Rocky. The phenomenon of the mid 1970s that managed to win Best Picture over Network, All the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver. This must mean that Rocky is the greatest film to ever destroy modern societies reliance on media, tell the real story of the ultimate quest for truth, and examine the darkest recesses of the human soul.
Rocky may very well be the most overrated film of all time. I can see the appeal, I suppose. But it is more manipulation than any actual art. I seriously cannot believe the hype surrounding this. There were five sequels to this thing, (about four too many) and, honestly, people compared Sylvester Stallone to Marlon Brando when this came out. I can think of a few things wrong with that assessment. First of all, this is Sylvester Stallone, who has spent the rest of his career making films based upon the manipulation of male audiences and tricking them into thinking they’ve seen something good. But frankly, Stallone started out of the gate wrong. Rocky is just like all of his other films, minus the camp appeal.
The film…well, you should know what happens. Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed challenges Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to a fight on the Bicentennial. This is mostly because another fight was canceled and Creed wanted to fight an easy opponent as a spectacle. But Rocky, who has been working as a collector for a loan shark, uses the opportunity to get in shape, train, find a girlfriend, and last fifteen rounds against the heavyweight champ. That’s it, really.
OK, let’s get right off the bat – Sylvester Stallone cannot act. Really. Do not tell me that Rocky is some sort of ultimate symbol of America’s working class, fighting the American establishment to finally make society equal for all. Stallone is not that smart (although he tried his hardest to make sure that is what the character is supposed to be). He basically goes through the film as a perpetual stroke victim, trying to form complex opinions on why he fights (but failing) and peppering his conversation with “you know what I mean?”. Half of the time, I do not because I cannot understand what he is saying over his thick accent.
The other half of the time, Rocky really had nothing interesting to say. He acts like a sort of Italian Forrest Gump, spouting off random tid bits of wisdom he has heard from others and trying to use it to define his life. He asks when his “prime” will be, as though such a thing is deserved (instead of Rocky, say, working for it and not making a living as a criminal). His progression is also completely unrealistic. When thrust in front of a news camera, he becomes a Chauncey Gardener figure, where everything he says is treated as relevant and interesting even though it is nothing of the sort. The scene in the meat factory has to be seen to be believed (mostly because it is treated seriously) and the actual fight itself is so hopelessly choreographed that it comes across as a dance routine than a boxing match. Also, a majority of it is not even shown…this is the event the entire film is based around, and it takes up ten minutes of screen time. I don’t even get the impression that Rocky knew what he was doing – it plays like a little man was whispering into his ear, telling him what to do. Sure, Rocky is simple enough to make people respond to him in a positive way, which I guess is a good thing.
This goes for the film, too. I can understand what it was trying to do. America had just ended the Vietnam War and was looking for a way to, basically, feel good about itself again. The other films I listed above are definitely not positive films. They were dark and uncompromising, exposing the corruption in the highest places and showing our society why it was the way it was and where it was going. They were doing a service that far outreaches what Rocky ever did. Yet Rocky simply made people feel good again. I don’t know; maybe after Watergate and Vietnam people wanted to feel good. But that does not mean that artists SHOULD make people feel good about a society where such things were occurring, and even worse for people to promote it. Rocky existed to create a positive emotional response and create an illusion of society. What other form of mass media is designed to do this?
That’s right; Rocky is propaganda.
Now, propaganda can still be well made, which I suppose Rocky is from a technical standpoint. The score is fine, the cinematography good, and I did like the scenes showing the underbelly of Philadelphia (closer to the beginning) which contains interesting mise en scenes that I would have loved to see Martin Scorsese use. But I simply could not get over the character of Rocky Balboa. He is a dumb, one dimensional character that spews out dumb, one dimensional ideas. I guess it makes sense that the film he is in is also dumb and painfully one dimensional.