Upon the June 16th death of director John G. Avildsen, 81, The Director’s Guild released this statement:
“We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of beloved director John Avildsen. His iconic ‘Rocky,’ which won the DGA Feature Film Award in 1976, has been lionized throughout our culture as the quintessential underdog story – a recurring theme in his notable body of work which included ‘Save the Tiger’ and ‘The Karate Kid’ franchise. Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans.”
Chassy has paid tribute to this iconic director with King of the Underdogs, a biographical documentary about the man and his deceptively simple vision.
Avildsen was attracted to underdog stories. In his career, he directed seven actors toward Academy Award nominations and earned his own Oscar for Best Director.
The documentary features never-before-seen interviews with Martin Scorsese, Burt Reynolds, Jerry Weintraub, Ralph Macchio, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, and Sylvester Stallone, among others.
Avildsen’s work on Rocky made Sylvester Stallone a star — and captured the attention of the world in 1976. The film’s underdog story took a strange turn toward reality when — at the 49th Annual Academy Awards — it stunningly beat out such heavyweight contenders as Network, All The President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Bound for Glory as the year’s best film.
Avildsen’s win as Best Director that night was no small feat — his intense competition included Ingmar Bergman (Face To Face), Sidney Lumet (Network), Alan J. Pakula (All The President’s Men), and Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties).
Stallone issued a statement shortly after Avildsen’s death: “I owe just about everything to John Avildsen. His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart — a great heart — is what made ‘Rocky’ the film it became. He changed my life and I will be forever indebted to him. Nobody could have done it better than my friend John Avildsen. I will miss him.”
The original Rocky was an underdog story both on and off the screen — the project nearly missed seeing the light of day. Avildsen was reluctant to take on the project, as he told The Baltimore Sun:
”When this script came to me from an old friend … I said I had no interest in boxing, I think boxing’s sort of a dumb thing. He pleaded and pleaded, so I finally read the thing. And on the second or third page, [Rocky is] talking to his turtles, Cuff and Link. I was charmed by it, and I thought it was an excellent character study and a beautiful love story. And I said yes.”
At the time, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that the film deserved to “make movie history.” It went on to be nominated for 10 Oscars (as mentioned, winning Best Picture and Best Director), and spawning one of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises.
His other successful film franchise, The Karate Kid, starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Its underdog story is often compared to Rocky (Alvildsen once called it “The Kar-Rocky Kid”). The first film was produced in 1984, spawning three successful sequels and a remake in 2010. Entertainment Weekly called the first film one of the top 50 best high school films of all time (#40).
John Guilbert Avildsen was born on Dec. 21, 1935, in Oak Park, Illinois. He attended New York University and then assisted both Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger. His first film project on his own, Joe, about a racist factory work (played by Peter Boyle), was a critical and box office success. His next film, Save The Tiger, was also a commercial and critical hit, and earned Jack Lemon an Oscar for Best Actor.
Not all of Avildsen’s films were successful, which contributes to his own underdog story. The Formula (1980), starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, was a notable failure, as was Neighbors (1981), with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. However, his use of charming characters, somewhat familiar storylines and sense of simple but universal truths have consistently proven his celluloid magic touch.
“I don’t go out of my way looking for underdog stories,” he had said, “but if they’re good, I respond to them.”
Click here to preorder King of the Underdogs.
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As shown in our documentary The Bug, Volkswagen was super serious about its American print and TV marketing (although it never took itself seriously in the ads). In its first year in the States, VW sold exactly two cars (check out the entire VW history timeline here). By the time these ingenious commercials became part of the pop culture landscape in the 1960s, The Bug was a superstar.
Like the car itself, VW commercials were odd, funny-looking, raw, but dependable. During program breaks, viewers didn’t head to the bathroom — they stayed and watched, and sales (and bladders) exploded. These weren’t just commercials — they were events. People talked about them. Journalists wrote about them. And VW dealers watched the amounts roll in.
Check out the best of them here. They’re some of the most powerfully effective TV commercials you will ever see (if you’re even still watching TV commercials).
This joint was filmed in 1970, and shows that, of all the cars at the 1949 Auto Show, the lonely Volkswagen was the only one that kept its promise (even though nobody was listening). Yep, that’s McLean Stevenson selling Packards.
Shortly before he was seduced by Mrs. Robinson, Dustin Hoffman was seducing America with a bigger Bug — awesomely called the Fastback Sedan. This ad was an honest answer to those consumers who thought the VW was not roomy enough. Dusty’s in super-sales mode here, but it’s low-pressure and non-threatening. That’s what makes it so convincing. He’s about to show us where the engine is stored, but only your VW dealer knows for sure. This clever cliffhanger got people rushing into VW showrooms to learn the answer.
By 1971, America was primed for dark humor. The New Hollywood was already producing films like Bonnie & Clyde, Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, but TV was playing catch up. All in the Family would debut in January of that year (and M*A*S*H soon after), sounding the toilet flush for a type of TV humor that didn’t mind offending and didn’t care if you were. As usual, Volkswagen was just a few car lengths ahead of the curve, as seen in this darkly funny ad that shows sweet revenge from the Other World.
Just in time for America’s bigger-is-better obsession with shiny objects, conspicuous consumption, and overloaded chome, Volkswagen (which is none of these things), quietly, humbly shows how you can reallocate funds by being a nonconformist.
Volkswagen never cared how its Bug looked; it cared how it worked. And this commercial shows you just that, with a ballsy and no-nonsense demonstration of what makes the VW so alpha. Very few other auto manufacturers would try this shit at home.
Your Bug is a wonderland. Here’s early-career John Mayer (2006), making music with the New Beetle, showing that the VW can still rock, in case you had your doubts. In fact, the idea here is to turn your Bug into an actual musical instrument.