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When Cult Movies Ruled at Midnight
MIDNIGHT MOVIES, A LOCAL HISTORY: The '80s Part 1
July 29, 1983, Ken
The Rocky Horror Picture debuted as a midnight movie at OB’s Strand Theater in 1977 – soon enough, devotional fans were showing up night after night to shout over the dialogue and wing wacky props at each other’s heads, some even dressing up as characters from the movie and miming scenes in front of the screen.
Calling themselves “castmembers,” these folks apparently liked to photograph themselves a lot, judging from this online scrapbook put together by a longtime castmember from the film’s 10-year run (beginning 1984) at the Ken Theater. http://www.rassoodock.com/rocky/reunion.html
Former local Michael Reed, who runs Deep Shag Records, was one of those Rocky Horror cast members. Reed spearheaded a cast reunion at the Ken awhile back, and the aforementioned (and aforelinked) website has an area devoted to chronicling those years of “shadowcasting” (ie miming screen performances).
“I was still in junior high in the early ‘80s and didn't join up with Rocky Horror until I was about 15 or 16,” says Reed. His scrapbook includes plenty of photos of men in lingerie, women with rayguns, tuxedoed Transylvanians, and balding hunchbacks.
Also onsite is updated biographical information about “found people,” longlost castmembers who probably stopped pelvic-thrusting years ago, other than maybe for childbirth or closing the car door with an armload of groceries.
The Ken Cinema also hosted the world’s first known shadowcast of the cult movie classic Phantom of the Paradise.
On July 29th, 1983, the Paul Williams rock musical played on a double bill with the Rocky Horror semi-sequel Shock Treatment. Later the same night at midnight, Rocky Horror screened, for quite a few of the same people who’d come for the earlier double feature ----
I saw this screening shortly after I moved to a place near the theater. There were people dressed as characters from both films, miming in front of the screen - I've always been under the impression several or most of them were also Rocky Horror "cast" members, as I recognized a few from the midnight shows.
There were more of them during Shock than Phantom, and there was more choreography for Shock, but their attempts to start audience chant-alongs were pitiful, as they seemed to be the only people there who'd seen the film (such as it was).
The Phantom phans had some good costuming but I think they only stood up and mimed during the musical numbers. I wish I could remember if their Phoenix did the Chicken Dance, but I wasn't paying much attention to them - the word that comes to mind is "halfhearted," that's what the performances seemed to be. They weren't getting cheered or accompanied, so they just kind of awkwardly stood up once in awhile, acted odd, and either sat back down or wandered off. A few great costumes tho –
My most distinct memory of the evening is when my date and I first walked past the ticket booth and into the theater. We hadn't even got past the snack bar yet, and a guy dressed as Winslow/Phantom came swooping down the velvet trim staircase, leaping over the rail and making a spectacular entrance to oohs and ahhs, and then running off into the theater all squirrelly, as if being pursued.
I remember my date and I said "Whoa, this could be pretty cool!" But, inside the screening room, it never again hit that high, at least for the two of us -----
("Real Phantom to the left of me, phake Phantom to the right....")
One of the newpapers had an ad for this screening that read "Come dressed as your favorite character" or something akin - big Rocky fans, that's what got our interest. We had a bunch of weeklies that would have been running display ads, which were a lot more detailed than the Ken’s monthly flyer, with the entire month schedule.
How do I KNOW the Ken screening was probably the world’s first Phantom shadowcast? Because that’s what I’m told by Ari, the ultimate Phantom of the Paradise fan, expert, archivist, and convention promoter ----
Ari runs a Phantom website, swanarchives.org, with an amazing collection of material including long-lost outtakes. “What you witnessed,” he emails me, “may well have been the first - and possibly only - instance of anyone shadowcasting this particular film prior to last year , when it was ill-advisedly done at a Rocky Horror convention of some kind, by people who -- apparently mistakenly -- believed themselves to have been the first to ruin the Phantom experience for onlookers in this manner.”
Ari is the first person to make me aware of the term “shadowcast.” “I didn't invent the term, though I may be responsible for (mis)using it as a verb. I think the Rocky Horror people describe their casts as ‘shadow casts,’ and I appreciate the double meaning there, that they cast shadows on the screen, as they shadow the movements of the authentic cast. It seems like a pretty good term to me.”
“In my experience,” says Ari, “while people often went to Phantom screenings in costume, Phantom shadowcasting Was Not Done. It makes sense, to a degree, for Rocky: They're going to the same film week after week, everybody there has seen it a hundred times, and you're not going to miss anything you haven't seen before if a bunch of narcissists are clomping around on the stage in their mothers' underwear blocking your view of the screen. But Phantom is shown theatrically so rarely - and, historically was shown so rarely - that I think people who went actually wanted to see the movie, and would've been upset at the interference from the shadowcasters. I know I would…it seems rude, self-involved, and disrespectful to me, as well as alarmingly similar to mime.”
(Original poster art by comic book star Neal Adams and final version by Richard Corben, courtesy http://www.swanarchives.org)
While theatrical screenings of Phantom are quite rare, this wasn’t always the case in San Diego. In fact, our city may well be the biggest hotbed of Phantom Phandom outside of Winnipeg, Canada (where the movie somewhat mysteriously sold out theaters for months, much later prompting the cast to attend Phan conventions there).
Phantom of the Paradise made its theatrical premiere on Halloween, 1974. One full year later, on 10-31-75, an ad in the San Diego Union shows that Phantom, with the Legend of Hell House, was playing at downtown’s Balboa Theater, at the Vogue, at the Village, AND at the Clairemont Theater, as well as at no less than three area drive-ins: the Campus, the Harbor, and the Pacific! (ad courtesy http://www.myspace.com/sandiegocinerama)
“I'm amazed that it was playing simultaneously at so many theaters in one town!,” says Ari. “We did the Phantompalooza conventions in Winnipeg, but it sounds like maybe we should have chosen San Diego.”
When Ari and a few other folks put on the Phantompalooza events several years back, the second event was the first time the entire surviving cast had reunited.
“We screened the film; Paul Williams and his band put on a concert and played a bunch of the songs from Phantom (as well as others from Paul's catalog); Jessica Harper, backed by Paul's band, sang Old Souls; the Juicy Fruits (who had to re-learn their choreography the night before) sang their three songs backed by a live band; and Gerrit Graham performed Life at Last (which in the film had been dubbed by a guy named Ray Kennedy). We also had the world premiere of the Paradise Regained featurette, from the French special edition Phantom DVD, introduced by its director.”
“It was a blast! We had almost 2,000 in attendance, from all over the world, and the cast was flabbergasted to see that this work they had done 30 odd years ago, which they had thought was forgotten, has been held dear by so many for so long. It turns out that staging the event was the easy part. Much tougher was convincing the cast that we were for real, and not a bunch of nutcases who wanted them to fly to the middle of nowhere in Canada, and that they wouldn't be embarrassed to attend.”
“The most gratifying aspect of the whole thing is that the various cast members, who hadn't seen each other for about 35 years, got to hang out together for a few days, and renewed their friendships. They're now part of one another's lives on a regular basis; some are working on projects together, they're showing up at one another's (second or third!) weddings, socializing together, etc. It’s been very nice to watch, and feel in a small way a part of.”
"And it's slick as snot to be on a first name basis with all the icons of your childhood, too; can't forget that!”
There were three separate Phantompaloozas, each a year apart. “The first had Bill Finley (the Phantom) and Gerrit Graham (Beef),” says Ari. “The second had the entire cast; and the last, which was really intended just for locals, was essentially the DVD release party for the DVD-set.”
Recently added to the Swan Archives are bits of exclusive long-lost footage from the film, never before seen by anyone, including deleted footage that had to be removed because of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song threatening to sue over the movie’s villain Swan using the same name.
Amazing stuff - you can find it here:
Here's the original movie trailer for Phantom - if you haven't seen this Brian DePalma film, the trailer sums it up far better than any review ever could.
This fan-made trailer is longer and features more great music, as well as Rod Serling-style narration:
Finally, here's Jessica "Phoenix" Harper at Phantompalooza, singing "Old Souls" - man, I fall in love with Jessica all over again every single time I hear this:
More like this:
- Undercover Chronicles #1 - I Was An Undercover Ticket Scalper — Nov. 19, 2007
- Frank Zappa Comics And Stories, plus Top 5 Lists, Fallen Pinoy Idol — Nov. 10, 2007
- Midnight Movies: A Local History, Part 1 - the '80s — Sept. 27, 2007
- Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology: Inside Story of a Local Twilight Zone Spin-Off — Sept. 5, 2007
- The Birth of Image Comics - An Illustrated History — Sept. 3, 2007