Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show first debuted in 1975 to mixed reviews, but it soon developed a cult following like nothing before, and very little since. Fans of Rocky Horror come dressed in character and screenings grew to include pre-screening performances and audience interaction. The film now holds the record for the longest running theatrical release, and still shows in theaters all over the country.

In Chicago, the Rocky Horror cult following developed around the Biograph Theater, which picked up the film in June of 1978. Rocky Horror became a weekly midnight fixture at the Biograph, ending its five year run on June 25, 1983.

In the fall of 1978, Columbia College Chicago student Jim Doherty produced this film just as Rocky Horror‘s cult following was on the rise at the Biograph. The documentary was shown on Image Union on WTTW Channel 11, the long-running showcase of independent films and tapes, on March 28, 1979.

Check out the full cut of the documentary, including more footage of the live pre-screening performance, in this episode of Image Union over at Media Burn.
Bonus! Some memories from director Jim Doherty:

In the fall of 1978, I had been caught up in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW craze for a little under a year. At first I was just amused by the whole audience participation aspect, where the audience in unison, shouted responses at the screen, covered their heads with newspapers, and threw pieces of toast at given moments. Then I got sucked in. I started going to the Biograph Theatre week after week for the midnight showings of the film and was pulled further and further into the vortex until one day I found myself on stage, dressed as Riff-Raff, dancing “The Time Warp” with friends during a pre-film stage show wherein fans reenacted the film’s musical numbers while the theatre played the soundtrack LP over the theatre’s sound system. (By the way, no, I’m not the onstage Riff-Raff in my documentary, although there is a short still shot of me early on in the introduction.)

In September of 1978, I was starting my second year at Columbia College Chicago, majoring in filmmaking. By this time, I had seen THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at least 30 times and was intimately familiar with the audience responses as well as many of the people who were the local “stars” of the pre-film stage show. I had also gotten to know the managers of the theatre slightly. For my next Columbia College project, I thought it was just a natural thing to document this phenomenon. There was only a vague outline of what was to be accomplished. The final molding of the material would be done after the shooting, once I knew what I had to work with.

Armed with only a skeleton crew of myself on camera, plus two others running the sound, and a good friend asking some prepared and some ad-libbed questions, we interviewed many of the fans out in front of theatre. We used only the lighting from the underside of the Biograph’s marquee. We then went inside and shot portions of the stage show. As luck would have it, the Biograph was being used that week for a portion of The Chicago International Film Festival. Special lights had been installed to illuminate onstage guest speakers. For this particular ROCKY HORROR performance, the theatre turned on those lights. A great bit of luck for me!

Still, as much of this film, both outside and inside, was shot under such low-light situations, I was forced to resort to extreme measures. To the average reader this may mean nothing, but to cinematographers trying to work with late-1970s film stock, this may strike a chord. At the time, Kodak Four-X black and white film had probably the highest ASA rating of any commercially available 16mm film – 400 ASA, which meant this was the best film you could get to use in low-light situations. For scenes inside the theatre however, even that was not enough, and I had to resort to having the lab force-process (or “push”) the film a stop during the development process, giving me the equivalent of 800 ASA.

Except for a daytime exterior shot of the Biograph, all of the live footage was shot within the space of about four hours one night in November, 1978. As I recall, the editing went rather smoothly, the film sort of naturally dividing itself into three parts: a brief history of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW stage musical and subsequent film, an introduction to some of the fans, and a condensed demonstration of the pre-film stage show and the audience antics during the film.

The finished film was received warmly at the end-of-the-year Columbia College film department festival, at which many students’ projects were shown.  As a matter of fact, some ROCKY HORROR fans who were in the audience that night yelled things at the screen, in sync with the shouted replies in my film, just as though they were at an actual screening of the feature film.



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