Last time I said exactly one thousand words about the moon shot from E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and today I will say another thousand words about a shot from Rocky. You can probably guess what it will be too. It is the still of Rocky Balboa right after he climbs the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. If somehow you don’t know the one I’m referring to, I have provided it below.
This picture is worth AT LEAST a thousand words because it is an accomplishment on so many levels. Rocky is one of my favorite movies, and the sequels are my guilty pleasures, except for V, because we don’t talk about that one.
One of the best parts about this film is its message, summed up in a line from Rocky spoken in Rocky Balboa: It’s not about being the best, it’s about doing your best. And that could literally apply to anything. My brother asks me why I love this movie so much since I’m not interested in boxing. That is why. In the scene before his first fight with Apollo Creed, he is in bed with Adrian and says that it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses, all he wants to do is go the distance. Go fifteen rounds against Creed without getting knocked out so that he’ll know he is not bum, he didn’t waste his life when he could have been great. This movie is about overcoming your doubts and proving to yourself you can go the distance. Not for anyone else but yourself.
I am talking about this one photo because it shows the peek of Rocky’s confidence before his fight. He has struggled all his life to succeed, and at this moment, he knows he has a chance. Earlier in the film we see Rocky at this same spot, but can hardly make it to the top, and when he does, he stumbles back down immediately. He was not ready. There was still more he needed to overcome before he could triumph at the top of those steps. One thing he needed to do was solidify his relationship with Adrian.
I’d argue that by time he puts his hands in the air at the top of those steps, he has already won. When the last bell rings at the Apollo fight, he isn’t celebrating his going the distance, he is yelling out to Adrian. And she is yelling for him, in her own quiet voice. As someone who has been pretty shy before, I can tell you that in her head she was shouting at the top of her lungs. Of course, he wouldn’t have been happy then if he did get knocked out. But when he yells Adrian’s name, she’s all he is thinking about.
Here’s something else to think about that I hadn’t noticed until my most recent viewing of Rocky: You can see Rocky facing the statue of George Washington in that photo. And remember Creed dresses up as Washington when he arrives to the fight. So maybe that was Rocky saying I’ve beaten you already, now I have to get the girl. I know it’s still important to him to go the distance, but I think it’s an interesting idea to think about.
I also appreciate how this shot looks on its own. You can almost feel the cold, morning, Philadelphia air that it surely was. There’s very little traffic, and while we’re all sleeping, Rocky is out their achieving his goals. The heavy fog in the background with the skyscrapers going across the picture looks fantastic complementing Rocky in the foreground.
I’m going to take another metaphorical look at this photo and derive more meaning from it than was probably intended. From what I can tell in this photo, and never having been to Philadelphia, it looks like that one road goes straight from downtown to the bottom of the steps. That road is Rocky’s development from being unmotivated and lazy, to going the distance against the champion. It starts in a fog, like in the photo, and like Rocky when is struggling to become a real fighter with a purpose. As he works towards his final destination, he has to go past the George Washington statue, which is the same as him getting into the ring with Creed. Once he goes the distance with him, he has made it. It’s as if that scene was when he realized that he was going to make it.
This shot has also reminded me of something that I think this film doesn’t get recognized enough for: The cinematography by James Crabe, who also did the first two Karate Kid movies. Seeing it again, I realized how many great shots there are besides, the one I’m talking about. Philadelphia in general is portrayed very well. Some of the shots that stick out to me are the ones with Rocky at the arena the night before the fight, and zoomed out night shots of Rocky walking in the streets. You still can’t beat that photo though.
Whenever you are reminded of Rocky, I’ll bet one of the two things you think about first is the main score that plays during the scene. It stars with a pump you up kind of fanfare, then transitions to a great guitar riff. Then you get the “gonna fly now” lyrics that you can’t help but sing along with.
I recently got lunch and had my Rocky shirt on, and some guy asked me if I had actually seen it. I’m never going to wear a shirt for a movie I haven’t seen, and of course I’ve seen Rocky! What kind of a question is that? Here’s my shirt to prove it:
Well, my word counter says I’m almost at a thousand words so I’ll have to wrap it up. Basically, I love Rocky, especially that shot. There is so much meaning behind it, at an essential part of the movie. Next photo I’ll examine is…
Word count: 1000