Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"The Red Army" and Russian hockey

I am not a hockey fan, but "Red Army"  (20140 brought back memories and an appreciation of how great hockey can be.

I remember the buildup to the first Summit Series vs the Russians in 1974.  They had only played against amateur teams and were sure to be humiliated when they played our pros.  In fact the result was the reverse, the Canadians were humiliated in the first few games on Canadian soil.  

Bobby Clarke deliberately injured Valerie Kharmalov, a dangerous scorer which in the end might have been the difference.  The Canadians, woke up and played much better on the Russian part of the tour.  Paul Henderson made the most famous goal in Canadian history and the Canucks pulled it off.

Showed a clip of Don Cherry expressing that the Russians should not be allowed to play in the NHL.   Harold Ballard was famous for not letting any Russian play for the Leafs.   They were not alone, some of it no doubt for anti Communist sentiments then common, but others I think were afraid of the competition.

The film reminded me why I lost interest in hockey and why the Russians revived my interest.  They were very skilled at passing and stick handling and a joy to watch  As a Canadian I had mixed feelings.  I wanted Canada to win, especially at our national game, but I liked the way the Russians played, better than the NHLers.  

I watched one televised game with co-workers which I remember not so much for the excitement as I had a few alcoholic drinks  My job at the time was working with newspaper carriers and the game took place when the kids were in school.  When I got back to work I realized I was in no condition to talk to kids about anything.  Since then I have avoided drinking during work hours.

One of the benefits I got out of it was that the Russians were humans.  They had relationships, although often the coaching made life difficult for them.  The film really made more of that when some of participating Russian players got to explain themselves.  I was also surprised to learn of some coaching politics. Anatoli Tarasov was replaced by Viktor Tikhonov

Russians did make a success in the NHL, lots of them helping to win Stanley Cups and become all stars.  It opened them up to capitalism.  We love to be entertained.  I remember hearing Hillary Clinton commenting that Alexander Ovechkin was more popular than most politicians in Washington.

The Soviet players were regarded as national heroes and were treated as such by the authorities.  Although eastern block countries had to contend with defectors in different sports, the Soviet hockey players for the most part were very content.  That changed in 1989.  Alexander Mogilny was an outstanding young (honoured as best junior hockey player in the world) prospect who had already played at the top level.  After the 1989 world championships held in Sweden he disappeared and found his way to the Buffalo Sabres who had earlier drafted him.

There were a wide variety of interviews, but the main spokesperson for the Soviet side was Vlacheslav "Slava" Fetisov who had a disdain for the interviewer.  Fetisov, a defenseman was a key  person in a group of five players who were very difficult to stop.  He wanted to be able to negotiate with the NHL and although threatened with the end of his hockey career or a demotion he was able to gather a few others and forced the issue.  Part of their salary was to be returned to Russia and they were to play for the national Russian team.  This opened the floodgates and turned out to be very successful.  Fetisov earned two Stanley Cups as a player and one as an assistant coach.  He insisted to Gary Bettman that he be allowed to take the trophy to Moscow.  Despite a total refusal at one time he was able to accomplish this feat.  Fetisov is now involved with the Russian hockey program.

One enlightening moment was when Fetisov was  asked about his younger brother after bragging about how much potential he had.  It turned out that he had died from a car accident.  Then it was admitted that he, Fetisov had been driving.  Another clip with his wife Lata Fetisov explained how she felt ostracized by other NHL wives who treated her as an outsider.

Scotty Bowman, considered one of the best hockey coaches ever was a great believer in Russian players and coached over time, 5 Russian players who helped him win three Stanley Cups for the Detroit Red Wings.

Another interviewee was Vladimir Tretiak who developed a lot of fans in Canada.  He never played in the NHL, although a primary target by the league.  He is now involved with Russian hockey.

There was a lot of politics, captured on archival resources.  Starting with Joseph Stalin who made the decision to make hockey a higher national priority.  Nikita Kruschev and Mikhail Gorbachev each got involved with the hockey program  The KGB was used to minimize chance of defection.  On the other side there was a brief clip of Ronald Reagan and one of Jimmy Carter when he declared the United States would not participate in the Moscow Olympics.  Alan Eagleson was shown as an organizer of the Summit series.  As it happened I had arranged for Alan to be declared the first to be honoured on a Wall of Fame for former newspaper carriers when I worked for the Etobicoke Guardian.  Also arranged for a photo at his office and an interview with one of my carriers.  When his fraud was uncovered  I was already gone from that job.

The Soviets had a system and a national feeder. network.  That was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed and when players left for the NHL. Russia (and their former states) still turn out exciting hockey players and the world is better for it.

Gabe Polsky was writer, director, producer and  interviewer.  This film won audience awards at film festivals in Chicago and Zurich.  He produced "Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans" (2009) which was directed by Werner Herzog.  He also was nominated for an Emmy for the television series, "Genius" (2017).

Werner Herzog, a prominent documentary maker was an executive producer on this film.  He had been a producer, director actor "and writer.   "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010) and "Grizzly Man," (2005) were two of his noted works.

Christophe Beck born in Montreal worked on music for "Frozen"( for which he shared an award.  He also was awarded a Prime Time Emmy for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997).  He worked on the music for "The Hangover," (2009) "The Muppets," (2011) and "Ant-Man" (2015)  During this research it dawned on me that there are many people involved in the music--not just the composer, or someone who writes a song, but ask producers and co-ordinators.  Leo Birenberg also worked on "Frozen" as a score co-ordinator.

Cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger had worked with Werner Herzog on "Bad Lieutenant:  Port of New Orleans," and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Grizzly Man."  The second cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko had worked "Inside Job," (2010) "Merchants of Doubt," (2014) and "Inequality for All" (2013) for which I included in another bloghttp://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/10/capital-in-twenty-first-century.html

As with music and cinematography with two people listed there are also two editors.  As the film took place in North America and Russia the work load  needed to be spread around.  Eli B Despres had written and edited two outstanding documentaries, "Weiner" (2016) and "Blackfish" (2013).  Kurt Engfehrk, the other editor had worked with Michael Moore on  "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) and "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004).

If you are a hockey fan you will enjoy this film and if you are not you will appreciate there is a lot of beauty in the game.

I have bolded the movie titles that I have actually seen.

1 comment:

  1. The Russian hockey team i.e Red Army plays hockey really well.I have not seen someone else play like this.The people are pro.

    ReplyDelete