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Why 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' Remains A Queer Cinematic Milestone

A personal connection to the cult musical prompts writer Matt Baume to investigate.

Seattle-based writer and cultural critic Matt Baume has a very personal connection to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” as the movie musical was pivotal in his decision to come out as queer. 

Baume, of course, is not alone. When “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was released in 1975, it was a critical and commercial failure. Shortly thereafter, however, the film began gaining a cult following thanks to late-night screenings, first at cinemas in New York and, eventually, in other cities across the country and around the world. 

Much of its “midnight movie” success can be attributed to LGBTQ audiences, who identified with its embrace of sexual freedom, its objectification of men for a gay gaze and, of course, its unforgettable song-and-dance sequences. 

In the latest installment of his “Culture Cruise” video series, Baume examines how the release of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” six years after the 1969 Stonewall uprising ― considered the symbolic start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement ― initially doomed the film to failure but, in the end, helped to generate the fan base it later enjoyed. 

“A lot of doctors still considered homosexuality a mental illness. Being gay was illegal in large parts of the country,” he explains in the video above. “The social pressure to be straight, to disguise yourself, to never give yourself over to what felt right was overwhelming.” 

‘Rocky Horror’ is a movie by, for and about people who feel like aliens and outsiders. And the movie says to them, 'Don’t worry, you’re not alone ― people like us can find each other at parties in the movie, and parties in real life.' Matt Baume

Baume goes on to describe his own experience viewing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the first time while attending a classmate’s party in high school in the 1990s. Seeing the film ― and, in particular, Tim Curry as “sweet transvestite” Dr. Frank-N-Furter ― inspired him to semi-confront a crush and identify as queer by the night’s end, he said. 

He believes the film’s inclusive message that life is best for those who, to paraphrase a famous line, give themselves over to absolute pleasure would have had an even deeper resonance among LGBTQ people who came of age in the early years after Stonewall. 

“Whether in the ’70s, the ’90s or today, ‘Rocky Horror’ is a movie by, for and about people who feel like aliens and outsiders,” said Baume, who has previously broken down episodes of “The Golden Girls,” “Queer as Folk” and “Designing Women.” “And the movie says to them, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not alone ― people like us can find each other at parties in the movie, and parties in real life.’” 

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