My dad was a boxing fanatic. He would sit quietly and watch any fighting match on television whenever he had the time. He wasn’t one who would yell at the screen if his favorite wasn’t winning. He was a silent connoisseur. But anyone could tell he loved the sport. I used to sit next to my dad on our old, lumpy, uncomfortable couch and watch without making a sound. My dad worked two jobs to make ends meet, so there wasn’t much free time to spend together. No one invited me to sit there. My brother and mom did not join him. But I did. I so wanted to understand this man of few words and just have a moment with him alone. We never spoke about the fight. When it was over, he would get up to do something else. I did, too. But whenever I was home and heard the sound of that bell and booming announcer, I would make my way to the family room and slowly sit down.
Years later, when I was a young adult, I found out my dad used to be a boxer in Harlem. I was told he was pretty good, although he boxed only to earn money during the depression for his family. He never told me those stories. I wish he had. I would have listened and remembered every word. I think of these simple times whenever I catch the epic film, ROCKY, being replayed. We never saw it together, but in my heart and imagination, I know my dad would have been cheering along with everyone else in America.
ROCKY was written in a mere three days in 1975 by Sylvester Stallone. It took 28 days to film with a budget of a little over $960,000 and grossed close to $120 million. The studio didn’t want to make the movie without a big-name star as the lead. Stallone was an unknown, with only $100 in his bank account at the time. He even had to sell his dog, Bupkus, for $50 the week before he sold the movie because he could not afford dog food. He bought him right back, and that was the same dog seen in the pet shop and later jogging side by side during training. ROCKY went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing, for all those amazing fight scenes. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. (This was the first time anyone had been nominated for these two awards simultaneously since 1940.) The rest is history, creating a phenomenal franchise for all time.
ROCKY is the tale of the underdog. “He could have been a contender.” A man who literally was plucked from obscurity to fight the World Heavy Weight Champion, Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers. He was a “nobody” chosen because Apollo loved his fight name, The Italian Stallion. Rocky was a kindhearted person looking out for others and needed to be heard, seen, and loved. Maybe that’s why he talked so much in every frame…” Ya know what I mean?” Rocky, in the end, just wanted to go the distance. He didn’t care about winning. For Stallone, this was the heart of the movie and his favorite words to write. The director did not want to include this in the film, but Stallone insisted and did it in one take.
Besides being a boxing movie, ROCKY was a beautiful love story. Talia Shire (the sister of Francis Ford Coppola) played Adrian, an extremely shy woman with no confidence or taste in how to dress. Rocky’s quiet, patient, passionate love for Adrian took her out of her shell and changed her into a woman of depth, heart, and loyalty. One of my favorite scenes was the ice skating rink with just the two of them and the lone guy counting down the time so he could lock up the place. This entire dialogue was ad-libbed. It was supposed to feature over 300 extras, but there wasn’t enough money, so Stallone improvised while running beside her. Incredible. And no one will ever forget the most famous two-word line, “Yo Adrian.” Kind of makes you wish your first name was Adrian.
I love too many scenes from this film to mention, but I feel I must share a few. Who will ever forget Rocky’s training while running through the market area (The producers did not get permission to film there and just ended up following Stallone.), beating up cattle carcasses (Stallone’s knuckles are flattened to this day due to his punching.) or talking to his two turtles and a goldfish. But the best of all has to be Stallone running up the steps at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Those moments watching him jump up and down in triumph are iconic. This, along with Bill Conti’s famous music, GONNA FLY NOW, is forever seared in every person’s soul.
There are only 9 1/2 minutes of boxing in the Apollo/Rocky matchup finale, but it is a blueprint of how to film a fight scene, making it look authentic and not stiff or awkward. This is due to Stallone’s 32 pages of exact fight sequence choreography. He wrote it overnight, and it took 35 hours to rehearse it to perfection. Both fighters were injured during the filming. The biggest cost of the entire movie was the make-up. Oh, it all looked so real and painful. Kudos. Kudos. Kudos.
ROCKY is the first boxing film ever to win an Oscar. (Only one other received this honor…MILLION DOLLAR BABY.) It gives audiences hope that dreams can come true. It allows viewers an inside look at what it feels like to be invisible in today’s society. Brilliant ensemble acting (Burgess Meredith and Burt Young) and a perfect, heartfelt story make ROCKY a classic for the human spirit. It is timeless and inspirational for all we can become during our lifetime. I think of my dad and what dreams he must have had, and I imagine he is soaring on those “Rocky Steps” right next to the Italian Stallion.
ROCKY is available to stream on AMC.