[Nick Valdez takes a great look at Rocky for this month’s Bloggers Wanted assignment. Why does it deserve to be called a classic? Write about this month’s theme for a chance to have your work on the front page and a copy of X-men First Class. — Kauza]
The definition of “classic” is relative to the viewer. To me, a movie reaches “classic” status when I can view it multiple times and can still notice something interesting that escaped me previously. Whether it was realizing that life is not always like a box of chocolates (Forrest Gump), or that Daddy Warbucks had to have run out of money at some point (Annie). The first Rocky film is one of the first films I remember seeing that did not involve men in monster costumes destroying a miniature Tokyo, or was a byproduct of Disney in some way (although everything is now in some capacity).
Why do I believe that Rocky (1976) has earned “classic” status you didn’t ask? Because Rocky contains one of the greatest inventions in cinematic history: the training montage. Even if it does create a deficiency in the film’s titular character. Through the absence of failure and condensing of a hero’s evolutionary journey into a few minutes, a film’s montage distorts the portrayal of its hero by sterilizing success.
Balboa must undergo five weeks of training to face Apollo Creed, and herein lies the main problem of time constraint. Rocky is a two hour film that needs to condense Balboa’s entire monomyth within that set time span. Balboa undergoes a training montage, a montage that involves quick scene cuts of training for an event, as a decision of the filmmaker to allow the audience to view his training while keeping the film free of potential stagnation. During the training montage, Balboa seems to evolve from the downtrodden man before the montage into a powerful contender after it. Unfortunately, the montage expects its audience to accept this evolution on faith alone.
Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth, argues that the, “transformation of consciousness” a hero experiences is brought about through, “trials…or by illuminating revelations” (126). Campbell’s argument properly explains why the training montage within Rocky is lacking: there are no signs of failure or struggle during it therefore losing a need for Balboa to evolve his consciousness.
Above: Look at this guy! He’s clapping in between push ups! The nerve! I couldn’t do that after months of training let alone a couple of minutes (mostly due to how out of shape I am, but still).
Over the course of Rocky’s training montage Balboa goes from skillfully inept to becoming physically adept. The training montage spans across five weeks and five different locations giving credence to the theory that the montage bends space and time. Rocky’s audience is led to believe that the entirety of the five weeks was filled with nothing but successes. Fifteen of the nineteen scene cuts within the montage are interspersed shots of different aspects of Balboa’s training. However, none of the nineteen scene cuts show Balboa failing. Balboa shows no visual sense of self doubt during his training, but his confidence does not stem from weeks of successful training but through the neutralization of failure within his training period.
Balboa does not evolve contextually, so this needs to be remedied by direct tells to the audience. After the title card, a portrait of Christ with a glaring “Resurrection” labeled under it frames the overall tone of the film. Rocky becomes a film of resurrection and all of the characters within the film are clamoring for their past victories (like Mickey carrying a photo of his “prime” with him at all times).
Above: What am I supposed to think when this is the first image of the film?
Then there’s “Gonna Fly Now” (by Bill Conti) which explicitly states how Balboa is, “getting stronger”. Also, the audience is told that he’s going to, “eat lightning and crap thunder”. The direct tells set Balboa within the supernatural realm brought on by a false evolution.
Ultimately, Balboa loses his match at the end of his story. Despite the filmmaker’s desire to create faith of the hero’s transformation in the audience, Rocky has a visual representation of Balboa’s incomplete transformation. Perhaps it could have been a result of Rocky Balboa’s real life inspiration, Chuck Wepner. Who knows?
When considering the other films in the Rocky saga, Balboa’s journey remains incomplete until the ending of the sixth film. Since Rocky was originally meant to be a standalone film, the montage needs to be considered as the source of transformation and therefore the cause of Balboa’s original false evolution.
The monomyth requires time for a complete evolution. With more prevalent success, the hero becomes maladjusted during his evolution and cannot complete his journey within a film. When success is the only idea present due to the neutralization of failure, success becomes repetitive. Celebrating a repetitive cycle of successes sterilizes the sense of accomplishment garnered from it distorting the progression of the hero.
Despite it flaws, I still really enjoy this film as it is still a “classic” in my eyes. I only really noticed all of this after watching it about twelve times in rapid succession, and each time, I saw something from a different perspective. I’m sure others will have a different perspective than my own, and we can totally debate on it later. In the end, aren’t those the ingredients for a great movie?
Above: Heroic? Sure, why not? It takes him six movies to get there, so let him bask in the hollow glory