Thom Zimny found himself in two complementary minds when directing a documentary about cinematic icon Sylvester Stallone: a veteran creating a universal story of self-discovery, and a former teenager excited to see “Rocky” for the first time.
The making of Netflix “Cunning” (airing November 3), Zimny recalls inviting Stallone into his editing room to help him unpack images and clips from his life during one of their many interviews. At times, I “just stepped out and let the adolescent 16-year-old look at the moment and the beauty of Sly.”
The documentary, which premiered Saturday night at the close of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, chronicles Stallone’s 77-year-old life and long career: bringing to life legendary characters such as underdog boxer Rocky Balboa and Vietnam vet John Rambo, finding his artistic voice through screenwriting . and overcame hardships and obstacles in fulfilling his creative dreams. As Stallone says in the film, “Don’t sit there and try to play Shakespeare when you look like me.
Stallone’s story is not one of chasing fame. “It was a search for who he is in the world and what he’s been through,” says Zimny, who has also directed documentaries about Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. “I’ve loved all of (Stallon’s) movies since I was a kid, but while making this one, I started to realize that I was getting into a side of a man that no one had seen before.”
Zimny discusses some of the most interesting revelations in “Sly.”
Sylvester Stallone has an incredible amount of personal memorabilia
“Sly” finds the actor/filmmaker ready to move, which means he packs up a huge amount of stuff in his house: old scripts, action figures, busts and paintings of Rocky and Rambo, and other Stallone paraphernalia. “I immediately embraced it as a plot point because movement is such a great symbol of transition and change and all that obvious stuff,” says Zimny, who creates the “amazing” moment of the movers bringing out the huge Rocky statue.
Stallone’s office even becomes a character in the film, Zimny says. “These items of memorabilia or memory, items that have been used in films, are part of my narrative devices. I really captured that in my work with Bruce Springsteen, where you stop and look around and realize what the gods are throwing at you.”
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The ‘Rocky’ films reflected developments in Stallone’s own life
Made famous by the original 1976 “Rocky,” Stallone details in “Sly” how that film and subsequent chapters of the iconic boxer reflected the aspirations and struggles the actor was going through when they were made. (Rocky dealt with special responsibilities in “Rocky II” and needed to trust his own instincts in “Rocky III.”) But completing the first film was less of a miracle, as Stallone fought tooth and nail to retain the title role in the middle of the eleventh. hourly casting changes.
In the documentary, Stallone stops by the New York movie theater where he once worked as an usher, which also hosted the premiere of “Rocky.” “There’s a photo of Sly standing outside the theater before he became famous, and it’s the last photo of him before his life changes,” Zimny says, adding that, like Rocky, Stallone is “a guy who refused to back down or be told “that he can’t” don’t do it. It is a very inspiring story on many levels. It’s a theme that you find again and again throughout his life, on that journey of asserting himself.”
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Stallone’s father influenced the creation of both Rocky and Rambo
Stallone admits in “Sly” that he’s in the “hope business,” and when he created the characters of Rocky and John Rambo (for 1982’s “First Blood”), it was key to offer that. The characters also reflect aspects of Stallone’s father Frank, a World War II veteran who gave his son a wild side. Their complicated relationship is a frequent theme of the documentary, from Stallone’s constant search for his father’s love to patching things up on his deathbed.
Stallone “talked about his father in a way that really expressed the love and some of the traumatic times they had together. But more importantly, the impact it had on him in the moment and the work,” says Zimny. “When you’re sitting with Sly and he’s talking about how his father was Rambo, and then he holds up a picture of Rambo and a picture of his father, it took my understanding of Sly as a filmmaker to a whole new level.”
“Sly” captures the Hollywood legend in a reflective mood, not retired
“Sly” takes viewers through all of Stallone’s biggest career hits and misses, as well as the ups and downs of his personal life. These days, he says he wants to be a “really good juggler” in balancing his life, family and art, but Zimny’s film captures a man far from his swan song.
“He’s not in a space where he’s reliving the glory days,” says Zimny, who did some of his interviews when Stallone was filming his Paramount+ series “Tulsa King.” He was very busy, very energetic, very alive in the moment. working filmmaker (and) I occasionally recognized the atmosphere of the early “Rocky” films. It was the same guy. I don’t see him settling down, and this movie made him think for a minute, if anything.”