Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "ROCKY"

ROCKY (1976)

Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone



Not that long ago, I showed my younger cousins “Rocky,” for the first time. They hadn’t seen it (Although for some strange reason, they had seen the latest sequel “Rocky Balboa”), and I wondered whether or not this film would have the same effect on them as it did for me and most everybody else who saw it when we were younger. I didn’t know why or what, I was so afraid of. I don’t think I ever saw those two watch something so intently and quietly ever before or since. Part cliché, part fantasy, yet it remains one of the most popular movie and movie franchises ever produced. I used to like to think that “Rocky,” was about the city of Philadelphia. It was ingrained in me as part of the legacy of the city of my family’s birth that for a while, I thought they were one in the same. (They still debate nowadays where exactly they should put that Rocky statue that was built for the third film) The city is a great backdrop, but Stallone was smarter than that actually. The movie is based loosely on Chuck Webner, a New Jersey fighter who got a match with Muhammad Ali back in the mid-70s and lasted until he was knocked out in the 15th round. He was the one that first started training in a meat locker. The movie however, is about Rocky Balboa, a man. Stallone, then an unknown actor who once did a very cheesy porn film, fought to play the part himself, and according to legends, the script was shopped around for years until they finally agreed to his terms. I think most reports said that many Hollywood producers wanted to cast Burt Reynolds or Robert Redford. Thank God Stallone held his ground. Are there better actors? Of course, but not for this part. Beat up and beaten down, a thirty-year-old club fighter who worked for a local loan shark, he stumbles through jokes in an attempt to woo the painfully shy pet shop girl, Adrian (Oscar-nominee Talia Shire). There are other typical local characters in Rocky’s world, which become very untypical characters as the story goes on. Burgess Meredith played dozens of roles on film and television (Including the Penguin in the “Batman,” tv series) before and after “Rocky,” but his face is so aged and beat up that it’s almost impossible to think of him as anybody other than Rocky’s trainer, Mickey. Burt Young as Adrian’s brother, Paulie has now been similarly typecasted. As Rocky continues on his sad life, wishing his fish would sing-and-dance, unbeknownst to Rocky, he’s being talked about as a last-second replacement to fight for the world title against Apollo Creed (Former NFL football player Carl Weathers, obviously channeling Muhammad Ali). In the scene where Rocky gets informed he’s being offered the shot, he almost seems reluctant to even take it, as though he doesn’t fully understand what’s being offered. That’s the correct reaction. Come to think about, there really isn’t a moment where he stands back and realizes the gravity and luck of what’s happening to him. There is a scene where reality hits him, but instead of an moment of rising up, determine to overcome all obstacles, it’s a semi-realization that he might be in over his head. “I can’t do it.” He tells Adrian, “I can’t beat him”.  I once described the movie “The Wrestler,” as a movie about a man who we suddenly realize that we seem to care deeply about. That’s the same secret behind “Rocky”. The fight, the outcome, the training, all of that means nothing if we don’t first, care about Rocky. It’s about a man who he thinks that nobody cares about him, and at one point, he might have been right. By the end of the movie, he’s dead wrong, because we all care. Christ, we care enough to sit through all the sequels. Even the fourth one. Well, obsessive-compulsive hero-worshipping aside, the first movie really is a masterpiece.
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