Sadie Hasler revisits hallowed ground as she takes a peek at Rocky, 40 years to the day since it premiered in New York City.
“I’LL DO IT! I’LL BLOODY DO IT!” I shriek-typed when Editor Noonan asked if anyone wanted to write about Rocky for his (note: not ‘its’) 40th birthday (note: not anniversary).
I accepted the commission by way of emitting a long line of heart emojis – and then I read the small print.
I would have to rewatch it objectively as there may be issues with Rocky’s relationship with Adrian. I would really truly have to consider whether Rocky (ROCKY!) was dated. Pah! I said, of course I could be objective; I am a writer, I have a brain, and I am well feminist. I’ve got Adrian’s back. Secretly I wasn’t sure I meant it because – you know – ROCKY.
Twenty seconds later, all other work immediately re-prioritised, my Rocky DVD was whirring in the slot thing, creaking its reluctance like a knackered old athlete that just wants to have a permanent lie down. I got a notebook out in case I had any pertinent feminist thoughts, but I never used it. Because it was Rocky. Your hands must be employed in eye-covering, air-punching, and tissue-wafting.
I have no fricking clue why I love sport movies. Particularly boxing. I deplore violence, I have never been to a boxing match, I don’t watch any sport on telly, I follow no teams, I know no names, I play nothing; I just generally sit on my squishy arse typing my way through life and not connecting with the world of sport in any way. Maybe that is why I love Rocky. It’s like a cardiovascular workout through the eyes. Oof. Those steps. Killer.
For those of you who have never seen it, well, we can never truly be friends, but here’s a lowdown.
Rocky boxes at his local gym in Philly (that’s Philadelphia to those of you who have never lived on the mean streets). His best mate is a parasite called Paulie, whose sister Adrian, who I’m guessing was described in the character notes as “dowdy but not unattractive if she took her glasses off”, works in a ramshackle little pet shop where Rocky buys his terrapins. *refrains from using heart emoji*
Rocky loves Adrian. He chats to her all the time, but she is very shy because her brother is a tyrannical caveman prick. But Rocky persists. He takes her ice-skating and walks her round the rink wearing shoes because he doesn’t even like to skate, he just thought she’d like it.*sits on hands until the urge for heart emoji passes*
The main story, however, is one of Overcoming The Odds in the Sporting World, that being a Metaphor for General Life. Rocky is plucked from obscurity to fight against world champion Apollo Creed. Coached by gruff but loveable Mickey, the underdog trains his buns off for a fight that has everyone in the world pegging Rocky as the sure-fire loser. IN YOUR FACES.
OK. So he doesn’t win; they tie. The victory is that Rocky makes it to the end of the match and wins the respect of the champ, the industry, and the world. But the only thing he really cares about is his love for Adrian, who by this point has taken off her bobble hat and is totally owning some mid-70s girl fashion.
OK. FINE. Let’s just say it. Rocky is a bit full-on with Adrian at first. The scene where he is inviting her into his house and she says she wants to go home, a fair few times, did admittedly make me uncomfortable only because it reminded me of all the times I have been forced into situations by persistent people and not wanted to feel rude.
But here is where I think Sylvester Stallone made an enlightened cinematic choice, for a 1970s male. Hear me out. Any ‘normal’ film would have placed her in an environment where she could not escape. But Rocky walks her to his, opens the door and stands at it; she stands at the bottom of the steps saying no, to my mind because she is shy. He uses no physical coercion, which in other films would have been the big manly temptation to make her realise how much she wants it.
Once inside he simply wants her to see that she is safe with him. Their first kiss is tender and he starts on the cheek. By which point she is surrendered to the fact that she is attracted to him and they have a passionate but rather uncomfortable clinch that ends up on the floor like a dropped lasagne.
I’m not saying it couldn’t have been better, I’m not saying it doesn’t have issues. BUT. Should she really have been left to fester at home alone with only aggressive oaf Paulie for the rest of her life? Someone had to coax her out because she would never have left by herself.
“If we find problems with Rocky, that is because we find problems with unfairness, which is one of the many things the film is about.”
I think the rest of the film disproves that Rocky’s persistence is a force that does harm. Their relationship makes her stronger. Not because she needs a man to blossom, but because she needed someone to ‘see’ her. She comes out of her shell, tells Paulie to go do one, she becomes an expressive woman, and is loved, nay, almost revered, by devoted Rocky.
I don’t get a sense that we are expected to buy the bull that Rocky is the making of her, eff that – but I do think that he is the loosening of her. Love is her freedom. That’s why – even with my feminist 36-year-old’s rewatching – I don’t have a terrible nark-on about the sexism in the film. It’s a rundown semi-ghetto in 70s Philly; you can’t expect Rocky to be referring to key feminist texts as to how to woo.
He is a lone wolf in a hard part of town. An Italian American who, strangely for one of those, has no family. He seems lost. No purpose in life except for training at the gym, but he finds light in Adrian. They “fill each other’s gaps”, he tries to explain to spiritless ‘device to show that class can be the breaking of us unless we have spirit’ Paulie.
If Rocky has problems – in its representation of sex, in all its relationships, male and female – that is because lower working classes have bloody problems. If we find problems with Rocky, that is because we find problems with unfairness, which is one of the many things the film is about.
I was going to close on some considered point about working class male-female relationships prolonging traditional gender roles in a dispiriting but necessary division of domestic labour and stuff like that but I ran out of space about 500 words ago.
Suffice to say I still very much rate Rocky. I will always love it. I think he is a brilliant evergreen character for a hustley-bustley life that has more downtrodden people than it does winners, and we need all the tales of fighters with spirit that we can get. Especially now that the world is right in the dog doo.
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Sadie is a playwright, actor, columnist, artistic director of Old Trunk theatre company, and frequently discombobulated multi-tasker.