' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: Get Yer Brooms Out!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Digression: Get Yer Brooms Out!

"It’s not just a rock. It’s forty-two pounds of polished granite with a beveled underbelly and a handle a human being can hold. Okay, so in and of itself it looks like it has no practical purpose. But it’s a repository of possibility. And when it's handled just right, it exacts a kind of poetry. As close to poetry as I ever want to get." - Men With Brooms

"Men With Brooms" (review coming tomorrow!) is a terribly made movie but it is the only movie ever made about curling (until my own curling screenplay finally gets optioned - which it never will) and that quote up above is sparkling in its accuracy.

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver have begun and for those not in the know our second favorite sport here at Cinema Romantico, after, of course, college football, is curling. Yes! I do not jest! Curling! Curling, as famed columnist Dave Barry once wrote, "dates back to 16th century Scotland, where somebody - and I am guessing that this person had consumed at least two quarts of Scotch - came up with the idea of sliding heavy rocks (or 'stones') along the ice (or 'frozen water')." It is a dazzling game of serious strategy and special skill and people peppering their language with phrases like "hog lines" and "heavy ice" and the potential terror of "dumping the handle" (ye gods! no!).

To prep for my script I taped at least a dozen curling matches from the Salt Lake City Olympics of 2002 and watched them over and over, learning as much as I could, studying the sport's nuances. Often you will hear someone describe it as being akin to "Shuffleboard on ice" but such a description is an affront to curling. That would be the same as your story-embellishing uncle in the backyard playing a few points of badminton by swatting at the shuttlecock with a spatula in the other hand claiming he's essentially playing the same game as Roger Federer. No, no, curling is its own sport, and a fine one she is.

The basics: two teams take turns sliding smooth, granite stones along a sheet of pebbled ice in an attempt to land the most in the House (i.e. Target). A curling match consists of ten ends (i.e. innings). Typically they run 2-3 hours. The infamous brooms are used to assist in guiding the stones into their proper position. Of course, this doesn't even begin to describe how it all works. Curling also gets compared to chess and billiards and bowling but I think it shares a lot in common with baseball. In baseball the goal is obvious - advance a runner to homeplate. Ah, but there is a myriad of ways this can be accomplished and the joy rests in watching what various strategies managers will employ inning to inning. No two are alike. The same can be said of curling.

What some may see as a glacial pace I see as gentle. Curling is never in a rush. If the moguls are a shot-gunned PBR and ski jumping is Jager and Red Bull and figure skating is a glass of Château Belair then curling is a crisp Sleeman Ale drank at a most relaxed pace. And, maybe most refreshingly, no one gives referees death stares or whines incessantly if they fail to execute. They nut up and take responsibility. To self-indulgently quote my own unmade screenplay: "Curlers are a different breed."

In fact, the sport's code of conduct, to this day, calls for the winners to buy their opponents a round of lager (and the opponents should then reciprocate) after the match. I mean, shouldn't all Americans dig such a sport? (Note: Did you know the San Francisco 49er's Vernon Davis loves the sport so much he was named an Honorary Captain of the U.S. Curling Team? It's true! I knew that dude was on my fantasy football team - and he really was! - for a reason!)

The United States of America will be represented on the women's side of the bracket by Team McCormick (curling teams are named for their Skip - or, in layman's terms, their Captain), a Gold Medal favorite, and their namesake, Debbie McCormick, marking her third Olympiad, has been dubbed a "curling rock star". Yes, no, maybe so, but if McCormick is a rock star then she's Brenda Lee.

Liudmila Privivkova, on the other hand, skip of the Russian National Curling Team, is Debbie Harry 1979.

Yeah, that's right, my fellow Americans, this February fortnight Cinema Romantico is turning coat and rooting for the Russians. For the next two weeks I side with the Red October, openly support Ivan Drago and I'm drinking buddies with Ned Isakoff. Look, I'm not one of those Toby Keith lovin' Yanks who only pays attention to the medal count and blindly roots for every single athlete wearing the stars & stripes. I watch the Olympics for the athletes themselves.

I can hear you groaning. I can hear you telling me I'm only rooting for her because she's the Anna Kournikova Of Curling. (She's better than Anna. She's won something - a whole lotta something, actually - namely, the 2006 European Curling Championships. So there.) And to that I say, well, what do you expect? I can't negate my male instincts simply because the Olympic Torch has been lit. But that's not the only reason I root for her. Get one thing straight - this girl can curl.

Liudmila is curling's Captain Clutch, play rising in proportion to the stakes. For instance, in the recent 2009 European Championships twice in tie matches Liudmila, despite not having the crucial advantage of "the hammer", outdueled her rival Swede and Swiss skips, respectively, to score in the final end and advance to the playoff round. (This is like two NFL playoff games in a row where a team didn't win the coin flip in overtime yet still won on each occasion.) Liudmila cackles in the face of adversity and roasts pressure on a spit.

She is the Moscow Monolith, the Czarina Of The Steal. You tell her it can't be done and she'll just go right ahead and do it. She directs the flow of a match like an air traffic controller at O'Hare the day before Thanksgiving. And she is ably backed up by Ekaterina Galkina ("lead"), "You're Damn Right I'll Have Salt Around The Glass Of My" Margarita Fomina ("second") and Anna "Svelznik" Sidorova ("third").

I know, I know, the Winter Olympics aren't that big a deal in America anymore. As Sports Illustrated's Mike McAllister noted before the Turin Games: "Maybe it's a passive-aggressive form of isolationism as we simply ignore a competition we can't dominate." (Who? Us? Americans? Naaaaaaah.) Ice dancing is dinner theater. The biathlon is dudes combining skiing with the shooting of live moose (as far as I know). The nordic combined is, well, the nordic combined, which is to say no one knows what the hell it is. U.S. Speed Skating would have gone the way of skijoring if not for Colbert Nation. And curling is just a bunch of schmoes on ice with brooms.

Au contraire, mon frère, but I dig the time every four years when athletes who train in obscurity for their one shot are granted the spotlight. If the Vancouver Olympics aren't for you because you prefer sports where jackalopes pull guns on each other, hey, have it, but don't mind me if I choose to trade the locker room glock for a broom. (Sure, the U.S. Snowboarding Team's suite at the Olympic Village will be stocked to the rafters with brownies containing certain, shall we say, ingredients but come on, man, they don't wanna hurt nobody. It's just the Olympic Spirit.)

Curling will be televised at varying times, starting today, during the two weeks on MSNBC, CSNBC & USA and this Friday, February 19, on USA from 11 AM - 2 PM, you can watch Liudmila and her sterling counterparts tangle with the punk American women. My DVR is already set!

So join me, please, in pouring a nice Stoli on the rocks and saluting the sublime Ms. Privivkova, Russia's patron saint of sliding granite. No woman on a sheet of ice has ever looked so seductive. And if you're tuning in, well, maybe, just maybe, the sport itself will seduce you too.

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