Virgil Films & Entertainment is releasing the film. It is directed by Derek Wayne Johnson, who profiled the director of Rocky in his 2017 film John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs. Avildsen, who died in 2017, captured his own 8mm footage during pre-production and shooting of his 1976 Best Picture Oscar winner. It forms the basis of the new documentary, which is narrated by screenwriter and star Sylvester Stallone.
Lloyd Kaufman, who would go on to run Troma Entertainment, home of B-movies like The Toxic Avenger, also shot some of the footage seen in the new documentary during his stint as Rocky‘s production manager. Kaufman’s footage has never previously been seen, Virgil says. The footage shows makeup tests, boxing choreography sessions and other moments involving Stallone and co-stars Carl Weathers and Talia Shire.
Stallone’s narration describes not only the shooting of the film but the story behind getting it green-lit and how he preserved his original script and starring role, one of the legendary film business fables. In a stream-of-consciousness style, the star recalls details like the origin of Rocky Balboa’s pork pie hat. Stallone says he picked it up for $3 in a Philadelphia shop and thought it “completed” the character and was the boxer’s “suit of armor.” He fended off arguments from studio execs and producers, who thought he should ditch the hat because they felt it would be seen as copying Gene Hackman’s look in The French Connection.
Stallone suggested the idea for 40 Years of Rocky to Johnson and producer Chris May, according to Virgil Films, after a screening of the Avildsen documentary.
Virgil is an independent distributor founded in 2003 by Joe Amodei. The company has specialized in documentaries, handling titles like Forks Over Knives, Restrepo, I Am Chris Farley and the recent We Are Columbine.