Friday, July 25, 2008

A "Rocky" Critic Responds

My toss-off surprise at how much I enjoyed Rocky hit a real nerve ... I post it here to give the other side a voice. Thanks to Jay for speaking up! Somehow I feel that Scott Nehring probably agrees as he and I quite often disagree on movies.
The uncritical adoration of the movie Rocky is one of my pet peeves of the fans of popular culture. Average people feel that life is so harsh that they adopt patently bogus heroes and products that they would never accept in other parts of their life. This is especially true in sports movies. To wit: Rocky is a horrible movie, that is loved by people starving for "uplifting underdog stories," but the same people would never accept such treacle in the lives, books, non-sports movies, or non-fiction.

Rocky is horrible because it is so fake. Most true film fans have hated the movie for this artifice from the first day of its release, and not just in hindsight of better boxing movies (Fat City released two years before Rocky is a much better dramatic and authentic movie) for tangible reasons:
  • The boxing choreography is so fake, World Wrestling Federation workers think it could use some work. The gloves clearly do not hit bodies, the exaggerated reactions and head flailing, the lack of jabs or even a typical first round of "feeling-out" and circling by the fighters... it is all stomach turningly inauthentic.
  • Philly boxer as underdog, why not use the story of Joe Frazier?
  • Stallone cast himself in the title role purely out of vanity and career advancement. He is a horrible cinema boxer, and is way too short to have been cast as a heavyweight. It really shows in the fight scenes against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a real professional athlete/heavyweight boxer size. In real life, Apollo Creed would have literally killed Rocky Balboa on this size differential alone. When people pointed this out to Stallone for the sequels, he artificially enhanced his body type with steroids and human growth hormone. Again, Rocky is worse than WWF. But Stallone was still way too short to be cast as a heavyweight fighter.
  • The screenplay, which earned Stallone an Oscar, is amateurish. Very amateurish. The first 70 minutes is way to slow and talky... and talky in a way that was not convincing. The words coming out of Rocky Balboa's mouth in the scenes with Adrian are artificially profound for a character that in the exposition of the movie is clearly established as being a brutish mob collector, a loser, showing signs of being punch-drunk.
  • The music is a joke. Movie music is supposed to support the action on screen, not overwhelm or be better than the images. Obvious, overblown, too loud, unsubtle music is not good movie score.
Overall, the movie industry has spent the past thirty years trying to obliterate the inexplicable popularity of Rocky. Every boxing movie since Rocky is superior, and a couple are heights of cinema art. Scorsese made Raging Bull to show the true brutality of boxing, boxers and boxing culture (with much better music and much better cinematography and tremendous boxing choreography). Downbeat at times, yes; great movie art, absolutely. Ron Howard made the great Cinderella Man to correct Rocky and Raging Bull (authentic details of life pre-Depression and in the middle of the Depression, brutality of boxing, music that supports the story, the underdog story of a decent Christian man unerringly doing decent things throughout the film staying in character, tremendous boxing choreography, correct body types for the era). This "Cult of Rocky" has corrupted actual sports culture: movie and sports fans now only relate to underdogs, and not excellence or decency. Even if the underdog is visibly inauthentic.
In response, I do not necessarily disagree with much of what Jay says as I don't know a thing about boxing and don't care. Face it, that is much of the moviegoing public, hence part of Rocky's appeal. The movie is not about boxing really. As Jay points out, it is the story of an underdog who has taken the low road every time. Rocky's trainer points this out bluntly. What appeals is that when Rocky is given a chance (yes, an unbelievable chance but this is the movies so that is part of the deal sometimes) it spurs him on to fulfill his potential.

Has it been done better? Yes, undoubtedly and in many more genres than boxing movies. As we all know, many more genres than sport movies have showed us that tale. As well, it clearly should have been edited better. It would have been nice to have some of the redundancy in dialogue cleared away. And, yet, that is also what made it seem more real. Because people are redundant and stagey in real life conversation sometimes, especially when they are ill at ease as Rocky quite often is.

I have to agree about the large musical numbers, which are now dated as well as over the top. However, if one goes back and listens to the music aside from that, one finds that the music is, if anything, understated with piano being merely a support for the mood of various scenes ... and then only when desired.

Believe me, when I say that I am not a die-hard Rocky fan. I saw this in the movies when it came out. Haven't seen it since nor any of the following Rocky movies. I fully expected to see an overdone, cheesy movie that we would mock for being in any top 100 list. That is why I was surprised. It is not the best movie ever, however, as I said before, like an indy movie with a big marketing budget.

If it makes you feel any better, Jay, it did make me want to watch Cinderella Man ... and I have never been interested before. So perhaps you could look at Rocky as a "stepping stone" movie if that helps at all.

Now, on a very loosely related subject ... who else has found Carl Weathers (who played Apollo Creed in Rocky) to be absolutely hilarious in Arrested Development?
Tobias Fünke: Do you see me more as the respected dramatic actor or more of the beloved comic actor?

Carl Weathers: Whoa, whoa, whoa. There's still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you've got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: Yes, that's fine, but I would like to focus on my acting, Mr. Weathers. I did give you my last $1, 100.

Carl Weathers: Let me tell you a little story about acting. I was doing this Showtime movie, Hot Ice with Anne Archer, never once touched my per diem. I'd go to Craft Service, get some raw veggies, bacon, Cup-A-Soup... baby, I got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: [pause] I think I'd like my money back.

TO has some good comments about Rocky and reality in movies.

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