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07 December, 2010

Lithic 1

Sorry if you clicked on this looking for something on stones. I just didn't want to title this entry "Rocky I," even though that's what it is about. After making my near-teen kid watch Planet of the Apes by way of home-schooling her in sarcasm (see "Shallow Space Travel"), I figured a lesson on abject mockery was in order, in particular the iconic moments of Rocky that have sustained comedians for decades now. 

As you may know, Rocky was the story of an exceptionally stupid and no longer very young boxer in Philadelphia who, against all odds, gets a shot at the heavyweight title of the world. (Why stupid? Maybe all the blows to the head, maybe the deadening effects of living in Philly, or maybe he was just a dumbass.) His best friend and mentor is a rubber ball whose cheerful acceptance of being slammed into the spit and velveeta-stained streets of the Philly slums provides the self-proclaimed Italian Stallion with his fighting strategy: take blows to the head until your opponent tires or dislocates something.

The champ that reaches into the City of Brotherly Love (lovingly shot in a palette of soot and carcass hues) and pulls out a smalltime leg-breaker for a sham battle resembles Muhammad Ali in some ways: black and beautiful (sorta), boastful and uppity (the late-70's was an era when white people bemoaned melanin run rampant in their sports world). But it being Hollywood, and a film released in the afterglow of the bicentennial, movie champ Apollo Creed is not a conscientious objector, but loves America so much that he wears red white and blue trunks, albeit in an uppity way. Later Rocky the champ will don similarly patriotic garb before defeating communism in the guise of a hulking nazi poster boy, but that's another tale.

Stallone, who wrote and starred in the movie (there was no director) and reportedly stitched together all the costumes as well, wanted to emphasize the value of individual will and hard work, so a fair amount of the movie focuses on his training, culminating in the flick's second most famous moment: Rocky in the same unwashed sweatsuit he's been wearing for weeks, heavily stained on the ass for some reason, charging up the stairs of the capitol and pumping his arms in the air [Yes, Internerd, I know the capitol's in Harrisburg, but Rocky thought it was the capitol.]

Anyway, Rocky runs, sweats, confides his insecurities to his rubber ball, maybe even abstains from sex, and punches beef carcasses (or, in Philly parlance, beats his meat), sometimes before cameras.

The cameras are there because this unlikely challenger has become a home-town hero. The white population of Philly, still years from their triumphant fire-bombing of black activists, seizes on Rocky as a punch-drunk messiah of sorts, or at least a working class hero (of a looser sort, given his joblessness). 

And on a more intimate scale, Rocky has other supporters. Like plastic fish and turtle toys that he believes are pets, and feeds diligently. There's Paulie, a sloppy and sometimes violent drunk whose ethnicity is never directly mentioned, but who works for a meat company with an Irish name (to be fair, Sly scrawled unflattering stereotypes of Italian-Americans as well). There's the girl who sold him the pet food and is Paulie's sister, because anyone else would have alien and confusing to Rocky's addled mind. In a true Philly romance, he traps her in his filthy apartment, shows her is biceps and armpits, and she falls for him, or at least under him, making love on the floor among the roach-husks and mouse-turds. Finally, there's his manager, a guy who everyone calls Mick (probably not a Swede), but who is clearly a retired Penguin, embittered after being humiliated by Batman, jilted by the Riddler, and robbed blind by the Joker. Mick supports Rocky by yelling at him, which I guess makes him more of a father figure than the rubber ball, and by telling him "Stay away from women, they weaken the legs." (Luckily Rocky had that one brilliant moment and figured out the beef loophole.)

Then the fight itself, lovingly choreographed by, you guessed it, Stallone. Rocky leads off with the usual strategy of standing there and blocking punches with his face, but eventually he and his corner realize that compared to his usual experience with 3-round bouts, a 15 round prize fight is way more: the cut man thinks maybe 10 times more, Rocky says 100, while the Penguin spits in disgust and says "There ain't no such number that big, Rock," then jabs him in the nuts to perk him up for the next round.

Then this nobody lands a solid punch, knocking down the champ. What follows is a boring see-saw of desperation and triumph, hitting and getting hit, blood, spit, drool, and snot. The only real good part is when Rocky cannot see because his eye is swollen, and his manager wants him to quit, but he says "Cut it, Mick!" Oh, the mockery that line has fed. We used that line doing fieldwork all the time,and I suggest you do the same. It need not relate at all to what's happening; thus are the rules of Rocky's utterances.

So does he win? I dunno, maybe the movie does not say, or maybe I just didn't care. I was too caught up in the most famous moment of the movie, when he is done with the fight, and all the world is crowding into the ring, and Rocky keeps howling "Adrian!"

Adrian had been the name of his pet-shop girl, drunk-boy's sister. But that woman was poor, and based on her glasses and clothes was either a time traveler or some religious extremist who dressed as if the 1960s had never happened. The woman who comes to the ring has new clothes, uses rich-girl conditioner, and sees fine with no glasses. Adrienne, maybe, but not the same spinster he'd woo'd and screwed on the kitchen floor. In any case, a few seconds of celluloid killed off those names, maybe forever. Nobody from that point forward wanted to name their kid something that would be bawled loudly by people trying to act retarded. "Aaaa Dreee Uuuunnnnnn!!!"

So did my kid learn anything? Maybe, but probably not. She did stick it out 'til the very end, through 15 rounds of incomprehensible "dialogue," unlikelihoods galore, gore unbridled, Rocky's incontinence, and of course, my dumb comments. For with so little to work with, refined sarcasm is difficult, and mockery grows dull before long, which is why society as chosen two or three scenes to mock as shorthand for the entire movie, and why I went for the richer grounds of POTA first.

BONUS: That was it for the blog entry proper, but I cannot let this pass without mentioning that fact that the movie included among Apollo Creed's entourage none other than Arnold Johnson. Yeah, Putney Swope himself. Same suit, same beard, although the voice lacked the magic Swope. Sadly, I think that his tertiary sidekick role here was one of the biggest things to happen to him since he starred as the revolutionary advertiser a decade earlier, maybe his last movie appearance. He showed up in episodes of The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son, and after exhausting the 'black' shows, appeared in other shows in the only roles available to bearded African Americans: old men and drunks. Although he did appear in several episodes of Hill Street Blues, it was never in a major role, and unlike Rocky he never got a real championship shot. 

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