If you are anything like me, you watch a whole heap of odd, esoteric, and estranged movies every year. You allow your viewing habits to be dictated by circumstance (i.e. public engagements in your local community), tangential curiosity (i.e. exploring the lesser-known films of well-known artists), and straight-up obsession (i.e. diving deep). In the course of a year, it is not uncommon for me to watch several films by a single director or multiple films where the same actor plays a lead or supporting role. For example, in 2015 I watched more films directed by Wes Craven than any other director and saw more films starring Zalman King than any other actor. Such results are expected. However, when you watch enough movies and (ideally) employ each of the three above approaches in equal measure, there are occasionally some unforeseeable commonalities. Films that have nothing at all to do with another suddenly become conversational. You see strange similarities between otherwise discrete objects.
What does this have to do with ROCKY III? Lately, I have been noticing the iconic ROCKY III poster appearing in places nobody - least of all me - would ever expect: in mid-eighties Hong Kong erotica; a nineties British gangster movie starring David Bowie; and a semi-recent Noah Baumbach movie. In each film, a character has the poster in question on the wall of their apartment. In two out of the three cases, the poster overlooks their bed. Whether in each case the poster's placement is intentional art direction or incidental happenstance, I cannot help but let my imagination run wild that I have stumbled upon a miraculously border-ignorant cinematic shorthand, a purely visual reference point for viewers and filmmakers alike that needs no explanation: "our film is like ROCKY III." I am not interested in intent. I can only describe the effect of seeing three films that share a curious quirk that unites their characters. The feeling is unsettling. Does a great challenge lie ahead? Is this an underdog's reclamation? Does a former foe become a close friend and ally? These questions and more come to mind when the poster appears. The presence of the poster *potentially* signifies a future event that points backward at the object.
Okay, okay, so the idea of a vintage movie poster serving as cinematic shorthand might not exactly be a fresh thought, but - honestly - what are the odds that I would see three movies in relatively quick succession that prominently feature the ROCKY III poster? It makes me wonder if there are other ROCKY III citations in modern cinema that have so far eluded me. While I am not actively searching for further examples, I know that I will be delighted to discover another.* Each movie came to me through one of the above methods: TWISTED LOVE (1985) was another step forward in my continuing exploration of underrated Shaw Brothers horror director Yang Chuan's filmography whereas B.U.S.T.E.D. (1999) sated my curiosity for wanting to see David Bowie as an elder statesman gangster, and finally I saw WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (2014) in an otherwise totally empty third-run movie theater in Westwood, CA on the last day of its theatrical release. But now these three films are inextricably linked.
What do a Hong Kongese erotic melodrama, UK gangland drama, and quirky indie have in common? ROCKY III.
- Samuel B. Prime
Founder, LA Ciné Salon
* Please feel free to e-mail me any ROCKY III spottings here: lacinesalon at gmail dot com.