Pass, shoot, score.
At long last. The entry on the hockey films Slap Shot and Miracle. I decided to finish watching the former and re-watch the latter today (rather than after the Super Bowl and Pro-Bowl are over) because it snowed in Atlanta. But, don’t be so surprised. It’s snowed in Atlanta about half a dozen times in my twenty-six-year existence here.
Joe McGrath is the manager/PR representative (Stother Martin)
Reggie Dunlop- player/coach (Paul Newman); nearing the end of his career and doesn’t want to work in the front office.
Ned Braden- right wing (Michael Ontkean)
The Hansons –three brothers (Jeff and Steve Carlson and David Hanson) with moppy brown hair and thick-framed glasses. They’re from the Iron League.
Ogilthorpe- the elusive owner.
Plot: The fate of a mill, which might close April 1 and take away the jobs of 10,000 workers, is linked to Charlestown’s hockey team The Chiefs. People who have no jobs don’t have money to go to games. The Chiefs are terrible team and don’t start winning until they start playing the game with whoop-arse, thanks in part to the new players on the team, primarily the Hansons Brothers. The Chiefs go on the road and start winning games and gain scores of fans they haven’t had in a long time.
First game: Chiefs vs. Presidents. I don’t think any of them are wearing helmets (only the goalies wear helmets).
Second game: begins with some locker room footage. The Hansons Brothers wrap tin foil around their knuckles. “We all know how to play hockey, just play it smart,” Dunlop says to his team. Gears vs. Chiefs. Joe McGrath is trying to get another job—even he doesn’t believe in the team. Dunlop runs off the ice and goes to confront Joe. Looming problem: if the Chiefs don’t start winning, they team will be no more. Not a very long sequence. Game-play probably lasts a minute.
The third game: Hanrahan’s team. Dunlop skates around him and tells him that his wife is a lesbian. He gets distracted, the Chiefs make a goal. Braden isn’t too happy about it because he believes in winning fair.
Fourth game: Blades vs. Chiefs. Taunting and fighting. The Hansons go in and wreak havoc on the opponents, but the crowd loves it. The commentator remarks, “Come on down. Bring the kids, we’ve got entertainment for the whole family.” The referee outs the Hansons Brothers after they’ve done sufficient damage.
Fifth game: takes place after Dunlop tells the team Ogilthorpe has been convicted of something. Petersboro Patriots vs. Charlestown Chiefs. This game would be their fifth consecutive win. Even before the game properly starts, there’s fighting. During the National Anthem, the Hansons are shown all bloodied. They won the game, but the viewer doesn’t find out until the next scene, where Dunlop is trying to call his ex-wife Francine (Jennifer Warren) to tell her.
Sixth game: Presidents vs. Chiefs. Most of the sequence consists of one of the Hanson Brothers trying to find the guy who threw something at him.
Implementing outrageous or extreme violence to win games is ironic (and fitting) given the way the film starts. Sportscaster Jim Carr (Andrew Duncan) interviews Chiefs goalie Jean-Guy Drouin (Yvan Ponton) about the definitions of the terms “icing,” “high sticking,” and “slashing,” all of which would result in a penalty.
If viewer sympathy is fixed on Paul Newman, then there is no debate about whether or not a victory should be sought cleanly. The film itself suggests that violence is pervasive, coming in as typical forms as sibling squabbles, domestic disputes (verbal), and fervor en masse. The spectators in the stands enjoy the spectacle of a fight over that of honest-to-goodness, skilled attempts at making a goal. When the Hansons get out there, it’s all cheers.
After the defeat over the Presidents, and the Chiefs are back in town, Reggie talks to Joe about the owner of the Chiefs. The first thing Reggie notices is copy of an advertising campaign regarding the Chiefs and their prospective new hometown. It has photos, newspaper article, and the bolded headline of “Charlestown CHIEFS: AGGRESSIVE HOCKEY IS BACK IN TOWN.” Reggie remarks that “it sucks” because “it ain’t mean enough. Put some blood in there. Show somebody getting’ hurt. A groin injury. Put the map of Florida in the background. Get some tits in there. Put a ‘For Sale’ sign on the bottom.’” Joe disagrees with the “tits” and “For Sale sign” part. Reggie then reminisces about the memories behind the old photographs on the walls.
In a radio interview with Reggie that takes place not too much later, the DJ mentions the six straight road game wins and the increased penalty minutes. Reggie makes a remark about putting a $100 bounty on one of Syracuse’s players, Tim McCraken.
Seventh game: Against Syracuse. Ned scores a goal but wouldn’t hit McCracken back. To Reggie, a hockey victory is about violence and blood, not numbers on the board. Violence and blood instills the players with enough emotion and energy to play hard, and subsequently score goals. Likewise, the spectators become more involved and ideally, motivate the players to win.
Reggie visits Ogilthorpe but ends up finding out that the owner’s wife Anita MacCambridge (Kathryn Walker) has taken over. She could sell the team to Florida, but she won’t because financially, she’s better off folding the team. She represents the voice of “violence on TV equals violence in real life.”
Eighth and final game: before it starts Reggie tells his teammates that the Florida deal wasn’t real. The Chiefs play the Syracuse Bulldogs for the Federal League championship. The game isn’t even a game; it’s a brawling match. Chiefs aren’t fighting back. During halftime, Joe lectures them not on wasting their own talent but of his time and energy in the PR department. When the team finds out about NHL scouts, they play meaner. Ned Braden goes on the ice after seeing his wife all dolled up and he does a striptease. Tim McCracken demands the referee stop this shenanigan. Hockey is about masculinity and violence, not skin-as-spectacle. The referee responds, “what are you talking about? This is hockey.” Anything goes. The referee tells the Chiefs they’ve won…not for scoring more points, but for making a spectacle.
After the game, Reggie tells his ex-wife that he’s got a job coaching the Minnesota Night Hawks. The film ends with a parade through town.
The thematic aspect of sports violence reminded me of North Dallas Forty (Ted Kotcheff, 1979), a satirical and expose-type look at professional football vis-a-vis a team “inspired by” the Dallas Cowboys of the 60s (based on former NFL player Peter Gent’s novel of the same name). Nancy Dowd, the writer of Slap Shot, also worked on North Dallas Forty but wasn’t credited. No wonder the similarity in representation of male-female interaction.
And now for some Communist bum-thwacking.
The film begins with Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) in a meeting at USA Hockey in Colorado Springs in 1979, where he tells Bob Fleming, the International Council, USA Hockey, Lou Nanne from the NHL, and other individuals with money that “the only way [Americans] can compete with the Eastern Bloc teams is if we’re willing to change…the way we train, the way we prepare, even our schedule…I think we need to make it longer, tougher, much more competitive…we also need to change the way we play the game…my plan is to adopt a new style, a hybrid of the Soviet school and the Canadian school, a combination that requires the highest level of conditioning, speed, creativity, and most of all, team chemistry.”
In the same meeting, Brooks remarks that “all-star teams fail because they rely solely on the individual’s talent. The Soviets win because they take that talent and use it inside a system that’s designed for the betterment of the team. My goal is to beat them at their own game.”
After the meeting, Herb returns to St. Paul, Minnesota. He finds out that night that he’s been selected to coach the US Hockey team that will compete in the Winter Olympics of 1980, seven months away in Lake Placid, New York*. Herb flies back to Colorado Springs and jump-starts a journey that, along with twenty young men, would become not only an irreplaceable experience but also an emblem of cultural and political pride. His first stop is the National Sports Festival.
Practice Sequence 1:
Skating movement is choppy. Most of the images are comprised of medium shots of torsos and close-ups of feet coming to an abrupt stop and ice shavings explode off the blades as well as pucks shooting off across the ice.
Herb must whittle a roster of twenty-six names down to twenty by opening ceremonies. His assistant coach, Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), points out that the list is “missing some of the best players.” Herb responds with, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig, I’m looking for the right ones.” In the first speech to the guys who made it past the first round, Herbs informs them that he isn’t there to be a friend. He is there to coach. Translation: don’t expect empathy from me; don’t expect a shoulder to cry on. Accept praise and criticism when given.
Practice Sequence 2:
Takes place at Bloomington Ice Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The skating movements are more intact here. Long shots (of the entire body) of the actors skating. The angle and points-of-view are a mixture of high, low, in front, and from behind. Rob McClanahan (Nathan West) and Jack O’Callahan (Michael Mantenuto) start swinging fists at each other because O’Callahan knocks McClanahan down. They played against each other in the 1976 National Championship (college) game. O’Callahan’s team lost. This session represents the “stop fighting amongst yourselves” mentality.
Practice sequence 3:
“I can’t promise you we’ll be the best team in Lake Placid next February, but we will be the best conditioned, that I will promise you,” Herb tells the guys. Again, the skating is filmed with more long shots and the body isn’t as frequently cut into pieces. Whether or not the issue of time limit is the determining factor for how the sequences are edited is irrelevant as it makes sense for each subsequent practice session to include more full body shots. The guys are becoming the skaters and athletes they need to be, and the film wants the viewer to see as much. Game-play strategy (drawing on transparent plastic board). Drills, hot baths, back to practice. It’s very much the standard sports practice montage. Various guys are asked their name and where they’re from and who they play for. Herb and the viewer will know when the team is finally “together” when everyone (or someone) who introduces themselves says that they play for their country.
Game sequence 1:
Oslo, Norway. Five months until the Olympics. The lads are talking about the hot Norwegian women in the stands (and the viewer has no idea what these females look like). Herb is not happy. He makes the guys do skating drills from the goal line to the center. “You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone. If you think you can come here and play the Norwegian National team and tie them and then go to the Olympics and win, you got another thing coming….When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back! Win, lose, or tie, you’re gonna play like champions!…You wanna make this team, then you better start playing at a level that’s gonna force me to keep you here.”
He makes the guys do this exercise at least fifteen times. Saved by the rink manager who wants to clean the ice and go home? Not quite. They do it five more times until Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey) says his name aloud and that he plays for the United States of America.
Practice sequence 4:
Watching game film of the Soviet school of hockey. Herb calls it, “fluid” and creative;” the “forwards are constantly circling. They don’t so much look for the man as they do a patch of ice. They get the mismatch, two-on-one, easy goal….Boris Mikhailov, captain for the last six years. He is the best player in his position, and that includes, as we’ve just found out, the NHL. Vadislav Tretiak. You score on Tretiak, keep the puck ‘cause it doesn’t happen often,” and then he looks over at the goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill). Herb then adds, “forty-two games in the last three months. Forty-two wins. Their main weapon is intimidation. They know they’re gonna win and so do their opponents.” In order to play on the Soviets’ level, “you don’t defend them, you attack them. You take their game and shove it right back in their face. The team that is finally willing to do this is the team that has a chance to put them down. NHL won’t change their game—we will. The rest of the world is afraid of them. Boys, we won’t be. No one has ever worked hard enough to skate with the Soviet team an entire game. Gentlemen, we are gonna work hard enough.”
Practice sequence 5:
Back on the ice. Footage of drills and names being crossed off the list are intercut with brief exchanges between the characters.
Game sequence 2:
Cambridge, MA Three months before the Olympics. It occurs offscreen but the result is that the boys beat Harvard. Jim Craig also gets to have a moment with his dad before getting on the bus.
Practice sequence 6:
On the ice. Stretching exercises. Timmy Harrer (Adam Knight), a player for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, shows up for the practice. It’s a mind game, but Jim Craig thinks otherwise, informing a few of his teammates about Herb’s so-close-and-yet-so-far of winning a gold medal.
Practice sequence 7:
Mike Eruizione is singled out for his sluggishness.
Game sequence 3:
The USA team plays against the NHL All Stars in Milwaukee, WI. Tim Harrer scores for the Olympics team. The conversation he and some of the players after this game proves that Harrer’s presence was just to test the boys.
And then it’s Christmas. A speech by Jimmy Carter is used as audio that accompanies the boys playing football (in slow-motion) outside in the snow while Herb drives home.
Practice sequence 8:
Ralph Cox (Kenneth Mitchell) is the last one to get cut.
Game sequence 4:
February 9, 1980. Madison Square Garden. Olympic Hockey Night (an exhibition game). Team USA vs. USSR. Three days before Lake Placid. The Soviet coach looks like Rip Torn. The camera definitely moves differently. It whips around, it skates after players. David vs. the Goliath. The Soviets are nearly twice the size of the Americans. The Soviets win 10 to 3. O’Callahan gets his left knee seriously banged up.
XIIIth Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid, NY
Game sequence 5:
USA vs. Sweden, whiplash transition into game-play from Herb standing on the empty ice. The sounds of the game are half of the play. Skates across the ice and collisions, the stick to the puck, the puck ricocheting off anything. Watching football game-play benefits from being able to hear the relevant sounds too (grunts and tackles), but the enclosed space of an ice rink and the equipment involved in a hockey game depend on those sounds much more. Halftime gives Herb the chance to scream at his team for playing like they’re not realizing the game is a big deal. The cutting rate increases and there is more violence (crashing into the plastic partition and towards the camera). Match-on-action and continuity are preserved. The suspense grows as a result of cutting back and forth between the players, the clock, and crowd. The US ties Sweden.
Game sequence 6:
Takes on a news report format: the US beat Czechoslovakia the previous night 7 to 3.
Game sequence 7:
US vs. Norway. Camera varies its position from in the stands to above the stands. This sequence lasts for less than a minute.
Game sequence 8:
US vs. Romania. Sequence lasts for less than 45 seconds. Jim Craig catches the puck.
Game sequence 9:
US vs. West Germany. Phil Verchota (Kris Wilson) scores.
Game sequence 10:
USA vs. USSR. Locker room pre-game. Solemnity and stillness. O’Callahan can play. Herb’s speech: Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have to here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played them ten times, they might win nine, but not this game. Not tonight. Tonight we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them and we shut them down because we can. Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to the hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great team the Soviets have. Screw ‘em. This is your time. Now, go out there and take it.
Walking past a wall of notes and messages of support and the press. Camera takes on-field POV here in addition to high angle from the stands. Real footage of sportscasters at the game (Al Michaels reporting). Jim Craig’s father is at the game. The crowd is chanting “U-S-A!”
Is it possible to watch no one but the goalie; would that be the most practical way? O’Callahan (I think) saves the puck that Buzz Schneider (Billy Schneider) sends into the Soviet net. US ties the game by the end of the first period 2 to 2. Ah, USSR switches goalies. Mark Johnson (Eric Peter-Kaiser) and Mike Eruzione score in the fourth period. Eruzione’s pass unfolds in subtle slow-motion. What’s more suspenseful, slow-motion of a blocked goal or one that makes it in the net? Tackle or touchdown? The US wins 4 to 3.
Hockey teams don’t get penalized for excessive celebration, do they?
The ratio of non-hockey scenes to hockey-scenes is about equal and more or less alternate. The scenes between Herb and his wife Patty (Patricia Clarkson) are, in terms of sports films, formulaic, but they’re dramatically and thematically necessary. The first scene post-training hints at and then directly expresses the idea that Herb has tried for the Olympics before (as a player) but didn’t get to the actual games. The second significant scene occurs after the sixth practice sequence when Herb mentions that Jimmy Carter may boycott the summer Olympics in response to the USSR sending support to Afghanistan. Herb’s wife’s attempts at showing concern are batted away. The third scene takes place the night before the game against the USSR. Herb and his wife talk about the ideological implications of a victory.
Internal rivalry and tension are the most tangible antagonizing forces for any team of athletes who have to learn to play together and respect one another before “the big game.”
Boris Mikhailov and his Soviets beat the NHL All-Stars in the 1980 game. Herb has a lot more work to do and it’s about time to change angles, hence the nature of the fourth practice sequence.
I saw Miracle for two reasons: how did we beat the Soviets? how many hot guys will be in this film? The trailer also had me intrigued. When I had watched Calendar Girls with a friend of mine two weeks prior, she whispered to me how this film had been made a million times already and how stupid “miracle” was for a name.
Hmm… a miracle. It’s a miracle. Miraculous. The Miracle. The American Miracle.
There’s a mathematical equation one can use to find out how many permutations there’d be to naming Miracle something else while still using it in the title and there probably isn’t going to be a better name.
After watching Miracle in the theatre four years ago, I learned how we beat the Soviets and how many hot guys there were in the film (4 or 5 of them had me in bunches every time they came on screen, except now, I can’t remember who they might have been aside from Eddie Cahill and maybe Eric Peter-Kaiser).
I really like David Grove’s review of the film. He addresses Miracle in terms of it being a sports film/hockey film, and that films like it (feel-good, how-the-under-dog-triumphed) have been made countless of times. Ideologically speaking, Grove brings up an interesting point–one that I hadn’t considered–about what impact this film could make on making hockey more popular not only for sports fans but also for athletes.
There’s also the “other” politics embedded in the film. The beginning credit sequence includes archival footage of american politics & popculture from the beginning of Nixon era through Jimmy Carter’s to provide a kind of historical national context in which the film takes place.
I can’t help but think that if this film moves you the way its probably intended to, then not only will you think hockey is completely cool, but that youre glad to be an American …..and to have more faith in the government.
The Christmas football-Herb driving home montage sequence where Jimmy Carter’s voice is in the audio track urges the American people in the film (and those of you watching Miracle) to have more confidence in the nation. To believe that things will be okay and get will get better. It worked on me because not only did I think hockey is even cooler than I originally thought, but I also felt slightly (and very briefly) bad for criticizing certain aspects of the government.
pic creds: Yahoo movies.