Monday, May 16, 2016

ROCKY 1976

In a first for Le Cinema Dreams, I’ve handed this week’s post over to a guest blogger! I’m pleased to introduce Roberta Steve of Steel Town Girl. A marvelous writer and ‘70s film enthusiast after my own heart. I hope you enjoy as Roberta steps into the ring with the 1976 Best Picture Academy-Award winner, Rocky.

Growing up in a small, dying mill town in western Pennsylvania didn’t afford us many luxuries, so family night at the movies was a real treat.  My dad was a steelworker, and a rather eclectic movie fan.  He cheered for John Wayne in True Grit, and grieved with Sophia Loren in Two Women.  He loved discussing the movies we saw and prodding my sisters and me for our opinions.
Throughout the 60s, the boom years for steel towns throughout the region, there were lots of movies aimed at the family audience.  But by the 1970s, movies were changing.  Swear words, nudity, and violence were things my devout Catholic parents were not going to pay for us to see.  Especially with layoffs looming and money becoming tight.  Paying for five people to see a movie meant not paying for something else.

One night my mother suggested we go to see Cabaret.  It was a musical, so I’m sure mom thought it must be wholesome family entertainment.  We piled in the car and went off to the movie theater at the mall.  I remember sensing my dad’s uneasiness early on in the movie. My sisters and I grew even more uncomfortable with the decadence and sexuality, eventually slinking down in our seats.  My mom was silently praying for Julie Andrews and singing nuns to somehow show up in the Kit Kat Club in Berlin.
The ride home was stony silence.  My dad shooting “what were you thinking” glances at my mom in the front seat, my sisters and I trying to figure out what we had just seen in the back.  I had nightmares of Joel Grey’s false eyelashes for months.

It would be years before we saw another movie all together.

One day, at the dinner table, my dad commented that he’d read about a little movie that sounded interesting. “It’s about a boxer,” he explained.  “It’s called Rocky and I think I want to see it.” Apparently Newsweek magazine had run a blurb about its word of mouth momentum.
The movie hadn’t yet caught on nationally so it wasn’t playing at the big theater at the mall.  Instead, one frigid night, we drove to a deserted downtown to see it.  The small theater was not quite half full.  I was wearing my fake rabbit fur winter jacket with my black and gold Steeler pom pom hat.  I remember being annoyed that my mom wouldn’t buy me Milk Duds or Ju Ju Bees because they’d get stuck in my braces.

After the Cabaret disaster, I was especially tense about whether or not my dad would sit through the movie, let alone like it.  I spent the first part of the movie watching it out of one eye and my dad out of the other.  I was monitoring his reactions, waiting for the first f-bomb or naked breast that would cause him to pull us out of our seats and take us home in disgust.  He not only settled in; he was watching intently.
I relaxed and turned my full attention to the screen. Rocky was sitting in the fight promoter’s office, with people urging him to accept Apollo Creed’s unbelievable offer for an unknown boxer to fight the champ.  The camera stayed on Rocky’s face.  I felt how he was both afraid to take it and afraid not to.
I never looked away from the screen again.
My favorite scene in the film. Perhaps the last time we saw Stallone underplay until Creed.

Rocky is not a great film.  It is a very, very good one. There’s a reason it became a box office smash and a modern classic. It is hands down the most memorable and exciting movie going experience of my life.

The story is simple.  A down on his luck, no-name boxer in Philadelphia is given the chance of a lifetime to fight the flamboyant World Heavyweight Champion.  At the same time he is starting a tentative, tender romance with the introverted sister of his best friend.  He discovers his dignity and realizes he finally has something to fight for.

When the film came out, many sophisticated critics ridiculed it as a derivative fairy tale, some sort of rehash of a lesser Frank Capra movie. Sylvester Stallone, who starred as Rocky, wrote the screenplay and took the brunt of the criticism.  They had a point.  It was 1976, and compared to the cynicism of Network, the paranoia of All the President’s Men and the nihilism of Taxi Driver, this little movie seemed like a naïve fantasy.

But Rocky is full of anger, grittiness and sadness.  The story’s innate sentimentality is grounded in  drab, raw realness.  Nothing is “pretty” in Rocky.  The movie looks lived in.  Characters wear clothes, not costumes. People yell at each other.  A lot.  
The street where Rocky lives. He may have been from Philadelphia, but his story
echoed with working class folks on the western part of Pennsylvania too 

Because he was an unknown, and his script had made the rounds in Hollywood for a while, Stallone had to fight to get Rocky made and fight to star in it. The trade-off was the studio insisted on a low budget and quick filming schedule.  The entire movie was shot in 28 days.
Perhaps the two best things that happened to the movie were the budget restrictions and the studio bringing in a journeyman director, John G. Avildsen.  One reviewer called Avildsen “lazy.”  He wasn’t.  He simply got out of the way of a great story and cast the movie with actors who were either unknown or barely known to audiences.  It’s telling that the biggest “name” in the cast was Burgess Meredith.  (“Well he’s always good in movies, isn’t he?  He wouldn’t be in a dirty movie, would he?” my mom sweetly asked my dad on the way to the theater.)

There is a plainness and lack of self-consciousness in the performances that made me feel I wasn’t watching actors, I was somehow eavesdropping on real people at the most dramatic moment of their lives.  Stallone is undeniably appealing.  He wasn’t handsome, and in truth, he looks meaty, lumpy and pale.  You can believe he is a third-rate fighter.  Rocky was his creation, and he brings genuine humility, humor and heart to the role.  One wonders how Avildsen was able to reign in the self-reverential preening that Stallone displayed starting with the first sequel and perfected over his 40 year career.
The Rocky who won our hearts, before faux tan, hair mousse
and plastic surgery turned him into a robotic imitation 

Rocky’s love interest, Adrian, is the repressed, frightened, old maid sister of his best friend, Pauly.  Talia Shire, who was cast after Carrie Snodgrass turned the part down, brought both sensitivity and ferociousness to a woman who had never been valued in her life.  Her bitter confrontation with Pauly is achingly painful to watch.  Even her “makeover” is believable.  It looks like a prettier, younger cousin took her to the beauty counter at Wannamaker’s in downtown Philly and then bought her some new clothes.  The pantsuit she wears at the end of the film doesn’t even fit her properly.  Similar to Bette Davis’ brilliant transformation in Now, Voyager, Shire’s Adrian blooms from within.

Talia Shire was one of the last principals cast.
Susan Sarandon was screen tested but deemed “too attractive.”

Burt Young, as her loser brother Pauly, is used mainly for comic relief, until jealousy of his friend’s luck begins eating him alive.  He knows he may soon be abandoned by both Rocky and Adrian, and erupts from years of frustration, loneliness and hurt.
Burt Young's Pauly ruins the holiday.
I can still hear my mother muttering "poor Pauly" for days after the movie
every time she passed the Christmas tree

A former professional football player turned actor, Carl Weathers, plays the champion Apollo Creed, who Stallone obviously based on Muhammed Ali.  Weathers’ handsomeness, athleticism and crisp diction make him not only Rocky’s opponent, but his better in every way – he looks better, fights better and sounds better. Rocky knows he’s outclassed not just in the ring, but in life too.  Creed could have easily been a “villain” of sorts, but Stallone and Weathers make Apollo smart, savvy and completely in control of the “spin” surrounding the fight.
Apollo Creed looks for a small time fighter to face in an exhibition bout. He finds "The Italian Stallion."
Real life boxer Ken Norton turned the Apollo role down.

If there is any false note in the film, it’s the veteran Meredith as Rocky’s trainer, Mickey. Maybe it was because he was the biggest “name” in the film that the familiarity makes him seem less “authentic” compared to the revelatory turns by Stallone, Shire, Young and Weathers. When he first appeared in the film, my sister was waiting to hear him do the Penguin laugh from Batman. It’s the one performance in the film that, well, feels like a performance.
The producers wanted Lee Strasberg for the role of  Mickey but couldn't meet his asking price.

Avildsen cast the supporting roles with meat and potato character actors who looked like he grabbed them off the street in Philadelphia.  He generously gives Thayer David (the fight promoter), Tony Burton (Apollo’s manager) and Joe Spinell (Rocky’s small time gangster boss) moments that do much to create the gritty, small, ordinary world where Rocky knows his place.  It’s a harsh, grimy place, as are the people who populate it.
Spinell had an asthma attack shooting his first scene, and used his inhaler.
Avildsen used that take in the final cut.

Rocky was just the second film to use a Steadicam, which enabled the breathtaking shot of Rocky mounting the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as the climatic fight scene.  For the famous training sequence, much of the footage, including Rocky’s run through the street market and on the quay by the boat, were shot on the fly – Avildsen and crew couldn’t afford to pay for the film permits.  Instead, they drove around in a van filming Stallone in improvised locations. That type of montage is now such a staple in movies, it’s hard to remember how fresh it was in Rocky.  So many post-Rocky “underdog” films have copied it (including Avildsen’s own Karate Kid) that you can’t believe it was never a cliché.
The inventor of the Steadicam first tested it with his girlfriend running up the steps of the  Philadelphia
Museum of Art. Avildsen saw the footage and it inspired the movie's most famous image.

Many film critics grumbled when Avildsen won the Oscar over other more well-regarded directors.  They blamed the win on the out-of-touch Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (sound familiar?)  The fact is, though, that the hipper Directors Guild gave their prize to Avildsen too.

Avildsen collects his Oscar.
He beat Ingmar Bergman, Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula and Lina Wertmuller

Whenever I talk movies with fellow movie buffs, I see them roll their eyes when I bring up Rocky. Their perspective of the original film is skewed by its association with the sequels that followed. If only the story of Rocky ended when the film ended, with Rocky and Adrian frozen in a triumphant embrace.  Instead, Stallone, the producers, and the studio cashed in and pimped the characters out.  The newly trim, bronzed and blow-dried Stallone made Rocky into a cartoon, and threw the supporting characters to the side.  The sequels were overacted, overproduced, overblown, yet strangely underpopulated.  Rocky now lived in a vacuum. He was the only character that mattered. And don’t even get me started on the red sweat band in Rocky II.  It’s more frightening than Joel Grey’s false eyelashes.

Just all kinds of wrong.

It’s a shame that the sequels exploited and cheapened what made the original so stunning, and such a visceral experience 40 years ago.

It was deep in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, Jimmy Carter administration malaise. We were worn down by inflation and oil embargos. In small towns like mine, an entire industry was collapsing.
Steel mills, coal mines and manufacturing plants were lumbering dinosaurs on their way to extinction.  Anti-heroes and emancipated women were the darlings at the box office.  Hard-working, decent guys like my dad were just looking for a break.  They weren’t seeing who they were – or who they wanted to be – on the screen.
The night before the fight, Rocky sees that a banner has the color of his trunks wrong.
(An actual mistake made by the props department.)
"Does it matter?" says the fight promoter, in a line that Stallone wrote on the spot.

Back to my parents and my sisters and I in a small theater on a freezing western Pennsylvania night. My dad and mom likely entered the theater that night with lots on their minds – car payments, mortgages, saving to send three girls to college, the nasty chronic cough my dad had from smoking too many cigarettes.  They were probably prepared to have another movie disappoint them, and embarrass their daughters.

With Rocky clutching Adrian in freeze-frame (it was the 70s) and the strains of Bill Conti’s iconic score playing over the final credits, someone in the audience began clapping. Soon everyone was on their feet applauding, which then turned into cheering.  I heard the man behind me tell his date “I feel like I could lift this theater on my shoulders right now!”  I did too. More importantly so did my dad. He was literally out of breath and invigorated when the movie ended.
Walking to the car, my family was excitedly replaying scenes and dialogue.  They were already planning on telling others at work, at church and at school to be sure to see Rocky.  I wasn’t.  In some strange way, I didn’t want Rocky to be a hit. I wanted it to remain something special that had happened just to us. No one will ever know or love these people like we did, I thought. Somehow, keeping the movie a secret meant being able to hold onto the joy forever. One of my sisters suggested that we come back the next night and see it again.  For a moment my dad considered it. I’m glad we didn’t.  While I’ve enjoyed seeing the movie again over the years, nothing will ever top that first time.

As we were driving home, my mom, sisters and I were arguing about whether or not Rocky had actually won the fight.  “What difference does it make?” my dad said from the front seat. “He was a winner either way.  All I know is when he ran up those stairs, I was right there with him.  What a movie!”
Yo, dad, you were right.  Rocky was a winner.  And a knockout.


Roberta Steve is a writer and blogger. A native of Pittsburgh, her Steel Town Girl blog details coming of age in the 1970s.   She is also writing her first play and advocates for mental health awareness. A film buff, sports fan, fashionista, and sometime actress, you can find her on Facebook at Steel Town Girl, or follow her on Twitter @Bertie913.


27 comments:

  1. thank you Ken for exposing us to Roberta's beautiful blog about Rocky. Roberta, your writing is full of pathos and heart and very informative as well.
    thank you for sharing your very personal but clear eyed and engaging story about Rocky.

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    1. Hi Anonymous! This is Roberta. Thank you for your kind comments. Ken has set the bar so high that when he offered me the chance to guest blog I had to swallow hard before I accepted!

      I'm glad you enjoyed one family's experience watching a seminal movie of the 70s. For good or bad, they don't make them like that anymore.

      See you in the comments section next week when Ken is back in the driver's seat!

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  2. Argyle here. Gosh, Roberta, that was nice. And thanks, Ken, for having her post (not that we ever need a break from you!) Roberta, your personal recollections choked me up, particularly your not wanting to see it again so soon and not wanting it to be a hit. I so identify. My parents rarely went out to the movies, especially my Dad, but I'm sure they went to see "Rocky." And I'm sure he had plenty on his mind too (your list is perfect.) The only thing I might add is a strange son (me) who was getting ready to go off to college and what was he going to manage to make of himself? I think they loved it and were swept up in the underdog makes good story like so many others. My dad was a civil engineer, in the south, and was doing OK, but I think he was beginning to see the effects of businesses expanding, being bought by outsiders, not knowing who you were really working for any more, the kind of stuff that has since become the norm and has drowned the "little guy" in many ways. I think he may have seen "Rocky" through that lens.

    Unfortunately, I was like the critics you mention, someone who thought they were above the film; I was all of 18. But I guess one way of moving forward is to be a snob which (hopefully) exposes you to more challenging things and then later (hopefully) you can look back and realize what an insufferable person you were and maybe you can knit it all together into a balanced whole. I do remember being moved (against my stupid prejudices) by many of the things that you describe, the dreary grittiness and particularly Talia Shire. (I love to watch her evolution in the Godfather movies - she really makes III watchable.) I must have seen “Rocky” later than you, by the time it was a word-of-mouth hit, and when the theme music was already omnipresent. As perfect as the music is, I think I remember feeling it kind of had too much sheen for the movie. It might have been the tip of the “Rocky” iceberg that signaled the eventual studio/Stallone/80's ugliness that followed. It would be really hard for me to watch now, but you make excellent and moving arguments to do so. Thank you, Roberta and Ken!!

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    1. Hello Argyle! What a pleasure to hear your thoughts. I always enjoy your comments on Ken's essays.

      I'm glad my story of seeing Rocky stirred your own memories. My appreciation of a movie has always been tied to the experience I had when I saw it. Rocky, for me, represents a time and place in my life that allowed it to speak to me in a way it wouldn't be able to now. I'm sure it's also intertwined with my love for my dad, since seeing Rocky made him happy in an otherwise stressful time.

      I hope it also speaks to the audience's collective experience of seeing a film. You're there, with strangers in the dark, and being connected at the same time. Before Rocky, I had seen Jaws and was amazed at a theater full of folks screaming together! I haven't seen a movie since Rocky where the entire audience stood up and cheered together.

      Like you, I was insufferable about movies in my younger days but in reverse. I resented what I deemed "hot shot" New Hollywood film school auteurs like Scorsese, Altman, Malik, Cimino, Polanski,and even Fosse. It wasn't until I began to live my life on my own that I discovered my own tastes. Much to my surprise, their groundbreaking films spoke to me in new ways. Amazing how smart we get as we age, isn't it? I was the one cheering loudest when Polanski and Scorsese finally won their Oscars!

      You are dead on about Bill Conti's score too. I remember hearing it on the radio, and realizing my beloved Rocky now belonged to the masses. I can't recall another significant score he's done since. Last time I saw, he was conducting the orchestra at the Oscars. He was, I believe, the notorious "Stick Man" that Julia Roberts hushed during her rambling acceptance speech.

      Lastly, isn't Ken just wonderful? He has opened my eyes, mind and heart regarding so many films. His putting films in a personal context has stirred quite a few memories for me. And isn't that the beauty of film going in the first place? When we leave the darkened theater, we take with us more than what we had when we came in.

      Thanks again, Argyle. I am an avid Le Cinema reader and always enjoy your perspective!

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  3. Roberta! How great to see and read this. This is exactly the sort of movie experience that I know Ken loves, that symbiosis of movie fantasy playing a part of real life and leaving a lasting effect.

    It's been way too long since I saw "Rocky" but I do recall seeing it in the theater. I was nine. I strongly recall being horrified by Stallone punching the carcasses in the slaughterhouse, being so upset by Burt Young's persona that I have never been able to watch him in anything since without a feeling of unease and feeling so emotionally overwhelmed by the "Gonna Fly Now" sequence and that combination of music/visuals.

    It is indeed a shame that the attributes of the original movie were blurred by the cash-in sequels (though I cannot deny I was there for all of them, with "Rocky IV" standing out as by then I was a senior in high school and went to so many movies. The "Eye of the Tiger" thing was big for a while.) Oh, and it amazes me that Ken Norton preferred to make "Drum" to this!!

    Anyway, this was thoroughly engrossing to read. Congratulations!

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    1. Poseidon, I have you - yes you! - to thank for this wonderful opportunity. It was through your blog that I discovered Ken's, and well, the rest is history.

      Funny you mention your reaction to Burt Young. I feel the same way. I had never consciously seen him in a movie before, so he only came to my attention through Rocky. I guess it's a tribute of sorts to his performance that we both identify him so strongly with the Pauly role, in all its irritating, sad, abusive glory.

      The only Rocky sequel I can remember with any charity is Rocky III, mostly for Mr. T as his opponent Clubber Lang. He gave Stallone a run for his money in scene stealing outrageousness! He was quite funny too.

      As I was contemplating this essay I realized how much I've changed as a movie viewer over the years. Films I thought were superb as a kid are now in the "what was I thinking" file. (I'm looking at you Hello Dolly.). On the flip side, I was unmoved the first time I saw The Way We Were in college. Aside from Barbra's amazing manicure it didn't offer me much. Several years later, after a divorce and in the middle of a passionate affair, I saw it at a revival. I wept so hard at the end my friends denied knowing me to the other patrons concerned for my well-being.

      I guess that's why I've paid far less attention to the critics as I matured. After all, if I had to sit through The Deer Hunter or Valley of the Dolls again, you know where I'm buying my popcorn!

      Poseidon, there's no one who makes traveling to the disastrous depths as much fun as you! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  4. What a lovely heartfelt review! I love hearing about movie fans' first experiences with iconic films—*before* they became iconic. Wonderful! More please.

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  5. Will, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed my recollection of a long ago winter night. Isn't it always fun to feel as though you "discovered" a great movie? My mom claims she made Casablanca a hit when she recommended it to her high school girlfriends who couldn't believe Humphrey Bogart as a romantic lead!

    I know Ken is reading this, so we'll see happens in terms of more first time stories.

    While we're at it, let's give Ken an ovation for creating such a diverse and passionate film community. Yeah, Ken!

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  6. Wonderful essay, Roberta. I remember seeing Rocky at the theater, too. And also in the Steel City. I was pregnant with my first child and didn't really want to go see this movie, but hubby convinced me and I was so glad he did. I loved it! Such a feel-good movie. I totally agree with you that Stallone should have stopped right there. Rocky devolved into a cartoon character.

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    1. Bella, thanks for sharing your memory about seeing Rocky. Maybe we saw it in the same theater!

      Can it really be 40 years ago that he entered our hearts? It's a testament to the movie that four decades later we can so vividly recall seeing it.

      It is sad that the story wasn't able to end with the original. I think that allowing each viewer to imagine what happened to the characters would have been the more creative choice for us all.

      I like that you call it a feel good movie. It was. It worked because those good feelings were honestly earned. The filmakers' intent was to make a good movie. The story just happened to make us feel good. Starting with the first sequel, their intent changed to making us feel good period. At that moment Rocky became a commodity. What a shame.

      Thanks again for your thought and for representing the Steel City. It says a lot about how good the movie is when a Pittsburgh girl like me ends up rooting for a guy from Philadelphia!

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  7. Thank you, Roberta. Your thoughts on ROCKY made for a great read.

    Ken has cast you well as his understudy. Your writing is outstanding, filled with fire and music and whatnot.

    My appreciation of your essay is all I can offer here. I saw ROCKY in 1976 and haven't given it a moment's thought since the credits crawled to a close. But I can't wait to read your thoughts on "Footstep on the Ceiling."

    Thank you!

    George W. Tush

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    1. George, thank you for sharing your appreciation of my essay. I totally appreciate that for you, and I'm sure many others, the film itself wasn't as indelible as my memory of it.

      I think that's why so many of us are drawn to Ken's blog. He really wants us to think about the experience of watching a movie, not just the movie itself. For instance, I remember seeing Reds when I was in college. When the lights came up in the theatre, I felt relief that the movie was over and started walking out. My date then told me it was only intermission. Yikes! To this day, if someone gave me a choice between watching Reds again or getting root canal, off to the dentist I'd go. A memorable experience of a not so memorable movie for me.

      I am new to blogging, so it is wonderful to get nice feedback on my writing. In that sense Ken has been a real inspiration and, now, mentor for me.

      I hadn't heard of Footsteps on the Ceiling, so I checked it out on IMDb. It sounds so intriguing that I am going to watch poste haste! The use of the All About Eve scenes is a good indicator I'll enjoy it. After all, can anyone ever have enough Margo Channing, Eve Harrington and Addison DeWitt? I think not.

      Again, George, thank you. Hope to see you in the Le Cinema Dreams comments section again. Can't wait to read what Ken has in store for us!

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    2. Alan is exactly right. "Footsteps on the Ceiling" is the new play promised to Margo which Lloyd Richards wants to take from her to give to Eve. I was delighted by your essay and found myself riffing on the understudy who goes on and gives a brilliant performance.

      That someone then went on to make a movie with title is fascinating. And I have you to thank, again, for pointing it out.

      Aged in wood,

      George

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    3. George, I am rolling on the floor laughing! Your clever reference went right over my head. Here I am all earnest about being a blogger, and let an All About Eve reference sail right by me. My girlfriend Cindy is going to unfriend me. My sister will revoke my Thelma Ritter Fan Club membership. You can now refer to me as Miss Caswell, a graduate of the Copacabana School of Film.
      Before I go hide myself in the blogger corner, thanks for even thinking of me as an understudy for Ken. I'm not even in the same league. I can assure he's not stuck in a car with Celeste Holm, and will return front and center next week.
      Actually, I'm wondering if you wacky Le Cinema Dreams readers deliberately put one over on me in some sort of initiation prank...like the Von Trapp kids put the frog in Maria's pocket. Now there's a great name for a play, The Frog in Maria's Pocket!

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  8. hi Roberta, thank you for sharing your early experience of Rocky with us. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding and timing of seeing a particular movie is indeed what carves out a special place in our hearts for it. Thank you for sharing your experience and being able to relate that to us so beautifully with your writing.

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    1. Gee, Alan, thanks. You are so right. Timing is indeed everything. My dad's favorite film of all time was John Ford's The Searchers. Growing up I used to groan whenever it was on. "Just find Natalie Wood already," I'd imagine myself telling John Wayne. "She's behind the rock!"

      The first year after my dad passed away I caught The Searchers on TMC. For him, I watched it. I can't say I liked it any better, but I gave it more respect and felt more about it. I realized how it could resonate with a WWII vet like my dad.
      Who knows what I'll think of Rocky on 40 more years? I do know what I'll always think of the first time I saw it!

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  9. Oh, and Roberta, to spare you from wasting time watching whatever film that is with the title "Footsteps on the Ceiling" I honestly think the commenter's words were just a jokey reference to the play Eve Harrington coveted in the movie "All About Eve" (the source of the "Fire and music" quote).

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    1. Alan, thanks for setting me straight about Footsteps on the Ceiling. I so totally didn't get that joke. LOL. Mr. George Tush 1. Roberta 0. Ah, well, Hugh Marlowe's Lloyd Richards always struck me as a wet firecracker. I bet his play would too!

      Thanks for looking out for me, Alan!

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  10. The description of your family's experience in the movie theater brought to my mind the scene in 'Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire,' when Harry walks into what looks like a small tent but enters a space the size of a house. He looks around and exclaims, “I love magic!” That's just how I feel about seeing a great motion picture in a darkened theater. My introduction to movie magic began in a real movie palace, the Parthenon Theater in Ridgewood, Brooklyn, and it has never left me. Thanks for sharing your special memories with all of us!

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  11. Robert, let me start by saying my husband is from Brooklyn. He grew up in Red Hook. Can only imagine how beautiful the Parthenon theater must have been, especially considering it was in NYC's biggest borough. As my husband reminds me, everything's better in Brooklyn! In Pittsburgh we had a grand, ornate movie palace called the Oriental. The theater was so beautiful it was hard to concentrate on the screen. My aunt took us to see Lawrence of Arabia there. The perfect kind of sprawling epic to play in that big space.

    I am so happy that my memory stirred memories for you. It is so true how seeing a great movie in the darkened theater is magic. I feel sorry for younger people who have only experienced classic movies on TV. As good as a Casablanca can be, it's just not the same as seeing Ingrid Bergman enter Rick's on a big screen.

    This may sound odd, but before a movie starts in a theater, I like to glance up to the projection room and see the beam of light coming from the small window and how it illuminates bits of dust in the air. When I was very young, I thought those little flecks of dust were pieces of the movie moving toward the screen.

    Glad you enjoyed my Rocky essay, and hope some stardust touches you the next time you're at the movies.

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    1. So enjoyable to read your response! That beam of light from the projection booth was my version of those holy beams of light in religious films (think The Song of Bernadette). Like your husband, you can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can't take the Brooklyn out of the boy. When I get excited, my standard American accent disappears to be replaced by the Brooklynese I spoke as a kid. That said, I also love the scene in Sullivan's Travels, when film director Joel McCrea, witnesses the magic of film in lifting him and his fellow prisoners while incarcerated. Thanks again!

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  12. Hi Roberta
    Now that a new post is up, I won't feel like I'm "papering the house" if I chime in and reiterate what everyone here has already said so eloquently: you write beautifully and from the heart.
    I'm grateful you consented to be my first guest blogger, and I'm happy the experience proved as enjoyable for you as it certainly was for me. Thanks for you gracious comments in each of the replies, although you are far too modest.

    I know films are just a part of what you cover on your blog, but I hope perhaps we can do this again sometime. But, as with the experience of seeing ROCKY, I'll understand if you're not keen on risking spoiling the memory of the "first time" too soon. Thanks, Roberta!

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  13. Roberta, I LOVED your post on one of the seminal films of the 1970s...I feel so much the same way you do about it. While not a great film, it is a very good one indeed, and Stallone gives a truly great and iconic performance. As screenwriter as well as star, he allows us to see the vulnerability and the sweetness and the pain behind the macho posturings of the typical 1970s action star...Once Sly hits the screen here, I'm totally hooked and can't look away. And Talia Shire is marvelous as Adrian, perfect for Rocky.

    I laughed at your Cabaret story...I have one too. I was a summer camp counselor at a beach resort as a teenager, and one day it rained when we were supposed to go to the beach. I took the kids up to the library and found that the only VHS tape available was a copy of Cabaret. So we watched it, and boy, did i ever get in trouble when the parents picked up their kids that day...if only they had been able to get that :"Two Ladies" song out of their heads!

    Thanks again Roberta, for highlighting a movie that I absolutely love!
    -Chris

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    1. Chris, your comment made me smile. First, it's nice to know you admire Rocky like I do. I think you've really captured what elevated Rocky from the sequels and imitators. It was the sweetness. Stallone's original ending was a downer; Rocky throws the fight and walks away from the ring. That would have been right in line with the downbeat 70s vibe, and would have fit in seamlessly with the dark, grimy feel of so much of the film. But Rocky and Adrian deserved a sweet ending. It's funny that many people at the time thought Rocky actually won the fight. He didn't. So maybe it wasn't a "happy" ending. It surely was a sweet one.

      Your Cabaret story is hilarious! I'll bet 40 years later somewhere one of those "kids" from the camp is telling other folks about the "really cool" counselor who showed him/her Cabaret! You're legendary!

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  14. Hi Roberta, Jeff here.

    (Breaking this in two -- I apparently exceeded my 4,096 characters!)

    Well, just as I cursed the day I discovered Ken's Le Cinema Dreams (because I began spending inordinate amounts of time catching up with old posts -- still am in fact), I now curse the day you stepped in for him, because from here on I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time over at Steel Town Girl! And the fact that I'm so drawn to your film writing, despite the fact that I loathed Rocky and still do, does NOT bode well for my spare time!

    To dispense with my objections:

    While I'll admit to having been a snotty 17 year old upon 1st viewing, I was really pulling for the film, because all the advance publicity I'd seen centered on Stallone's refusal to sell the screenplay unless he played the lead. As a budding actor I thought this canny and admirable, and WANTED to love the movie, despite it's being set in the sports world (sports, war and westerns just didn't do it for me -- you and I are in the same camp when it comes to ‘The Searchers’).

    From the ham-fisted opening of Rocky's name streaming (a la 'Gone With The Wind') self-importantly across the screen, morphing into the shot of Jesus, yet, and then panning down into the boxing ring, I was rolling my eyes (in that way only snotty 17 year olds can). From there on out, all the movie's seams were showing; let's make Rocky sympathetic by showing he loves his fish and the pets in the store. (It's the reverse of the time-saving silent film trope of having the villain kick a dog in Reel 1 so we'll know -- without any character development -- who to root against.) That way when Rocky threatens and roughs up his boss's "clients," we'll still pull for him. (Not unlike establishing that Tony Soprano loves the ducks resting in his pool LONG before we see him kill somebody, but David Chase's writing is light years ahead of Sly's.)

    Then Apollo's speech to the promoter about giving an underdog a chance "on America's biggest birthday" (which would have been July 4th 1976, NOT January 1st, but I guess they had no choice but to shoot in fall/winter), and the promotor's enthusiastic, "Apollo, I LIKE it! It's very AMERICAN!", to the selection of Rocky as Apollo's opponent; "'The EYE-talian Stallion.' The media will eat it up. Who discovered America? An Italian -- what could be better than getting it on with one of his descendants?" WHAT?! ('Hey look, that snotty kid in the fifth row is rolling his eyes again...')

    Then there's Talia Shire's transformation -- a spin around the ice rink, a roll in the hay, and she has 20/20 vision, a great coif, a Bloomingdales cosmetics counter makeover, and a new wardrobe. We're even treated to a "Why Miss Jones, I've never seen you without your glasses" moment en route. ('We need a medic -- that snotty kid in row 5 is in danger of loosing his eyeballs...')

    Then there's Burgess Meredith -- 'nuff said.

    And Stallone's appeal, the voice, the mumbling, the heavy lidded stare (there were multiple comparisons at the time to Brando and Newman) were new to us, and had yet to wear out their welcome, which they would in remarkably short order.

    And of course when 'Rocky' took home Best Picture over 'Network,' I considered it the Academy's greatest injustice since Grace Kelly walked off with Garland's 'A Star Is Born' statuette.

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  15. So suffice it to say we'll never see remotely eye to eye on this movie, but in spite of all that, I LOVED your essay. There are countless films (brilliant, good, decent, mediocre and God-awful crap) which have a place in my heart (and always will) just because of the circumstances under which I first saw them; Elizabeth Taylor's ‘Ash Wednesday’ (which I still adore), Bob Hope’s disastrous 'Cancel My Reservation' (one of the few times my dad took me to the movies without the rest of the family), and a slew movies that unspooled on the B&W Zenith in the wee hours of my childhood when I was supposed to have been sleeping.

    Your wonderful writing about your experience with 'Rocky' made me shell out 4 bucks to watch it again, trying to see it through your eyes. I regret to report that I loathed it just as much the second time as the first, but that doesn't discount the fact that your passion was infectious enough to make me give it a (previously UNTHINKABLE) second look -- that is no small accomplishment. (Not only did I managed to better control my eyeballs this time, but for what it's worth, I recently bailed after an hour of 'Cancel My Reservation,' deciding to let the experience live in my memory -- the film itself is excruciatingly, unredeemably awful!)

    So my thanks for a terrific essay -- and I’m looking forward to more over at STG!

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  16. Jeff, I just stopped by Le Cinema Dreams to read Ken's latest essay and saw your comment(s). Thank you so much for such a detailed, honest and hilarious response. Like so many of Ken's readers, I stop by his blog to read about his experience with a movie, whether or not it's a movie I like, hate or haven't seen. Very often I've been prompted to take a first or second look at a movie because of him. (I'm still reeling from watching Sextette after he wrote about it. My longstanding crush on Timothy Dalton is no more.)
    It's touches me so much that you gave Rocky a second look. Even though your evaluation of the movie hasn't changed, at least you went into it with a more open mind. I am much older with more sophisticated taste in movies, so I totally understand how others can see Rocky differently. But as you said, how and when I first saw it are inextricably woven into the movie when I watch it now. I recently saw a photo of the boy I had a crush on in high school. He's a nice-looking 55-year-old guy, but no longer the dreamboat I thought he was when I was 16. When I look at his photo in my yearbook, though, I still remember every single detail about him and why I was madly in love with him then. Maybe Rocky will always be like that for me.
    Jeff, you're welcome over at Steel Town Girl anytime. I currently update it monthly, but hope to build up my writing stamina to produce more (I don't know how Ken does it every week!) I just posted my latest blog today.
    Thanks again, Jeff. By the way, I owe you $4 for the Rocky viewing. Would you mind if I use it as part of a donation to the Motion Picture Television Fund? It's a 95-year-old organization that helps members of the entertainment community age well, with dignity and purpose. Hopefully that's something movie lovers like us can agree on!

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