Watching Kevin B. Lee’s "To The Lighthouse," we thought it was a very interesting (and fun!) experiment: by splicing together films featuring two of your favorite actors, you could create something completely new and unexpected! We were surprised by how “natural” some of the edits felt, as though Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson really were performing in front of one another throughout their filmography (and not only in The Lighthouse). We were also surprised by the new meanings produced through the juxtaposition of clips from totally unrelated films.
Inspired, we decided to make a similar experiment of our own, and landed on John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone. Both actors are of Italian descent, and presented throughout their respective careers two very different types of masculinity, particularly from the late 60s to the early 80s. These representations defy expectations and are in dialogue with each other in surprising ways, as we discovered while working on this video.
Since the subject of our video was masculinity, it was only natural to turn the encounter between these two film legends into a duel – after all, their most iconic films revolved around some type of competition, be it boxing or dancing. While their battles are different (a working title for the video essay was “Rocky Fights, Travolta Dances”) they share a ritualistic aspect; both actors (in multiple films) perform “rites of passage” in order to prove their masculinity.
But Stallone and Travolta are not your typical hunks fighting to prove they are the best and nothing more; though they are undoubtedly celebrated icons of manhood, each of them expressed facets of masculinity that were mostly unexplored at the time. Travolta expressed different aspects of the male body – making skinny, elegant dancers the sexiest men in the world – and kept challenging masculinity later on in his career as well in humorous, self-aware, yet still critical ways, such as his hilarious role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (2007). And Stallone, though he’s all strength and muscle, showed that even strong men are capable of fragility, as illustrated in a scene from First Blood (1982), in which Rambo breaks down crying, incapable of leading a normal life due to his PTSD.
While the subject-matter is serious, that doesn’t mean the form can’t be fun! Drawing inspiration from Stallone’s action movies and Travolta’s dance flicks, we made sure to piece the video together to a beat, maintaining a fast, rhythmic edit and an iconic soundtrack.
Fun fact: Tony Manero, Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever (1977), has a poster of Rocky Balboa hanging on his wall. Staying Alive (1983), the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, was directed by none other than Sylvester Stallone himself.
Nitzan Kimel and Nadav Leshem are both undergraduate students at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, Tel Aviv University, studying in the school’s honors track.