Good work BAMcinématek for finding some free space in your 2008 calendar to whip up a quick Paul Newman tribute before the year is out. Tomorrow and Thursday are the underseen Hithcock Cold War outing Torn Curtain and the uberNewman performance The Hustler; let’s talk about tonight.
Over in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton sings of Newman’s directorial valentine to Joanne Woodward, The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, which kicks things off. So it’s up to me to talk about tonight’s other offering, Slap Shot, a film of many wonders — Maxine Nightingale singalongs and Sheriff Harry S. Truman skating around in his underwear — that’s too often reduced to just the bush-leage hockey slapstick and pottymouth. Which, yeah, but dig: along with Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, also written by the underrated Nancy Dowd, Slap Shot is maybe the truest depiction of national hangover-era Rust Belt existence ever committed to film. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of an ulcerous streetcorner bar in some mid-sized milltown, nowhere near dark yet but as full as it’ll be all day, calloused hands popping Bud tabs, shucking peanuts and banging at a grainy, oversaturated TV set by the glow of an overhead lamp, its shade dotted with the logo of each NFL team. Or at least that’s how I’ve always pictured it. In any case, it’s a flashback to an America that’s still regional — before cable or any other digital technologies made all but the most remote communities porous. Circa Slap Shot it was still possible to feel that life was elsewhere; it’s a feeling that the movie captures perfectly.