spending the off season with Paul Newman
The hockey off season is long and awful. It’s the whole summer thing. Maybe I wouldn’t spend my days pining for ice hockey if the heat and humidity weren’t so brutal and soul sucking.
Baseball fans have it easy in their off season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, pitchers and catchers. The off season just flies by. Hockey? I’ve got July and August and days that won’t end. Sure, I have the Yankees. But it’s not hockey.
So I fill some of my summer days watching hockey movies. I know what you’re thinking. What hockey movies? There are movies about hockey? Sure there are. There’s Slap Shot. There’s Miracle. Mystery, Alaska. When things start to get desperate there’s The Mighty Ducks. All three of them. If the desperation sinks further you’ve got Youngblood and Sudden Death. And if you need to sink to new lows in hockey withdrawals you can always watch Cutting Edge. Really, at that point you’d be better off spending five hours on YouTube watching hockey fights from the 80s.
Mostly I watch Slap Shot.
34 years and about three thousand viewings later Slap Shot still remains my favorite movie. Sure, there are tons of movies in various genres that I’ve called favorites among the way - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Empire Strikes Back,Mothra v. Godzilla, Goodburger - but I always come back to this one when I’m forced by some list making machinations to choose a favorite.
I know when you think of this movie you think of The Hanson Brothers and fisticuffs and Paul Newman taunting an opposing player about his wife being a lesbian. And sure, on its surface Slap Shot is a movie about hockey’s inherent violence but it’s so much more.
If you look at Slap Shot the right way (like, squint your eyes and tilt your head a little and maybe have a few beers first), the film is a vast piece of social commentary. It’s a cinematic treasure. A piece of art. Genius. Within the comedic vignettes about the Hanson Brothers and Ogie Oglethorpe are little slices of of socio-economic discussions. There’s the struggle to make ends meet, how corporate greed destroys towns and souls, the open discussions of sexuality (the hallmark of the 70s), divorce and separation, our bloodthirsty need for vengeance and violence and, of course, the morality tale that can turn any comedy into a feel good movie of the year. All of this is peppered with quotable lines, hockey fights and Paul Newman, making it a pretty complete package of awesome.
While most people will point to any scene with the Hanson Brothers as their favorite in Slap Shot, mine has nothing to do with the brothers and their foil and and fists. It’s the during the fashion show:
Johnny Upton: I’m gonna flash’ em, Joe!
McGrath: No, you’re not.
Johnny Upton: I’m gonna walk down that stinkin’ runway, open up this faggot robe and wiggle my dick at ‘em! And do you know why? Because I want you to have a heart-attack and die so we don’t have to do this shit again! You and your fucking fashion shows!
There’s a bit more of an exchange and then Johnny walks off camera and you hear the women in the fashion show audience screaming. It’s a beautiful moment, one perfectly written and filmed and it speaks of the desperation of small town sports teams, not just hockey.
But overall? Yea, it’s a hockey movie. It has enough on-ice action to make me forget for two hours that I’m living in hockey’s drought season and just enough comedic and social value that I can watch it again and again and not be forced to resort to Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze high sticking each other. And there’s the bonus feature of finally having icing explained to you.
I am a sucker for that first Mighty Ducks movie, though.