Hey there Funkhouser readers! First off, I want to let you know that you’re all great Americans.
These days with complicated issues like Syria, the economic “down-turn”, and all the other jazz going down in the world, we’ve seemingly become less and less likely to overtly show our patriotism. Un-like this guy:
But there was a day, not too long ago, when it was easier. It’s an era that we, as Americans, feel all warm and fuzzy about. I’m speaking, of course, about the Cold War. Starting from the end of the Second World War and right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union (that’s the big USSR on old maps, children of the millennium), the United States and the USSR engaged in proxy wars and general political tom-foolery at a national level. In the 80’s especially (at least in retrospect) politics seemed simpler. In one corner there was the US of A, a proud free people who generally looked out for one another and promoted a fair capitalist system that rewarded hard work, and in the other corner the Soviets, Communists who trampled free will and the hopes and dreams of its people and spread misery and muddy farm land in the steppes equally to all of its inhabitants.
At least, this is what I learned from the movies. And oh man, were there movies! The best thing (and, in all seriousness, probably the only good thing) to come out of the Cold War was the slew of great popular culture; movies, music, books, etc. painting freedom loving Americans against scary Communists. During the Cold War we knew (or had a well-accepted and pervasive ideal of) who the enemy was. We knew them well, inside and out, and this familiarity allowed us to paint them consistently as over-the-top villains in all sorts of media. Remember when James Bond was fighting all of those rogue or ex-KGB agents?
Or remember when this happened?
And Patrick Swayze, red blooded American, had to come down from the mountains and save our collective asses?
Well, since the pop-culture it inspired was so great, and because sometimes real life reminds us a little too much of the past, KSR Funkhouser is going to dive with you deep into the pool of great Cold War media. Together we’ll remember what it was like to root for the good ol’ US of A against an opponent that made it so easy to be patriotic. And for this first piece, where else could I begin but the ultimate embodiment of one great American taking down an entire system of government using his fists and his oft concussed brain? I’m speaking, of course, about…
First off, watch this teaser trailer from 1985 and then, for those of you with Spotify, turn this playlist on to get yourself in the mood.
Just listen to that chilling introduction! The sentences are so curt, they’re evil!
My name is Drago.
I’m a fighter from the Soviet Union.
I fight all my life and I never lose.
Soon I fight Rocky Balboa and the world will see his… defeat.
Soon the whole world will know my name…
Rocky’s music comes on, and there’s lot’s of taping and punching, we’re thinking, “Not so fast, my friend!” Then they both step into the ring, and Rocky is seriously 3 ft shorter than Drago. And then their fists explode, which honestly had to hurt.
This trailer, sets the basics of the movie up, but it doesn’t give you the stakes. And boy, are they high. Set in 1985, during the heart of the Reagan era of the Cold War, this movie took our perception of Russian might to the extreme. Ivan Drago, the bad guy, was a 6’8″, 261 lb boxer who was 99-0 coming into the movie and had won the prestigious “Hero of the Soviet Union” award for his bravery.
A seriously sculpted guy, with a pretty freaky blonde spike cut. At this point in the continuum, Rocky has retired after beating Clubber Lang and when Drago and his manager try to provoke him into accepting a fight, he doesn’t budge. But good buddy Apollo Creed isn’t so calm and accepts the fight. Everything seems fine when Creed comes out to James Brown’s classic, “Living in America” wearing one of the greatest outfits ever in the history of ever:
This is where it stops being good for Apollo. The fight is brutal and one round in Rocky is already trying to get Apollo to throw in the towel. But Apollo won’t and he specifically tells Rocky not to stop the fight. What follows is one of the most upsetting scenes in movie history. With the crowd–an AMERICAN crowd in Vegas–chanting “Drago, Drago, Drago!” Ivan proceeds to mercilessly beat Creed into a pulp. You can see the devastation on Rocky’s face as he wants to throw in the towel, but Apollo tells him not to right up until his dying breath. This is just brutal to watch.
As Creed’s body twitches on the mat, Drago gets one of the best villain lines ever saying, “If he dies, he dies.” Oh, they make it so easy to hate him! Apollo does die and Rocky, of course, blames himself and challenges Drago to a fight in the Soviet Union. The only way to regain his honor and to make Apollo’s sacrifice worth something is to defeat Drago. With the story now firmly on it’s track, Rocky heads to the Soviet Union to train.
But let us not forget that in this movie SICO happened. Who’s SICO you ask? SICO is the “walking trash can” of a robot that Rocky gets Paulie for his birthday. SICO is the forgotten gem in this movie. Don’t you secretly wish that you would get a birthday cake brought out to you like this?
I’m also not kidding when I tell you that SICO went on tour with James Brown after this movie. Here’s the picture, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t doctored at all. Notice that he also discussed the future with Leonard Nimoy. How cool is that?
Long after people forget this movie, I’m betting that SICO will still be around blowing our collective minds with his futuristic awesomeness.
Back to the movie, Rocky heads over to the USSR to train. What follows has to be the most classic training montage ever in a film. Scratch that. This might be the most classic MONTAGE ever in a film. You probably remember what happens. Drago pumps drugs and iron and is recorded punching at 2200 psi (pounds per square inch, which is ridiculous). Rocky goes to the wintery woods of Wyom…. erghh Siberia and becomes one with nature. Please revel in this clip and all of its majesty.
The best parts of that montage? Well “Hearts on Fire”, first of all. Second, Rocky splitting logs, though I’m confused as to what athletic advantage this would give him. The bag of rocks… how long did it take them to fashion all of Rocky’s all natural work out gear? Rocky tearing that picture of Drago away to reveal the hurt man beneath. I mean this whole clip is fantastic, with Rocky ending up doing his training dance on top of a mountain instead of on the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Their training done, Rocky and Drago are ready to fight. Rocky has on Apollo’s shorts and I know this is a weird thing to think, but I hope he washed them first. Rocky, as is his wont, takes all sorts of punishment before triumphing in the end. The fight is pretty epic, with Rocky playing a little bit of Rope-a-Dope. As the announcers say, “This is just a street fight!” (They should’ve saved that line for Rocky V).
The fight is good, and all, and it’s pretty fun to watch. But let’s be honest, it pales in comparison to what comes next. With a whole crowd of Soviets chanting his name and looking on, Sly Stone single-handedly wins the Cold War. It’s majestic. 50 years of mistrust and bitterness thrown into the gulag.
That’s amazing. These are some of the best lines in movie history.
During this fight, I seen a lot of changin’. The way yous felt about me, and the way I felt about you.
Within the span of a 10 minute boxing match, yous and I saw that wes really wasn’t all that different, yous and I. Did Rocky really have that much of an emotional switch while pounding into Drago’s head, or is it the concussion talking.
In here it was two guys killin’ each other but I guess that’s better than 20 million.
Wow. That’s seriously better than most of the speeches I’ve heard from any politician.
What I’m tryin’ to sayin’ is, that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
It’s a pretty funny scene. But don’t you kind of wish it weren’t? Don’t you sort of, deep down, wish that the world’s problems could be solved with a 10 minute boxing match and a rousing speech from some former street punk out of Philly? Don’t you wish it was it was really as simple as realizing that all of us really do have the capacity to change and be better people and citizens?
I laugh at Rocky IV, but the reason it’s great is not just because it’s hilarious and dated, it’s because somewhere inside me, I wish it were true and possible. And there’s a robot.
So do yous a favor today, or this coming weekend, and revisit this classic piece of Cold War film from the 80’s, or read the book even. You’ll thank me, I swear.