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'Rocky-Thon' at Philadelphia Art Museum gathers legions of Rocky fans

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Standing in front of the throng of Philadelphians who gathered on the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, Rocky A-Thon at Philadelphia Art MuseumScott Weinberg of Cinematical.com had many things to say, but only one important question:

“Who thinks they’re going to still be here at two in the morning?”

He smiled as he heard a few hoots, hollers, and cries of “Yo, Adrienne!” from the audience. Most of them were gathered for a free movie, but others were present as tribute to one of Philadelphia’s greatest figures – Rocky Balboa. They wore Italian Stallion t-shirts, an American flag top-hat, and Rocky’s famous black-and-gold boxing robes to show their appreciation for the fictional boxer, at Thursday’s event on the steps. And some of them were interested in going the distance.

“I wish I could be here all night, but I’ve got work in the morning,” said Mike, a mid-30’s Rocky fan. “It’s great, though. Getting to watch Rocky on the steps? It’s like magic.”

For the few that would make it the entire night and the many that didn’t, the The Philadelphia Film Society’s screening of all three Rocky movies, co-sponsored by the Rolling Roadshow and GoWalla, was a rare opportunity to enjoy a cultural touchstone at the iconic location it helped give precedence to. And, to make the event a little more special, a brief message from the man himself – the star and writer of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone – was played to a cheering audience before the first movie was shown.

“It’s kind of an interesting story how the steps turned out to be so important to Rocky,” said Stallone, in a pre-recorded video from the promotional trail for his latest actioner, The Expendables, “I didn’t think about it in the script. At the time, I just knew Rocky had to be running through the city. And we had a very little budget, and we were doing it non-union at the time, so we were just jumping out of the van, grabbing this and grabbing that, and then I said, ‘You know, I used to go to this incredible place when I was a kid – these steps – and wouldn’t it be great if I get out, I’m training, and I grab my dog who weighs two hundred and twenty pounds, and I run up the steps? It’ll be great, it’ll be different, it’ll be unusual, and in the end, Rocky’ll be able to run up there with the dog, to show how strong he is?”

Stallone barely made it up the first four steps while carrying the dog, but when he re-did the shot without the bulky canine, it became something more. “It was just one of those magical moments that represented everything about the peaks and valleys of life, and ascending your personal mount,” Stallone said. “I thought it was ironic, after thirty-two years, the final shot in one of the saddest cinematic days of my life were on these steps in the snow in the last Rocky film. But those first three times, in Rocky I, II, and III, that place was – well, let’s just say it was magic.”

It was a special kind of magic, of course, and judging from the crowd – mohawked hipsters sitting next to families, bankers and blue-collar workers, children and adults alike making quick dashes up the steps with a setting sun behind them – it seemed that everybody that came out on Thursday was connecting with their inner Rocky Balboa. When he started running up the steps onscreen, you could feel a kind of electricity, coursing through the air - and when Rocky Balboa danced on those steps, hundreds of feet were dancing with him.

Contact Brian Lynch at brian.andrew.lynch@gmail.com

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