Aug 5 2008
To coincide with the release of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Shock Treatment director Jim Sharman's new memoir, Blood & Tinsel, the RHPS Official Fan Club was granted permission to ask a few questions submitted by you, the fans. For more information on the director and the memoir, visit www.bloodandtinsel.com .
1) When Rocky Horror first developed people in the theaters who dressed up, yelled at the screen, and basically set the stage for what Rocky Horror has become, what was the reaction of you, Lou Adler, etc.?
I always had faith in the originality of the film and felt it would ultimately find its audience, but the early signs weren't good. The fact that it was such an unusual film and that it was devoid of conventional movie stars didn't help. The fashion of the day was for realist films and this was something else. With the original stage version we had converted cinemas into theatres, so there was a certain crazy logic in the fact that the film would end up turning cinemas into theatres, which is more or less what happened. There were aspects inbuilt into the film that helped trigger this response, including a few considered moments where characters acknowledge the audience's presence, which is rare in a film, and where the camera becomes part of the action. I'm sure the producers were relieved when the audience participation started happening and Lou was quick to see that this was the way it would find its audience. There's little point in theorizing about how and why it happened, but my feeling is that the mostly young non-mainstream audiences simply got it. They found the combo of the film and the music, the masquerade and the party atmosphere, allowed them to deal with difficult things in their lives, especially their sexuality, in a light liberating way. The mainstream audience only saw the surface, and they turned away; but the late-night audience picked up on what was under that surface - and it spoke to them.
2) Why were two American actors stipulated by Fox for the film? I assume for marketing reasons here in the USA? And were the two American characters always Brad and Janet or was it optional?
I wasn't aware of this stipulation, though it may have been the case. But I knew the casting would be central to the film's success, and it's obviously been at the heart of its late-night appeal. I always aimed to stay true to its modest origins because, from the moment when a storm broke over London on the first chord at the opening night, there was something magical about Rocky Horror. You don't mess with that; not without betraying what's special about it.
To me, the house is haunted Europe and the naïve arrivals, Brad and Janet, are from the new world. It was logical to have real Americans play these roles and we were fortunate to find Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick at the very beginning of their careers. Insisting on staying with the original cast for Frank and his trio of servants - Tim, Richard, Pat and Nell - and to keep the original designers - Brian Thomson and Sue Blane - was part of staying true to the source. In the short term, this attitude may have appeared unrealistic, or too idealistic, but, over time, it brought its own rewards.
3) Did you encounter any cultural differences when between the fans here in the USA and the fans in UK?
The English are traditionally more reserved, despite having a culture that historically embraces theatricality - i.e. check out the royals. In the USA, there's an earthier, more visceral response. I live in Australia, which is influenced by both cultures, though it's closer to the USA in the attitudes of young audiences. Every culture finds its own way into the film and there are also many subtle cultural ideas at play in the movie.
4) At the time, I'm sure you, Lou, Richard, etc. were hoping that RHPS would be as popular as the play. Did you ever think it would have lasted this long, way back then?
The film turned out to be more popular than the stage version, though neither started out with any overtly commercial intentions. The stage version was intended for a short season at the Royal Court Theatre and with every extension and shift of venue we were surprised. The film initially opened and closed like a door, yet it's become one of the longest running films of all time. It's a phenomena that eludes commercial logic, and if it had been planned, or even anticipated, I'm sure that - either it wouldn't have happened, or it would have happened differently. The fans made it happen. That's why it's impossible to reproduce its late-night success, despite the many efforts to do so.
5) During the filming of RHPS, how much input did the actors have concerning the music of the film?
The music for the film was re-arranged by Richard Hartley to suit the musical strengths of the cast. We also rehearsed before we recorded, so the songs were performed with a clear idea of the action involved, allowing the actors to characterize their songs. This resulted in a shift in interpretation between stage and film. For instance: Science Fiction onstage is a chirpy, witty, uptempo song - abrasive and attention demanding. It is, after all, the opening number of a stage show. In the film, it's slow, sinuous and seductive - it draws you in. There's a view that the film is just a stage show recorded, but this is far from true. Sometimes, time and budget restraints meant we could only cover the action, but there's more cinematic thinking behind it than is credited. I was influenced by classic German cinema, also stage derived, and this thinking influenced my approach. There's a big difference between the film and stage versions. Science Fiction is an obvious example, but there are plenty more.
6) Do you suffer from the "Bill Shatner syndrome?" This is when very talented actors like William Shatner (okay, perhaps not so talented) or directors or musicians get typecast or recognized for one accomplishment. You have done a lot in your career, is RHPS what you are usually recognized for?
I was involved in the three major rock musicals of that era - Hair (Australia and Japan), Jesus Christ Superstar (Australia and London) and The Rocky Horror Show (everywhere). Between them they re-shaped the musical theatre and helped define their time. In Blood and Tinsel I point out that this era began with "the dawning of the age of aquarius" (Hair) and ended with "Frank N Furter it's all over" (Rocky Horror). I've directed over seventy productions - musicals, plays, operas and films - all of them very different, but each attuned to their needs and their times. In a mainstream sense, I'm known for these three popular musicals. However, my work in other spheres, especially in Australia, is recognised and enjoyed for other reasons.
7) What are you doing these days?
My memoir Blood and Tinsel took three years to write and put together with the publisher and book designer. It's just been launched in Australia and you can find out more about it through its website www.bloodandtinsel.com . I'm currently preparing two productions for 2009. One is a new staging of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte for Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House. I'm also developing a play with songs about Andy Warhol, called ANDY X with Stephen Sewell and Basil Hogios, the writer and composer who I previously worked with on a successful Sydney Festival play with songs about the painter Francis Bacon: THREE FURIES. There's a medley of some ANDY X songs at the end of the audio podcast of the book launch as two of the young actors we've been working with sang them on the night, with the composer on piano - it's a bit crackly, sort of bootleg-style, but you'll get the idea.
8) What was your favorite part about being involved with RHS/RHPS ?
Lots, heaps, but in retrospect, I guess it was making a film that has given so much joy to so many people and, possibly, made some of them feel a bit better about themselves, along the way.
9) What was it like working with talents like Pat Quinn, Richard O'Brien, Tim Curry, etc?
I guess I was a little bit in love with all of them at the time and, as I was the director, my way of showing this was by keeping them onboard, encouraging, shaping, and, ultimately, filming their performances - which offered them a strange kind of immortality. That's a nice thing to do, you know. For the way in which all this developed, especially with Richard O'Brien and Tim Curry, I like to think the memoir tells that story in some detail.
10) Is there anything about RHPS that you would have changed if you knew it would have become so huge?
I've often described it as a big home movie and, in that sense, it captures a moment in time in a way that has proved curiously timeless. Technically, there's plenty that could be better, but then it wouldn't be what it is, so - no, nothing - je ne regrette rien.
11) Have you ever written any updated or revised RHPS material?
No, it is what it is. I collaborated again with Richard on the screenplay for Shock Treatment, which many people take as a sequel, or a prequel, but really is a separate movie. RHPS is like a dark fairy tale and completely self-contained, and very sexy to boot. Shock treatment is a cartoonish musical satire, or a morality tale about a world gone mad, where celebrity and media dictate the future - it was prescient in that way, because that's the world we now live in. It's got terrific songs, great sequences and its own strengths and weaknesses; it's valuable in its own right, but for different reasons.
12) You must get asked this all the time, but are there any particular stories or memories about RHPS that you like to tell?
You'll have to dip into the memoir for the answer to that one.
13) The creative people behind RH seem to be somewhat like a family back then. Are you in contact with any of the stars now, are you still close?
Families move on, in different ways, but we share that moment in time and its there, for anyone with the eyes to see it, in the film.
14) What do your family and friends say when you are referred to as "Jim Sharman... you know, of Rocky Horror"?
They usually smile.
15) If RHPS and RHS were never done until now, 2008, what direction do you think the plot and characters would have taken? Would the music, sets, etc be changed in any way?
I think you're about to find out, as there's a remake being discussed. It will be interesting to see if it simply echoes the original, or re-invents it for a new era. Personally, I hope it's a re-invention. The original has some qualities that can't be reproduced. A remake could have its own and very different strengths and qualities. I'd prefer to see a movie that uses the original as a start point, rather than as an end in itself - that would be a great way to approach RHPS in the twenty-first century.
16) Besides RHPS, what have been your favorite projects?
There have been many, and its complicated. Again, I'll have to point you to the memoir to answer this question in detail.
17) Will we ever see any of the lesser-known films you directed (The Night, the Prowler, Summer of Secrets, Shirley Thompson vs. the Aliens) on home video in the US?
My first film Shirley Thompson versus the Aliens was a no-budget underground film that I made really early on. Today, it's mainly of interest as source material for what followed. It also involved sci-fi, rock n roll, B Pictures, etc. All my films have been low budget and non-mainstream, the most interesting one is The Night The Prowler, from a story by Patrick White, available on DVD in Australia. Also, a TV documentary film I made on the writer Patrick White shortly after his death, for ABC-TV in Australia. It's not on DVD - because of copyright issues involving archival footage.
18) Before the Fox executives gave up hope on the picture during filming, how much were they riding on it (i.e. Their biggest release of '75)?
It was so low-budget I think it was always considered an oddity by the studio, they would never have imagined it as a potential blockbuster, more like a sleeper - which it turned out to be. It was the low budget that restricted, yet also liberated us. With stars and big budgets there would have been much more interference, but it was considered so cheap and quirky that, mercifully, we were left to our own devices to make the film we wanted to make - ironically, every other Fox release of that year is now forgotten, while the quirky one is still enjoyed today. There's a lesson in that, somewhere.
19) Had RHPS had good (or even phenomenal) success during it's first-run release, what do you think might have happened as a result?
After a strong initial release, it would probably have vanished, like other mainstream rock-styled movies of the era. There's something classic about RHPS that means it escapes easy categorization, the fans know it - and that's why it's alive today.
20) I read that, before filming Shock Treatment, a few people came out to Denton, Texas, and actually started scouting out a place to film. Do you remember any particular places you were considering? This will certainly be hallowed ground now...
Shock Treatment was going to be shot in Austin, Texas before circumstances intervened (a strike, availabilities, clashing schedules, etc) and we did some research there before we had to scamper back to London and shoot it in a studio - otherwise it wouldn't have been made at all. In Austin, the costume designer, Sue Blane, went supermarket shopping and many of the clothes Sue bought are up there in the finished film and many photos taken by the production designer, Brian Thomson, influenced the design of Shock Treatment.
21) Even though the Oscars are determined mostly by trends and politics, do you truly believe RHPS deserved any nominations?
Maybe it deserves a special Oscar for longevity.