We went to see Creed III in the theater last week, which reminded me I haven’t seen any of the original Rocky movies in a long while. Al said we had to watch the first two Creed movies again, so we did that, then turned our attention to Rockies I-III.
I love the look and texture of the first one. Closing in on 50 years old, it’s all low light and film grain.
There’s some cultural stuff going on that seems alien now: Mass culture still treated Italians as a separate ethnicity. If you were consuming the mass media of your grandparents’ prime years, you had a sense there was some still some bigotry attached not too many years before, but the ’70s were much more celebratory: Lots of Italian protagonists in t.v. and movies that played with the tensions of those past stereotypes, and I guess I remember that being Italian was sort of short-hand for working class, too. It was a very soft version of the idea that “race is the modality in which class is lived” in the final moments of a particular identity before it was subsumed into “whiteness” by American media.
This time around I also found myself thinking about how much the camera is just with Stallone the entire time. In his ‘76 review, Roger Ebert says:
“Its story, about a punk club fighter from the back streets of Philly who gets a crack at the world championship, has been told a hundred times before. A description of it would sound like a cliche from beginning to end. But Rocky isn’t about a story, it’s about a hero. And it’s inhabited with supreme confidence by a star.”
Harder to watch because the setup involves Rocky screwing up his newfound fame, and Stallone plays him … dumber? Al wondered if he was trying to portray the effects of Dementia Pugilistica. I thought it was a reasonable depiction of what someone like Rocky might do, even if the performance was grating.
On the whole, it’s just darker, slower, and more difficult to watch; and also more jerky in its progression.
Awesome media artifact: Roger Ebert writing about watching Rocky II with Muhammed Ali:
“‘For the black man to come out superior,’ Ali said, ‘would be against America’s teachings. I have been so great in boxing they had to create an image like Rocky, a white image on the screen, to counteract my image in the ring. America has to have its white images, no matter where it gets them. Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan and Rocky.’”
The 99-minute-long Mr. T installment of the series. Yikes. I’m committed to getting to Rocky IV so this was a necessary stop. The most gobsmacking part of it is the way Mr. T’s “Clubber Lang” is portrayed as a snarling animal who sexually menaces Adrien, but Rocky’s brother-in-law Pauly is there to say some racist stuff, and since we’re to read Pauly as a racist boob, then we’re to believe the movie’s heart is in the right place. Jesus. See Muhammed Ali in the previous section.
Yeah. No. Not a lot of time for this one.
I read recently that Stallone wasn’t in Creed III because he disagreed with the direction the script went (“too dark”), and because he’s got a long-standing beef with Irwin Winkler, the franchise’s producer all these years. I read a theory that the script he rejected called for Rocky to die of the illness they set him up with in the first Creed movie and he wasn’t having it. Personally, I thought he got sent off fine in Creed II, quietly, after turning in a pretty good performance as an aging Rocky in Creed I and II that actually convinced me going back to the originals was a good idea at all.
I will say that one of the Creed series’ achievements is selling the viewer on the iconic, mythic weight of a franchise that stopped working after the first sequel. It’s an amazing rehab job.