Mention Sylvester Stallone in conversation, and you’re likely to hear a spectrum of reactions, from indignation and disgust to abashed enthusiasm and open fanaticism.
What you’re not likely to hear is lack of recognition.
Love him or hate him, Sylvester Stallone has become an icon of Hollywood celebrity during his 40-year career as a film actor, writer, director and producer. His film credits include more than 50 titles in a slew of genres—sports, action, mystery, war, comedy, superhero, cop buddies, romantic comedy and even musicals (Rocky, the musical, opened on Broadway this month).
A new book, The Ultimate Stallone Reader: Sylvester Stallone as Star, Icon, Auteur, a collection of essays on Stallone edited by Chris Holmlund, the 2013-14 Neilson Professor at Smith, provides unique insights on the actor’s career, his place in popular culture and his influence on movies, sports and society.
Holmlund will discuss her book and Stallone’s work in an upcoming lecture, “Sylvester Stallone: Blockbusters, Misfires and Bombs,” on Monday, March 3, at 5 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room. A reception will follow. The lecture, the second of three in the spring Neilson Lecture Series, is open to the public.
“Sylvester Stallone is an icon, no question,” says Holmlund. “He is known worldwide, he has huge fan bases in Asia and the Middle East. His sports films have affected pro athletes, in the way they regard themselves as athletes, in public and in competition.”
Holmlund, the Arts and Sciences Excellence Professor of Film, Women’s Studies and French at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, has explored the social and political effects of some of film history’s most storied figures, such as Stallone, while also examining the evolution and expansion of independent film.
The Ultimate Stallone Reader is a comprehensive look at the actor’s career, not as much targeted toward his fans as to film researchers and scholars. Holmlund contributed an introduction, “Presenting Stallone/Stallone Presents,” as well as a chapter, “Adventures in Acting: Stallone the Performer.”
Also among contributors to the anthology are Smith faculty Alexandra Keller, associate professor of film studies, and Frazer Ward, associate professor of art, who co-wrote a chapter, “The Rocky Effect: Sylvester Stallone as Sport Hero.”
Keller and Ward will join Holmlund for the Neilson Lecture presentation.
Holmlund regards herself as somewhat of a Sylvester Stallone fan. “It depends on the film,” she says. Her academic interest in his life and career come from a sociological and historical perspective.
“Stallone is a commercial auteur,” says Holmlund. “The films he has directed have a distinctive look and feel all his own. He’s very into color, and he excels at editing: think of the training and fight sequences in the Rocky films. He has a way of making you want to chant ‘Rocky, Rocky,’ along with the boxing crowd in the films, as he takes the ring.”
While Stallone has demonstrated strong acting ability at times in his career, he has made some woeful choices in film projects, notes Holmlund. She cites Rhinestone, a country musical in which Stallone co-stars and sings with Dolly Parton, perhaps chief among them.
Still, his persona as a credible action and sports hero has kept his film career at a steadily elevated level for 40 years—an achievement realized by only a handful in Hollywood history.
Holmlund’s third Neilson Lecture, “Navigating Genre, Tweaking Type: Romance, Cusack Style,” will take place on Monday, April 7, at 5 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room.
The William Allan Neilson Professorship, named for Smith’s third president, is hosted by the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, which sponsors the Neilson/Kahn seminar series, a cross-disciplinary faculty colloquium.
(Eric Weld is the publicity and project administrator at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute.)