Body Body Body

Curator's Note

In the 11th round of Adonis Creed’s fight against reigning champ “Pretty Ricky” Conlan, Rocky coaches him from the sidelines: “Body, body, body!” he shouts. This phrase — this repetition of a single word — has dogged me. I crawl out of bed and the first thing I hear in my head some days is “body body body.” After all, I came to this film in the midst of my own bodily crisis, and I found it again and again as radiation was released into my brain five days a week for six weeks.

No, it was the other way around: Ryan Coogler’s Creed found me, body to body, haunting me ever since. I flinch at the punches, yet I revel in the tender physical connections it reveals: Donny’s forehead pressed against Bianca’s to form the shape of a heart; Donny’s arms wrapped around Rocky as he guides him to the bathroom in the middle of the night to be sick; Rocky’s hand on Donny’s back as he leads him out to his fight with Conlan.

In an interview with Variety, Coogler tells two stories about the Rocky franchise. When his father’s mother was dying of cancer, the two of them watched Rocky II repeatedly. And when Coogler’s father became ill decades later, father and son watched the same film again and again.

When Donny is knocked out in the 11th round, the final image that compels him to rise back up is of his father Adonis Creed in the ring. Of course this is not an image from Donny’s own experience, but a video he found on YouTube of a father he never met. And more importantly, it’s a clip from Rocky II, making it not just Donny’s image but Coogler’s own memory. It is thus a mark of Coogler’s complicated authorship, born of intimate spectatorship and undergirded by love and perseverance spanning three generations of familial history.


What a fantastic piece of writing - really like the (co) synaesthetic nature of your response and the way bodies are seen to love and hate in intimate detail. The film is haunted by absent bodies and the bodies that have aged - these are bodies that are mortal and (symbolically) immortal, which the film prophesizes will live on in memory and feeling. I write this on the morning of hearing about Prince's death, feeling it deeply, and remembering how he connected to blacklivesmatter, a point picked up in Rebecca's excellent post. Thank you.

Thank you, Sean. I think the film is haunted particularly by history -- the history of the franchise, the fictional character's "history," and the absences within and around the film's history (as in its relative inattention to black American experience, outside of the champs Rocky boxes). Of course Rocky's aging body is a manifestation of that history, and his cancer is its own sort of haunting. I think what haunted me was a little different -- the bodies, yes, but also the gentleness and compassion between. I long for that on the screen and off it, but to have lived with it for two hours, amidst also the professionalized violence, made me want to return to it again and again, if only in my memory.

Fantastically well articulated points about the intermedial relationship between Creed and Rocky II. This coupled with your contextualisation of this relationship through explanation of this auto-ethnographic aspect of Coogler's authorship makes me *really* want to revisit Rocky II before I next re watch Creed! Thank you for this excellent post.

Amelie, this is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing your own story, woven in with your and other's viewings of Creed and the Rocky series. Your experience brings reality to your point about "intimate spectatorship." You also bring attention to the intimacy and love acted out physically in Creed, through Donnie and Bianca's relationship, but also through Donnie and Rocky's relationship. Each time I have watched Creed I have been struck by the tenderness in the scene where Donnie helps Rocky to the bathroom. There is so much at stake in portraying (even if so briefly) the realities of illness and disease in films, especially when men whose hard bodies--as discussed in Glen's post--we have relied on or cheered for, are vulnerable. There were two different taglines that appeared on posters for the original Rocky film. One was "His whole life was a million-to-one shot." The other (rarer, I think) was "A love story." I was reminded of Rocky-as-love-story when watching Creed, and witnessing Donnie's relationship with Rocky, more so than Donnie's relationship with Bianca. Donnie helping Rocky, the scene where Donnie tears up in the prison cell, Rocky's organising for Bianca to spend the night before the fight with Donnie and always making her welcome in the ring (ignoring the old "women weaken legs" chestnut that Mickey put on him). When Rocky is trying to motivate Donnie in that final fight, he says to him something like: "they don't know what you've been through, and they sure as hell don't know what we been through." That Rocky draws on the experience the two men have shared because of Rocky's sick body as a way of inspiring Donnie is significant. I wanted to stay in, return to, the gentleness and compassion of the film too. In thinking on it now, I think that is one of the film's greatest achievements: to make such tenderness the centre (and the core to survival) in a violent world.

A beautiful post, Amelie, thank you. The tenderness and compassion in the film that you—and Rebecca—observe. I am struck, in re-watching the montage again by how Donnie, while jolted back into consciousness after the mediated image-memory of Apollo (he shares with Coogler), is reawakened by his memories of all the people that make him who he is—Mary Ann, Bianca, Rocky and his father. In a sport—and genre—that can seem to elevate the individual, alone in his (I use this deliberately!) struggle, above all else, this alone is significant. Donnie is shaped by all of these people and all of these moments, and perhaps he has to remember that—rather than think this is only about proving himself—in order to prove, indeed become, himself. And, as you and Rebecca so rightly observe, this sense of shared experience and love has been part of the series—and its spectatorship—since its very beginnings.

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