Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson delivers a beautiful tribute to cinema’s most beloved underdog movie.
What more can be said about Sylvester Stallone’s most seminal film and character, Rocky? Well – a lot. Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson, the man behind John G. Avildsen King of the Underdogs and Stallone: Frank, That Is has crafted a beautiful showboat of a film that solidifies Rocky’s place alongside Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond as being not just an important part of modern cinema, but more-so showcasing how Rocky has become a significant part of American culture, conveying how an underdog was able to make the greatest underdog story of all time.
The film, with its very lean runtime of just 30 minutes, is patched together with home movies, behind the scenes footage and rehearsal footage shot by John G. Avildsen, as well as on-set footage that was found in the basement of Troma Entertainment by Rocky’s production manager Lloyd Kaufman almost 40 years after it was shot. Most of this footage has been seen on DVD and Blu-Ray special features, but Johnson’s new documentary includes some snippets of never before seen home movies from Avildsen’s personal collection. Along with Stallone’s steadfast narration, the viewer is able to take a closer look behind the making of one of the greatest films of all time. It is a thrilling experience, watching unseen footage, along with hearing a very intimate recount from Stallone, who is unseen, just heard as the 8mm film flickers across the screen.
Johnson, who didn’t just direct but also produced, assembles a very poignant and remarkably touching tribute to the film, allowing the audience a glimmer inside the intimate home movies of Avildsen, who was able to capture the vulnerabilities of Stallone and company through fantastic behind the scenes footage. Greg Sims, Johnson’s musical partner, was able to produce a remarkable score that finds its own voice to guide the audience through the picture, without retreading Bill Conti or any of the popular music featured in the franchise.
Rocky is just one of those films that has grown a legacy onto itself – everyone knows who Rocky is, yet not many know the pain and triumph it took to get the film made, or how the film had revolutionized filmmaking by the invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown that has since become a mainstay in filmmaking. Derek Wayne Johnson outdoes himself with this film and has become an artist who, with each new film, grows as a filmmaker, creating an objective view of whatever subject undercard matter he chooses to tackle, yet allows the audience a very intimate look into the world of film, and in particular those who sacrificed everything to tell their stories the way they needed to tell them. If 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic tells us anything, it is that Rocky isn’t just a film or a character Sylvester Stallone wrote and played, Rocky has become a part of American culture – world culture; and that we all have a Rocky inside of us, and between Stallone’s words and Avildsen’s footage, what Derek Wayne Johnson is telling us is to embrace that part of ourselves, and champion our own underdog.