At the movies · Home life · Memories · Word of the week

Word of the week: Rocky

Following on from our Christmas Eve viewing (“Casablanca”) we settled down on New Year’s Eve to watch another film that won the Oscar for Best Picture: “Rocky”.

My wife is a big fan of the “Rocky” movies but the only ones we had watched together were 21st century additions to the franchise, “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed”. There have been times when ITV channels have screened the entire series but we have never sat down to watch a whole movie. It was good to start again at the beginning. We (my wife, both children and I) watched “Rocky” on New Year’s Eve and carried on over the weekend: “Rocky II” on Saturday evening (between 6pm and 8pm, because there was an Arsenal game kicking off at 8pm) and “Rocky III” last night.

My memories of all three were rather hazy. I had seen each of them just once, over 35 years ago. I could only recall a couple of lines: “Women weaken legs!” (coach Mickey’s advice to Balboa in the first film) and “I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot” (when the training regime in “Rocky II” involves chasing a live chicken around a yard, to improve the fighter’s speed).

I have a much clearer memory of the talk about “Rocky III” in the summer of 1982, just before it was released here in the UK. I had seen a Film Society screening of “Rocky” a couple of years earlier, with all the interruption that that entailed (a lengthy pause every 40 minutes to change the reel). Some friends from school had just started renting a VCR, in time for the FIFA World Cup from Spain that year, and they rented “Rocky II” one night so that we could get up to speed in time for the release of the third instalment.

I was working on a building site in Ickenham with my father and brother for several weeks during my summer holiday. My brother had just graduated from university. It was the only time the three of us worked together for more than the odd day. The site was much smaller and quieter than the places my father took us to, occasionally, at weekends when we were kids. It would become a 2- or 3-storey building, a data centre for a bank. We were working on the foundations, and I never saw the completed structure.

For a couple of days we were joined by a Kango-operator whose lack of productivity was a source of great annoyance to my father. During a tea-break he (the Kango-operator) and I got to talking about films. The UK release of “Rocky III” was still some weeks away, but he had already seen it, on video. He had a mate. He could get me a dodgy copy on VHS if I wanted. He pronounced his R’s like W’s, so the offer was phrased like this: “Wocky Fwee? I can get you a copy for 20 notes. No questions asked. Gweat movie.” I didn’t take him up on his offer and eventually saw it at the cinema, for a lot less than 20 notes.

Nearly 40 years later we are catching up with “the Italian stallion” again, in a way that was unimaginable in the 1980s: through a streaming service (Amazon Prime), as part of our annual subscription. The children were due to go back to school earlier today, but with the new lockdown rules announced this evening they will not be returning until mid-February. They have both been observing school hours, and we rarely watch movies on school nights. We plan to watch “Rocky IV” at the weekend, if we can wait that long.

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