The meal was vegan lasagna and garlic bread with a small green salad. Oddly, that wasn’t planned (the whole Italian-American, Italian food, thing).
I love the Rocky movies. I LOVE them. And I love the first one best of all. I think that people often write off this film because it’s a sports film, and it’s a sports film about boxing. It’s very easy hate boxing, especially if you are an art loving liberal, or an academic. I remember once, years ago in my former life as a college instructor…I was at a conference in Washington DC and after the day’s events we went to the bar. The TV above the bar was showing the fights. I got excited and got a seat at the bar and started watching. All of the people from the conference were confused. “You like that stuff?” These were the same people who were, merely hours before, pontificating on the working class, and looking at literature through that lens, and here they were freaked out because boxing was on the TV…and that I actually liked it.
At any rate, this film is AMAZING and it’s totally worth watching. (Full disclosure, this is probably in my top 5 films of all time. Take that for what it’s worth.) Rocky is basically an art house film masquerading as a sports movie. The imagery that exists in this film is WONDERFUL. The opening shot (during the fight between Spider Rico and Rocky) contains one of my favorite moments on film. The slow pan down from the mural of Christ’s face, past the banner that reads “Resurrection A.D.” to the boxing ring is utterly beautiful. Likewise, the shots of Philadelphia in the mid-1970s are wonderful. It’s so grey, bleak, and filthy. There is no glamour. From the waterfront where Rocky works as a collector for a loan shark (which Mick says isn’t a living, but rather “a WASTE of life”), to his apartment which is a broken down place that, in his own words “STINKS,” the visuals in this are stunningly wonderful.
I also love that it doesn’t have a so-called “Hollywood ending”…like the other films in the franchise tend to have. In this film, Rocky loses the fight. He loses. He gets beaten. Apollo Creed wins the boxing match. That fact alone is enough to make me love this movie. Sure, Rocky “goes the distance” and doesn’t get knocked out, but in the end, he loses the fight. It’s an amazing thing.
This film is an excellent for other reasons as well. There is a lot of heart break going on all over. The description of Adrian and Rocky’s relationship as “gaps” is wonderful. “She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.” Heartbreaking and beautiful. Likewise, the night before the fight when Rocky goes to the arena and sees that the “poster is wrong” because it shows Rocky with red trucks, rather than white never fails to break my heart. “The poster’s wrong” … Mr. Jergens, the fight promoter replies “It doesn’t really matter, does it?” UGH. Heartbreak. EVERY TIME. I love it so much I can’t stand it.
So yes. Watch this film. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and wonderful.
As our story opens in the words of Marlon Brando, “Never confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.” We meet Terry, I mean Rocky, thugging for the mob, something we all imagine being good at because we are just soooo angry all the time. “If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It’s the ultimate hustle.” If Rocky gave Terry’s famous On the Waterfront speech who would he be talking to?
“It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money. … You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.”
Until comparing the two films it hadn’t occurred to me that Rocky has no Charlie character. No one seems responsible for his downtrodden condition. The film looks at Rocky’s life without the sense that he is a victim of greater social forces. In an era when incompetence is a defense against charges amounting to treason the attitude of Rocky seems to have become the new America. And the one time fate steps in taking the form of a black man who is a boxing god you see the only hope a person has. Some supernatural force has to drop in because nobody down in Palukaville, I mean Philadelphia, can act to change the situation.
It makes good narrative sense to have Rocky challenged and see him rising to the challenge, but we have no idea what motivates the other people around him. So many seem to want their shot, their chance, as if waiting around for someone else to rescue us is natural to humans. “Nature,” said Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in African Queen, “is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”
American movies have a habit of treating Americans as so much scenery for the hero to chew. They have taught us to wait among the townspeople for a Lone Ranger to sweep us into glory which we will then turn into crap needing rescued in the next movie. The idea that Terry is rescued by the townspeople acting together for their own best interest makes On the Waterfront somehow un-American for Hollywood. Rocky, on the other hand, is a virtually empty city.
Paulie is portrayed as someone weak wanting rescued but, how is he different from Rocky who only did something self-affirming after divine intervention? From 1954, “Edie: Isn’t everybody a part of everybody else? Terry: Boy, what a fruitcake you are!” Not every movie needs to be concerned with larger social issues but the success of Rocky in framing an American story has tapped into something we should be worried about.
It bothers me when people speak of institutions doing or saying something. When the White House speaks I want to be there and see it breathing and the front door moving to frame words. People speak. Individuals are responsible for every word that comes out of the mouth of Exxon. If we don’t own our actions we are pushed around by others. That delicate balance is missing from Rocky, but it was central to On the Waterfront, do we accept the change?
That said, I did enjoy some witty repartee from a character who really is smarter than he seems,
Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky Balboa: ‘Cause I can’t sing or dance.
Adrian: I’ll be here waiting for you.
Rocky Balboa: How ’bout I stay here and you fight?
Rocky Balboa: I should’ve broke your thumb!