I quite like silly-camp films: they make me laugh. I don’t think there’s ever been an introduction of a film character as brilliantly funny as Frank-N-Furter’s cloak-casting in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. See 1.24 if you don’t know it..!
But recent camp films mocking stereotypical masculinity, your Ben Stiller or Will Ferrel films, seem (to me at least!) to take a totally different approach from that in Rocky Horror, and this difference seems to me illustrative of the times we live in. I haven’t, to be honest, seen too many Ben Stiller or Will Ferrel films, both of whom seem one-trick ponies (Ben Stiller more like a half-a-trick pony), but one that forever tickles me is Blades Of Glory. The tale of two rival ice-skaters who (through an extremely unlikely set of shenanigans) become “the world’s first male-male pair”, its skating set-pieces are both extremely well-done and deliciously funny.
What has often struck me about Rocky Horror is that it has a subtext of the decline of western civilisation (not to put it too strongly). Brad and Janet listen to the resignation speech of Richard Nixon when driving. Richard O’Brien has stated that this “dates” the film – perhaps, yeah, but I think he’s also indicating this moment of the greatest weakness in the US. Battered from Vietnam, the dollar no longer convertible to (“as good as”) gold, the institution of the presidency besmirched by the egregious Nixon, faith in the political superiority of the US and therefore “the west” as a whole was at a post-war nadir. Similarly, the rise of feminism and gay liberation were undermining traditional masculine roles. The trend towards pleasure-seeking consumption (and the perceived feminizing effects thereof) can be seen in films like Saturday Night Fever, or even Taxi Driver, where the violently alienated Travis Bickle views the indulgences of the Times Square crowds with bitter jealousy: “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” (I always think it is enormouly interesting that Rocky beat Taxi Driver to the Best Movie Oscar in 1976: it’s the start of the 80s counterstrike, with the heroic protagonist, which leads to your Stallones, Schwarzeneggers and Van Dammes). Rocky Horror on the other hand celebrates this moment. Its humour largely derives from mocking the uber-square Brad and Janet and contrasting them with the magnificently decadent Frank-N-Furter, and shows their own attraction and conversion to Frank’s indulgent lifestyle.
Throughout Rocky Horror, the sense is that decadence and homosexuality are attractive, seductive. Male roles are reversed or mocked: the narrator, the overseer of the proceedings, is seen prancing about during “The Time Warp”); Brad gets seduced and ends up in make-up and stockings and suspenders; the muscle-man is a man-boy-toy for Frank, and the all-American boy, Eddie, is killed and eaten, no less! Brad and Janet don’t appear as normal people to whom the viewer can relate, but as laughable squares whose vanilla tastes and stodgy underwear make them seem obsolete amidst the “unconventional conventionists”. Rocky Horror fits its times by not just mocking convention but revelling in its subversion.
Blades of Glory on the other hand mocks the conventions of the heroic sporting film like Rocky (see above), Karate Kid, Teen Wolf or even Top Gun, where the protagonist’s passage and triumph in his sport (or, you know, fighter pilot school: it’s all the same thing) demonstrates that all-American 80s dream of overcoming if you just work hard enough (preferably via a montage). Blades of Glory subverts this by making the sport ice-skating (imagine!); and instead of the heroic protagonist overcoming the powerful rival, we have two who come to value each other. The humour here is almost entirely based on ice-skating being “gay”: Jimmy the prissy skater (that’s, like, so gay), two men skating together (dude, that’s gay!), and the bromance of their friendship (TOTALLY GAY). Blades of Glory follows the heroic sporting film structure (the initial event, the rival, the complication, the getting it together, the training montage, the triumphant final event) but simply by making all of these feminised. The sense here is always that anything gay is funny, laughable. I don’t want to say that the film is offensive or even homophobic, but it clearly suggests that feminised men are funny. This is often true, but it stands in complete contrast to Rocky Horror, and it makes me wonder what kind of progress has been made in the 30-odd years between the films.
Still, all that said, I do find this scene VERY VERY FUNNY 🙂