Friday, December 21, 2007

Shock Treatment Assessment

The elusive follow-up to Rocky Horror. Richard O'Brien, the author of the original and crazy bald doctor in this trailer, compared the use of a new Brad and Janet without any other character holdovers (but some cast) from Rocky Horror to Gulliver's Travels and the misconception that Jonathan Swift's story ended in the land of the Lilliputians. The truth is that what began as a direct sequel to Rocky Horror had most of the songs rewritten into a new story when Tim Curry didn't want to encourage his own typecasting.

Interestingly the final iteration came when because of an actor's strike in Hollywood making location filming in Texas impossible, the story was confined to a giant soundstage in England. Since the original story concerned Brad and Janet's marital manipulation by the shadowy president of a local TV studio (and fast food empire) and his demented staff of fake doctors, game show hosts and bimbos, the story was now rewritten to take place entirely in the TV studio itself.

This results in a good premise which is disappointingly half-there and begrudgingly so, since it was unplanned. There's two small but effective details to suggest the dystopic nature of things, first the fact that the TV studio audience simply sleeps in their seats at night, and second, the way Janet and her parents seem to live on a set somewhere inside the studio building. I remember a lot of plot descriptions saying that Brad and Janet "returned" to their town of Denton "to discover it's become a giant TV studio," and that townspeople "run from their seats to the stage," as if to take turns being the audience, and the performers. Both those ideas could've helped the scattershot satire coalesce.

The basic aesthetics do the conceptual side justice. The cinematography employs lots of video-within-film, cheesy TV angles, sitcom imagery and a fake gameshow, but it never feels more compelling than the mall scene from David Byrne's True Stories, which come to think of it is one of those rare "music movies" and not a "musical."

This one certainly is, and half the songs are winners. What diminishes them all in impact tends to be their arbitrary and the story. Joe Bob Briggs pointed out the difference between "plot" and "story" when he'd quip his dismissal, "Too much plot getting in the way of the story." Musicals don't really ever have plots, even the bad ones, so the equivalent of a bad musical plot is a schizo split between what's happening to the characters, and why they sing.

For all this, however, it simply never congeals into anything but the sum of it's parts. Dame Edna has a really annoying, non-singing (thank god) but prominent role as a game show host, and the disorganized nature of everything (even by Rocky Horror's 3rd act standards) seriously impedes the ability to enjoy the whole thing start to finish. It has it's moments, and they're probably best seen separately on YouTube.

Let's just say I can see why people didn't show up in their underwear for this one.

Here's the best song, with visuals very similar to "Love For Sale" in True Stories. All the songs have the vague twinge of post-punk, which is fun. Singing about kitchen appliances is pretty damn Devo.

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