We had a delivery of logs this morning and, singledom introducing a whole new desire to shape up and get fit, I stuck my headphones on – Whitesnake, Alice Cooper and Biffy Clyro – and threw myself into the log heap.
As I worked up a sweat, stacking them against the side of the house, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a cold January Saturday in 1986, when several friends and I caught the bus to Romford to watch a film that epitomises the Hollywood of 80s America: Rocky IV. I’d been seduced by the idea of America years before, Star Wars, Raiders, the A-Team, the Dukes of Hazzard, T J Hooker, Star Trek etc all doing exactly what they were supposed to do and brain-washing me into believing that only American things were real and “proper”. As ever, as an overly impressionable 14 year-old, I was blown away and Rock IV was my new best movie of all time.
Of course, having seen it several times since, through the boring filter of being “all growed up”, it is a crap film with some cheesily memorable moments that capture something that appeals to single blokes with an ab obsession – and those with a fascination for Hollywood grotesque. It also captures – as it was designed to do – the geo-politics of the day, with a ruthless, towering Russian pitted against the smaller American hero. Along the way, Ivan Drago (could you make up a more evil-sounding Russian name?!) kills Rocky’s friend, the famous Apollo Creed (introduced by a Spandex-suited James Brown in one of the most over-the-top character entrances ever), and so loyalty, honour and revenge are all qualities tested to Hollywood destruction.
So far, so cheesy, but the film does contain some clever cultural inversions, not least of all in the training montage, where the Russians are portrayed as being in possession of sports technology years ahead of its time (some twenty years, apparently, according to a paper entitled Rocky IV – Fight Medicine presented to the University of Texas Health Science Centre), whilst Rocky has to rely on a simple wood cabin in the wilds of Russia, felling trees, sawing timber, humping logs and running through the snow. And whilst the claims of some on the Interwebz that Rocky IV ended the Cold War are probably exaggerated, there is a certain amount of fun to be had in seeing the Politburo rise to cheer Rocky’s final speech:
[Addressing the Soviet crowd, translated into Russian line by line by announcer]
Rocky: During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
[loud applause, even by the Politburo]
There’s lots that could be said about Rocky IV as a propaganda film or even just as a reflection of the geo-political uncertainty of the time. Observations could be made about American insecurity, perceptions of Russia and that general staple of American culture (film in particular) of the individual pitted against the world – and winning.
In the end, though, I was thinking substitute Russian landscape-double Wyoming for Langdon Hills and a Hillcroft log-stack and hell, yeah, I could be Rocky, too!
Here are the two most iconic moments of that film as far as I am concerned: the entrance of Apollo Creed and Rocky’s training montage. Enjoy the 80s’ cheese.
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