In 1976, a small, low-budget drama about a down-on-his-luck boxer from Philadelphia known as ‘The Italian Stallion’ became the feel-good sleeper hit of the year. Audiences around the world fell for ‘Rocky’ and the film swept the Academy Awards, including nabbing the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director (John G. Avildsen) and a Best Actor nomination for its star, Sylvester Stallone.
Put aside the dodgier sequels and the strangely jingoistic and militaristic nature of Stallone’s post-Rocky career for a moment; brush off the barnacles of cliche that have attached themselves to the ‘Rocky’ series over the last forty years. When we go back to the original, we are pleasantly surprised to find a quiet but powerful drama about ordinary, likeable people doing their best at the edge of urban decay and poverty.
Stallone inhabits the character he created with a charismatic swagger that tries but utterly fails to hide a kind and generous heart. He leads a fine cast: Talia Shire shines as Adrian, the shy pet shop owner who falls in love with Rocky despite the protests of her cruel but ultimately loving brother Paulie (Burt Young), while Burgess Meredith steals scenes as Mickey, the crusty old gym owner whose protectiveness likewise hides behind a tough exterior. Carl Weathers embodies Apollo Creed, the world heavyweight boxing champion (clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali) who Rocky must face in the ring, but at no point do we see Apollo as a simple, by-the-numbers protagonist. As with all of the supporting characters, his hard surface is a a façade; a defence against a hard world. Despite his fame and fortune, Apollo’s public persona is a projection of toughness and bravado meant to hide the human frailty and tenderness within. ‘Rocky’ is not really about boxing at all: rather, it’s about the interaction of characters who find themselves fighting against the roles they’ve been forced into.
Stallone described his mid-80s on-screen persona as “a monosyllabic slice of chuck roast,” but in this original ‘Rocky’ we find a wisecracking, talkative lug who wins us over through his humour, his streetwise, punch-drunk wisdom and sheer mental and physical determination. Rocky gets the million-to-one shot we all dream about getting one way or the other, and is then faced with the added challenge of actually having to actually take that shot. As he tells Adrian the night before the climatic bout, “…if that final bells goes and I’m still standing there, then I’ll know then I’m not just some bum from the neighbourhood.”
Knowing that ‘Rocky’ was an-all-or-nothing last-chance effort from its writer and star Stallone (he had a pregnant wife at home, an unimpressive resume of bit parts in minor movies and less than $100 in the bank when he started shopping the script to producers) adds to the pathos. When Rocky at last runs triumphantly up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to the strains of Bill Conti’s rousing score, it’s as if, in the words of the late, great American film critic Roger Ebert, he’s “sending a message to the entire movie industry.”
Join us, then, on Friday, June 3rd to celebrate the joyful 40th anniversary of a movie that is less a sweaty sports story than it is an affirmation of the human spirit, and – as cliched as it sounds – the grace of love.
Enter through the labyrinth door between 6:45-7pm, cross the lower hall and follow the aroma of popcorn and pizza to the King’s Room/Library, greet your friends and fellow movie-lovers and settle in for this special presentation.
This is a FREE Movie Event ....