The Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts and Science has rounded up a handful of the year’s best in film to pick the Best Picture since its inception in 1929. This week on Film A Week, I wanted to take a look at one of these Best Picture winner. The problem was to find one that was unique and different than the rest. Looking at the entire list of winners, there was one that caught my attention and seems to be the unlikely underdog winner of the Oscar. Even better, it is about a underdog who managed to come on top…then on top again…and again and again to spawn a franchise that just would not end. Time to eat lighting and crap thunder with 1976’s Rocky.
Rocky (if no one knows by now) is the tale of Rocky Balboa, a down and out local boxer who gets a chance to take on World Heavyweight Boxing champion Apollo Creed. The film written by action megastar Sylvester Stallone is an interesting look at one man’s struggle to step out of being a bum and become something more. Having seen the sequels, I can tell that these films get insanely ridiculous ranging from taking on Mr. T’s Clubber Lang and Hulk Hogan’s Thunderlips in Rocky III to the ‘Those Damn Ruskies’ propaganda infused Rocky IV, which is such a product of its time that it could have New Coke featured throughout.
Rocky was nominated for a total of 10 Oscars including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for Slyvester Stallone and managed to beat the media satire Network and the Scorsese thriller classic Taxi Driver for Best Picture. The film also has been parodied countless times, inspire filmmakers, and made every jogger in the world have Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’ in regular rotation on their iPods. Let’s step into the ring to revisit a sports classic.
The film starts out with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) fighting in the local gym and obviously bent out of shape. Rocky is a loner around Philadelphia who seems to mingle with everyone from hooligans to Mr. Gazzo, a local loan shark. Rocky works under Gazzo to make money and shake down people who Gazzo a number of cash. He lives alone with his turtles, Cuff and Link, and fish named Moby Dick and frequents the local pet store to talk with Adrian (Talia Shire) whose brother Paulie (Burt Young) is friendly with Rocky. Rocky gets kicked out of his local gym for no longer having the edge or drive to become a champion in the eyes of Mickey (Burgess Meredith) who calls him nothing bu a ‘tomato’. Rocky tries to work out and help others, but is nothing but broken. Paulie tries to get Adrian to date him, but Adrian initially much to Rocky’s disappointment. Rocky makes Adrian come around and they go on a quick date consisting of ten minutes of ice skating and heading to his place to talk or have a bite. Adrian wants to leave, but Rocky wants company since he does not have many people around. He tells her what he thinks of her and they kiss in a scene that is gorgeous and heartwarming.
While Rocky is starting to get a better life, World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is coming to Philly to have a Bicentennial Celebration match on New Year’s Day. The other contender drops out and Creed must find someone else to challenge. Creed decides to go local in the spirit of the celebration and picks up The Italian Stallion himself, Stud. Wait…wrong Italian Stallion. Mickey hears about this and tells Rocky that Creed is looking for a sparring partner and Rocky is willing to take up the option. Rocky heads over to Apollo’s manager and realizes it is for the prize title of World Heavyweight. Rocky decides he is going to get in the ring. After scuffles with a constantly drunk Paulie, and earning the trust of Mickey to train him after a long heartbreaking discussion, Rocky gets back in shape ready for the big fight to make Adrian and Philly proud. Meanwhile, Apollo is meeting with heads of the boxing industry to set up the show with Apollo being oblivious to Rocky’s south paw (left handed stance) skills and focusing on putting on a show rather than fighting. Rocky starts a regimen filled with drinking raw eggs, punching meat, and the most iconic montage sequence in film history.
The day is almost here and Rocky starts having some doubts that he may not be able to maintain himself in the ring since Apollo has the edge, the strength, and the star power. This comes shortly after Rocky realizes this is all one big spectacle when seeing his poster in the stadium and making a complaint as Apollo’s manager tells him it will be ‘one hell of a show’. Rocky doesn’t want a show, Rocky wants to fight. The next day at the Bicentennial Match, The Italian Stallion is ready alongside Mickey and Paulie telling Adrian not to leave town without him. His entrance is not as bombastic as Apollo’s George Washington introduction and seems average compared to Apollo. The match begins with the two dancing around the ring and Rocky takes Apollo to the floor with an amazing hook. Apollo wanted a show, but not like this as both start to put on the show fans truly deserve.
At the end of the match, Apollo and Rocky are bloodied and bruised with both men coming out on top and Rocky giving his all. Rocky’s only concern is Adrian and calls out for her as he ignores the press and the split decision for Apollo to be crowned winner just to get her affection. He finally says the words she longed for by telling her he loves her (while wondering where her hat is) and they kiss leaving a memorable end to an unforgettable movie.
Rocky is a winner. Everyone who has seen agrees and those who only have seen the sequels are missing out on a true classic. Rocky is filled with heart, soul, and the traits of any great 70’s style film, true storytelling. Stallone not only pulls off a great performance, but a tight script filled with great moments of dialogue. It is astonishing to see this film after the others because of how much dialogue is in it and how it all manages to tell the story as the actual boxing match seems secondary. At its core, it is about a man’s rise to the top and falling in love with the only person that believes in him for the whole film brilliantly performed by Talia Shire. Paulie and Mickey start to come around later and seem nearly as flawed as the hero. Paulie is broken and drinks to forget his misery and Mickey longs for greatness in someone he trains for wishing nothing but the best for Rocky. Burt Young and Burgess Meredith play them, respectively, with passion and devotion for what the characters are and it is no wondering they were both nominated for the same award. Apollo is a perfect foil to Rocky’s classic boxing as Apollo is a walking allegory for the modern world of boxing by focusing more on the show rather than the true art of the sport which still resonates to this day with the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Paquiao in the industry. Carl Weathers is good as Apollo, but is not given that much in the way of showing more than just the showman, but in the later sequels, he is given more character and depth. If you want a great performance of Weathers of Apollo, I recommend Rocky III.
The direction by John G. Avildson is fantastic and utilizes the camera to film a pre-steadicam montage sequence and has a keen eye for making the little things larger than life. The scene his direction signs bright are the final boxing match and the ice skating scene. It is a very small scene, but being able to do that without the steadicam is quite amazing to myself personally. The score by Bill Conti is something everyone talks about and everyone recognizes. It is nothing short of fantastic from the ever famous popular ‘Gonna Fly Now’, the furious ‘Going the Distance’ with ‘The Final Bell’, and the gorgeous and vastly underrated ‘First Date’. Something about the violins swells combined with the melodic playing of the piano gets me a little teary eyed. Rocky is a film everyone should watch and I highly recommend it, even if you do not like boxing. Sadly, some of the sequels do no measure up to the standards of this film, but those aren’t that bad either. They are fun, flashy, campy, and even have some of the heart of this film in them. Stay away from Rocky V, though, unless you want to be bored to death. The only sequel I have not seen is Rocky Balboa, but I do plan on watching it in the near future on my own accord. Go pick these films up and have a Rocky marathon. It will not disappoint.
Next week, Film A Week will be taking a look at the new Best Picture winner of the 85th Academy Awards. The problem: There are ten and the Oscars happen Sunday, so it is going to be a surprise.
Will it be the historical dramas Argo and Lincoln or the story of mental illness and love that is Silver Linings Playbook? Is it the heart breaking reality of death in Armour or the love to spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation of Django Unchained? Can it be the fantastical worlds of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi or the musical spectacle Les Miserables? Shall Zero Dark Thirty win and Kathryn Bigelow undergoes the Film A Week treatment once again? Find out Oscar Sunday as they announce who wins and next Friday/Saturday to talk about the winning contender. Film A Week is going to the Oscars again next week.
Friday, March 1st/Saturday, March 2nd
Stinger of the Week