Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oscar death match: Rocky vs. Network

TCM kicks off its annual 31 Days of Oscar this morning, with the theme for this year being an "around the world" theme of TCM grouping the movies more or less by where they were set. The prime time lineup for tonight has quite a few movies set in Philadelphia, starting at 8:00 PM with Rocky, which won the Best Picture Oscar for 1976. I know a lot of people who think it's almost a travesty that Rocky won the Oscar that year and not Network. After all Network has biting social commentary, and Rocky is supposedly just a feel-good movie. To be honest, though, I'm of two minds as to what should have won Best Picture that year.

For me, the thing is that I find both pictures are worthy of the award. Network certainly does have biting social commentary, and is prescient in the things it was saying about the state of television. I find, however, that a lot of people who talk about these points seem to want to use them to bash one particular broadcaster or another, depending on their particular political point of view. (I think you can guess which channel comes up most often in this regard.) When it comes to politics, or in my case ideology, I'd argue that all of television news i pretty lousy, what with its moral panic of the day and the emotional appeals of "won't somebody think of the children". As for the actual on-screen product in Network, not only is there the biting satire, there are some pretty damn good performances by much of the cast. And it has its iconic moment, with Peter Finch as Howard Beale telling everybody to shout, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"

Rocky, as I said earlier, often gets dismisses for being a "feel-good" movie, which implies that either it doesn't have any political views, or worse, it has the wrong political views. I think, however, that this does the movie a gross disservice. Rocky certainly has commentary to make, but it does so in a rather more subtle way than many pictures that are trying to make their points in a serious way. (Let's leave satire aside here; my previous comment is to compare Rocky to dreadfully blunt films like Philadelphia.) When Rich Eisen was Guest Programmer back in June 2010, he selected Rocky and commented that it wasn't so much a movie about boxing as it was a love story set against the world of boxing. It's also a social commentary about the state of the lower classes which just happens to be set against the world of boxing. Look at the conditions Rocky is living in, and it's not all wine and roses about the Americn dream. Rocky also has a decidedly ambiguous ending. Also, like Network, there is an iconic image, that of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of Philadelphia's City Hall, set to the music of Bill Conti, which has also stood the test of time more than most Hollywood music. Play "Gonna Fly Now" and everybody gets the reference.

Is Rocky better than Network? I'm not certain which one is better, but both are transcendent movies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with your post. Both are very important movies. "Rocky" inspires me at the emotional side, and that's great. I believe that the performances are awesome: Stallone, Shire, Young. "Network", on the other side, is a very intellectual movie when we look it as a testimony of a very precise historic moment of the 70's. It's a critic of a postmodern transformation that for post-marxist philosophers, such as Harvey, had place in those years.

Sorry for the ugly english.