Talking movies, music and other close encounters of the social media kind.
This story is dedicated to my big brother, Tom Hardley Etuata.
ROCKY, PHILADELPHIA AND THOSE FAMOUS STEPS
After six magical days in New York, we went to La Guardia Airport to catch our flight to Philadelphia. There, the security was intense. The Ebola Virus had just hit the States at that time, so airport security was on edge. Like a scene from ‘Die Hard 2‘, the guards were carrying heavy duty weaponry as well as menacing looks. They searched through Beverleys’hair (of all the places) and rummaged through Vaughans’suitcase. Twice. I was expecting Bruce Willis to suddenly appear and yell out ‘Yippie Ka-Yay Mother (insert bad word here).
But when we landed in Philadelphia – expecting even more tight security…it was near empty. Walking through an almost desolate and empty Philadelphia International Airport Terminal was surreal – as opposed to just an hour before and the total mayhem in New York. It was like we’d arrived in the middle of a scene from the movie ‘I Am Legend‘. I was expecting Will Smith to now appear, with his dog in tow.
So, after a very long walk to collect our luggage, we caught a cab and headed towards the City of Brotherly love.
Looking towards the city skyline, and driving over the bridge – I thought of certain films that were filmed here.
The movie ‘Philadelphia‘ – starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington obviously came to mind. Also one of my favourite comedies ‘Trading Places‘ starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akyroyd was filmed here too.
But we’d only come to Philadelphia to do one thing.
Run up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Cue Bill Conti.
Dah dah, di-dah dah, di-dah dah, di-dah dah.
That was suppose to be the Rocky theme.
No? Ok. Let’s move on.
Since watching ROCKY I’ve always wanted to run up those steps. Of all the famous movie locations I’ve wanted to visit, this was the holy grail. The Ark of the Convenant. The…sorry, those are totally different movies.
Running up the Rocky steps was also a big bucket list item which me and my brother discussed when we planned to travel together to the USA.
But sadly & unexpectedly – he passed away.
So, coming to Philadelphia just to run up the Rocky steps was very special.
And now we’re here.
ROCKY is more a love story than a sports movie. It had a heart and soul that made you care for the characters. And Bill Conti’s brilliant music score elevated the film to mythic status. It was a feel good film that made you root for the underdog – and the movie itself became an anthem for overcoming the odds.
Of course, the training sequence is movie screen folklore. You know the moment. When the trumpets sound the fanfare to ‘Gonna Fly Now’ and we see Rocky Balboa running through the streets of Philadelphia – and at the end, we see him triumphantly sprinting up to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, reaching the top – all fist pumping, jumping up and down with that proud and crooked smile.
It’s a glorious moment in film.
But it’s not my favorite moment of the film.
My favorite moment isn’t the triumphant Rocky running up the steps – but the struggling one just barely getting to the top of the steps on his first training run.
I always find that particular scene moving. It’s both haunting and beautiful as Bill Conti taps into that emotion not with a rousing fanfare, but a soft and quiet piece of music – aptly called ‘Philadelphia Morning’.
When Rocky is up for his early morning run, he stretches, then turns to start running down the street – he’s a man alone. As he runs towards City Hall, other than the early morning newspaper truck making its delivery, the city of Philadelphia is a ghost town. Rocky is running slowly but steady. Shaking it off. Loosening up. Trying to pick up the pace. Yet can’t seem to manage it.
By the time he gets to the bottom of the Museum steps all you hear is Rockys’ heavy and labored breathing. Highighted by the mornful piano notes of Conti. You really do feel his struggle. He barely crawls to the top. But he gets there.
He looks up briefly as the sun begins to rise. Trying to catch his breath. Holding onto his body in pain. He slowly walks back down the steps. Still breathing heavily as the camera slowly pans down, to show the sun begining to rise over the Jefferson Statue and the city skyline.
That very simple scene… is one of my favourite movie moments of all time.
That scene is very important – because it’s the start of Rockys’ journey and the beginning of his transformation. It makes the triumph of him sprinting up the steps later in the film, in top shape and ready for the big fight, all the more sweeter. Not only for him – but for us as well.
At certain times, I see my life is like that run up the steps. A real struggle. And yet, you somehow run through the pain, and manage to get up to the top – and get through it.
Here’s the scene below:
NOW IT WAS OUR TURN.
The movie gods must’ve been smiling when we arrived at the beautiful Radisson Blu Hotel located in the middle of the city. When we got to our room, above my bed was the Rocky poster. How appropriate.
After eating a famous Philadelphia ‘Hoagie’ for dinner, we watched a bit more American Football and rested for the night. I was eagerly anticipating the next day.
We wake up early. Opening the curtains to a Philadelphia morning.
It was time to get the trainers on. Hum that Bill Conti tune.
We didn’t exactly run there. It was a leisurely hour walk to the Museum steps from our hotel.
So with our iPhones on the Map App at the ready, we set out onto the streets of Philadelphia. Cue the Bruce Springsteen song.
The first thing we noticed was the huge number of homeless people lying around the old civic buildings. A real eye opener.
We passed the St Basilica Cathedral and onto the long straight that is Jefferson Drive – where at the end of it you could see the the Jefferson Statue and the Museum, in the distance.
It was a surreal feeling walking down that long stretch of road. Getting closer and closer – and before we knew it, we were there.
To the side of the Museum Steps was the famous Rocky Balboa statue – so of course we went over and took photos.
On this special occassion I wore my brothers’ boxing tee shirt – a white Everlast graphic print, which he use to wear when teaching Les Mills Body Combat at Onehunga and Botany Downs in Auckland.
Bev and Vaughan walked up the steps first. I was having none of that. I’m going to run up these famous steps. They were going to record it on their phones – and so everything was ready.
Wearing my brothers t-shirt underneath my custom rocky grey hoodie, my only thought was: ‘Man, I hope my gammy knee doesn’t play up right now…’
I get to the top. Raise my hands in the air. Done. Bucket list ticked. A chinese couple start clapping.
Walking towards Rockys’ footprints, I set my feet against the embedded concrete soles.
I look up.
And there is the famous Philadelphia city skyline that I had seen from the Rocky films.
I’m really here.
But the view that’s right in front of me…. is a memory.
“Hey Tom. We did it…”
On top of the Rocky steps.
The City of Brotherly Love.