky Horror Picture Show itself remains a traditional rite of passage and has not, as he puts it, become 'uncool': "My prediction," he says "is that The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its cult will remain a glorious anomaly within the world of cinema - and will retain its popularity precisely for this reason". Thank you Mr. Weinstock, I'll drink to that.

Rob Bagnall (December 2007).

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Press release and review from Total Films Magazine.......

Within just a few years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show grew from an oddball musical to a celebrated cinematic experience of midnight features and outrageous audience participation. This study tells the extraordinary story of the film from its initial reception over thirty years ago to its current cult status.

Uncovering the film's non-conformist sexual politics and glam-rock attitude, this volume explores its emphasis on the theatrical body (tattooed, cross-gendered, flamboyant), and its defiant queering of cinema history. Furthermore, by analyzing shifts in reception and emphasizing audience participation, the book offers a substantial contribution to film theory and spectatorship studies. The first book-length study of its kind, this lively and accessible volume is a must for Frank-N-Furter fans everywhere!

‘Wallflower’s pocket-proportioned dissections of cult flicks prove that size isn’t important. Favouring keen concision over bloated verbosity, these Cultographies weave rigour into punchy brevity. Small is gorgeous’

**** Total Film Magazine, January 2008

115 pages   175 x 110mm (7" x 41/4") - seven small 1/4 page b&w film stills included in the text

ISBN 978-1-905674-50-3   £10 (Amazon.co.uk have it at £6.60 today)


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