Once again, blades are flying across the rink, sticks are slapping against the ice and the puck is flying to and fro. Yes, it's hockey season. But today's hockey isn't yesterday's hockey. Our modern sensibilities require a little more refinement, a lot less blood and add safety measures like helmets and improved padding. But it wasn't always this way. In the good ol' days, it was all bare-heads, fiery machismo and bloody fights. The danger and violence were a part of the game just as much as shooting talent and fancy skate work.
And though times have changed, there's no movie that signifies hockey season better than 'Slap Shot.' Sure, there are flicks like 'Youngblood' that might try and fight for the top spot, but nothing compares to the film where real hockey players took to the ice with actors who knew how to skate. Writer Nancy Dowd originally envisioned the film as a documentary, and though it's a wild, fictional comedy, it maintains that sense of reality, that passion for the ice.
What might be most notable, however, is how the film manages to completely embody the late-seventies time period while also seeming quite modern and timely. In fact, if it wasn't for the fancy retro duds -- especially Paul Newman's favorite outfit, a pair of leather pants with a matching jacket -- audiences might think this was made much more recently. It's a progressive cornucopia masked inside of drinking, boobs and hockey debauchery.
Yes, all the staples are there. These guys let the f-bombs flow like mad, they sleep with women all over the place and relish in trash talk: "She underlines the f**k scenes for ya? Jesus, if she underlines the f**k scenes for ya, she must worship the ground you walk on." Reggie Dunlop (Newman) has a wandering eye just as much as a case of lovesick obsession. Loose fangirls flirt with the players at every opportunity. The players get a feverish look in their eyes when fights break out.
But there's also a little something more to the festivities. An air or progressiveness underlies the sports and sex talk. There are homosexual slurs, but also a sense of acceptance. Maybe it's just due to all of their joking natures, but the Chiefs come off as a whole lot more easygoing than modern men in the military. Positive thinking tapes come into play, no different than today's rush towards manifesting your reality through positive thought. Michael Ontkean's Ned Braden offers up a striptease on the ice, and Dunlop's ex-wife even comes into play as the signifier of the change in women's roles. When the end comes and he desperately tries to stay in her life, offering to provide for her if she ever needs it, she drives on, knowing that she doesn't.
NSFW: Language Warning.
But 'Slap Shot' never comes off as preachy and, to most, is the man's man sort of sports fare -- hard and masculine. This smooth intermingling is no doubt due to the pen of Nancy Dowd. Here's a woman who wrote one of the most popular sports films to hit the screen. With that initial documentarian interest, and a brother playing in hockey, she knew how to make the hockey thrive on screen, and not fall into any lazy or writerly cinematic traps. She is, perhaps, one of the best examples of the ability to write outside of perceived gender constraints.
Themes, attitudes and actors aside, 'Slap Shot' has excellent cinematic bones because the actors skate for themselves, and the skater castmates can act. The Hanson Brothers' (the real-life Carlson Brothers, minus Jack) screen time was mostly unscripted, each flying onto the screen naturally, skipping that awkward stiffness that most cameo and real-life people suffer when they step in front of a camera. And actors like Newman got to perform without melodrama and epic epicness. His talents no doubt helped his performance, but they helped it seem so real that it's easy to ignore, rather than so good he must win an award for it.
And now it's time to hear from you.
- What is your favorite scene?
- Do you think 'Slap Shot' holds up well?
- Considering the film's staying power, or lack thereof (if you believe it's terribly dated), is it time for the remake that made waves last year?
- Hollywood doesn't offer up a lot of hockey films. When it does, they're in the ridiculous realm of comedy. Is the real magic mixing iconic actors with sports stars?
- Jay Baruchel is now prepping 'Goon' for the big screen. Is it time to move on to modern hockey, or should the camera stick to the goons and blood of the old days?
Weigh in below with your thoughts, and tune in this Thursday for the club's fang-filled Halloween pick!