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Rocky (1976) Dir: John G Avildsen

A late night television Rocky marathon and Rocky II in particular provided me with some much needed inspiration and here is one of the most iconic, famous montage sequences in motion picture history. An obvious choice perhaps but Bill Conti‘s inspirational Philly soul pop theme surging, wah-wahing, harmonizing in all the right places, precise editing, smooth steadicam tracking shots and Sylvester Stallones’ sweaty, pudgy palooka the centre of this perfect storm of schmaltz, grit; the American Dream personified ascending those steps – make this scene impossible to resist.

Emotionally manipulative? Most definitely. Yet executed with skill and conviction. Of course, the story of Rocky was almost parallel to the story of Stallone‘s own acting career which gives the film and this scene an added thematic kick. This story of a down and out Philadelphia fighter who rise to challenge for the world heavyweight title was a low-budget passion project which made Stallone a star way back in 1976.

36 years later, Stallone now 66 is still putting his aging body through the action film paces and it’s interesting to see the actors physical evolution throughout the decades. Here, he is slightly bulky, less defined, average looking, identifiable as a working class schlub.

However by the third and fourth chapters of the franchise and the onset of his Rambo alter-ego, Stallone had sculpted his body and self-image into that of indestructible stoicism and almost zero character personifying 80’s success and excess, the series now replete with a cod fascistic advertising/MTV sheen and the chintzy overcooked, mullet wearing pop croaking typical of that era which make Conti’s original theme seem like a John Cage composition by comparison.

Through titanic self-will and ambition, he had carved himself into a Greek god, a celluloid fantasy image of the monosyllabic hero figure. certainly there is no doubting Stallone’s physical commitment to every roles that he takes on, no matter how dull or low rent the project what is that commitment and blood, sweat and tears in service of?

His own ego it could be argued and his obsessive need to prove his own alpha male masculinity or is it to divert attention from his often limited acting style?I’ve always liked Stallone as an actor and performer but the actor side of his career has been dwarfed by his two most famous characters and it seems that Stallone, a shameless opportunist and staunch guardian of his own persona has been his own worst enemy in that respect with a résumé littered with forgettable action films.

Which is a pity when you observe his performances in the first two Rocky films, Copland (1997) and even the first Rambo film, First Blood (1982) which still holds up as a terrific survivalist action movie.

But if Rocky is to be his legacy, so be it. This scene still works and lightens up the dying embers of optimism in my cold, cynical heart every time.