Next Tuesday (that is, October 25th for those who find this post some day down the road) I will be at a Hallowe’en event that includes screening both Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise. I have some great memories tied to each of these titles. Although RHPS was just three years old when I moved to Toronto, at the age of 20, it was well on its way to “cult classic” status. There were regular Saturday midnight showings at a theatre; out on The Danforth, if memory serves. Full audience participation very similar to what may still be experienced in many places on a regular basis.
A movie about misfits, freaks and weirdos. A parody of old movies. Music, dance, and celebration of sexuality guaranteed to annoy, if not terrorize, straight-laced suburbanites. A young, liberal, queer, kid’s dream.
Phantom was released a year earlier than RHPS, with a slower journey to “cult classic” that many will argue make its claim to that status more accurate. I was taken to see Phantom as the first ‘real date’ (in the summer of 1980) with a hot, young man I would be with for seven years. And by ‘real date’ I refer to the fact that we met a few nights before, at Club Manatee, and consummated the meeting back in my rooming house. This was our first night out as a couple, of indeterminate status but still something more than friends.
Now I can’t be sure how much of my reaction to the night was the experience of the movie itself, and how much was sitting in the theatre in the front row, publicly holding hands. 1980 folks. Yes, it was in a major city (Toronto); yes it was a repertory chain, appealing to young, liberal, ‘artsy types’. But the feeling was powerful none-the-less.
The movie was as subversive as RHPS and pushed all the same buttons. Which is better? For me, they are equally powerful; both typify my youth. They both celebrate how we of the 1970s and ’80s rebelled, celebrated, partied. Challenged the ‘status quo’ and learned what we needed to know to become our selves. As an outsider, the fact that Phantom is slightly less-well-known speaks to me. Bringing Faust and Oscar Wilde to the table, well colour me pink. But I can not deny the pleasure of sitting in a dark(ish) theatre throwing toast or singing along to “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.”
More well-known names came out out of RHPS– but even there Phantom has an ace up the proverbial sleeve. The star of the movie is Paul Williams (sorry Isaac, William Finley’s Phantom is good, but Paul has this one). Add in his music- “Old Souls” pulls on the heart strings without disrupting the flow of the movie. The problem I have with “Crazy World” in Victor/ Victoria is the lack of integration into the rest of the movie. But I digress. Paul’s ballads are his almost-hidden secret power. He has written hits for everyone from The Carpenters to David Bowie to Kermit, the Frog. Here Comes Inspiration is my favourite of his own albums.
He has, in many interviews, stated that he was an accidental singer/songwriter and considers himself an actor first. I respect his right to self-identify, but it is his music that speaks to me. Well, that and his casual comment, as I recounted here a few years ago, in support of gay rights:
“I recall attending one of his concerts at the then-new Ontario Place open air theatre. In between songs and reminiscences he made references to various young ladies that attracted his eye. At one point he stopped to say something to the effect of ‘I talk about loving ladies; that’s personal preference not moral judgment’. This would have been in the early 1980s. As a self-assured young gay man I did not need his approval, but his comment was appreciated- for his casual acceptance if nothing else.”
See that post for his comments when I shared this memory with him on Twitter. The other reason his comment back then mattered is as a reminder that it was only his character in Phantom that said “ get that fag out of here“. The word made total sense in the scene, and would should a similar scenario come up in a current film. This post is getting long; not the time for a discussion on ‘reclaiming power by reclaiming slurs’. Perhaps soon.
And so, both RHPS and Phantom are important. They each
spoke speak to me- and generations since their releases- of the possibility of a society where people truly are free to be themselves. Embrace your inner Self; let your freak flag fly high and proud. Next Tuesday, Sister Flirt and a group of kindred souls will do the Timewarp again, and celebrate Swan getting his comeuppance.
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