‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ 1975

While driving home during a rain filled night, straight-laced lovebirds Brad Majors and Janet Weiss end up by chance at the castle of one Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his strange and bizarre entourage, and find that he’s having a party. This is no ordinary party, no ordinary night. This is the unveiling of the doctor’s latest creation: Rocky Horror, a man-made Adonis that will give absolute pleasure. Over the course of the night, Frank seduces both Brad and Janet, Janet and Rocky become biblically involved, and Dr. Everett Von Scott arrives looking for his nephew Eddie (whom Frank killed earlier in this film). This is an exceedingly grand visual and musical camp satire of the golden days of the B-movie horror and science-fiction genres. Projected along with a musical soundtrack to give audience participation a new meaning in dimension, time and space, this shall be a night that both Brad and Janet will remember for a very long time in the sexually kinky, rock ‘n roll, rock-opera world of a gender-bending scientist – and his time warped plans.

Critical Reception

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert noted that when first released, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was “ignored by pretty much everyone, including the future fanatics who would eventually count the hundreds of times they’d seen it”. He considered it more a “long-running social phenomenon” than a movie, rating it 2.5 out of 4 stars. Bill Henkin noted that Variety thought that the “campy hijinks” of the film seemed labored, and also mentioned that the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Wasserman, who had liked the stage play in London, found the film “lacking both charm and dramatic impact”. Newsweek called the film “tasteless, plotless and pointless” in 1978.

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 80% based on 41 reviews. A number of contemporary critics find it compelling and enjoyable because of its offbeat and bizarre qualities; the BBC summarised: “for those willing to experiment with something a little bit different, a little bit outré, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a lot to offer”. The New York Times called it a “low-budget freak show/cult classic/cultural institution” and considered the songs featured in the film to be “catchy”. Geoff Andrew of Time Out noted that the “string of hummable songs gives it momentum, Gray’s admirably straight-faced narrator holds it together, and a run on black lingerie takes care of almost everything else”, rating it 4 out of 5 stars. Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader on the other hand considered the wit to be “too weak to sustain a film” and thought that the “songs all sound the same”.

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

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‘Paris is Burning’ 1990

This is a documentary of ‘drag nights’ among New York’s underclass. Queens are interviewed and observed preparing for and competing in many ‘balls’. The people, the clothes, and the whole environment are outlandish.

Paris Is Burning is a 1990 American documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Some critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the “Golden Age” of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.[2][3]

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Critical Reception

Upon release, the documentary received rave reviews from critics and won several awards including a Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, a Berlin International Film Festival Teddy Bear, an audience award from the Toronto International Film Festival, a GLAAD Media Award, a Women in Film Crystal Award, a Best Documentary award from the Los Angeles, New York, and National Film Critics’ Circles, and it also was named as one of 1991’s best films by the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Time magazine, and others.

Paris Is Burning failed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature that year, adding to a growing perception that certain subjects and treatments were excluded from consideration for Oscars, and leading, in part, to a change in how documentaries are nominated for the Academy Awards.

More than two decades later, Paris Is Burning remains an organizing tool for gay and trans youth; a way for scholars and students to examine issues of race, class, and gender; a way for younger ball participants to meet their ancestors; and a portrait of several remarkable Americans, most of whom have died since the film’s production.

Some people have criticized Paris Is Burning. In Is Paris Burning?, bell hooks questioned Livingston’s depiction of the drag balls, arguing that it reduces them to mere spectacle: “Much of the film’s focus on pageantry takes the ritual of the black drag ball and makes it spectacle. Ritual is that ceremonial act that carries with it meaning and significance beyond what appears, while spectacle functions primarily as entertaining dramatic display… Hence it is easy for white observers to depict black rituals as spectacle.” hooks, a feminist writer who is not LGBT-identified, also questioned the political efficacy of the drag balls themselves, citing her own experimentations with drag, and suggesting that the balls themselves lack political, artistic, and social significance. Judith Butler based some of her book, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, on this film.