Rocky is Meant to Be Shit

Rocky, right? You know what I’m talking about.

I’ll watch Rocky movies until the day I die. They’re practically a part of my DNA at this point. Stallone could make a Rocky movie about Alzheimer’s and I’d watch it. Me and my brother adored those movies. A couple of downtrodden kids finding inspiration from their heroes. I even thought Rocky VI was pretty good. I’m pretty sure David and I could entertain ourselves indefinitely watching Rocky films.

But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider anything past the first film pure cash-grabbing fluff. Thanks to the sequels, Rocky’s a joke. He’s from a neolithic time where men solved their problems by punching them.

Here’s a quick factgasm for you: did you know Rocky was shot in 28 days on a small budget? Did you know it was an independent film? Did you know it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing? That’s a recipe for modern cult cinema critical stardom, but due to the myriad sequels’ myriad failures, it’s been consigned to the bin of “movies meatheads enjoy unironically”. Because it’s got, you know, training montages. And fights with oiled up beefcakes. Stuff guys like. Rocky IV has no less than 4 montages, including one where they collect clips of things that happened only ten minutes ago. That’s the hallmark of the Rocky series… but it’s not Rocky.

Rocky is a moody character study. It’s not about boxing in the slightest. It’s about the bullshit you have to put up with every fucking day and believing that in spite of whatever petty nonsense the world throws at you, you’re worth something. Saying Rocky is about boxing is like saying The Life Aquatic is about the ocean. The woman I respect the most in this world considers Rocky II to be the pinnacle of the series because “you get to know the characters more”. This is something on which I will not bend. Rocky II essentially ruined the character, because he wins in the end, and Rocky’s not meant to win. Rocky’s meant to be shit.

Just look at him in that final climactic scene. He’s not really fighting at all, he’s just standing there, taking all the punishment the world has ever delivered to him. Who cares if the champion is punching the shit out of you? It’s easier than having to put up with everyday life. Apollo Creed, by Rocky’s own admission, is the best boxer in the world. He’s smart, he’s funny (god damn he’s hilarious) and he’s the best athlete in his field. But Rocky never sees him as a giant to slay. Rocky doesn’t have to win, he just has to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s not just some bum. He may not compare to the world’s greatest, he may not be able to fight back – but at least he doesn’t have to fall down.

There’s a beautiful moment in that scene. Rocky is practically useless and hits the mat. Mickey, the old cynic, tells him “Down! Down! Stay down!” He doesn’t want Rocky to get hurt. Adrian sees the man she loves flailing about, barely able to lift his gloves. She doesn’t see someone taking a stand against the cruelty of life – she sees someone taking a beating, and she can’t watch.

They’re both right. It’s a very romantic way to look at having the shit pummelled out of you by someone who’s better than you in every way. But, god damn it, can’t we all relate to picking yourself up? To not giving in?

Rocky hits me in a very primal, human way. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, like all you had to hold on to was your sense of self, try giving the first film in a much-maligned series another shot. You might be surprised by how touching it is.


All we are saying is give actors a chance

I’ve been watching True Detective like everyone else, and it’s good. I like it a lot. It reminds me of Zodiac a bit, which I really ought to get around to seeing again some time. Great movie. Also reminds me of Preacher in some ways, that whole Southern Gothic thing. Great comic, you should check it out.

Cayley James made a reference to the McConaissance tonight, and everyone’s using that term because who knew, right? Who knew a trained actor could make some good movies? I made some quip about how we’d never be using that term if people hadn’t lost faith in Matthew McConaughey, and then I figured I’d been looking at it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t just me; maybe other people also figured Reign of Fire was his masterpiece and were just waiting for him to get back to that.

Joking aside, while I’m glad Matthew McConaughey is taking the time to entertain us, the attention being paid to his career resurgence has reminded me of something that has consistently bothered me: why don’t people give entertainers more of a chance? I know Matthew McConaughey hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the art crowd with his decade-long string of romantic comedies, but had you told me in 2005 he’d be putting out some great performances in 5-8 years, I don’t think I would’ve been too surprised. He’s an actor. It’s not like he’s incapable of being in front of a camera, and it’s his job to fit into whatever movie he’s being paid to star in. Should we really be so surprised when actors who have made a series of genre choices decide to do something different and manage to pull it off? I’m sure no actor starts their career thinking “I’m gonna be in ALL the teen movies!”

It’s not the first time it’s happened. Remember when Daniel Craig was picked to be the next James Bond? There was a huge media campaign to discredit him. I knew he’d be great, because of Munich and Enduring Love. But hey, he’s got blond hair. Same thing happened to Heath Ledger. How dare the guy from 10 Things I Hate About You take the same role Jack Nicholson did 20 odd years ago? I was sure he’d be fine, because I thought he was likeable enough and I trusted Christopher Nolan wouldn’t hire an incapable actor. But no, let’s hate him because he’s a handsome young man playing a psychopath and Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson pre-emptively trumps that, apparently.

I think this attitude – guilty until proven innocent – bothers me because I believe it’s grounded in an assumption that people are inextricably tied to their work, and what’s more, that an artist’s worth is set in stone based on early success. People occasionally make average films, or terrible albums, or messy novels, even if they’re capable of a lot more. It’s not a big deal, they’re human after all, but there’s a belief that these people make GOOD things and these people make BAD things, and it’s too tied up in how people view themselves to make a great deal of sense to me.

All I am saying is give artists a chance. Can you imagine if everyone expected you to act the same way you did when you were younger, simply because that’s how they’re accustomed to thinking of you? Shit’s infuriating.


Audiobooks

I’m not 100% down with audiobooks. I like them fine, but they’re not books. They occupy a different space from traditional reading that is not necessarily worthless, but neither do I think they supplant traditional reading, and the notion that they do irks me a little. Grumble grumble, what a grouch I am, what an old man who just doesn’t get it, right?

We’re all into audiobooks a bit more than we used to be. We’ve got laptops and tablets and mobiles staring at us during every nanosecond of downtime, and these devices are very capable of playing digital audio files. Most of that is music or podcasts, granted, but audiobooks have experienced a comeback, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to download an audiobook than it was to buy and cart around 8 or so cassettes. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to passively listen to something than it is to read it – or pay proper and full attention to it. You might think I’m being needlessly confrontational, but come on. When was the last time you sat down with an album and listened to it all the way through for no other reason than to listen to the music? How much music do you think you’d listen to if it wasn’t on in the background while you were doing other things, like cooking, cleaning, entertaining or vegetating in front of your computer? Audiobooks may not be background noise to the same extent music is, but they’re not exactly sitting with a book in a quiet space and properly engaging with the text either.

The other day I saw a conversation online where the poster was asking everyone if they felt like listening to audiobooks was ‘cheating’. And of course the majority of the dialogue was dominated by people espousing the virtues of audiobooks, how it’s not ‘cheating’ and how anyone who claims otherwise must be some kind of elitist.

This conversation struck me because it rested on the assumption that reading is some kind of test that you can cheat at in the first place.

My guess is that this attitude has its roots in a secondary school type of learning, where you’re given a list of books and you’re expected to work your way through them. You either read the material and pass or you don’t. I think a lot of people are still feeling the effects of that education, that they’re expected to complete a book and cross it off the list of “Books I Have Not Read” and add it to the list of “Books I Have Read”. And I sympathise, I really do. Who doesn’t want to be well-read? We all want to have read a lot of books (preferably the classics of the western canon) and have lots of opinions on Important Things, but we don’t necessarily want to do what’s required in order to reach that stage: spending a lot of time reading a lot of books.

That’s where audiobooks come in. It’s simply easier to listen to someone else read than it is to read oneself. You can listen on the way to work, while cleaning the house, while waiting at a bus stop without looking like a twat. Your attention can wander and you won’t have to re-read a paragraph, because the story’s still going. Don’t get me wrong, I think audiobooks have many qualities, but this whole “how does listening to an audiobook relate to reading a book” thing? It’s a false comparison. Listening to an audiobook isn’t the same as reading because, well, you’re not reading. You’re listening.

I know it sounds like I’m being pedantic and semantic, but hear me out. Books are written to be engaged with. Perhaps with books that are all plot and dialogue – pure entertainment – the difference is miniscule, but many books demand that you re-read certain passages, or revisit earlier sections when something becomes clearer later on, or pay attention to the form of the words on the page. Not all books are fireside ghost stories that rely on plot alone. If you know me at all, you’ll know there are few things I adore more than a fireside ghost story, but some books a massive puzzle to be worked out and related to and re-examined as your life continues. I just don’t think that kind of book can be fully appreciated by having someone read it out to you while you do your shopping.

I want to read sentences and paragraphs several times without having to rewind and wait for someone to read it out to me. I need to be able to go back and check something instantly so I can get back to where I was with greater understanding. If a paragraph is particularly striking, it’s important to me that I can pull it off the shelf and immediately flip to the highlighted section and examine it in my own fashion.

I sometimes wonder if the reason many are so fond of audiobooks is that they take the effort out of actually reading, and allow our modern, internet-shortened attention spans to consume more books without ever really having to engage with them. “Hey, last week I read 3 books!” you get to say without ever having really read the books, only getting to cross items off a list because you know roughly what the plot is and can remember a couple of lines.

Audiobooks can be very pleasant to listen to, but they’re not the written word. Audiobooks have their own qualities, but the written word has too. It’s not all about top ten lists and message board comments and Facebook statuses.