81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Rocky

October 7th, 2009 · No Comments · 1976, Burgess Meredith, Color, Drama, Inciting Incident, Mid-Point, Original Screenplay, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Rocky, Screenplay Structure, Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, United Artists

Rocky Yo, Adrian! I’m going to make a bold statement, here: I like Rocky.

I realize some folks think Rocky is pure fluff, hardly Best-Picture material.

But I think the people who don’t like Rocky are misanthropes who are afraid to experience humanity’s joys and sorrows. Rocky is a sweet movie about a down-but-not-out boxer named Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) with a kind heart and an eye for a painfully shy pet-shop girl named Adrian (Talia Shire), whom he tries to woo with jokes he makes up. Adrian is the sister of Paulie (Burt Young), a coarse, insensitive worker in a meat-packing company. Rocky’s trainer is the curmudgeonly Mickey (played to perfection by Burgess Meredith), who helps Rocky train to fight Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for the world championship.

It’s a simple plot, sure. But it’s hardly simplistic.

In my opinion, Rocky is vastly superior to, say, Tom Jones, winner of Best Picture for 1963. And don’t get me started on Around the World In 80 Days, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1956. Frankly, I like Rocky better than West Side Story, Best-Picture winner for 1961.

Because Rocky is supposed to be a gem of a screenplay, written by Stallone himself, I’m going to analyze the structure to see where the script’s turning points are.

Rocky is 120 minutes in length. For a movie that long, these are where the turning points should be: The Inciting Incident should occur within the first 15 or so minutes. Plot Point I should occur between 25 and 32 minutes. Mid Point should happen around 55-65 minutes into the film. And, finally, Plot Point II should happen around 85-95 minutes into the film.

Let’s see how it pans out.

Screenplay Structure – Rocky

ACT I
Inciting Incident: Although this occurs later than usual (“usual” is within the first 10 minutes, and sometimes within the first 1-5 minutes), it appears the Inciting Incident is set up at 16:55 when Rocky tries to open his locker. No combination he tries on the lock works. He grabs a fire extinguisher off the wall and knocks the lock off. Inside the locker is someone else’s stuff. At that point, a worker in the gym informs Rocky that Mickey told him to bag and hang his stuff. Rocky goes to see Mickey.

Rocky strolls up to Mickey (18:34) , who’s sitting at ringside timing a couple of boxers in the ring. “What do you want?” Mickey growls. “How come I’ve been put out of my locker?” Rocky asks. “Because Dipper needed it,” Mickey replies. “Dipper’s a contender. He’s a climber. You know what you are? You’re a tomata…you got heart. But you fight like a goddamn ape. There’s nothing special about you…hey kid. You ever think about retiring?” (19:45) “No,” Rocky replies. “You think about it,” comes Mickey’s reply to pay off the Inciting Incident.

That has to be it. It’s the only event that happens in Act I that could even be remotely defined as an Inciting Incident.

The next turning point to watch for is Plot Point I, which happens near the end of Act I. I’ll be watching for it it to show up between 25 and 32 minutes.

And there it is, a bit late but big enough to spin the story into Act II.

Apollo Creed’s scheduled opponent drops out for medical reasons. Apollo needs to find another fighter – fast. Plot Point I is set up at 30:15 when Apollo says, “Without a ranked contender, what this fight is gonna need is a novelty. This is the land of opportunity, right? So, Apollo Creed, on January 1st, gives a local underdog fighter an opportunity.”

Plot Point I is paid off at 33:13. Apollo is leafing through a book of local fighters. The promoter asks, “Exactly what are you looking for, Apollo?” Suddenly, at 33:17, Apollo taps the book. “This is what I’m looking for – the Italian Stallion.” “Rocky Balboa?” the promoter asks. “Never heard of him.”

That sets up everything else that happens in the movie, but especially what happens next.

ACT II
The next turning point to look for is Mid Point, which should occur between 55 and 65 minutes into the film. Let’s watch for it…

Well, what do you know? At 55:29 into the movie, Rocky strolls into the office of Apollo Creed’s promoter. He sits in a chair while the promoter paces around the room. That’s the set up.

Mid Point: “Rocky, I’ve got a proposition I’d like to make to you,” he begins. “The sparring?” Rocky says. “I beg your pardon?” the promoter says. “It’s just that I know you’re looking for sparring partners and I just wanna say I’m very available, you know?” Rocky says. “I’m sure you are,” the promoter replies. Then, at 56:07, comes this: “You don’t understand me, Rocky. My proposition’s this: Would you be interested in fighting Apollo Creed for the world heavyweight championship?”

“No,” Rocky replies.

The tension builds. This is Rocky’s big chance! Why did he say No? Will he say Yes?

The Mid Point pay off occurs in this exchange, from 56:47 to 57:15, which is almost precisely at the midway point of the movie:

Promoter: Rocky, do you believe America is the land of opportunity?
Rocky: Yea.
Promoter: Apollo Creed does. And he’s going to prove it to the whole world by giving an unknown a shot at the title. And that unknown is you. He picked you, Rocky. Rocky, it’s the chance of a lifetime. You can’t pass it by. What do you say?

The camera stays on Rocky’s face as he considers it. But he doesn’t answer. Instead, the next scene is Rocky and Adrian sitting on the couch in Paulie and Adrian’s apartment.

Now, that’s that way to grab an audience!

I love the scene when Mickey visits Rocky’s place to tell him he needs a manager – himself. Rocky yells him away. Mickey, teary-eyed, leaves, saying he’s 76 years old and…

Rocky continues yelling even though Mickey is out on the curb. Suddenly, Rocky runs out of his apartment and down the sidewalk to catch Mickey. This scene is done without words, for none are needed. Just a long shot of Mickey and Rocky. Rocky gives Mickey a hug. They shake hands.

In the next scene Rocky wakes up at 4a.m., stumbles into the kitchen, cracks five raw eggs into a container, then drinks them down. Hell, I would have given Stallone an Oscar for that feat alone. Salmonella, anyone?

Then Rocky, all alone, runs out of his apartment and down the street in the wee, dark hours of the morning. He huffs and puffs up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It’s obvious he’s not in shape.

The next turning point to watch for is Plot Point II, which should happen around 90 minutes into the movie, give or take.

Well, what do you know? Something big does happen at 89 minutes into the movie.

Plot Point II: After a particularly ugly scene with Adrian’s hot-headed brother Paulie, Adrian storms into her bedroom and closes the door. Rocky follows her in. At the 89-minute mark Adrian says to Rocky, “You want a room mate?” “Absolutely,” he replies.

ACT III
Everyone thinks Rocky is a movie about a boxing match. But, in reality, one of the biggest bouts in movie history occurs only in Act III and takes place in the last 20-25 minutes of the movie.

Act III (which begins one hour and 30 minutes into the movie) opens with the iconic Rocky theme song and Rocky, now looking confident, fit, and happy, jogging, sparring, doing one-arm pushups, taking punches to the stomach, doing situps, and running flat-out on the road in the ship yard. This time when he reaches the top of the stairs, he’s a new man – emotionally and physically on top of the world.

The first bell of the famous fight between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed begins one hour and forty seven minutes into the movie.

Of course, the end of the movie is classic. Rocky, the underdog, the man no one thought would win, does. He goes the distance. All 15 rounds.

The Real OscarThe curmudgeon author Peter H. Brown, in his book The Real Oscar: The Story Behind the Academy Awards, calls Rocky one of Five Films Which Shouldn’t Have Won:

Just when critics said “box office voting” was over, the Academy gave this entertaining bit of hockum its highest award. Rocky, a fairy tale about a losing boxer who is turned into a winner, was quite inferior to all of its fellow nominees…one rule of Oscar voting held true: given a choice between intelligent plot and raw emotion, the Academy almost always chooses the latter.

This, of course, is B.S. I’ve watched every single Oscar-winning movie since the first one. And I can tell you this much: I’ve wished for more “raw emotion” movies to win. It always seemed to me that the Academy picked the heavy, serious, “intelligent plot” movies the vast majority of the time.

But, hey. What do I know? I’m not an author.

“Adrian! Adrian!”

Rocky was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, but won only three: Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture. Surprisingly, Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, and Talia Shire didn’t win, though they were nominated. And Stallone didn’t win for Best Screenplay, even though the movie itself won Best Picture.

THE CAST
Sylvester Stallone (1946- )…………………Rocky
Talia Shire (1946- )………………………….Adrian
Burt Young (1940- )…………………………Paulie
Carl Weathers (1948- )……………………..Apollo
Thayer David (1927-1978)………………..Jergens
Joe Spinell (1936-1989)……………………Gazzo
Jimmy Gambina (1943- )…………………..Mike
Burgess Meredith (1907-1997)………….Mickey

Directed By
John G. Avildsen (1935- )

Last two comments:

1. Burgess Meredith was one of my favorite character actors. A truly gifted and unique actor, he starred in one of the most powerful episodes of television I’ve ever seen, “Time Enough at Last,” which aired on The Twilight Zone, episode eight of season one (1959). No TV episode ever affected me so deeply. Burgess appeared on The Twilight Zone four times.

2. Talia Shire appeared in three Oscar-winning movies, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and Rocky. She is one of only a handful of actors who were that fortunate and talented. Ms. Shire was superb in all three movies.

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