Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Rocky Balboa

As a kid, I was weaned on a steady diet of Bruce Lee movies in Binondo. That and the Marvel Superheroes. So imagine my surprise when my dad took me to watch a boxing movie in the old Remar theater in Cubao.

The brass filigree theme that opened as the word “ROCKY” in bold white letters scrolled to the left hooked me from the get-go. Bill Conti in my humble opinion penned one of the best movie soundtracks ever. The ultimate compliment I could give a soundtrack lies in one word – sensitivity. And it is in more ways than one plus it stands the test of time. As the grooves of my vinyl LP wore out, I bought the CD of it in Times Square many years later and imported the music into my ipod.

The movie opened to these simple words:

November 25, 1975

There was a huge stained glass-like mural of Jesus above a dingy smoky gym that had certainly seen better days. But you know, it was magic. Thus began the greatest underdog story ever told and the lessons about going the distance.

I picked up Sylvester Stallone’s autobiography years later and read of how he wrote the script for Rocky in 86-straight hours in his dilapidated apartment where the heater hardly worked during those brutal east coast winters. I was glad that he stood his ground when United Artists, the outfit that bankrolled the movie, asked if it would be okay for Burt Reynolds or Ryan O’Neal to star in it. And as it turned out, Sly was the best man for this folkloric character. And the film had some of the most memorable characters ever: the immortal Adrian, her jerk of a brother Paulie, Gazzo, the small-time loanshark, Apollo Creed who actor Carl Weathers played brilliantly, and of course, the late Burgess Meredith’s Mickey.

And they (and the film) had some of the best movie lines ever. The closest film with really great lines I’d say is Jerry Maguire.

Adrian: Einstein flunked out of school twice.
Paulie: Is that so?
Adrian: Yeah. Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. Rocky’s got a chance.

Mickey: Your nose is broken.
Rocky: How does it look?
Mickey: Ah, it’s an improvement.

I worked in Princeton awhile back and it being an hour away from Philly, it was inevitable that I’d go there. I grew up a Sixers fan (before I switched allegiances to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls) and I loved the Philly soul music scene. As much as 70s rock shook me to my core, I watched Soul Train on television and “The Sound of Philadelphia” by MFSB with vocals by the Three Degrees was a ridiculous favorite in our house. I took the opportunity to go to Philadelphia to re-live my childhood fantasies one fall weekend and to run up the steps at the Museum of Art where to this day, people still run up in a tribute to Rocky. The Rocky statue wasn’t there when I got there (it was relocated at the Wachovia Center where I did get to see it as I watched the Sixers play that night) but there was this massive exhilarating feeling being atop those steps in this most historic city.

I loved the movie and its sequels. Sure not all of it was great – I especially wasn’t crazy about IV but I sort of liked V when Rocky retired and was up against one of his protégés in a street fight. If there was any movie that is the granddaddy of all sequels then Rocky is it (now it’s even-steven with the Star Wars movies, all I have to wait on is for Indiana Jones to catch up).

I remember reading Mad Magazine parody of Rocky so many years ago with the movie going all the way to a 17th installment where the Itallian Stallion is an old geezer still duking it out in the ring. Who would have thought that 30 years later we’d see the sixth and final installment (the movie was shown in 1976 when it premiered in New York’s Baronet Theater where six years prior to the movie’s screening Sly worked as $37 a-week usher)?

So I watched Rocky Balboa with baited breath and guarded optimism. Would it stand up to the mythos of the original?

I’ll try not to spoil things for those who haven’t seen the movie since it isn’t showing yet, but yes, the film does stand up and is a perfect coda to this series. The sub-plot of Rocky and Adrian’s romance was always the centerpiece of the movies and even with Shire’s absence in the movie, you feel the emotional tug of it. The scenes where Rocky mourns are powerful beyond belief. There are even more great characters this time around beginning with Antonio Tarver’s (badly underused) Mason Dixon. Just as Creed wasn’t a bad guy in the vein of Clubber Lang and Drago, Dixon is very much another tortured soul. The characters of Spider Rico and Li’l Marie make dramatic re-appearances and contributions to the story. The script is taut and poignant. And when I heard the opening strains of Bill Conti’s music which has been re-arranged for this as well as the “Take You Back” street soul of Stallone’s brother Frank Jr, my eyes welled up.

Rocky was always about going the distance and after this movie, I’d say that Tom Wolfe is wrong. Sly Stallone shows us that yes, you can go home again.

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