It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for Italians these past few weeks. On the plus side, one of our boys, Samuel Alito, got nominated for the Supreme Court. Italian American mothers all over the country, but especially in the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania triangle, beamed with pride as they made their Sunday sauce this week. I know for a fact that some dirt at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Glenside shifted. I don’t think even my deceased family members could stay still with this news.
Italian immigrants who dreamed of a better world for their children and grandchildren once again had their sacrifices validated by this nomination. I mean, Lee Iaccoca and Frank Sinatra were big in their own way, but the Supreme Court? Well, there is nothing else short of an Italian president that says, “We made it in the new world”, quite so well.
However, just when we thought we could beam with pride and maybe, just maybe, sneak in a Columbus Day parade without PC screams heard across the nation, Sylvester Stallone announced he will produce a new Rambo and Rocky movie. That news alone would be enough to set back the cause of Italian Americans throughout this country. But much to all our collective horrors, he also plans to star in them.
Italy and Italians have long prided themselves on their art, culture and science. Jokes about the smallest book in the world being titled “Italian War Heroes” were tolerated because Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Enrico Fermi were all ours. Traveling through Italy is a trip through the greatest that western art and civilization has produced. Seeing the Pieta or the Sistine Chapel, standing back in awe at the altar of St. Peter’s or its encompassing outdoor columns, listening to an aria in Milan’s famed La Scala opera house, is to know just how far the human spirit can soar when coupled with artistic genius.
Viewing a Rambo or Rocky movie just isn’t quite the same thing. In fact, it is so far from the same thing that it can’t even be called the other side of the coin. Spaghetti westerns could be called the other side of the coin. But not Rocky or Rambo.
When the first Rocky came out in 1976, I was young and newly emigrated from Philadelphia. The sight of Rocky jogging through the Italian Market and then up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum sent me into spasms of nostalgia and pride. That first movie had an innocence to it that America needed at a time when we had been shaken by the 60s, the Vietnam War and Watergate. A simple man against all odds appealed to a nation that felt itself on the ropes.
The first Rocky had something else this Rocky won’t have. A young Sylvester Stallone. A young Sylvester Stallone who had a body that just wouldn’t quit and didn’t need to be filmed through gauze to eliminate unsightly signs of wrinkles and aging. It would be one thing if this was a movie in which his son goes for the title that once eluded him. But he plans to somehow convince us that in some weird world, a sixty year old would be allowed to fight for a boxing title. Even George Foreman knew to quit before that.
As for Rambo, has Stallone not heard that we’ve normalized relations with Viet Nam? Is he planning to have Rambo go to the Mideast and fine Osama for us? Does he – oh please Lord, no! – plan to oil his body and wear a bandanna around his head again?
Alito’s nomination should bring a sense of pride to Italian Americans across this nation. Sylvester Stallone’s plans for yet another movie in a series that seemingly gasped its last in a previous century bring a sense of horror. If I were Sly, I’d be very careful how I handled these movies. That dirt shifting over the graves at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery might be a good sign for Alito, but I’m guessing it could be a prelude to horror for him. Until you’ve been haunted by the ghosts of my relatives past, you don’t know what meeting a really scary opponent is all about.