American Bi-cons: The Searchers and The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership today on Studio 360. Let’s go. The Searchers.

S2: Is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made.

S3: But I took my wife to see this movie and all she could say was This is the most races movie ever seen I want you to watch this film.

S2: And I told her You are absolutely right. The searchers John Ford’s problematic masterpiece. Plus.

S4: 44 years later moviegoers are still growing right and doing the pelvic thrust. Rocky Horror is about the sexual revolution in America and how insane the country went. Why the Rocky Horror Picture Show lives on two American icons are ahead on Studio 360 right after this.

S5: It’s still a dream of fantasy free. So you can.

S6: This is Studio 360. I’m Kurdish and I’m sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the first level of guard. This was Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden. I’d like to have the roasted chicken piece. Very well done. Editing is all about timing. I try to get a little bit away from the actual subject. You must get second place in my Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

S7: Colonel. Thursday I gave my word to coaches. No man is gonna make a liar out of me sir.

S8: That’s John Wayne of course and one of the many westerns he made with the director John Ford.

S7: There’s no question of honor sir between an American officer and coaches sir is to me sir.

S8: Together Ford and John Wayne kind of have to say his whole name made more than a dozen films and created this archetypal persona much more than just a movie cowboy. John Wayne came to represent an idea of American masculinity an ideal to which lots of men aspired but is really masterful as many of Ford’s John Wayne Westerns are 60 and 70 and 80 years later.

S9: There are also troubling aspects to some. So what should we here in the 21st century make of them for our American Icons series Arun Venugopal explores one of the best of those John for John Wayne movies. It’s a film that features both men at the height of their powers and at their most problematic.

S10: I was I suspect among the last generation of American children to play cowboys and Indians. I was an Indian kid growing up in Texas. But the other kind of Indian we’d say almost apologetically.

S11: My dad the Indian immigrant watched Westerns on TV. He was a fan of the show Bonanza. But I never got it.

S10: In the 1970s even kids like me who played with fake Tomahawks and more feather headdresses without the slightest inhibition didn’t watch Westerns. Their heyday had come and gone. In fact I don’t think I watched a single Western until I was well into adulthood in the late 90s. The film was John Ford’s magnum opus The Searchers from 1956. And I’ve been thinking about it and fretting over it ever since. So the searchers is considered kind of the greatest of the Golden Era of Hollywood Westerns in 1959 genre Godard the famous New Wave. French director came to cinema.

S12: Wrote about it in glowing terms and compared it to Homer’s The Odyssey.

S13: It’s widely regarded as one of the most magnificent Hollywood movies and indeed movies of any kind or country of origin ever made.

S14: In 2008 the American Film Institute named the searchers the greatest Western Entertainment Weekly said the same thing on Rotten Tomatoes. It gets a 100 percent rating with critics. Steven Metcalf is the host of Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast and its critic at large. It’s

S15: been a well of creative inspiration that great filmmakers have gone back to over and over and over again.

S16: Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg try to run a John Ford film one or two before I start every movie I have to look at. The searchers have to almost every time.

S17: Star Wars owes a huge debt to the searchers. Short for a stormtrooper. Uniform. I’m.

S10: Skywalker I’m here to rescue the searchers was directed by John Ford and came out in 1956. It begins with one of the most memorable opening shots in film history in which the pitch black screen gives way to a frame within a frame from the interior of a home. We see the darkened silhouette of a woman standing within a doorway looking out away from us.

S18: Nancy Schoenberger is the author of Wayne and for the films the friendship and the forging of an American hero and what’s on the other side of that door is is vast landscape filled with me says rising up in the brilliant light of the desert. You see a figure writing in from the vast landscape. It gives you the sense that we are really watching something mythic here.

S19: With these fantastic masses and beauty.

S14: This is Texas 1868. The man is Ethan Edwards played by John Wayne. He’s a hulking mysterious figure he’s returned to his brother’s Homestead after years away. He wears gray Confederate gray and he carries money ill gotten gains. But for a moment at least we enjoy the reunion. Ethan with his brother and sister in law Martha who is clearly in love with Ethan and of course the kids in the eyes of the director John Ford. No matter what life on the frontier is like outside inside there’s a simple sentimental beauty marked by warmth and laughter.

S20: But of course the Serenity doesn’t last for long. Ethan and the others go out to investigate a cattle theft before realizing it’s all just a ruse stealing the cattle was just to pull us out.

S10: There’s a murder right. The men rush back home. But by the time they arrive it’s too late.

S20: Everything’s on fire. Martha Ethan’s beloved sister in law has been raped by the Comanche and she’s dead.

S14: As is her husband Aaron Ethan’s brother and their son Ben. But the two daughters Lucy and young Debbie are missing. They’ve been abducted by a sinister Comanche chief.

S20: Known as scar just one reason we’re here is to find Debbie and Lucy. They’re still alive.

S14: And as the following scenes unfold we understand how the film gets his name Ethan and his adopted nephew Martin set out on a quest a search that will last years. Will they manage to find Lucy or Debbie and what will happen if they do. It’s a stark narrative but Ford rarely spoke of his work in grand philosophical terms to him. Movies were entertainment in the searchers you get slapstick fight scenes riveting cowboy and engine battles. Broad racial caricatures and dance sequences.

S20: Years after making the searchers John Ford was interviewed by a French journalist. Well the Western is the best type of picture that action. But you have horses merely have movement in. The background.

S21: Scenery color and that’s why they’re interested. Most of our best pictures are western.

S10: But one of many reasons why the film resonated to the extent it did at least with critics is because of the single minded Ahab like intensity of Ethan’s quest. You think maybe there’s a chance we still might find it. And to chase that theme until he thinks he’s chased it and. He. Quits. Saying why when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a.

S22: Critter I’ll just keep coming on. So we’ll find the money and shearers. Turn. On their.

S10: More than anything else. One could argue the searchers is about sex which is to say the fear of it early in their quest. Ethan Martin discover that the older of the two sisters is dead. That leaves just one. Debbie played by Natalie Wood who is out there somewhere. She’s alive.

S23: She’s safe. Hubert raises one of their own. Age to.

S24: What John Wayne alluded to just briefly in that little speech at the beginning is the fact that over time she will grow and come of age which means she will become a woman and become the wife of a Comanche.

S10: Glenn Frankel is the author of The Searchers The Making of an American legend and spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

S24: She will have sex with Indians and this sort of psychosexual element to this story is what drives it forward because as time goes on the uncle makes the decision that he’s not going to try to rescue her to restore her to the family. But he’s actually thinking of killing her because she’s been violated she’s as she’s crossed that line she’s suffered a fate worse than death and this is the twist that defines the searchers.

S10: The character of Ethan Edwards as played by John Wayne has no intention of saving his knees. He’s more interested in saving whiteness by killing her. Ford never tries to sugarcoat Ethan’s character and his director Martin Scorsese explains it in an interview with the American Film Institute. We’re often reminded of Ethan’s brutality.

S25: You really get his character in the moment when they earth a grave of a dead Indian. And there’s some disagreement that discuss they’re arguing suddenly. Ethan Edward says let’s finish the job do it right.

S26: Why not just finish the job.

S27: Turns out his gun and fires twice shooting out the eyes of the dead Indians.

S28: What good did that do you. I watched you preach none. I watched that carnage believes they got lazy can’t enter the spirit land has to wander forever between the ends.

S27: So in a sense what he’s doing he hates so much that he hates beyond the grave. He doesn’t want to give him the piece of his paradise. He wants to kill the soul. Of these people.

S10: Ethan’s hatred of the Comanche is something so great that it worries even his own family.

S29: You know Martin honestly will. That’s what I’m afraid of. And find it.

S30: Oh I’ve seen his eyes at the very word commands. I’ve seen him take his knife.

S10: That’s Martin who Ethan had found as a baby orphaned and who was raised by Ethan’s brother and family. But years later Ethan only has contempt for him.

S31: Well I can’t mistake you for a half breed. Not quite.

S28: I’m a Cherokee the well English.

S10: The racism takes different shapes. Sometimes it’s explicit and violent and sometimes it’s meant to be funny. During the travels Ethan and Martin are briefly joined by a third character a heavyset Native American woman. Somehow in a comic turn. She’s been worried by Martin and by any blanket. About.

S32: Her. I’ve got years down the line Sonny.

S10: She’s his accidental bride. And although she doesn’t speak his language and he doesn’t speak hers she is clearly smitten. Martin finds is absolutely infuriating. And when she tries to snuggle up next to him at night he jumps up.

S32: And kicks her down a hill. You know that’s grounds for divorce in Texas.

S10: The scene is played for laughs the first time I saw the searchers. This was the one thing that stayed with me. I was so troubled by it. John Ford was even asked about this years later.

S6: Are they beaten by men. Why are they being punished.

S33: Who wouldn’t even where in your picture. Oh you don’t like it.

S10: He was a showman above all else. But for Martin Scorsese he and other fans of the film The Searchers was a window onto life not just life on the frontier but contemporary American society.

S25: He just literally acts out the racism the worst aspects of racism of our country. And he just shows us the worst part of ourselves that’s coming out of the late 40s early 50s. He just brings you right up to the surface. So I have to deal with it.

S34: I watched it over and over and over again to that fight scene so 50 times where I can probably articulate every scene in this movie.

S10: Sam Pollard is a documentary filmmaker who teaches at NYU.

S34: After watching it for so many years I see how complicated it is in terms of issues of race and terrorism issues of masculinity and gender. John Ford and the character of Ethan basically paints a very complicated brush of a man who’s a misogynist and a racist.

S35: You know John Ford knew what he was doing.

S20: Pollard and I watched the scene together. This is the moment when Ethan and his traveling companion for many years. MARTIN Finally encountered Debbie. In the desert. She’s dressed in Native American clothes. It’s kind of a blast to watch movies with Sam Pollard even once he’s seen 50 times. It’s your brother Martin. Debbie.

S6: I come to take you home. Don’t you remember how much you loved me Debbie.

S36: This is Martin I pleaded for you. I pray for you to come. I love this.

S14: But I didn’t come. And then just as Martin is reconnecting with his long lost sister the one he spent years of his life searching for. Ethan draws his gun and aims it right at the. Side.

S20: He’s bent on an honor killing. Nancy Schoenberger.

S12: And it’s really terrifying to see the depth and and the passion of his hatred and this hatred of the Comanches Schoenberger says she asked filmmaker and John Ford obsessive.

S14: Peter Bogdanovich a central question about the character of Ethan.

S37: Well why do we even care about him when he is so frightening a figure. And his response was Because it’s John Wayne. You can’t not like John Wayne. He brought the goodwill of his earlier movies and of course I don’t want to do a spoiler alert here but I will. The very end of the movie he does redeem himself. And this is how. After their initial close encounter with Debbie Martin and Ethan are chased off by Comanche warriors connected to the evil chief scar. But they eventually return and with the cavalry close by descend upon a Comanche village.

S20: Ethan rides in and finds his nemesis chief scar inside a teepee. He’s already dead presumably from a stray bullet but that doesn’t stop Ethan from scalping his corpse. Then. On horseback he bears down on Debbie. She runs in terror from an invasion. But at the moment when Ethan is expected to finally kill her. He relents.

S38: Let’s go. Instead of murdering Debbie and maintaining his idea of racial purity he holds her in his arms high up in the air. And then they go home. I can see why the circus was canonized. Because it documented the unmitigated hatred of as one White Man. During an era. The 1950s when the dominant culture was so white and so patriarchal. But more importantly because it suggested that even the worst most racist white guy can be saved but he is deep down a good guy.

S18: Having experienced a change of heart he simply leaves the homestead behind. One last time. Walks off into the sunset.

S15: So you know the standard line about the Western is that the actual western frontier of the United States closed right around 1890 and the idea that you know our Westerling spirit that the restless would always be able to go further west and start a new was done with and it’s at exactly that moment that the Western dime novel becomes a popular genre and out of those dime novels comes the cowboy operas or you know horse operas of the big picture. And out of those comes Ford and Wayne and the idea is that this is a highly mythic highly nostalgic idea of America and an America that’s been lost against which masculinity tests itself by rescuing wilderness from the savages.

S10: Meaning of course from Native Americans you might think the idea of the savage indian had been around forever or at least since the time of first contact with Europeans. But in the movies it only developed during the 1930s. According to the documentary you real engine this is when the country meaning white America was looking for a new kind of hero in John Ford and John Wayne were instrumental in that process. With the first film they collaborated on. Stagecoach. Is.

S39: The iconic Western the Western that all others were really modeled after.

S40: And it’s one of the most damaging movies for native people in history Ojibwe film critic Jesse went. You have white society inside a stagecoach and they are besieged on all sides by native people by the wild American. Those that are stopping. Progress.

S39: Those that are backwards are those that are vicious and bloodthirsty Stagecoach summed up and gave the opinion of native people for decades to the populace in the U.S.. That’s how they thought of us. And it’s because of John Ford that they thought of us like that.

S10: The searchers released 17 years after Stagecoach is often positioned as the right kind of Western because it concedes that white people can be savage in their own right. But here’s the thing Ethan’s character is granted agency. He makes choices for whatever reason he chooses not to kill Debbie. That theme agency isn’t extended to his Comanche enemy scar he’s killed off screen. Scar was played by Henry Brandon born Heinrich Fon Kline Bok a white guy in brown face or red face. I took my wife to see this movie at the.

S35: At the Public Theater. Years ago Sam Pollard and all she could say was This is the most racist movie I ever seen. I don’t know how you can watch this film. And I told her you’re absolutely right.

S41: I grew up in the West and I look at the Western and I know that it’s probably the best propaganda movie ever made. Meaning it allows us to root for the manifest destiny of the settlers or the colonizers and to defeat native people.

S10: Chris Eyre is Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho and a director of the film Smoke Signals.

S41: The only thing more damaging to native people over the past 120 years than the Bible was cinema that has been the lot of native people and movies which is romantic that Native people die so that the real people the settlers can actually prosper.

S10: It’s not just the native characters in the searchers we’re left to wonder about Debbie too who was captured by the Comanche at a young age then returned to white civilization. How did she feel about that. The film doesn’t ask.

S42: He wants to kill her for surviving for the language she spits.

S10: But Tracy K. Smith does she’s the U.S. Poet Laureate in years ago she wrote a poem simply called The Searchers.

S42: It’s written from Debbie’s perspective the way she runs clutching her skirt as if life pools. Instead he grabs her puts her on his saddle rides back into town where faces she barely remembers smile into her fear with questions and the wish the impossible wish to forget. What does living do to any of us.

S10: Tracy K. Smith thinks the film still serves a purpose but with a big fat asterisk when is screened movie theaters should follow it with Community Discussions like some theaters do with another racially problematic movie Gone With The Wind.

S42: It definitely requires a talkback session. I think it’s a film that we need to talk about. We can’t says take everything at face value you know. I think it touches on too much that still hurts and on too much that affirms perspectives that are willfully blind to the realities of contemporary Native American life.

S10: Stephen Metcalf isn’t so generous. Like me he thinks that the movies and the Westerns fixation with great white men means that the searchers is no longer relevant. What people struggling on behalf of women’s rights gay rights and the rights of people of color need right now aren’t for the white heroes to step in and be white heroes again.

S13: And if we’re going to give enormous amounts of credit to movies that were exploitative of such people by saying well they’re actually winking at us so they actually have a layer of ambivalence or ambiguity to them. You’re leaving intact white men as the heroes who are going to rescue us. I don’t think we need to be rescued by John Wayne.

S8: Arun Venugopal of WNYC produced our story special thanks to Lauren Francis for production assistance and to Wayne Shaw Meister who engineered the segment.

S30: It’s not even a look at a clock. I we could go see that movie.

S9: That’s Drew Carey in an episode of The Drew Carey Show from 20 years ago.

S30: I’m talking about the midnight movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oh my God we haven’t done that since high school. It sounds like a lot of fun. Let’s do it. Only this time we won’t get wasted in question our sexuality. Like everyone except me did.

S9: The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out when I was in college before Rocky Horror became a movie. It was a live show conceived in Britain and imported to America. And for the next installment of our American Icon series we asked June Thomas who was also conceived in Britain and also imported to America to tell the story of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I would like. If I may to take you. On a straight John.

S43: When the Rocky Horror Picture Show was first released in 1975. It flopped spectacularly. Variety found its campy high jinks laboured and Newsweek called it tasteless plot was pointless. But after all those terrible reviews something happened.

S44: It was a night out they were going to remember for a very long time small independent theaters programmed it as a midnight movie and audience members started talking back to the screen.

S43: The participation became more important than the film itself and the Rocky Horror Picture Show became a phenomenon. It would end up shattering the record for the longest running theatrical release in movie history because people kept coming back.

S45: I saw it 80 times in high school.

S46: Well I remember celebrating only 100 and then by 500 maybe a couple of thousand.

S47: So if I sat down and did the math on my crime more than 40 years after its debut The Rocky Horror Picture Show still Phil’s movie theaters all across America. Maybe not the 230 venues of 1979 but you can still see it year round in 80 or so U.S. towns and cities. But why has its appeal endured. Well for one thing it’s all about sex.

S48: On the surface it’s this incredible celebration of individuality and nonconformity and cultural freedom that really speaks to people.

S1: That’s Scott Miller artistic director of the New Line Theatre in St. Lewis.

S48: But I think on a deeper level Rocky Horror really is about the sexual revolution in America and how insane the country went over to the sexual revolution in the movie.

S1: Brad and Janet a newly engaged couple played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. You.

S47: Seek shelter in a remote Castle. Inside they find themselves at a strange gathering.

S49: You’ve arrived in a special night. It’s one of the last.

S47: Oh where Dr. Franken. Also did a cross-dressing mad scientist played with over the top charmed by Tim Curry and what charming underclothes Zuckerberg have is about to reveal his latest creation. Rocky the man of his dreams could make you.

S1: Frank quickly seduces both Brad and Janet. I. Wouldn’t have.

S50: Yes I know but it isn’t all bad.

S47: It kills a biker named Eddie. It was a mercy killing and tricks his guests into eating Eddie’s flesh. That’s rather of the subject. Strikes anyone on a British chat show. Richard O’Brien who wrote Rocky Horror and played Riff Raff described the plot another way.

S51: I think the reason for its longevity is that it’s a fairy tale and it’s a retelling of Genesis. Brad and Janet or Adam and Eve and the serpent is frank and are a Scott Miller puts it.

S45: It’s about two young people who go into the woods and find themselves the woods is the place where you go and kind of what you think is torn apart and reconstructed for you. And so Brad didn’t go to the woods. They are forced to confront themselves their own sexuality their own feelings about that stuff and they come out the other end changed people just like in a Shakespeare play.

S1: I first saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Newark Delaware in the early 1980s. Those boisterous late night screenings were the closest thing the college town had to a gay bar and as a newly arrived foreign grad student it was the kind of uniquely American experience I craved. Which is odd because O’Brien and almost all of his early collaborators were British or Australian. That doesn’t surprise Scott Miller.

S48: I think it took outsiders non Americans to look at this moment in American cultural history and see the truth of it and the ridiculousness of it and the complexity of it and what they saw was a nation losing its mind over sex.

S45: I’m just a sweet transvestite Franken further represents the sexual revolution of completely unfettered free sexuality.

S52: Whatever the consequences. So. Do. You.

S45: And Brad and Janet are America reacting to this grappling with this. Like a lot of America did. Brad is freaked out by it tries to turn it back.

S26: He’s scared of it. It’s your fault you’re to blame. I thought it was the real thing that’s come. Brad admitted you liked it didn’t you.

S48: And like a lot of America Janet embraces it arguably goes too far.

S45: And it leaves both of them shattered by the hand which is pretty much what the sexual revolution did to us at that precise moment in the mid 1970s.

S47: The hottest pop stars think David Bowie Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan also happened to be stretching gender boundaries.

S45: Frank has to be a glam rocker because glam rock was that one moment that was some genre in rock and roll where gender was really fluid. And that’s what was scary to people in the late 60s early 70s. And that’s what’s scary to Brad and Janet.

S53: I’m not much of a man but I’m not gay.

S45: But by not I’m one that’s what makes Frank the monster quote unquote that we don’t know his gender it’s fluid.

S1: It’s both it’s neither you know there was a lot going on with Tim Curry’s Frankfurter I play Frank confessional. It. Is a kind of. New variation on the mad scientist. Horror films that we all know and love.

S54: Is parody but it also I play it and think it as a kind of grisly reality.

S47: His ripped clothing prefigured the aesthetics of the punk movement his mad scientist act reflected post atom bomb anxiety about humans playing God and his unruly sexual energy. Updated an entire movie genre. Michael. Stay in. The science fiction and horror movies in the first half of the 20 century.

S45: Were full of sublimated sex sex just under the surface and Rocky Horror. Kind of acknowledges that and just Yanks all of it up to the surface.

S1: Do you think Frank is the hero of this show.

S48: I mean I don’t. And the answer is it’s Janet. She is the one who learns the most and changes the most over the course the story. She is a really different person at the end of the story than she is at the beginning. Brad is somewhat but not nearly to the same extent. This is Janet’s hero myth story only we have made this journey. The. Broken down. She has to go through these trials and tribulations and learn things. She goes to the underworld quote unquote and comes out the other side with new knowledge and new wisdom. Smart jets are keeping a watch on.

S47: Jeff Wise. He might not be the hero but Frankfurter is undoubtedly the pulsating engine of the musical team Kerry is just this magical combination of rock and roll and theater.

S55: She doesn’t shy away from any kind of theatrical gesture and and here is a part where it’s encouraged and yet has the vocal chops and the rock and roll chops.

S1: That’s Mark Sherman the Grammy Emmy and Tony winning composer and lyricist best known for Hairspray. We talked while he was at the piano in his home studio.

S55: So it all just comes together in this wonderful bouillabaisse of of music and theater and camping is in his own way he sometimes puts on airs like an old movie actress. And it’s all just wonderful. How. Do you. See Matt.

S56: Faithfull handy man.

S57: I think that’s not exactly right.

S55: Here we go. You wouldn’t have noticed the difference. And now I can’t remember any of the aliens. I’m just a sweet transvestite from trans so Transsexual Transylvania.

S1: Sharman was one of those people who went to the Waverly Theater in New York’s Greenwich Village every weekend.

S55: When I went to see Rocky Horror you that was yet another musical that that was teaching me how rock and roll music and rock rock’n’roll roll lyrics can also certainly set a vibe and tell a story in a very different way from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

S1: And while Rocky Horror used a new kind of music it’s still followed a familiar formula.

S48: It’s a fairly traditional old school musical comedy. The first song introduces the themes and topics for the show. We meet the heroes one by one.

S58: The river was deep but I swam it Janet. The future is ours. Let’s planets. So please don’t tell me to cannot have one thing to say and that’s dammit Janet.

S48: We get songs that say this is who I am. We get songs hey this is what I want. I’ve tasted love. We get all the traditional show tunes. What’s subversive about it is that it’s rock and roll and particularly originally in London in 73 74 like pretty raw. Rock and Roll but it’s got this very freaky crazy content to it. That was part of what made it so alternative and so kind of you know naughty it was that both traditional and totally not traditional all wrapped up together.

S1: The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t just any old midnight movie. That’s because at some point in 1976 something happened that nobody was expecting and it snowballed in a way that nobody could have predicted.

S59: There was a guy. He was a kindergarten teacher named.

S1: That’s Sal Piro who attended more than 3000 midnight movie screenings in New York City and later became president of the official Rocky Horror Picture Show fan club.

S59: And he always sat in the balcony in the front row and he had a great voice. One night when Janet put a newspaper on her head and was walking in the rain he just yelled out to be funny by an umbrella you cheap bitch. It was like then it became like electrical people like Oh my God that’s funny. That’s great. You know we can add to our movie experience and we started to think of things to yell and soon talking in the movies wasn’t the only rule that was being broken by the audience.

S47: When Brad and Janet are caught in a rainstorm they shoot Walter pistols in the theater when Frank proposes a toast. They toss slices of toast at the screen. And of course they dance along with the time look. I. Got to.

S43: Jeffrey Weinstock professor of English at Central Michigan University has identified three distinct types of callbacks in the Rocky Horror canon.

S60: The first is what I call predictive. Those are the moments where audience members demonstrate to the fullest their knowledge of the film because they preempt something that is to come.

S61: It’s true.

S1: And that and the other early audience colleagues will hear come courtesy of say it The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Audience participation album recorded in New York in 1983. There are then what I call simultaneous responses and that’s where the audience overlays their own comment upon something that’s taking place on the screen. That round of applause at the end of the bit explains a lot about the thrill of Rocky Horror as interactivity members of the audience are congratulating themselves for getting it right.

S60: The third category is what I call reactive and this is a response from the audience to something that has just been said or has just taken place. There’s a line later on when Rocky Horror says Singing I’m just seven hours old. Too. Beautiful. To behold.

S47: The Rocky Horror callbacks were like an early version of the Internet meme a series of building blocks that morphed and changed beyond the control or knowledge of their creators.

S62: We were establishing the fan club with the studio and my friend Alex and I went out to California. So of course we were going to see Rocky see what they were doing and I had a line that I had invented the criminologist says. And so and so I came up with this stupid line and Betsy Ross use the sit home and so and so and the colonel just looked gentleman and so and I thought it had the cleverest person ever. I traveled 3000 miles and I can’t wait to yell my Betsy Ross line. And here I am at this theater that certainly had not started showing Rocky until after the Waverly. He’s about to say and so and I’m about to yell out at Betsy where all of a sudden half of the theater was yelling.

S63: Wait a minute. It had traveled ahead of me. Other people who had seen it in New York or seen it in Chicago that moved. It was such a weird phenomenon. We were very excited about it. We thought gee we helped make this.

S47: The site of Tim Curry’s androgynous outrageously sexy sexually voracious Frankfurter drew a new crowd to the theater people who were or saw themselves as outsiders especially what we’d know called Queer and gender nonconforming kids. It’s like I can’t tell the story of my life without talking about Rocky Horror Picture Show I think that’s actress writer and activist chicken and a fake. She first saw the movie in Los Angeles in the 1990s when she was a pre-teen and I shoplifted fishnets and nail polish and an eyeliner and like did all my makeup in a bathroom somewhere.

S64: After the movie was ended. I snuck into the restroom of the theater and tried to clean it all off so that I got back in the car like looking like a normal twelve year old kid. Frank’s presence was crucial. It was the first time that I had ever seen someone like me in a movie.

S1: For many hardcore fans the Rocky Horror audience became the family many of its members lacked a tribe that supported and loved them. But ever since the movie was first released some people have worried that its unconventional representations of gender were a bad influence on America’s youth. She Keenan effects parents had tried to discourage her from seeing the film.

S64: My family and the authority figures in my life at school as well saw Rocky Horror as this proselytizing of queerness and gender nonconformity. That was really dangerous to the social order which it is thankfully. But I was really out and loud and proud as a young queer person in a time where that wasn’t happening was that the 90s were like the beginning of the queer youth movement and I was really part of the forefront of that and especially my queerness was expressed through alternative gender presentation which really terrified people. There weren’t a lot of other places you could go to look for that I mean maybe when the bird cage came out and to Wang Fu there was some dragon in the consciousness but that was like a different kind of camp and Rocky Horror was was sexual and ruckus and freewheeling and punk rock and that’s kind of what I brought you know into my high school which just really scared people and and I think when they tried to snuff that out of me a way to do that was to snuff out Rocky Horror Picture Show still tastes values and attitudes were totally different in 1975.

S1: Why does this film which may be beloved but is rarely acclaimed as a masterpiece still captivate young people.

S65: When Rocky tends to operate in a kind of a nostalgic mode today. Jeffrey Weinstock there’s a nostalgia on the part of those who were part of the cult film phenomenon for a time when Rocky was risque rather than routine and it may be that part of what is transgressive in Rocky spectator ship today is indulging in a kind of anti political correctness. That is the same people who would go on a SlutWalk and would get outraged by the idea of slut shaming are the same ones who sort of gleefully will shout slut at Janet each time her name is said.

S1: The very language of the show is awkward to 21st century ears. When the high schoolers on the TV show Glee performed a tribute to Rocky Horror they changed the words trans sexual Transylvania to.

S64: The word transsexual is a tricky word. It’s a word that you know is dated. For me I claim the label of transsexual a lot because so much of my journey has been about wanting to finally have an integrated passionate healthy sex life to be a sexual being which I could never be in the wrong body and so to to remove sex from that journey and that identity does a disservice to my own act of reclamation. So I say leave the word sing the word. Trans. Sexual. Trans so.

S66: Now Frank in fact our time has come.

S47: Say good bye to all of this at the end of the movie Frank infotech is murdered by his not so faithful servants. Riff Raff and magenta. That outcome seems unavoidable to Jeffrey Weinstock Franks reign.

S60: I’ve come to think is a bit like the film itself. It’s a temporary break from reality that can’t persist. The ending to my mind is very much about the reassertion of order. But it seems inevitable to me. We didn’t and still don’t have a culture in which Frank’s hedonism not to mention murder and cannibalism can reign unchecked.

S1: No one watching the movie in the 1970s would have been surprised by that ending in the movies it was partying and in society as a whole. A proud proselytizing pansexual couldn’t be allowed to prosper the outcasts who find family at Rocky Horror would expect that least of all. Still if you were someone who held your tongue when being yelled at or bullied those midnight screenings were a sanctuary a place where with Walter gone in one hand and toast in the other you could finally yell back.

S46: People always say how could you put up there all the yelling and screaming in the cursing and things like that. And you know what. It’s all part of a bunch of young people letting themselves go.

S62: Growing up you know going through puberty.

S43: I think that rock you are is a benchmark. It is a time capsule of a really particular moment in queer liberation when the carnival celebration of queer desire became pop culture. That crossover really helped so many people.

S67: I think what’s appealing about Rocky is that it breaks lots of rules. The anarchy of screaming at the movie screen and throwing food at the movie screen. It was just so freeing and so wild. It feels subversive. I think it will always feel subversive as long as America is hung up on sex which I think will be always. It’s. Just a jump to the left. But. Your hands on your.

S68: June Thomas produced our story with help from Studio 360 is Jocelyn Gonzalez and production assistants from Terry Bedford. You can hear more of June on the terrific podcast she co-hosts the waves.

S69: And that’s it for this installment of American icons head to Studio 360 dot org. To hear the rest of our American icons catalog dozens of stories and whole hours about the great works of art and culture America has produced and it make sure you’re the first to hear about the new American icon stories we’re making right now. Subscribe to the podcast wherever you subscribe to podcasts. Studio 360 is a production of PR by Public Radio International in association with Slate. Our executive producer is Jocelyn Gonzalez our senior editor is into Adam Newman our sound engineer is Sandra Lopez one of our producers are Evan Cha Lauren Hanson Sam Kim Zoe Saunders Tommy Caesarea Morgan Flannery. And I’m Kurt Andersen.

S70: Studio 360 American icons project is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities great ideas brought to life and by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts artworks. Thank you very much for listening. These. Are. Public Radio.

S71: International next time on Studio 360. I got some e-mails from people who said they didn’t like it.

S72: Michelle Obama’s official portrait a case study in how to appreciate art in the digital age.

S73: And then they went to see it in person and then they emailed me afterwards and said it made me cry. It’s so beautiful. I mean paintings are meant to be viewed in person.

S72: The artist Amy Sheryl gives me a gallery tour of her new paintings next time on Studio 360.

S67: It really helped so many people. I think what’s appealing about Rocky is that it breaks lots of rules. The anarchy of screaming at the movie screen and throwing food at the movie screen. It was just so freeing and so wild it feels subversive. I think it will always feel subversive as long as America is hung up on sex which I think will be always. It’s just a jump to the left. Hand.

S68: June Thomas produced our story with help from Studio 360 is Jocelyn Gonzalez and production assistants from Terry Bedford. You can hear more of June on the terrific podcast she co-hosts the waves.

S69: And that’s it for this installment of American icons head to Studio 360 org. To hear the rest of our American icons catalogue dozens of stories and whole hours about the great works of art and culture America has produced and to make sure you’re the first to hear about the new American icon stories we’re making right now. Subscribe to the podcast wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

S74: Studio 360 is a production of PR by Public Radio International in association with Slate. Our executive producer is Jocelyn Gonzalez our senior editor is into Adam Newman our sound engineer is Sandra Lopez one of our producers are Evan Chen Lauren Hansen Sam Kim Zoe Saunders Tommy Azaria Morgan Flannery. And I’m Kurt Andersen.

S70: Studio 360 60s American icons project is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities great ideas brought to life and by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts artworks. Thank you very much for listening. We. Are of. Public Radio.

S71: International next time on Studio 360. I got some e-mails from people who said they didn’t like it.

S72: Michelle Obama’s official portrait a case study in how to appreciate art in the digital age.

S73: And then they went to see it in person and then they emailed me afterwards and said and made me cry it’s so beautiful. I mean paintings are meant to be viewed in person.

S72: The artist Amy Sheryl gives me a gallery tour of her new paintings next time on Studio 360.