“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” — Sylvester Stallone

Old-timers here will remember the Rocky phase that took over for a while. Of course the movies weren’t new to me. As a matter of fact, I know the first movie by heart, practically shot for shot, and there was an infamous day when my friend Betsy and I had a sudden BURNING desire to see Rocky IV, because we fucking loved it, but it had already passed out of most theatres, but we were DETERMINED, so we looked it up (in the newspapers remember) and found it was playing in a theatre somewhere out in the middle of Connecticut so we – spur of the moment – raced to her car and set out for the adventure. So. My relationship with his movies go way back. Once I started blogging though, and writing about movies, it was fun to actually try to put into words the things I felt about him (particularly about Rocky, but there’s been more.) I have a lot of admiration for Sylvester Stallone – as an actor, yes, but REALLY as a writer – and stick up for him if I feel he is being under-valued or dismissed. The original screenplay for Rocky – not the shooting script, but the original script written by Stallone, before anyone else saw it – is a masterpiece of its kind. It’s taught in screenplay classes. It is the gold standard of How to Do It. What is fascinating about it is that it was written in such a short period – when Stallone was at his lowest point. He wrote it in his tiny apartment – he described that if he reached his arms out, he could touch both walls. He wrote it on legal pads. It took about 4 days. It is online in PDF form but I haven’t been able to locate it this morning. The shooting script, once John Avildsen came on board, didn’t change much – Avildsen said it was one of the most perfect screenplays he ever read. He read it and could SEE the movie. Stallone had done all the work. But it’s that original, written when Stallone was desperate, that is the one to seek out. His stage descriptions and character descriptions … his inclusion of subtext in stage directions – to let you know WHY a character does what he/she does … there’s a rough kind of street poetry in all of it. It reminded me of Clifford Odets’ scripts, and Stallone clocks him as an influence. You can feel it.

It’s typical in cinephile circles when Stallone comes up – to hear someone say “I really love Copland.” Yeah. Okay. Me too. But … it just seems like falling back on Copland, a “serious” movie, with “serious” actors in it, is a way to avoid the real source of Stallone’s massive popularity. Or, it makes you feel better about liking Stallone if you say “Copland”. Sorry. I know it’s rude to assign motives like that. I try not to do it. But it’s enough of a pattern – me bringing up Stallone, and some film nerd immediately mentioning Copland – that I feel on solid ground pointing it out. Yes. He’s great in Copland. But he’s EPIC in Rocky. My favorite Stallone movie, outside of Rocky, is Demolition Man.

He’s hilarious in it. And if you’ve seen him in interviews – relaxed interviews, anyway – then you know he’s very funny. Demolition Man is great because it puts him – with all his power and alpha-male leading-actor chops – into the submissive position of being an outsider and a newcomer, baffled by everything he sees. And he and Sandra Bullock are great together.

He’s always worth watching.

So. Without further ado: a little library of links to things I’ve written about him:

I included his wonderful mirror scene in Rocky in my piece for Oscilloscope Laboratories about scenes in movies where men look at themselves in the mirror.

Related: This is one of my favorite things I’ve written about him (if I do say so myself). During the height of the Rocky phase here, when I watched all the movies, and wrote about them, I wrote a piece about how Rocky Balboa practices telling a joke to Adrian. It took me a second to figure it out, to put it together. This is not just about his acting. It’s really about Stallone’s screenplay and how good it is. Plus a bit of character analysis. Rocky Balboa Tells a Joke.

Related again: Just some jotted-off observations during a Rocky watch.

Related again: on Rocky Balboa’s silhouette.

In looking for other things I’ve written about Stallone, I came across this piece – written when Creed came out – which reiterates a lot of the things I said above, only I go into it with a little bit more depth.

From Creed:

That iconic instantly-recognizable silhouette again!

I wrote quite a bit about Creed for Ebert:

— In the Ten Best Films of 2015, I wrote about Creed.

— In the yearly “If We Picked the Winners” series, I picked Sylvester Stallone in Creed as Best Supporting Actor. You’ll notice that I open with my irritation in re: the “He was really good in Copland” thing. It really is a tic. I’m not complaining for no reason. Was very happy to pay tribute to his acting, which – in the right circumstances – is overwhelming and powerful. Nothing against Mark Rylance, but I’m still irritated Stallone didn’t win, although I don’t believe anyone can “win” that particular contest. But in that case, I had feelings about it mainly because I think Stallone is consistently under-valued and counted-out in terms of his acting, and it’s such bullshit.

He’ll always be a champion to me.

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6 Responses to “I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” — Sylvester Stallone

  1. Maureen says:

    I saw Rocky back in 1976-and I was blown away. I was 16, and the scene where he and Adrian are at his apartment, and he is in his muscle shirt, puts his arms up on the the wall? OH MY! I absolutely love that movie, not just for the arms, but is such a sweet movie in it’s way.

    My first job out of college, we had a meeting and as an icebreaker we had to to say what our favorite movie was. I was the only woman in a meeting of about 20 men, and my choice was Rocky. I remember the guys saying “oh yeah, that’s a good one.”.

    My favorite scene though, of all the movies is in Rocky Balboa. When he and his son are in the street, and he totally lays down the law in such a loving way. Then the Rocky music score plays softly, and I was just a goner. I’ve thought about those words during the years, about how life can beat you down but what’s important is how you get up and keep moving forward. Priceless.

    • sheila says:

      Maurren – thanks so much for your comment!

      That scene in ROCKY BALBOA is one of Stallone’s finest hour as an actor (and as a writer). I agree – it’s one of the standouts in the whole entire series. My friend Jen and I went to go see it in the theatre and were reduced to puddles on the floor.

      // I was 16, and the scene where he and Adrian are at his apartment, and he is in his muscle shirt, puts his arms up on the the wall? OH MY! //

      That scene is so romantic and so tender and sexy. I love it because the surroundings are so dank and grim – that APARTMENT. And the way they both kind of sink to the floor together?

      Stallone totally knew what he was doing when he created that romance. He absolutely picked the perfect type of pairing – to illuminate not just Rocky’s character, but hers. She got to be three-dimensional too.

  2. regina bartkoff says:


    Oh beautiful post on Stallone and Rocky and all!
    Charlie and I go on extended trips with actors we love and we’ve been on a Stallone one!
    (Just was reading this post out loud to Charlie!)
    Great essay on the mirror monologues also(especially interesting about DeNiro and how completely different he is in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull)

    And Copland? really?! haha! Not the first movie that would come to my mind!
    Wonderful writing on Stallone, Rocky, the will and need to create against all odds, and making something, as you say, we are watching and talking about 40 years later!

    • sheila says:

      // we’ve been on a Stallone one! //

      I love how we are in sync with our obsessions without even discussing it. First it was De Niro/Scorsese and now Stallone!!

      // And Copland? really?! haha! //

      It’s so annoying. These critics avoid Rocky like the plague and it’s so silly.

  3. SeanG says:

    also have you seen Kyle Dunnigan’s impersonation of Stallone? it’s hilarious!

    • sheila says:

      Okay I just went and sought it out – and it is so good. The crooked-mouth (from forceps) smile! The eyes – the flat-out dead-on eyes – the voice! It’s so good!

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