35 years ago I saw “Rocky” for the second and last time—until now. I am surprised at how much I’ve forgotten about the movie, and what I did remember no longer matters.
So many icons came out of this movie: The trumpet fanfare of the theme song, the personal triumph run up the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky’s “Yo, Adrian!”, manual meat-tenderizing. My 15-year-old self thought Carl Weathers was gorgeous and his character Apollo Creed fantastic. She liked Rocky himself, and his turtles, but didn’t much care for any of the other characters, except for Adrian. The scene where Rocky drinks five raw eggs got loud “eww”s in the movie theater. The girl herself only freaked when watching Rocky for the second time, from the front row because the scene where they cut Rocky’s eye lid to ease the swelling and the blood squirts out got a little too bloody when seen 10 feet away from a big screen.
35 years later, the movie is at once very familiar and yet completely unrecognizable. The cinematography fascinates me, the way the camera stays back and still, using a wide angle shot and making the actor move the distance. I love the texture this photography creates. I also finally get all the comments about Rocky’s unbroken nose. But what I didn’t remember and which surprised me, is that so many of the iconic moments are so late in the movie. The powerful “Gonna Fly Now” anthem and the run up the steps happens three quarters of the way into the movie. The fight with Apollo Creed (whose arrogance and self-entitlement is clearer to me now) takes only minutes at the very end. And to me now, that all-important fight is so unimportant. What has held my attention and delighted me this time are the other people, the life in working class Philadelphia, the gradually evolving love story, the gradual unveiling of who Rocky is. I find myself charmed by Paulie and awed by the actor who played him. I am pleased to learn that Burt Young was indeed nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
One thing hasn’t changed: Both then and now, I love the ending: Adrian’s hesitation about leaving the locker room and joining the crowd—but who breaks through both her shyness and the crowds when Rocky calls for her.
35 years later, I understand the appeal that “Rocky” had, how it ended up a five-movie franchise and made Sylvester Stallone a star. And 35 years later, Sly Stallone doing one-handed push-ups is still some of the best eye-candy ever.