We sent Duncan Bowles along to one of those posh ‘Evening With’ events, as Sylvester Stallone prepared for the release of Rambo: Last Blood – here’s what happened.
Duncan Bowles (@duncanbowles)
For many film journalists, one of the greatest privileges is the opportunity to interview their cinematic heroes and it’s something that should never be taken for granted. While fans will often line up for hours in the pouring rain, just for a chance to lay eyes on a chosen celebrity as they stroll down the red carpet (with a lucky few snagging a potential autograph or selfie), media types are sauntering into premieres with press tickets, dry as a bone and watching films with the Hollywood elite.
It’s a very simple concept, then, for the ‘An Experience with’ brand to host events that give devoted fans the chance to partake in the glamour and devote an entire evening to celebrating their love with like-minded people, with different levels of accessibility being given according to how much money people are willing to shake out of their bank accounts.
It’s fascinating that the notion of paying for an autograph, or photo, has become so commonplace – various comic cons have capitalised on this for decades, but in the UK these were mostly low key and attracted cult genre stars of the B list variety (and that is meant with all the affection in the world), until a few years back when the popularity soared, alongside the names attending and the prices.
Cost is now relative to the rarity and profile of the celebrity, so for example just after Conan The Barbarian, you could snag an autograph from Jason Momoa for around the thirty pound mark, post Justice League the price had risen to over double that and since Aquaman? You’d have to save just short of one hundred hard earned pounds.
This isn’t a judgement though. This writer once saw Neil Marshall doing a free signing at an event, as a publicity assist for his movie Doomsday. The queue was substantial, but only when waiting in line did it become apparent how many were lining up without even knowing who he was – people will clamour towards stardom, even when it’s in an unknown quantity, so there has to be some filtration in place.
‘An Experience with’ offers a more unique encounter, with tiered pricing to enable different levels of interaction, but at the very least gives everyone a chance to enjoy some fine dining in the form of a three course meal, watch a cinematic icon live and in person talking about their career and if you’re feeling really flushed – to bid on the auctions, which represent the holy grail of memorabilia, but more on that soon.
For the night we attended, Sylvester Stallone was the sole focus of the experience, who was also in town to promote Rambo: Last Blood, the fifth and potentially final chapter in the iconic action franchise.
The ballroom where the evening took place was impressively vast, with circular tables running from front to back and some suitably atmospheric lighting filling the room. The platinum perk meant having a ‘super prime’ table location, which was right at the front and near the stage where Stallone would later sit for a good hour and half’s worth of stories.
Live music peppered proceedings, with a big band 20 piece orchestra joining forces with a rat pack style singer, who delved into notable tracks from Sly’s filmography as people took their seats and perused the items up for auction. A rather fine three course meal was then served, which is no mean feat for a moderately sized wedding, yet alone a room of over one thousand excited, hungry, action move fanatics.
As for that memorabilia, it was something else. Personal highlights were a set of knives from both Rambo and Predator, signed by both Stallone and Schwarzenegger and some Rocky boxing gloves signed by the titular hero, as well as Dolph Lundgren and Carl Weathers. Thankfully just as all sense and willpower was fading, the bids went into the thousands and safely removed all temptation, but you might want to consider a second mortgage if going to a future event and get carried away. Even the frames were lit with red and blue light to add an extra level of glamour to the autographed goodies.
When the time came for the main event, a somewhat sombre opening video montage started the introduction (using the slow piano version of the Rocky theme), eventually picking up pace and breaking into the much more thrilling sounds of Hearts On Fire, with the biggest audience cheer erupting when the Rocky IV bearded, mountain training sequence hit the big video screens – something I’m sure we can all agree is well deserved. As the clips and music got more exciting, so too did the pyrotechnics, with fire shooting up from the front stage at such a height it looked like it could singe the ceiling, which was very impressive.
Sylvester Stallone then came out to uproarious applause, where he was interviewed (of a fashion) by Jenny Powell, who guided him to tell anecdotes from films as varied as Escape To Victory, Copland and, of course, Rambo. No Tango And Cash sadly, but he did quote two lines from Cobra, which was a beautiful thing.
On Escape To Victory, he told the crowd “they bring out this WW2 ball, it looks like a Cannonball, it’s very dark, it’s messy, it’s heavy and the shoes they wore back then had steel tips – today they would kill you, literally break your leg, that’s how heavy there were. So Pelé’s there and I’ve heard of him and I tell him I’m going to play the goalie and he says “Really, have you ever done it before?” and I say “No”, so he says “You stand here in the goal, I’m going to put the ball right there and there’s nothing you can do about it” I think okay, then *choom* and (it’s so quick) I’m like ‘was that (the ball)?” I tell him to do it again and he tells me right where he’s going to put it and again *choom* and this time I managed to get my hand out and it snapped my finger! Went past my hand, broke my finger, tore a hole through the net and shattered the barracks windows!”
With Rambo: Last Blood imminent, Stallone reflected on how he came to play the character after the idea for the film had been kicking around for eleven years and how different things would have been if they kept to the original ending:
“The thing was, every important actor it was presented to – and I didn’t know it existed – Al (Pacino), De Niro, Redford, Jimmy Caan, all passed on it. I was doing a film called Nighthawks at the time [the audience cheer], I love that movie! And they said I shouldn’t do that movie, because that can never happen – terrorism will never happen in America!
Then they asked me to do First Blood, which was also a cursed movie as everyone had been through it and nobody wanted it, so finally it gets to me and everyone’s fingerprint is on it and I read and went ‘Wow. This is alienation. This is the lost son who went back to the parental country and gave everything and did everything they asked him to do and then they reject him, so there is more to the story.’ Except in the book, he dies. And I said “You can’t kill him” and the director went crazy and said “You gotta die!” and I said “No” so I asked for a rewrite on the ending and wanted to see the breakdown, where he spills out everything he’s going through. And Kirk Douglas goes “I quit!” (he was the original Trautman, but wanted to shoot Rambo, put on the headband and become him) and I loved him from The Vikings and Spartacus, so it broke my heart. So Richard Crenna came in and he’s six foot two and the other fella was five eight or nine and we didn’t have time to get him a new uniform, so nothing fit him! Except the attitude, he had that great attitude.”
It was a fascinating insight to hear live, especially as Stallone has such a awareness of how he’s perceived, with a self-deprecating manner that, even after all the years of success, have kept him grateful to still be working. He talked with honesty about some of flops “I did Rhinestone instead of Romancing The Stone!” and how Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was originally supposed to be more of a horror, with his character spending the duration of the film trying not to kill his own awful mother “But then they hired the nicest woman in the world, Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls – this is the woman you would want as your mother, or grandmother – so that was the end of that movie!”
As he left the stage, at the expense of sounding trite, the room did seem jubilant and lifted from the simple experience of watching one man talk about his life and career. There was something uniquely special about a shared atmosphere of love and admiration for the Italian Stallion and the absolute pleasure of spending an entire evening devoted to a single and positive focus.
As a fan experience it comes thoroughly recommend and with Arnold Schwarzenegger up next this month, you might want to start saving up your pocket money now. Bloody expensive, though…
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