Shame on Me

A confession.

Even though I lived in South Philadelphia for the first twenty three years of my life, I have to admit that I had never seen the entire original Rocky movie.

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Before you point fingers, please know that I did see my fair share of Rocky movies in the theater; I saw Rocky III and IV at the Colonial Theater on Moyamensing Avenue.

(At the end of the those movies, I remember my sneakers sticking to the floor as I walked over to the pay phone, inserted a dime and called my mother to pick up my friends and me.)

Here are my excuses for not seeing the original Rocky:

  • The movie was released in 1976 and I was five years old.
  • Even though I was a tomboy (only 1 of 2 girls on my PAL baseball team), I wasn’t into boxing movies. Instead of seeing Rocky II,  I opted for Benji and Xanadu.
  • I could have watched Rocky on cable, but my parents wouldn’t let us get cable. They *claimed* that we couldn’t get cable on our side of Broad Street. I think they were just lying. They didn’t want my sister or me to watch MTV.

On March 10, 2014, however, I was lucky enough to attend an event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to celebrate the release of a newly remastered Blu-Ray of Rocky. The event included the film’s director, John G. Avildsen, as well as the host of the evening, local 94 W.I.P. sportscaster, Anthony Gargano (Cuz). The attendees were treated to a screening of the remastered film and I was transported.

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Rocky is arguably the quintessential South Philly Story. Moviegoers in 1976 watched the heartsick heavyweight woo a shy shop girl, celebrated when the tenacious trainer agreed to take Balboa under his wing, and cheered when Rocky achieved his goal of going the distance in the ring.

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Rather than the bulked-up, hyper stylized Rockys that proceeded, this first foray into South Philly (and Kensington) is a sincere, funny chronicle of life in the city for a fighter with lots of heart.

To me, this is the movie’s turning point. Mickey, the acerbic manager agrees to train the “bum from the neighborhood.” Mr. Avildsen revealed that Rocky’s monologue was completely improvised by Stallone, only to realize that the cameraman had run out of film during his speech.

They did the take again, and Stallone recited the monologue ad lib. At the end of the scene, the piano hints at Bill Conti’s iconic theme with the El framing the city’s gritty rhythm.

If I saw “Rocky” as a kid I would’ve been distracted by the bloody fight scenes and grossed out when Rocky swallowed down all those raw eggs.

I’m glad I saw the movie as an adult. I loved the humor, the gentle romance and how it speaks to the underdog in all of us. It took me back to my old neighborhood in its glory days, and for that, I’m grateful.

What are your thoughts on the original Rocky? How many times have you seen it and what are your favorite parts?

 

 

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