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By MARIO LUIS GRANGEIA*

Rocky embodied 200 years of America; in Brazil, it could be Didi Mocó

Certain material conditions and collective imaginations intertwined in the United States of 1976 and helped to explain the excellent box office of the first Rocky (It consumed US$960 and earned US$225 million). The script came from Sylvester Stallone's catharsis when he saw a Muhammad Ali fight on TV. The actor wrote it in three and a half days and refused to sell it unless he was given the role. Those who played the fighter knew that it was more than a boxing movie, but the reception surprised him.

“The president [Gerald Ford] was in a dark moment, of great political difficulty, and I was very naive. So I made 'Rocky', a very upbeat movie, and I think at that time people were ready for a little change. So, I was lucky”. Luck, for some; involuntary attunement, for others like me.

The successes of the actor-screenwriter and his hero stem from the combination of internal struggle and optimism. Rocky: a fighter made Stallone nominated at the Oscars for best original screenplay and best actor, a pair only seen with Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and Charlie Chaplin (The great dictator). The film earned three Oscars (film, direction and editing) and the saga that would continue in 1979, 1982, 1985, 1990, 2006 and in the franchise Creed.

Rocky illustrates, in my view, the maxim that the biggest challenge for athletes (and not just them) is to beat themselves, more than others. For Stallone, more than a successful gamble, the character was an accomplice, as he said when thanking him for the Golden Globe for supporting actor for playing him in the first Creed (2015): “I wanted to thank Rocky Balboa for being the best imaginary friend anyone could have.” (This quote, like the previous one, goes back to the essay Stallone and the things that were stored in the basement [Letter and Image], by Rodrigo Fonseca.)

Interestingly, it is in another book by this journalist and critic that I locate the character that I consider most iconic in these 200 years of Brazil: in the biography Renato Aragão: From Ceará to the heart of Brazil (Brazil Station). From memories in the Army before studying Law and working as a bank clerk, Aragão created recruit “49”. But it was Didi Mocó who would bring joy to children of all ages, as Oscarito had done to him.

Years ago, the spokesman for the Child Hope took Didi to the theater and cinema in the 2010s version ofThe clumsy jugglers, inspired by the musical that made queues in theaters in 1981. The 2017 film paid a beautiful tribute to the quartet and made Didi an author. Nothing is more faithful to Didi-Aragão's profile than making him an author whose work redeems his own.

Being an entrepreneurial migrant is the best Renato (and Brazilian) thing about Didi. It is notable how entrepreneurship has been part of the actor-director-producer-screenwriter's career since 1960, when such a term did not exist today and rural evasion was high not only among people from Sobral.

Aragão led successful teams on TVs Ceará, Excelsior, Tupi (SP and Rio) and Globo in the years of humor that laughed at stereotypes – supply and demand fed back. Such criticism of the laughter of yesteryear is already common and the biography, with short chapters like sketches, brings stories faithful to its time, even showing a restrained female protagonism; Tizuka Yamasaki was his only film director, for example (there is a very Brazilian touch to it, regret it). And what about the TV opening with (perhaps) incitement to hunt birds with Zacarias aiming one?

On TV shows and several of the actor's 50 movies, the clown Cearense Didi is the type that has little, except ideas to get something. “I was the northeastern man who fought to win, Dedé was the heartthrob from the periphery, Mussum was the sambista from Mangueira and Zacarias, the little boy from Minas Gerais who didn't want to grow up, a little boy”, he would say. As Aragão's speech attests, Didi is the result of her environment and her grace comes from the contrasts on the scene.

I go back 20 years in touring like this… Newly graduated, I had a harsh phone call with an ace of film criticism while collaborating on the See Woman, special edition for Veja. It fell to me to make a panel of movie heroines to illustrate changes in women's behavior, so editor Daniela Pinheiro instructed me to contact Rubens Ewald Filho and ask for examples of characters. “Tell your editor the pitch is wrong,” she fumed, after I said I wanted to know less about Sally Field and more about her title role in Norm Rae (1979). "It's the actresses that matter, not the characters!" And praised Marlene Dietrich, Jane Fonda, etc. I made several notes and took the objection further. My boss listened and insisted on mini profiles of the characters.

I remembered that agenda when reading Fonseca's books. They tend to sink deep into Rocky and Didi fans. I cited that episode from 2002 because I concluded that both Rubens and Daniela were right. The paths of stars have more documentary value than papers; but, as the song says, “the opposite could also happen…”. I came in this direction.

It is not uncommon to hear that an actor “lent” his body to the character. Without going into the merits of the quality of the phrase, I emphasize that it would not do justice to the ties between Didi, Rocky and their faithful interpreters. In the 2016 speech, Stallone called Rocky an imaginary friend, but it would be more accurate to see Mocó and Balboa as the surnames of two icons.

“Icon?”, one might ask. Yes. After all, as noted by Stuart Hall, iconic signs bear a certain resemblance to the object/person/event they refer to. “A photograph of a tree reproduces something of the real conditions of our visual perception”, would say Stuart Hall in the collection Culture and representation. Therefore, the term applies to the images of the enterprising migrant and the optimistic fighter personified by Aragão and Stallone – not restricted to them, by the way. Why do we cheer and laugh so much with Rocky and Didi? Just like its creators (and I emphasize the “such as” even by digressing the agenda of the See Woman), here are two heroes who shaped a spirit of their time… Each one on their own soil.

*Mario Luis Grangeia He holds a PhD in sociology from UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Brazil: Cazuza, Renato Russo and the democratic transition (Brazilian Civilization).

 

References


Rodrigo Fonseca. Renato Aragão: From Ceará to the heart of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Station, 2017.

Rodrigo Fonseca. Stallone and the things that were stored in the basement. Rio de Janeiro, Lyrics and Image, 2019.

Stuart Hall. Culture and representation. Rio de Janeiro: Apicuri/PUC-Rio, 2016.

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