Thursday, January 4, 2018
Sly Watch: Rocky (1976)
Format: Amazon streaming
I know, I'm as surprised as you are that I'd never seen this one before. For some reason I'd seen Rocky IV something like ten times, but I've never been very interested in the rest of the series. Through sheer osmosis, I knew some of the story beats and knew how it ended. Later I heard it had won a pocketful of Academy Awards and been nominated for a bunch it didn't win. Moreover, I found out Stallone had written the thing as well as starred in it.
And, yeah, even for the 70's, a standout decade for cinema, it's a standout picture. Turns out Stuart was quite right (y'all, Stuart loved Rocky).
Notably, Rocky (1976) was a studio film - but doesn't look or feel like one, made under unusual circumstances, including the low budget. It's an interesting entry in the same era that was delivering Scorsese's street-level early work and would get a very different boxing picture in Raging Bull a few years later.
I don't think you can say Rocky has been copied and repeated, and like so much of the film of its era, it still feels fresh. It's not a film tied to twists and turns, and, in fact, feels much more like a short story or novella from a plotting standpoint - and that is a feature, not a complaint.
If the movie eschews deep plotting, it focuses on characters, and here they're sharply defined. Despite intentionally repetitive dialog that's delivered in a style we'd call mumblecore twenty-something years later, everyone has clear character arcs. No one is a villain, exactly - and if you don't love Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed in this movie, I don't want to know you. But in sparse, spartan moments, and thanks to Rocky's shot at the 1/3rd point, an old boxer gets a whole new opportunity to make amends and recapture some of the glory. Rocky gets his chance to prove he's not what the bum he and everyone else knows he is. Adrian gets a chance to break out and break free of a life that's slowly strangling her. And her brother Paulie gets to live large, if just for one night, just like he dreamed - and flex his creative juices a bit.
And every actor turns in a rock solid performance - making it worth noting how the film's director wound up with an Oscar.
This is a 40 year old movie everyone but me has seen, so I won't belabor the point.
Sometime during the movie I started thinking a bit about what Stallone was doing and the theatrical and cinematic precedent for stories of struggling, working class people. For a sort of sardonic take on what I'm talking about, you can look to either Sullivan's Travels or Barton Fink as films about guys who want to make films about "the common man". But that very real concept of "the people's theater" brought us a lot of what made up theater and portions of cinema of the 20th Century. Think On the Waterfront to Flashdance. And it changed acting styles - think John Garfield, Brando or what Stallone was doing here.
I'd say "I'm not sure what it says that White-produced American cinema no longer shows White people as struggling or working class while seemingly have no problem doing same with Hispanic or Black Americans", but I have some ideas about why that might be. It's a college thesis, but I think you can fill in the blanks.
That's all a much longer discussion for another day, but suffice it to say, yeah, I regret putting off watching this one for so long.