Rocky (Leicester Square Theatre) Seven Beauties (Curzon)
The difference between this week's two most interesting films, which illuminate aspects of a masculine fairy tale, is between a Disney and a Grosz cartoon.
'You got heart– but you fight like an ape,' a disgusted boxing manager tells Sylvester Stallone, the writer-star of America's latest blockbuster, Rocky (A certificate). Apelike in speech and manner, Rocky Balboa is a mediocre thirty-year-old Philadelphia 'club fighter' who also dotibles as a legbreaker for a local loan shark. Rocky's proudest boast is that he's had sixty-four professional fights without denting his large, lovely Roman nose. He sleeps alone in a slum room under a poster of Rocky Marciano, the Italian-American brawler who took away Joe Louis's heavyweight crown, but is too lost and incoherent to dream actively of that type of glory for himself. It is enough (in his own mind, at least) to have the respect of his neighbourhood gang who stand around street corners on cold winter nights crooning pop songs and waiting for nothing to happen.
'Respect' – as a man even more than as a fighter – is what Rocky seeks. His scale of values permits him dispassionately to beat up defaulting dock workers but also to insist that neighbourhood girls remain pure and virginal. ('Creepo!' snarls one such teenager after Rocky's lecture on morals to her.) He's a throwback to something primitive but also primitively moral in the American macho fantasy. Hemingway would have applauded Rocky. As long as a guy remains true to himself, takes his 'best shot' when he can (and avoids 'cheap shots' on principle), he is undefeated in spirit, even when he loses.
But Stallone and his director, John .Avildsen, don't intend letting Rocky lose. As a publicity stunt, to prove that 'America is still a land of opportunity', the present heavyweight title-holder, a bigmouthed black, picks Rocky as his next opponent.
It's the champ's cruel joke – a cheap shot. But with the help of his adoring, acquiescent girl-friend and a has-been manager, Rocky rises to the challenge. He goes fifteen rounds to an honourable draw, the only realistic touch in an otherwise unalloyed fantasy. The point is, Rocky is capable of miracles once he is asked to perform them. We fail because no one bothers to ask us to succeed. It's as simple and simplehearted as that.
The power of Rocky lies in its audacity in breaking free of currently fashionable despair and paranoia in order to shout from the rooftops: 'The American Dream works!' Like Love Story, it chooses simple, stark and irresistible images to persuade us that even the most improbable among tls are potential kings. And a woman is a queen not in her own right but to the degree that she supports her man in his 'best shot'. Stallone's clever script (it's really about himself as an unemployed actor hitting the jackpot) and a superbly tactful music score by Bill Conti mesh to crack past our intelligent scepticism, our rational defences, and carry us along on a huge warm wave of the most elemental emotions and long", suppressed hopes. Rocky spits in the face at radical chic, of ambiguity and pragmatism and liberal sociology, and socks us in the gut. It is not an especially well-observed picture; Mean Streets and Stallone's first film, the shrewd and moving Lords of Flat" bush, are 'truer' evocations of street life. The acting in Rocky is loud, unashamed, over the top. But the film has the unshakable sincerity of what we all want to believe: that our incoherence is a blessing, our sills hardly worth mentioning and our ability to endure is god-like. You can't beat a combination like that.
Pasqualino, the 'hero' of Lina Wertmuller's Seven Beauties (X certificate). also demands respect. As marvellouslY played by Giancarlo Giannini, he shabby, strutting popinjay with mournful eyes and seven ugly sisters whose chastitY he, as an Italian 'man of honour', is bound to protect. In wartime Naples that's like carrying water in a sieve. After shooting his eldest sister's pimp, Pasqualino gets sent t° the front, via a lunatic asylum. Deserting, he is captured and put in a German concentration camp. He survives and returns home to his seven sisters, now full-011e whores, and marries his faithful girl (a
I wish I could say that the, paradoxes and crazy ironies of Seven Beauties add up to more meaning than Rocky's child-like optimism. But I was almost totally at sea about what it was saying, though Gianninfs acting is terrific. There were two very fun° scenes. After the pimp's murder, Pasqualino tries to drag the farting corpse onto. a table prior to dissection but gets haat', ously tangled up in the stiffening limbs. Any! in the concentration camp he decides that the way to survive is to flirt with the fernale SS boss at whom he weakly bats his eyelashes and hums a love song. I was offended, outraged — and amused. But Wertmuller's vision is somehow les,s focused, less steadfast than Stallone 's. Aneu not just because it is more 'European', rnOr... complex and pessimistic. Seven Beauties .1' morally vulgar in a way that makes Rocg seem positively delicate. The opening scenes consist of bloody, bomb_burst World War Two newsreel footage, a ballai device which by now had been discrediteu,_ would have thought. And the concentrationv_ camp sequence repeats this error of Ivis sibility; it is there to assure us of Wertmuller's High Seriousness but ends LIP
as a sense-deadening gimmick. open,