Just when you thought “Rocky” was out of the cinematic ring for good… he’s back. And he proves he has one more great round in him.
“40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic” is a documentary short, narrated by — who else? — Sylvester Stallone. Writer, director, producer and editor Derek Wayne Johnson has compiled never before seen home movies and on-set, behind the scenes footage from the making of original “Rocky”. The video comes from the archives of late “Rocky” director John G. Avildsen and production manager Lloyd Kaufman. Clips include training sessions involving Stallone and Carl Weathers, makeup, costume and camera tests and moments of the cast and crew hanging-out between takes.
One of the unique and special elements of this “Birth of a Classic” is the narration itself. Stallone does it like a boxing commentator. He’s watching the footage with us, sharing his thoughts and memories from the shoot, over 40-years in the past. And Sly doesn’t pull any punches — especially about himself. This technique is a knockout.
And the “fun facts” come faster than an Apollo Creed 1-2 combination. You think you know everything about this 1976 Oscar winner? Well – did you know Stallone bought Rocky Balboa’s famous hat for only $3? Or that the producers didn’t want him to wear it because they thought it was too similar to the one Gene Hackman wore in “The French Connection”? Or that there were supposed to be 300 extras in the skating rink scene along with Stallone and Talia Shire? How about this mind-blower: Garrett Brown, the guy who invented the Steadicam (used on pretty much every movie for the past 45-years decades) is FROM Philadelphia. Avildsen asked if he could try it out on the iconic scene of The Italian Stallion running through the city — including up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Stallone’s dad was the bellringer. His real dog was Butkus in the movie. And much of “Rocky” was actually shot in Los Angeles, not Philly. And, here’s a great one: the climactic bout between Rocky and Apollo was shot over two days in an LA arena in between sessions of a beauty pageant, which was also being held there that weekend.
“Rocky” diehards and film fans in general, are simply gonna eat-up “The Birth of a Classic”. My one complaint? At only 30-minutes, this movie is way too short. There had to be more footage and pearls from Stallone to fill at least an hour. When the credits start to roll you’ll experience the same feeling one gets when a scheduled 12-round championship bout ends midway through the 2nd-round. “That can’t be it!”. My hope is this film sets the stage for a series of docs covering all the “Rocky” installments.
The final section of “Birth” features the unknown Stallone in the lobby of NYC & LA movie theaters greeting fans heading-in to see “Rocky” on the film’s opening weekend. Then we see him on the Oscar stage a few months later celebrating the film’s Best Picture win. It’s the greatest cinematic underdog story of all-time.
No need to go to the scorecards for a decision: This is the Documentary Short Main Event of the Year.
LCJ GRADE: A-
“40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic” is available on iTunes and VOD beginning Tuesday June 9th for only $2.99. Worth every penny.