When Sylvester Stallone receives the inaugural Golden Icon Award at this year’s Zurich fest on the Sept. 26, it won’t be the first film fest recognition of his impact on film culture, merely the latest.
As is so often the case with American pop culture figures, it was the French who first took serious stock of Stallone’s oeuvre and granted him an honorary Cesar Award for career achievement in 1992. In 1997, Stallone received the actor award from the Stockholm festival for his widely acclaimed work in James Mangold’s “Copland.” At the time of that film’s production, Stallone reflected on the distance his career had traveled from its focus on character to its exultation of violent chaos. As he told Bernie Weinraub of the New York Times, “The things that drew me into films in the first place (were) fervent dramas with ensemble casts.” A few months later, in early 1998, the Palm Springs Film Festival honored Stallone with a career achievement award.
When Stallone took the world film scene by storm by writing and starring in the little boxing picture that could, “Rocky,” more than 30 years ago, few could have predicted the enormous changes that would transform both Stallone’s career and the way films would be internationally financed and consumed. The heyday of independently financed action epics like the “Rambo” series, which catapulted Stallone to even greater stardom in the ’80s, was still around the corner, and it wasn’t until the early ’90s that a low-budget picture without marquee names would become virtually extinct at the major studios and the model of the emerging American independent film movement.
In retrospect, it’s now clear that Stallone’s career helped kick off two of the most dynamic shifts in the film industry. Yet it still raises more than a few snobbish eyebrows when the globally recognizable action star gets a little love from the international film festival scene. After all, Stallone hasn’t been to Oscars as a nominee since that 1976 breakthrough film and he has grunted, shot and slashed through more than a few unfortunate actioners. But the Europeans again seem to be able to look past Stallone’s less felicitous feature film outings and are willing to acknowledge the importance of the star’s history as well as his creative ambitions.
In addition to picking up a memento from the Swiss, Stallone will be on hand for a retrospective that will include installments of the “Rocky” series, as well as “Rambo” and “Cop Land.” The retro will open with the worldwide premiere of the director’s cut of Stallone’s latest “Rambo” film.
And lest one consider the Italian Stallion down for either the art or the box office count, his last two outings in the two roles that made him famous, “Rocky Balboa” and this year’s “Rambo” update, have grossed nearly $300 million. And speaking of his continuing ambitions to flex his art muscles, Stallone’s reportedly about to finally direct his dream project, a biopic based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe, which he wrote and will direct. Before “Iron Man” took him to the career pinnacle where Stallone once ruled, Robert Downey Jr. had been talked up for the title role. It’s too bad he’s off the project. It would have been great to see these two survivors collaborating, if only for the pleasure of imagining their conversations about artistic aspirations, underestimation and the restorative powers of hit films.