Rocky: Things I Notice and Love Part 2


I want to talk about the scene where Rocky gets up in the middle of the night (the night before the fight) and goes down to walk around the empty sporting arena. There are a couple of other scenes that inform this tiny little scene – and I’ll talk about them too.

The scene and how it is handled makes me realize how pandering so many film-makers are today. They think people are stupid (and you know what, a lot of people are) so they feel the need to spell everything out for the retards in the audience. So a couple of things are NOT spelled out in this tiny silent scene with no dialogue say WORLDS about what is going on. It’s a 20 second scene. No speech. But the information it imparts is invaluable.

1. Rocky is sleeping on the couch. You see him lying there on the couch, it’s the middle of the night, and his eyes are wide open.

A couple things here:

— he’s sleeping on the couch even though it’s after Adrian has moved in. Now there have been a couple of moments leading up to this – in OTHER scenes – but nothing is spelled out too clearly, there is no conversation about why he is sleeping on the couch …

After Rocky’s first disastrous day of “working out” when he can barely get to the top of the museum steps, when he has the fight with Paulie in the meat locker (“Are you balling her?” “‘Hey. Don’t talk dirty about your sister.”) and then Rocky punches the meat … he goes over to hang out with Adrian (she’s in her old-lady pink bathrobe. Talia Shire dressed herself. Those are all HER clothes – there was no money for wardrobe on this film.) Rocky sits on the couch like a big lump and he’s a wreck. His hands are bloody from the meat – he is sweaty – and completely exhausted. Everything hurts. Adrian starts to make tentative love-making moves. He resists. Which is new: when would Rocky ever NOT want to be connected? To anybody? Not just a sexual thing. I mean, connection. He’s a guy who looks for human moments. He’s kind of lonely, you know? Instead of breaking the guy’s thumbs on the docks, he starts to give advice. (“You should have planned ahead. You should have planned ahead.”) He picks up the freezing bum on the street and hauls him into the bar. He banters not just with Adrian in the petshop, but with her boss. You know that kind of guy? A real social animal. He is looking for connection with everyone (think of the little girl he drags away from hanging out on the corner … tries to give her advice . Think of his “friendship” with the loan shark … with the bartender … Rocky is not a cold guy. He’s isolated but he would rather not be.) To see Rocky push Adrian’s hands away is disconcerting and a little bit upsetting. But what’s happening is: he’s starting to take himself seriously. And when you start to actually take yourself seriously, and not say stuff like, “Yeah, I box …but more like a hobby, you know?” … then certain anxieties come up. Because now you have to actually work and risk. He is now facing the fact that he is not good enough to fight Creed. He is in way over his head. He has no illusions (which, I think, is one of the most appealing parts of this guy). He says s, “I’m tired, Adrian … no fooling around, okay?” But Adrian is blossoming now, she is becoming her own person, so she persists, and tries to kiss him – and he gets annoyed. “No fooling around during training. I need to stay strong.” He says it with impatience and exhaustion. Rocky is becoming an individual, singular, his own man. Finally. Adrian feels rejected and says, “Are you serious?” He says, “Yeah.”

When he pursues Adrian at the beginning of the movie, she’s IT, in terms of his life, and what he has to look forward to. She’s all he has going on, his awkward courtship of her is pretty much the only thing he focuses on. But now … he has other obligations, other “promises to keep”. And that’s an awkward transition for Rocky. He pulls back the reins from her abruptly in that one scene, and it’s painful – for both of them. He doesn’t know how to balance. He says something to her like, “Why don’t you go make the meat?” He brought over a package of meat from Paulie – and Adrian says, “Okay. I’ll go make the meat.” She’s just trying to survive the moment to moment with this man.

Rocky sits on the couch and watches her go. He’s wearing the black winter hat, his hair is sweaty, hanging down from underneath the hat, he’s wrapped up in a blue blanket, and his hands are completely torn up from hitting that beef. And it’s such an eloquent silent moment. In one of the interviews with Stallone on my DVD he references this scene when he pushes Adrian away – and says something like, “This is probably the most confused moment of Rocky’s life up until that point.”

Rocky knows he can’t just leave it this way with Adrian so he gets up and shuffles over to the kitchen door. You can hear her bustling about in there. He says, “Yo.” Of course. She comes out – and has this kind of awkward moment – she doesn’t know whether to hug him or not – so she walks back into the kitchen – and he can’t deal with that, so he says again, “Hey.” And back she comes- and he puts his arms around her – says, “I’m sorry” – and the last moment of the scene is him resting his chin on the top of her head, which is buried in his chest – and heaving this deep deep sigh. I love the sigh at the end. Rocky is still scared, and nervous, and knows he’s out of shape. But he also knows he has to balance a couple of balls in the air now – as opposed to only one, or none. He has to start training for real, he has to start to become an athlete. This is going to take WORK. But he also has to be a good boyfriend. He has to do BOTH. So the deep deep sigh at the end, a sigh to himself really … is so eloquent. It says it all. If you can do it without dialogue, screenwriters, then DO it. Imagine how bad it would have been if Rocky had said to her, in that moment, “I’m just realizing how out of shape I am, yo. I feel confused and I need some space. I can’t screw you right now, Adrian, cause I gotta take myself seriously as a boxer, you know, yo?” I mean, it sounds so stupid writing it out – but how many scripts do we see that explain every human emotion in dialogue – when in reality so much of life (especially the hard stuff, the insecure stuff) is left unsaid?

That scene ends. With Rocky holding Adrian, but he looks so beat up – you can tell it hurts to even stand.

It is my theory, however, that they do end up making love after that – even though he’s said “no fooling around”. I think that because of the NEXT scene and what happens therein – and because I think there are no accidents in this script. Stallone is too good. So. We have the scene with Adrian coming on to him, and Rocky saying, “No fooling around.”

Next scene: we are in the boxing gym. Rocky is in his filthy sweat suit (it’s hysterical to notice how different he looks from the rest of the people in the gym) – punching on a bag like a MANIAC. He’s drenched in sweat, and he is kind of all over the place. I don’t know much about boxing but I do know that while he obviously looks very strong here – he also looks wild. Not like a real boxer yet. But he’s going like crazy. Mick comes over and starts shouting at him about his lack of technique – and gets somebody to tie a string around Rocky’s ankles. Mick growls, “This cured Rocky Marciano … If you can still punch and hit to the body with your legs tied … now you have balance. Now you become a very dangerous person.” (Or: “poy-son”, in Mick’s accent). Rocky is a bit more docile now (docile meaning: he is accepting Mick as his coach, he “takes the coaching” rather than try to fight it). So he lets Mick tie up his legs. Mick keeps growling at him about balance, blah blah … and at some point, two girls come up and ask Rocky for his autograph. He’s obviously become a local celebrity. Rocky – who still has no focus, no discipline – is completely swayed by the request, even though it comes in the middle of a training session – and you can see him start to say “Sure” – before Mick ROARS at the two girls: “GET OUTTA HERE.” Everything kind of stops … the girls cower, and move backwards. Mick then takes the coaching to the next level, the psychological and comes back to Rocky saying, “And another thing. LAY OFF THAT PET SHOP DAME.” Rocky, guileless, says, “Yeah, but I really like this girl, Mick.” Mick ROARS: “THEN LET HER TRAIN YOU!” Rocky stops, doesn’t say anything – you kind of expect him to let Mickey have it there – or to fight back, or something – Rocky doesn’t take too kindly to being yelled at. But then he says, with this air of concession (it’s a very funny moment, I love it – watch the expression on his face – I can’t explain why I love it, I just do, it’s so honest): “All right. No more foolin’ around.” And Mick nods, satisfied – and they go back to their training. Mick shouts, “WOMEN WEAKEN LEGS!” Rocky, punching the bag, repeats the phrase – he’s kind of laughing, though – like it feels a little bit silly, but he’s getting into the mode now, getting into the boxer mode. “Women … weaken … legs …” PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH

Okay. So. There are the two scenes. In one we see Rocky push Adrian off, knowing he has to be strong. The scene ends with the two of them in a weary sort of battered embrace. Next scene – Mick brings it up – maybe he can tell that Rocky is distracted, or easily distracted … Adrian’s on his mind – whatever it is … I’m sure athletic coaches (the good ones) are totally in tune with whatever the hell is going on with athletes to whom they are committed. That’s why I think that Rocky did mess around with Adrian the day before. Despite his pushing her off initially. He did mess around with her – and Mickey can sense it. Rocky tries to defend himself – “I really like this girl, Mick!” but Mickey is having NONE of it.

So now … what began as a vague plea to Adrian, based on nothing but his own instinct, and a little bit of fear at how far he has to go with this training – (“I need to stay strong, Adrian”) – has now become a commitment. A commitment to himself, to doing his personal best in the fight with Creed – to actually following through on stuff. (That’s why I love when he says to the guy on the docks in the beginning of the movie, “You should have planned ahead.” Ha. You NEVER see Rocky “planning ahead” in the start of this movie. He’s a moment to moment dude. There are no “plans” in his world. His only plan is to buy some more turtle food so he can try to court Adrian again. Maybe fight in some skeezy club once a month. This is not a guy with plans, yet here he is chastising this poor sack of a man, “You should have planned ahead.”)

So after the big training montage – the famous one – we then suddenly are in the quiet little room where Rocky (and now Adrian) live. It’s dark. Rocky is lying on the couch. Adrian is lying in bed. Nothing is explained or spelled out – and yet everything seems okay. Rocky has obviously made up his mind – and so they live like that, and it’s okay. Because they’re both growing up. And no way could Rocky sleep in the same bed with her and not get distracted. No way is this guy a “cuddle and spoon” kind of guy. Nope. So on the couch he is.

To me – those elements all add up (except they’re just pieces … and they don’t fit together perfectly – just like they don’t in life … there are still cracks there, gaps in what we know about what happened) … to a picture of Rocky getting serious about his training (at least in a psychological way – which sometimes is just as important as the physical) and knowing he has to lay off the sex for the duration. Maybe that’s not true for all athletes – but for him it is – and the pieces that lead up to that moment are perfectly placed, I think. It’s a little story within a story, as far as I’m concerned … and that’s what makes up a great movie, a movie I can watch over and over again.

2. The second thing I want to say about this scene is this (and it’s subtle – I didn’t notice it the first time, or the second time … and now, funnily enough, it’s ALL I can see!!): Adrian’s decorating of Rocky’s apartment.

Remember what that apartment looked like in the beginning scenes when he is there alone.

And now Adrian is there, she’s his “roommate”.

A lesser movie, a movie that thinks we, the audience, are mentally challenged, would have given us an Adrian montage, of her cleaning up the joint, putting her feminine stamp on that masculine bachelor nightmare of an apartment. We would have seen her dusting, scrubbing, tacking up nice pictures, blah blah. So we would “get it”. We would “notice” the work that had been done. THAT’S a film that annoys me – a film that wants to be congratulated for the work that has been done – work that SHOULD be done in EVERY film. Why should I congratulate you for what you SHOULD be doing? So if they had put in an “Adrian cleaning montage” – then we, in the audience, would fully appreciate how detailed the art direction was in the film. So many movies operate like this. Not Rocky. We’re in the apartment – and next time you see the movie – just notice how much that apartment has changed. It’s beautiful. We only see it in passing – as Rocky gets up and puts on his coat and leaves – with one last look at the sleeping Adrian before he goes.

But it’s everywhere. Her touch is everywhere.

It’s Christmas time – so there’s a little Christmas tree over in the corner. There are stockings hung up on the wall around the Rocky Marciano poster. Also a nice collage of boxing magazine covers featuring “The Italian Stallion”. On that crappy wall over by the fridge – behind the front door – she has now put up all this flowered contact paper. It’s on the wall, on the fronts of the drawers … it doesn’t look great – but it is a bold attempt at prettiness and civilization. Instead of the cluttered shelf behind the bed with the crosses and the bottles of Noxzema (which, sorry, I just love that detail – that Rocky is all about Noxzema) – there is a neat little shelf with a stereo on it. Or a radio – who knows what it is. And she’s put up contact paper all around the bed – a black and white pattern … It’s decorating. It’s her way of decorating. She probably lived with Paulie in their parents house … and never got to put her stamp on things. Oh – and on the little bureau below the mirror – you can see a black and white framed photograph, candid, of the two of them, Rocky and Adrian. She’s hugging him from behind and they’re both laughing. Again: none of this is lingered on – to tell us: LOOK HERE. There are no close-ups of the contact paper, or the candid photo … The main focus of the scene is that Rocky is troubled, it’s the middle of the night, and for some reason he’s putting on his coat and going outside. That’s what we SHOULD be focused on. I’m just talking now as someone who has now seen this movie 8 times in the last 5 days. The thing about the change in his apartment – and the detail that is there – (oh, and the couch is a new one, too – the disaster couch from the beginning of the movie is gone – it is now a scratchy plaid couch) – anyway: the thing about it is: If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. Maybe you’ll get it the second time you see it. So instead of it being a telegraphing moment: See how she has changed the apartment?? – it continues on to feel like a slice of life.

Intimate. A whole world going on between the scenes. These people don’t just live when the camera is pointing at them. Stuff is going on in between. This is life we’re looking at … not fiction.

Here’s part 1!

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12 Responses to Rocky: Things I Notice and Love Part 2

  1. Cullen says:

    Sheila, that was amazing. It has been ages since I’ve watched Rocky, but I guess I always just took all this stuff for granted. There is always so much depth going on in these good movies.

    I’ve been denying it, but I’m going to have to rent it this weekend now.

  2. red says:

    Cullen – I totally took it for granted too! It’s fun to see it in a spirit of discovery, know what I mean?

  3. Ken says:

    You have a great eye for detail. If there is a market for a book of case studies (so to speak) for acting students, you ought to be the one to write it.

  4. Lisa says:

    I COVETED Adrian’s wedding dress in Rocky 2. I mean, I had a POSTER of this dress hanging in my room. Of the dress!

    It was made by Alfred Angelo (Why do I know that? WHY?!) and I kept the poster up for years telling my friends, “When I get married, THAT’S MY DRESS.”

  5. Lisa says:

    Here’s a sucky picture of it:

    Plus a good review of Rocky Balboa!

  6. red says:

    Lisa – ha! The wedding photo!

  7. DBW says:

    You are so damn perceptive at times that it’s scary. First off, it was having to give up sex for long periods that put me off boxing. Otherwise, I coulda been a contender. Yeah, sure. I love art, not just movies, that treat you like you have some brains. Yes, sometimes it leaves a little confusion in its wake, or uncertainty. It makes me think of Roger Ebert’s comments about 2001: A Space Odyssey and the follow up, 2010. 2010 explains everything, is a better structured movie, but, like Ebert, I didn’t like it nearly as much as 2001. One of the things that so captivated me about 2001 when it first came out was the mystery–the damn near magical mystery of that movie. I have heard writer’s talk of people coming up to them and having an entirely different(and sometimes, better)interpretation of their work than what they really intended. To me, that is art. Great music can make 10 intelligent listeners feel 10 different ways about the music, or get different meanings from sections of a musical piece. That’s beautiful, in my opinion. I have to admit that while I always thought Rocky and Adrian slept together on the night you are talking about, I never noticed the decorating. But, I might have noticed on a subliminal level–I think that happens, too. And I hate it when a movie feels compelled to beat you over the head with information rather than letting you figure it out for yourself. It shows a lack of respect for, and confidence in, the audience, the actors, the basic quality of the movie, etc. One other thing–Stop with the overusage of music to do this same thing. One of the complaints I have about the LOTR trilogy now that I have seen it several times is there isn’t enough quiet time in those movies–the muscial score is constantly telling you what to think and feel. I get it, Peter!

  8. red says:

    DBW – It’s really strange to watch the whole Rocky series together – which (naturally) I did over the weekend – and to see how that incremental “here is how you should feel” music creeps in. It is SO not there in the first one, or really in the second one.

    It’s brave when a movie can just let a scene stand on its own – without the swelling strings. Swelling strings are great but only if you need them! Please!!

  9. red says:

    Oh and DBW – were you a contendah?? For real?

  10. DBW says:

    “Oh and DBW – were you a contendah?? For real?”

    Uh, no. Contender for the guy who will give you the best advice, or talk a guy to death–maybe. But, a fighter? NOOOOO. Although, I did win 3 of the 4 serious fights I have been in during my life. I’m one of those guys that if you somehow manage to get me mad enough to fight, you better watch out, because I can go a little crazy if I get to that point. Athletic-yes. Boxing–a major bigtime NO.

  11. DAW says:

    Fantastic detail, Sheila, and great observations. Your comment about films which “spell everything out” really hit home with me.

    One example that has always irritated me was what happened at the end of “Blade Runner.” It put me off Ridley Scott, although perhaps it wasn’t his fault because I’m told the director’s cut omitted some of what I am about to describe.

    This is from distant memory, so my details are shaky. But in the climactic scene at the end, Rutger Hauer decides not to kill Harrison Ford. Ok, fine — let the audience figure out why. But no: then he suddenly has to have a dove in his hand, which he releases. And I was thinking, “Sheesh, that’s overkill, why don’t you just have a voiceover explaining his change of heart?” And then what happens at the end? A Harrison Ford voiceover, explaining various things including Rutger Hauer’s change of heart. I don’t see how Scott could watch that part without cringing in embarrassment.

    Please forgive the slightly off-topic rant. I’m just illustrating how much I agree with your admiration for the subtlety of “Rocky.” I’m going to have to see it again.

  12. red says:

    DAW – ha!! Yeah, really. Hmmmm, what could that dove mean, ya think? Let me ponder it.

    Sigh. It’s disappointing … especially if the rest of it is a really good movie.