Tour Philadelphia with John Avildsen
By Kate Donnelly
Oscar Award winning director John Avildsen is widely known for directing uplifting, popular films about underdogs like Karate Kid. Avildsen recalls the moment he won the Oscar for Best Director, “You know, it was one of the best surprises I’ve had in my life.”
His most revered work is the Academy Award-winning film Rocky (1976) about a working-class Philadelphia boxer (played by a young, up-and-coming Sylvester Stallone) who takes on the world heavyweight champion. The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the fifth largest city in the U.S. In Rocky, the city served as its own cinematic character. “Philadelphia was the heart and soul of the story in a lot of ways because that’s where Rocky came from.”
As the film progresses to reveal Rocky’s character and the love story, Philadelphia plays a starting role in the backdrop. The famous scene where Stallone’s character victoriously runs up the 72 stone stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (now referred to as the “Rocky Steps”) helped put the city on the map—thanks to the help of cinematographer Garrett Brown and composer Bill Conti’s uplifting music. Today, visitors from near and far continue the tradition and run up those same stairs.
Historically, Philadelphia has played an important role as the place where the original thirteen colonies joined together to declare independence from King George III of Great Britain. Today, Avildsen appreciates Philadelphia’s iconic nature, beautifully maintained old buildings and elevated bridges. He calls attention to Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where both the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were written, a popular site for visitors today.
Even though it’s the fifth largest city in the U.S., Avildsen refers to scenic Philadelphia as unique, beautiful and “just the right size.” It’s a city where modern skyscrapers don’t dominate the landscape and when he was filming Rocky, he says he “couldn’t have asked for a better location.” To this day, a life-size statue of the fictional Rocky stands erect next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for all to see.
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