“AN ARTIST IS BORN KNEELING; HE FIGHTS TO STAND. A CRITIC, BY NATURE OF THE JUDGMENT SEAT, IS BORN SITTING.” ~ HORTENSE CALISHER
As a young teen, I remember being thrilled with the surprise clips featured at the end of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Ferris (well, actually, John Hughes) had already let me join in on a hooky-fueled adventure for the past hour and a half that I could never have gone on myself (no one I knew had a father wealthy enough to own a 1961 Ferrari GT250 for starters…), but he still had more to give.
The “fourth wall,” as it has been called — the invisible, imaginary wall that exists between audience and action in the play (or in this case, the motion picture) — was broken. It was as if he and the audience knew that the past adventure was so great it wasn’t really over, it couldn’t be over. It was going to continue until everyone was forced to leave the theater… and maybe it wouldn’t really even be over then.
Well, tonight I had the pleasure of watching the film Rocky Balboa, which turns out to be host of the best film credit scene ever. Sorry, Ferris, but inspiration trumps hi-jinx every time.
The film itself was great. Rocky Balboa the picture reasserted Rocky Balboa the character as perhaps the most exemplary of the American Spirit that Hollywood has produced. Rocky is born generic and must distinguish himself. Rocky faces seemingly insurmountable odds and fights with every fiber of his being — muscular and otherwise, mostly otherwise — to beat those odds. He wills his spirit to take charge of his flesh because he has a dream and he will let nothing stop him from achieving it.
As the first and last Rocky exquisitely reveal, transformation of the self is the ultimate goal of the dreamer, and especially the American Dreamer. Rocky lost the external prize — winning in the ring — yet in both films, he conquered internal battles and was ultimately victorious, his self transformed, his dream achieved.
Quotes from Rocky Balboa:
“What’s so crazy about standing toe to toe with someone saying ‘I am’?”
“You know, I think you try harder when you’re scared… That’s when it’s worked best for me.”
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
“The last thing to age on somebody is their heart.”
The picture ends. In a special feature on the DVD, Stallone shares his realization that when he yelled, “Cut,” after the final scene, he was ending not only the film at hand, but likely the greatest of what he will offer as his life’s work.
Credits role. It is finished, the Rocky saga is complete.
Not so fast.
Right before my eyes, I watch the fourth wall crumble. Stallone does not look into the camera with Buelleresque humor, as Ferris did twenty-five years ago; he doesn’t appear in the credit scene at all. Instead, the fourth wall in Rocky is knocked down by the fans, people who have been impacted by the film each in their own way. People of every stripe and age and flavor are depicted running up the now legendary steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to the triumphant horns and synthesizers and voices of “Gonna Fly Now.” Some mirror closely the movements of the Italian Stallion that have become archetypal of the victory trot. Others dance. Most smile. All poignantly express the reality of the magic of cinema — when it’s done well, we experience something special through the protagonist, and in this case, through the hero. Rocky has given us all the opportunity to feel like a champion — a feeling we can know outside of the theater if we follow his model and fight on regardless of the odds.
Thank you, Rocky.
Thank you, Mr. Stallone.