Of BAM’s Paul Newman tribute, or, more specifically, Slap Shot

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03/20/2009 12:36 PM |

This weekend and next, BAM remembers Paul Newman, like you could ever forget him. They did a short tribute last winter; the one selection that repeats is Slap Shot, which is apparently so popular as to warrant an extra Saturday night showing on one of BAM’s first-run screens. So, since it’s apparently on everybody’s mind, let’s talk about it:

As the L’s Benjamin Strong and I both said in December, it’s a great movie for our times: a gorgeously drab, resonant portrait of regional America at its lowest post-Watergate ebb. (Like The Wrestler, actually, Slap Shot owes a lot to Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner, in which tattered Americana locations and the battered body of a vainglorious, over-the-hill athlete in a minor sport stand in for a Depressed nation.)

It’s also, like screenwriter Nancy Dowd’s subsequent, similar rust-belt-by-bus odyssey Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, a movie that asks whether it’s possible to make it in this country without selling your body. (Or, rather, considering the endings of both, whether it’s possible to make it in this country even if you do sell your body.) “We’re the Stains, and we don’t put out”, but of course they sell out, eventually; so too does Slap Shot’s minor league hockey team, fighting and sacrificing their bodies and demeaning themselves for a (naturally, denied) chance at glory.

Also, Paul Newman’s clothes in this movie — particularly the polyester button-down and brown leather suit — are amazing. And his performance. Man. Paul Newman is a crusty bastard in this movie, a randy jerk-off with a perpetual salesman’s roguish charm. And he has a way with words: