November 24, 2016
Revisiting Our Love For Rocky On It’s 40th Anniversary
By Errin Haines Whack
Philadelphia (AP) -- On Nov. 21, 1976, audiences met Rocky Balboa, the southpaw boxer from south Philadelphia. Four decades later, Sylvester Stallone's lovable character resonates with fans drawn to his underdog tale of determination, grit and sleepy-eyed charm.
The reach of "Rocky" is international, and the film serves as a slice of Americana. It is shorthand for Philadelphia as much as the Liberty Bell or Benjamin Franklin.
"Anytime we are speaking to overseas visitors ... the conversation always turns, at some point, to 'Rocky,'" said Julie Coker Graham, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They ask, 'Have you met Rocky?" A lot of them think it's an actual, real-life person."
On the film's 40th anniversary, a few reasons for its enduring legacy:
Written by Stallone in three days, fans fell hard for the ballad of Rocky Balboa. For the uninitiated (SPOILER ALERT): The small-time boxer from the heavily Italian neighborhood of South Philly stumbles into a bout with the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, fighting in the city to celebrate America's bicentennial.
Talia Shire & Sylvester Stallone in Rocky
To get him into fighting shape, Rocky (played by Stallone) is trained by the peppery Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), whose many one-liners make him a frequent scene stealer. Rocky also finds love in the film with sheepish neighborhood pet store clerk, Adrian (Talia Shire). Though he ultimately loses the fight, Rocky proves himself and wins Adrian's heart, making him the winner of much more than a title.
The film itself was a long shot, made on a budget of only $1 million and shot in 28 days, with a largely unknown cast, including Stallone himself. And it was shot in working-class Philadelphia, a city that - despite its roots as the crucible of freedom - had long had a chip on its shoulder as second-tier as compared to more cultured East Coast metropolises like New York and Boston. (It is worth noting that the film had its premiere in New York.)
CHEERS FOR ROCKY
What the movie lacked in beauty, it made up for in heart, something that resonated with audiences worldwide. The film was the highest-grossing of the year, earning $117 million at the North American box office and another $107 million overseas. "Rocky" received 10 Oscar nominations in nine categories at the Academy Awards, winning three: best picture, best director (John G. Avildsen) and best film editing. Stallone, Burgess and Shire were all nominated in acting categories, and Stallone was nominated for his screenplay.
"Rocky" is preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It was also ranked one of the greatest sports films ever made and is the second-best film about boxing behind "Raging Bull," according to the American Film Institute.
GONNA FLY NOW
The score for "Rocky," which was also nominated for an Oscar, was penned by Bill Conti. The main song, "Gonna Fly Now," was originally intended as filler for the training sequence marking Rocky's journey from amateur to contender. The opening fanfare is among the most recognizable in American culture, and the soaring melody that plays on the melancholic theme woven throughout the movie is the backdrop to Rocky doing impressive one-armed pushups, punching meat in his girlfriend's brother's butcher shop and running through Philadelphia's Italian Market, along the Schuylkill River and past the shipyards.
Conti went on to win an Oscar for his score to 1983's "The Right Stuff" and made music recognizable to millions in theme songs to "Dynasty" and "Falcon Crest."
THE ROCKY STEPS AND STATUE
The montage climaxes in one of the film's most memorable scenes, as Rocky bounds up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, raising his arms in triumph. Four decades later, the run and pose atop the steps are re-created daily in Philadelphia, mostly by tourists. In 1982, a statue of Rocky commissioned by Stallone for "Rocky III" was placed in the spot where he stood in the original film. Its current home is just to the right of the steps and is a selfie stop for visitors.
ROCKY'S NEXT CHAPTER
The original movie was followed by six sequels. In 2015, Rocky was reborn in "Creed," the story of Adonis Creed, the son of his nemesis-turned-best friend, Apollo. An aging and dying Rocky trains Adonis for a brawl not unlike the grizzled boxer's first fight nearly two generations earlier. The New York Times reviewed it as a "dandy piece of entertainment, soothingly old-fashioned and bracingly up-to-date."
StoryCorps Urges Recording Talks On Election This Thanksgiving
By Matt Sedensky
AP National Writer
New York (AP) -- That electoral elephant in the room threatening political tension this Thanksgiving? StoryCorps believes it could be a unifying main course.
The oral history project's "Great Thanksgiving Listen 2016" is urging Americans, particularly teens, to use the holiday weekend to record a conversation with a grandparent or another elder on their feelings about the election, their hopes and fears for the country and their thoughts on how to bring people together in a time of division.
Dave Isay, StoryCorps' founder and president, said the project could strengthen ties across the country when the chasm is deep.
"We're living in a moment where the divide is just so massive," and the discussions will give people a chance to reflect on what happened in the last two weeks, he said. "I can't think of anything more important right now than listening to each other and finding a way forward."
StoryCorps debuted the Thanksgiving project last year, prompting intergenerational conversations just as this time around, though without the election theme.
The result was staggering: more than 50,000 recordings, as many as StoryCorps amassed in its first decade of operation combined.
The "Great Thanksgiving Listen" is partnering with organizations including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, as well as school districts and educators in all 50 states, many of whom will assign a conversation to students. The hope is to meet or exceed the volume of recordings from 2015.
Anyone at least 13 years old is invited to take part in the "Great Thanksgiving Listen" by downloading the StoryCorps app and inviting someone to take part. Isay said throughout StoryCorps' history, people have delved into the most personal and tense moments of their lives: "We've never seen one of these conversations go wrong."
Stories have popped up around the country of people dreading a Thanksgiving spent with relatives with different political leanings than their own, and of the fraught political divide prompting some to skip the holiday altogether. StoryCorps conversations aren't aimed at diving into the particulars of the political debate, but simply listening to the feelings of another. Because of that, and because the conversation is generally between two people who love and respect each other, Isay said there's little risk of acrimony.
"They're not talking about political issues," he said, "they're talking about the people they care about."
StoryCorps was founded in 2003, and for most of its existence, participants went to a recording booth to share their story. After winning a TED Prize last year, though, StoryCorps launched an app that allows people to record and upload their conversations from anywhere, with the files being preserved by the Library of Congress.
Isay says his 13 years working on his brainchild have left him more hopeful than ever, and that this week's conversations could be an example across the country. "It's time that the bubbles start to break and we start to listen to each other again and recognize how much we have in common," he said.
Sedensky can be reached at email@example.com or https://twitter.com/sedensky
Jerry The Humpback Whale Visits NYC For The Holidays,
Perhaps To Snack In Cleaner Water
By Frank Eltman
New York (AP) -- A humpback whale (named Jerry by some media outlets) that has cavorted in the Hudson River for nearly a week, with sightings reported from the Statue of Liberty to well north of the George Washington Bridge about 20 miles away, may be after a meal.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it has received dozens of calls reporting Hudson sightings since last Wednesday. The Hudson originates upstate in the Adirondack Mountains and flows down through the Hudson Valley, continues between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Whale experts say they've seen increased numbers of mostly humpback whales in the New York area in recent years but it's rare to have one travel up the Hudson.
Although most experts agree water conditions have improved in the river in the 35 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act, they weren't willing to say that the visit from the humpback had a direct correlation.
Dennis Suszkowski, science director of the Hudson River Foundation, and Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants program, said it appears the humpback may merely have been chasing after Menhaden, or bunker fish, that swam up the Hudson.
Jerry in the Hudson River, eying the Chrysler Building in the distance
"Oftentimes in the past when we have seen these animals in and around these waters we become concerned that they are sick or injured because they are not typically found here," Rosenbaum said. "So far with the images we have seen we don't have reason to believe that."
Paul Sieswerda, president of a group called Gotham Whale, said the efforts to clean the Hudson have improved conditions but added, "what those conditions are precisely is difficult to say." He suggested that legislation that reduced fishing limits for Menhaden make them more prevalent and therefore available to the humpbacks to hunt.
Scientists have been accelerating their study of whales in the region in recent years. Last summer, the Wildlife Conservation Society, in collaboration with the New York Aquarium, teamed with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to deploy a high-tech buoy 22 miles off the coast of Fire Island to monitor several species of great whales.
In the past month, the buoy has detected three North Atlantic right whales, one of the world's highly endangered whale species.
Sieswerda, a retired curator of the New England and New York aquariums, leads whale watching expeditions off the coasts of New York and New Jersey and said the number of whale sightings has soared since 2011. He said this year there have been 106 sightings, mostly of humpbacks, in an area called western New York Bight, a vast ocean region stretching from Montauk Point on eastern Long Island to Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
"I'm riding this wave," he said. "It's absolutely exciting."