In Rocky, Sylvester Stallone packs a real punch (1976)
By Jay Samuels, Special to the Courier-Post
If you haven’t heard of “Rocky” or of Sylvester Stallone, welcome back from Mars — because that’s about the only place where you could walk around and not see or hear a story about this exciting new little sleeper of a movie about a palooka boxer from Philadelphia’s Fishtown section, and about the rags-to-riches story of the guy who wrote it, and is a sure Oscar-nominated actor for it.
“Sly” Stallone’s story is now a sort of pop-media legend: bad student, part-time Philadelphia resident, bit actor, overlooked star of “The Lords of Flatbush” (while Susan Blakely, Henry Winkler and Perry King went on to bigger things), living on warm water and Twinkies, turns down $265,000 for script-rights to “Rocky” so he can star in it (instead of Burt Reynolds) for a percentage of the profits. Then — WHAMMO — rich and famous and peering out from every newspaper and magazine and video screen. Overnight sensation.
We caught up with the Mitchum-Pacino handsome, personable, street-witty and super-built 30-year-old Stallone at his hotel room on Rittenhouse Square, just around the comer from where he used to live and go to school (Notre Dame Academy).
He is trying to order a shrimp hoagie from Bookbinders. And, in a loose mood (which seems the natural state of his emotions), he talks about a lot of things he hasn’t touched upon before.
SYLVESTER STALLONE ON HIS SUCCESS:
“I always wanted the right, the dignity, to fail on my own terms. Meaning that if I’m not going to make it as an actor, please let me have a vehicle where I can bomb out so thoroughly that there’s no mistake in my mind that I’ve been living the life of illusion.
“At least if you find out when you’re young that you stink, you have some time to say, ‘Okay, I’ll open a 7-11’ or whatever. ‘Rocky’ was that film. It gave me the opportunity to fail or succeed on a grand level.”
“What has been denied us in the last 15 years of cynical cinema since the middle sixties and up ’til the middle seventies, because of the war in Vietnam, massive assassinations. worldwide unrest. . . is that it’s become quite vogue to be anti-hero, anti-society, anti-everything, so the audience cathartically could throw stones at all the massive institutions.
Well, all the institutions now have been pretty well brought down — I think Watergate was the last one — and now it’s a rebuilding process. So out of this rubble have to come, I think, the Rocky fictional characters — the man from the street, the iconoclast, the man who is out of synch with his generation. But it’s timeless. It’s just a guest for dignity, that’s all.
SYLVESTER STALLONE ON HOLLYWOOD
“The only way ‘Rocky’ will become an effective trendsetter is if it’s a financial success. because that’s the only criteria that Hollywood goes by. Every now and then, art comes out of Hollywood, but it’s a business, and I work under no false illusions. They didn’t make ‘Rocky’ because they dreamed of it one night or they felt it would help them in the next world.”
SYLVESTER STALLONE ON IMITATION
“There are many scenes in this movie that are definitely border-imitative of other scenes. because I believe that all art is imitative. ‘On the Waterfront’ of course had an effect on me. ‘Marty’ had an effect on me. How you take all those components, mix ’em up and come up with a new recipe is all I wanted to do. And I needed something that was inexpensive yet commercial. I didn’t want to make a cult film — something that everyone talks about, but no one sees.”
“My career was at a standstill. I saw ‘Easy Rider,’ and couldn’t believe it was making money. So I decided to write.
“Now I’m afraid to open my closet — I’d get crushed to death. I have stacks and stacks. But nothing was selling, because I reveled in perfected pessimism. There was no way that these films could’ve served as an uplifting, redeeming or an entertainment-type vehicle. They were just brutal, and assaulted every echelon of society.
“So since they weren’t selling — I’d written about 15 of them — I decided (and this was after ‘Lords of Flatbush,’ and I was really bitter) to take all my writing and turn it one hundred percent. Try to reverse be a hypocrite in reverse — all your ideologies to the positive. Write a script that drips of syrupy optimism — that is so relentless in the celebration of the spirit that it makes you sick. ‘Rocky’ comes out of that hypocrisy and cynicism.”
SYLVESTER STALLONE ON HIS WEAKNESSES
“I have a slight speech flaw that bothers me at times. At birth, by accident, they killed a motor nerve at the side of my mouth, so my mouth leans. So I’m angry that I can never play the roles that require really precise speech, very quick, along the classical lines.
“I don’t want to be considered heavily ethnic, because, again, that limits me. But even on a deeper level: I wonder when I’ll become a self-parody. Maybe after ten roles? Then I’ll begin to fall back on easy techniques. You usually do that when you’re into the high money.
“Brando is the classic example, where it’s all money now, and I think he’s cheated himself and the public out of a really flamboyant and grand career. Put it this way: if he was a legend before, I think he’s definitely become a human now.”
“I want to do the life of Edgar Alan Poe. I want to do a sequel in a few years: ‘Rocky for Mayor.’ It was a trilogy: First was Rocky the club fighter, then he decides to run as a goof. He applies the same kind of dedication to learning how to speak correctly — he listens to the radio, imitates the announcers, attends night school and, eventually, he wins.
“It’s really far-fetched — but the whole thing is. And, after he’s elected, halfway through, they disgrace him out of office, and he must go to Europe, and all that. It could be a helluva fun odyssey. I only make allusions at reality, obviously.
“I’d really like to play Superman in the movie they’re going to make, but they don’t think I’m tall enough. And I’d like to make another movie about fighting next — I wouldn’t be the fighter in it. Do it in black-and-white, period piece. Of course, the critics’ll tear me apart for it, but that’s life.”