' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Last weekend was the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice – you know, when a bunch of scrappy American college kids beat the Soviet machine in Olympic ice hockey. Though I am a noted Olympics enthusiast, I was not yet even three years old when the U.S. won 4-3, and so the closest I have ever come to experiencing the Miracle on Ice was through “Miracle”, Gavin O’Connor’s 2004 film recounting the improbable victory. I saw some sportswriters in the Twitter-verse over the ruby anniversary weekend call it the best sports movie ever, or one of the best, which are proclamations I always find a little suspect because much how many sportswriters limit discussions of sports’ best to the so-called Modern Era, like history gives them a headache, their declarations about sports movies never seem to include any films from before, like, the 80s, never mind 1950. (Monochrome! Egads!) However, while I will not say “Miracle” the best sports movie ever, I will say Kurt Russell’s turn as the real-life Miracle wrangling coach, Herb Brooks, is right near the top of best sports movie performances.

In E.M. Swift’s story for Sports Illustrated in which the entire team was named 1980 Sportsman of the Year, Brooks is quoted as saying “It was a lonely year for me. Very lonely. But it was by design. I never was close to my university players because they were so young. But this team had everything I wanted to be close to, everything I admired: the talent, the psychological makeup, the personality. But I had to stay away. If I couldn’t know all, I didn’t want to know one, because there wasn’t going to be any favoritism.” Uff da. That is a cold, hard truth, and one that Russell plays straight to throughout. Yes, he coaches, which is to say he shouts and stomps, but he also tempers so much hard-driving with moments of almost impenetrable introspection. In one extraordinary moment, at a Christmas celebration, the whole team gives Coach a whip, a joke gift to make light of all that shouting and stomping. And the way Russell meets the moment, with a little smile, evokes the quote the real Brooks gave Swift, appreciating the joke, yearning to express his appreciation, on the verge of letting his guard down, just a little bit, and then...not. He gets that pointed lack of favoritism just right. And what Russell gets right too, is the Minnesota accent.

We’ve discussed Minnesota accents before, as has every pop culture outlet every time a new season of “Fargo” premieres, but we will reiterate that while Kirsten Dunst – excuse me, the legend Kirsten Dunst – does an exemplary job in “Drop Dead Gorgeous” of going right to the edge of going too far without going over it and though Boston-born Allison Janney’s Minnesota accent is incredibly underrated in Juno (“Juno, did you barf in my urn?”) this blog’s vote for best Minnesota movie accent goes to Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks. My Grandpa Prigge was born, lived, and died a Minnesotan and what always stood out to be and lingers in my mind the most about his voice was not the roly-poly Os but the tense jaw, the way he flattened so many words out, like the last syllables were running into a wall. Listen in “Miracle” to the Big Speech before the Big Game, listen close to how Russell says “not tonight”; that’s the tense jaw.

In a scene before the Big Game between Herb and his archetypal Supportive Spouse (Patricia Clarkson), just there to be supportive, at an ice rink, half-watching his kids, she brings him a cup of coffee. And as she hands it over, he says “There we go.” And that matters. It matters because speaking Minnesotan isn’t just the accent, though Russell impeccably flattens that “There we go” out, but the phrases. There we go isn’t a phrase, exactly, not in the way of a You betcha, but it speaks to what Howard Mohr, author of How To Talk Minnesotan, has professed is the principal motivating factor in all familiar Gopher State phrasing, to be “as noncommittal and as indirect as possible”, the sort of passive-aggressiveness which simultaneously manifests in Russell’s apropos, regionally appropriate lack of eye contact throughout the scene. A standard thanks would do here, certainly, but instead the movie Brooks replies with a turn of phrase that is essentially purposeless, so Minnesota true that while the Big Speech gives me goosebumps, this “There we go” brings a tear to my eye.

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