I find this a bit coincidental since I just spent my Saturday night at a drive-in in Indiana enjoying Rocky with Justin Bozung and Rich Osmond. Like me, Justin had spent many a late night enjoying Rocky while Rich had never experienced before (virgin!). Certainly, this wasn't the full experience of Rocky Horror as no one had dressed up (to stand out in the frigid air) and props weren't too effective either. Instead of the entire theater shouting out things, Justin and I sat in the front seat interacting with the screen while Rich tried his best to see what was going on from the back. It wasn't an optimal experience.
It'd been years since the last time I caught Rocky in any kind of public venue. When I was in high school marching band it was something of a rite of passage to make the trek to the Fairlane Mall for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Fairlane also showed a few other midnight films (Pink Floyd's The Wall) but I only was interested in Rocky at that time. I was probably a Freshman the first time I went up to see the show, taken along for the ride by the Juniors and Seniors from band.
Before the start of the show Fairlane had a short pre-show clip they'd play. It consisted of scenes from other movies (previews, no doubt) and a warning from Detroit celebrity Dick the Bruiser about etiquette in the theater. I vaguely remember people dressing up like characters from the movie but I definitely recall folks interacting with the screen. "Pushing" the picture up as the camera tilted down from the steeple to the wedding scene below, folks "fucking" Charles Gray's chin divot, getting dealt in to Frank's "cards for sorrow" and so on.
After my first few Rocky experiences I tried to become an evangelist. I dragged many a non-band member to weekend screenings. I wish I could say that they turned around and did the same but I think I was the only one who really got into the film and the interactions.
After graduation I went up to school in Ann Arbor and was thrilled to find that Rocky played at the mall there (Briarwood Mall), too. I attended one screening, only to find that the experience wasn't nearly as fun as what I was used to. The timing of the lines was off, the profanity level went beyond bad taste, and--worst of all--the print didn't have "Superheroes". After that first time, I never went back. I think that was the last time I saw Rocky projected until last Saturday.
While I forgot far more lines than I remembered, it was great to go back and forth between Justin and I. That we were both saying many of the same things, unrehearsed, definitely bolstered a sense of camaraderie. Despite growing up in different cities, most of the lines we said were the same (though I threw in a few more Detroit jokes like, "I want to go the distance"...I want to fuck the Pistons or when the audience usually says, "Meatloaf, again?" a good Detroiter adds Whatever happened to 'hamburger au ketchup'? from the old Highland Appliance commercial).
I still wonder if the release of Rocky on VHS was the death knell of midnight movies or if it was the result of that demise. Watching it on VHS/DVD for the last few decades just doesn't quite satisfy me the way that a theatrical experience--even a bad one--could ever do. That sense of community just doesn't come through on a television set. Even isolated in cars the drive-in gave me more of a sense of that old feeling. I can only hope that Rocky rides again...