December 19, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank


Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      I hope he makes a killing.
      I find myself saying - and, agreeing when it's said by my generational peers - that we've landed at the hard-rock bottom of the slippery slope of celebrity in the US of A... when Paris, Brittany and Lindsay are the heroes-of-choice for the media to "feature" for the impressionable ditz-brains who see them as the icons of achievement. What a joke: if they lived in Kansas, they'd be in a youth correctional facility. Instead, they're in Hollywood... and the Winner's Circle. I hope he makes a killing.
      "He?" Sylvester Stallone. He's been out-of-view for years now, running a restaurant with his now adult son in a rundown neighborhood in Philly. Down, but not out, though there's nothing in his current life that would indicate that he is a man with anything but a past; certainly, no future...
      Whoops, wait a minute. I'm talking about Rocky Balboa, the alter-ego for Sly (that's what his friends call him). Thirty years ago, Rocky ran up those 72 steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and came into my generation's spotlight. The kid from the 'hood who had a dream, beat the odds, played the longshot... and won. He wrote the story, cast himself in the lead... and created one of the characters that would make him an everybody-knows-him face in the Boomers' yearbook of life.
      Rocky - the original - spawned four sequels finishing with the flop known as Rocky V in 1990. The critics - and the fans - had a going-away party for Rocky/Sly, gave him a few one-shot chances in-between, but for the most part had the ol' boxer buried in the VHS dump along with the Godfather and Star Trek multiples. Rocky. Rambo. Retirement. Game over...
      Maybe not. Wednesday night, the holiday theaters will welcome Rocky Balboa into the digital age. When the project was announced, the critics' choir started rehearsing their combined chorus: "Game over, game over, game over..." Just when they got the harmonies down... the nearly-finished-with-editing version was first viewed. The reaction?
      To quote USA Today, "Preview screenings... are delivering a sucker-punch of charm: jaded Hollywood journalists, many of whom sneered at all the sequels, are grudgingly conceding their affection for it. 'I expected to go all Scrooge on Sylvester Stallone's sixth round as Rocky Balboa,' Rolling Stone's PeterTravers writes, '(But) just when you're ready to puke, the old Bill Conti theme (Gonna Fly Now) kicks in – are you feeling it? - Stallone steps into the ring and every day is Christmas...'" Can you call a now 60-year-old over-the-hill boxer the "Comeback Kid?" Wasn't the "Italian Stallion" headed for the dog food factory?
      Christmas is like Christmas to the movie business. They always get a couple of gifts (ticket window blockbusters); the surprise is found in the fact that those gifts are often unexpected. The movies they bet on lose; the ones they dismissed generate lines at the window. Who knew?
      It reminds me of another don't-count-him-out figure of history. From a workin'-class neighborhood in Nazareth, he was born before birth certificates; he lacked the pedigree that would put him on the up-and-comer list in his culture. The "intelligencia" of Israel were taken with themselves while he generated a considerable following among the blue-collar crowd in his generation. Worried about his growing popularity, the powerful cranked-up their conspiracy machine and turned the critics - and, the crowd - against him. The Manger Baby became the Sacrificial Lamb; game over...
      Rumor was that he came back to life, but after a few weeks, the stories of his sightings died down. An insider Pharisee reported an encounter on horseback; one of his followers wrote a book half-a-century later based on an island audience that lacked eyewitness confirmations. For the most part, this Jesus character was history...
      But there's a comeback in the works. The trendy modern media have dismissed it as rumor; most say we've moved on, disinterested in the possibility of another installment of this heaven-visits-earth story.
      Rocky Balboa may surprise everyone this Wednesday. I wonder: what would happen if the Lord Jesus Christ was to release his sequel, on his birthday? You think he'd be the surprise hit of the holidays?

Bob Shank



© 2006 Bob Shank. All rights reserved.