Rocky re-watch

After seeing Creed earlier this year, I wanted to go and watch the original Rocky again. I don’t think I’ve watched it since the 1980s, but over time the memory of the film has stuck with me. Or at least, parts of the film had stuck with me. I watched it again yesterday evening, and I came away from the experience somewhat shaken. The film is brutal. Not because of the last fight scene, which is just as raw and exhausting as I remember, but because of the abusive relationships that drive the characters: Paulie’s horrific treatment of his younger sister Adrian; Mickey’s contempt for Rocky right up to the point where he sees Rocky’s big chance as an opportunity to validate himself; and Rocky, gentle and simple soul that he is, trying to see the best in people, overlooking and forgiving their transgressions because they are family to him.

These things are upsetting and hard to watch now that I’m not a teenager, and I understand more about how the world works. But the worst part was the scene where Rocky invites the shy and uncomfortable Adrian up to his dingy apartment after their first date, and coerces her into intimacy against her will.

I had remembered Rocky as a love story above all. Awkward Rocky, shy Adrian, starting a relationship, and growing to care more about each other than about the big fight. A naive, male-biased reading of that apartment scene would consider it a fumbling, well-meaning lead-in to their first kiss. The other view is that it’s a textbook case of date rape. Rocky takes Adrian out on a date she didn’t want to go on, but was forced into by her angry brother. Rocky buys her an expensive treat (special treatment at the ice rink). Adrian knows that Rocky is a boxer and an enforcer for a loan shark: a physically imposing man obviously capable of violence, just like her abusive brother. She demurs at every opportunity, but Rocky consistently ignores her signals and overrides her requests to leave. She is terrified. Finally, he literally corners her in his apartment, and asks her to take off her glasses and hat, and kiss him. Despite a veneer of gentleness an respectability, he manages to get exactly what he wants.

I was stunned by the scene. With the naive interpretation, the relationship between Rocky and Adrian is a patch of light in a sea of darkness. Without it, the relationship is just as broken and terrible as all the others in the film.

Now, for the sake of nostalgia and argument I’m willing to go along with the idea that this is not how the scene was intended. But if so, it allows the film to be used as a stark example of how well-intended behaviour can be dreadfully wrong and harmful. It can also be used as a history lesson about how, in a male-dominated culture, that naive interpretation used to be pervasive (in his review, Roger Ebert says of the apartment scene, “When she hesitates before kissing Rocky for the first time, it’s a moment so poignant it’s like no other.”); and how acceptance of such a naive interpretation can lead to this kind of unacceptable behaviour being normalized in popular media and real life.

The upshot is that watching Rocky has left me with far more things to ponder than I had expected. I still think it’s a genuinely great film, but it’s not for casual watching. It’s not just an underdog sports movie. It has become a problematic thing, ripe for discussion and dissection.


Garbage at Paradiso, Monday 30 May 2016

Garbage at Paradiso

Maybe one day I’ll see a Garbage gig with their full lineup. I saw them at Melkweg in 2012, but they didn’t have Duke Erikson with them. Last year I had a ticket to see them in Tilburg, but a local event intervened. And last Monday Butch Vig couldn’t make it because a sinus infection was preventing him from flying. Some day, for sure.

I hadn’t heard of support act The Pearl Harts until earlier in the day. (Best website strapline ever: “Tiny tiny girls that look like giants on stage… all you can think to do is ask them out for ice cream and all they want to do is wreck your house and firebomb your car…”) They only had a couple of tracks on Spotify at the time (“Skeleton Made Of Diamonds” and “Ain’t That The Way”), but I loved them both. I didn’t get to Paradiso quite early enough to catch their full opening set, but the songs I did see were rich and loud. They also had some gorgeous tour merch on sale. I bought a T-shirt and a signed poster.

Instead of Butch Vig, Garbage had invited Matt Walker of the Smashing Pumpkins to fill in at short notice. He did great, but it was Eric Avery who kept drawing my attention. With Duke Erikson taking up stage left, Avery stayed at the rear, calmly laying down bass lines that seemed tuned to my personal resonant frequency. I hadn’t had anything to eat before going out, so maybe my torso was unusually hollow that evening. It felt like my ribs were positively buzzing with bass. It was awesome.

Garbage at Paradiso

And the rest of the band looked great on stage as well. Despite this being one of the first gigs on the Strange Little Birds tour (before the album was released, even), they looked relaxed, and like they were having fun. They stayed on for a long set, too. I kept thinking that each song was going to be the last one, but they just kept on going and going.

Set list:

  1. Sometimes
  2. Empty
  3. Stupid Girl
  4. Special
  5. Blood For Poppies
  6. Bleed Like Me
  7. My Lover’s Box
  8. Sex Is Not The Enemy
  9. A Stroke Of Luck
  10. Control
  11. #1 Crush
  12. I Think I’m Paranoid
  13. Battle In Me
  14. The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
  15. Why Do You Love Me
  16. Blackout
  17. Push It
  18. Vow
  19. Only Happy When It Rains


  1. Automatic Systematic Habit
  2. Even Though Our Love Is Doomed
  3. Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)

Garbage at Paradiso

Between the Pearl Harts and Garbage there was the usual shuffle as people got beers and moved around a bit. I brownianed my way closer to the stage, and I thought I had a great spot behind a guy who was actually shorter than me (a rarity around these parts). That lasted until the band came out on stage, and he stuck his camera on the end of a selfie stick and held it over his head FOR THE ENTIRE GIG.


Seriously. Come on.