meet the the first lady of fishnets, patricia quinn
With a special screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Shock Treatment taking place at London’s BFI tomorrow, we speak to the force of nature that is Patricia Quinn about Halloween, Magenta and how Rocky Horror invented punk.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is quite easily the biggest cult film in the world. An adaptation of Richard O'Brien's storming 1973 stage production, it notoriously underperformed when it first opened in cinemas, finding an audience only through midnight screenings at college campuses across the United States. With the dressing up and joining in becoming as much a part of the experience there as the film itself, to watch it now is, quite simply, like meeting with an old friend (albeit it one who turns up in fishnets and heels).
It's a tradition that continues this Halloween weekend at London's BFI. Shown alongside a rare screening of Shock Treatment - the 1981 follow up that Richard O'Brien described as "not a sequel, not a prequel, but an equal" and which chillingly predicted the rise of reality TV - we thought what better excuse to have a chat with Patricia Quinn, the film's castle maid Magenta as well as the opening credit's most famous lips. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure below.
Are you often asked to speak at things like this around Halloween?
Not just Halloween! It's been every day for 40 years! Rocky Horror was 40 years young last year and not only is it the biggest cult film in the world, the thing that that made me shiver with anticipation is that it has now made cinema history. Everyone says, "What about Gone with the Wind?" and I say, "That went, alright?". Rocky Horror is the only film ever in the history of cinema never to leave the cinema. And I know all the other things about it but that gave me a slight shiver.
People do love dressing up as Magenta though for Halloween, don't they?
Halloween has always been Rocky Horror day. It took me forever to wonder why. I suppose because it's got "horror" in the title. I met the first lookalike Magenta ever at the 8th Street Playhouse in New York, where they were the first people to start dressing up as us and talking to the screen. Michael White, one of the producers, rang us and said, "They're dressing up as you" and and talking to you and we thought, "What?". It had just never happened before. So we went to New York to see it all and do the first convention. And then I met a Magenta and it was a boy! I thought, "But you're a boy! Why are you dressing up as me?". So that was the first inkling I got. Now a million boys dress up on Halloween as her.
You must have gone all over the world with this film…
I do conventions all across America. Comic-Con, conventions in England. I did one recently in Stoke. I don't even know where Stoke is. Stoke is Rocky Horror mad! And the reason is that everyone, from the banker to the baker to the candlestick maker all go home, have a nice bath, shave their legs and turn up in some very fetching underwear. It's extraordinary. These guys are like shadow casts. They have a club in Rocky Horror. They've got a place to go.
There's a special Time Warp Ball after the screening on Saturday… Can you tell us a little more about where the song came from?
[Rocky Horror director] Jim Sharman had seen this Jean Luc Godard movie A Bande Part and in the film, the two gangsters and their moll do a dance in a cafe. The three of them just get up and do the madison to the full length of the record. It's a long sequence, it takes its own time and I think it's brilliant. And he had seen that and he said to [writer] Richard O'Brien, we need a song with a dance for the three of them, Richard, Pat and Mel, on stage. On screen we've got transylvanians but on stage we were just three people. And the brilliance of the song the Time Warp, the idea taken from A Bande Part, was that Richard O'Brien tells you how to do the dance in the lyrics. Wasn't that clever? I'll bet there are a million people who've never seen Rocky Horror, don't know what Rocky Horror is, but they all know how to do the Time Warp. O'Brien said, "That little song's been good to me". I said, "I bet it bloody has!".
What makes the film so enduring?
First of all the mix of talent. Jim Sharman the director and his design partner Brian Thompson had both done Jesus Christ Superstar to great success in London. Sue Blane the costume designer literally invented punk. Vivienne Westwood was sitting down the road with Malcolm in her shop but in fact, Blane began punk. We were wearing ripped things and pins and whatever…. Vivienne was onto it but on our little stage it began. All of us together, all the individuals involved. It'll never happen again.
Have you ever dressed up as Magenta for Halloween?
Why would I do that? Don't be silly. I am her!
Patricia Quinn appears at the Rocky Horror Picture Show + Shock Treatment double screening this Saturday at London's BFI.
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Artwork © 1975 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.