Tuesday, January 1, 2008

How Hard You Can Get Hit


It’s now a year since the release of ROCKY BALBOA, the final chapter in the Rocky franchise. I saw the film at a screening several weeks before it was released and as the film played, I found myself getting both surprised and delighted at what I was seeing. A genuinely emotional character arc about letting go of the past and moving on? The return of Paulie? The return of Duke? The return of Spider Rico? The return of Little Marie, even if it was played by a different actress? The overall effect I got from the film was that Sylvester Stallone looked at himself in the mirror, splashed his face with some cold water and realized that this was his last chance to show a little of what he gave us in the original ROCKY, to not make a movie which contained a lot of plot bullshit like brain damage, bankruptcy and Tommy Gunn. Then, when Tony Burton returns to say the immortal line “Now, let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs,” then suddenly out of nowhere the horns kick in with the beginning of “Gonna Fly Now,” it immediately became my favorite screen micro-second of 2006. As this one final training montage continued, I thought, “Don’t tell me you’re going to bring in the voices,” and then came those voices. Then, I thought, “Don’t tell me you’re going to run up the steps,” we saw him running up the steps. I actually found it a little moving. Even in that tiny screening room you could feel a surge going through the audience. He showed, after all these years, that he still we remembered why we still loved this character. Why we still loved him.

Several weeks later, the movie had stuck with me. On New Year’s Day 2007, I went to the Grove to see it a second time. It was the beginning of the New Year, with all of the emotion that comes with that, all the hopes that one has for the coming twelve months. Listening to Rocky talk about how he still has “stuff in the basement”, telling his son that “it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” struck this little chord in me about what wanted to get done in the coming year. When that training montage started up again, I felt the tears come, thinking about how long I’d been watching this character and how this was going to be the last time such a scene would occur. And by the time we get to the end, even if Stallone does pilfer the final shot from UNFORGIVEN, I truly responded to the emotion of everything the movie was trying to get across. It’s a genuinely sweet, heartfelt picture, something you don’t often get with a Part Six and that fact alone makes ROCKY BALBOA a tiny little accomplishment.

Now, here it is, one year later and I’m watching these scenes again. I feel proud of some of what I’ve accomplished, but there’s a lot more to do. I have to push myself harder. I know what I want to do next, but it’s going to take some work and I’m the only person who can do it. I’m not faced with the ghosts of my past very much—thoughts of Scarsdale don’t float through my head all that often. But Rocky also says, “If you stay in one place long enough, you become that place.” I don’t know what that says about who I am and where I live, but I know that this is the time to be who I am. I’m a writer. I have to keep writing. After all, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Happy New Year to all.

6 comments:

Jeremy Richey said...

I can't tell you how much this film meant to me, and how grateful I was to Stallone for making it. It was one of the first things I posted on at Moon In The Gutter and its release coincided with my first semester back at college.

To me he hit upon everything that made that first (and I think second) film so special. Your cold water in the face analogy is perfect...this was Stallone's moment to really remind people of what a special talent he had been and to my eyes he delivered a perfect and delightfully nostalgic reminder.

There are many moments in the film that get me...I can barely get through his touring of his old haunts at the beginning without breaking down and the 'stuff in the basement' speech might be one of the most perfect portraits of middle aged rage and disappointment I have ever heard. So many moments...the confrontation with his son scene, the scenes with Geraldine Hughes (great performance)...for me though the moment that totally blew my mind was the shot of him on the steps in the snow just after the first credits roll. On the DVD extras it stated this shot was the last time Stallone stood on the steps and I think it is among the most beautiful shots of the decade...

ROCKY BALBOA might not be among the most perfect films of my lifetime but there are very few that have meant more to me personally and spiritually. I think I concluded my original post on it with something like, "he is pure again eternally' and I still feel that way...

Thanks so much for this wonderful post...

Mr. Peel said...

Jeremy--

Thanks very much for your heartfelt response, it really means a lot. I know exactly what you mean in expressing this love for the film.

Nicholas said...

I just added it to my Netflix queue after reading your thoughts. Two different people I know told me about seeing this when it was in the theaters with their dads -- it really showed how the mythology of the ROCKY movies was a big deal for our generation.

I watched ROCKY and ROCKY 2 last year, and recently heard an interview with Tarantino where he said he VHS-edited those two movies together to make one giant film when he was a kid.

Mr. Peel said...

Thanks, Nicholas, I hope you like it. The film would probably fit in just right with that edit Tarantino did.

Nicholas said...

I am not trying to be sour grapes here, just record for posterity my honest reaction:

As I watched this, I just could not get over Stallone's frozen-in-rictus plastic surgery face.

It was like someone was wearing a Rocky mask and doing an impression of the character. When I realized the love interest would be Little Marie, I thought about the two of them having sex, and the mask slipping off during the act. What would be under that mask? The skinless man from HELLRAISER?

It is a sweet movie, but so hard for me to accept its sweetness as it's coming from... that Hollywood LES YEUX SANS VISAGE plastic face. I am just too aware of Stallone's lifetime between the original ROCKY and today to fully accept that it's Rock back for one more battle. His real life is surreally written all over his face.

That said... your thoughts (as well as Jeremy's) were sincerely wonderful to read.

Anonymous said...

Rocky character has been one of my most important driving forces during the decades. Rocky truly helps individuals to find their inner strength.

JamesC