Filmmaker Ponders Hockey Violence

[See Video Clip Below]

Contemporary hockey fans remember well the Bertuzzi-Moore incident of a few seasons ago, as well as other violent events, many not notable on a national level but rather the almost-private sufferings players undergo simply to be a part of the game.

But hockey is a game of triumphs, too, none perhaps greater to Canadian fans than the NHL superstar team of 1972 defeating the Russian Red Army team in an eight-game showdown called the Summit Series. Four games in Canada, four games in Moscow, with the likes of Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Jean Ratelle, and Ken Dryden highlighting a roster of the best of the best—in the world, it was thought by Canadians. (As a historical note, the two greatest players of the day, Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull, didn’t play. Orr was hurt, and Hull had just “jumped” to the WHA for the incredible amount of a million bucks).

The series didn’t go quite as Canadian fans had expected, though, with the Russians surprising Team Canada to win the first game in Montreal and take another in the Canadian portion of the series as well as a tie. By game eight in Moscow, played September 28, 1972, it was all even. “The Goal” decided it in Canada’s favor (you can see it for yourself on DVD, so I won’t spoil it with the details).

That winning moment is what most people, even those not alive yet to see it first-hand on TV, remember about the series.

However, lurking behind the highlight footage of the series-winning goal, and now almost forgotten, is a moment that filmmaker Brett Kashmere sees as going more to the heart of what hockey is: the slash by Bobby Clarke on Russian scorer Valery Kharlamov which put him out of the seventh game and rendered him ineffective in the deciding eighth contest.

This slash on Valery’s ankle forms the centerpiece of Kashmere’s 33-minute film exploring the violence in hockey. However, Kashmere does not approach the topic as an outsider, but rather as one who played hockey growing up and who understands the way in which the game forms the identity of those who love it.

At the same time, he questions the ethic of hockey which demands tribal-style violence when it is used as a response to the skill of the other team or another player, or when it serves only as entertainment. And in doing so, he provides graphic evidence of the savage nature of the sport through game footage as well as reenactment footage of the 1972 series.

The film is a documentary-style digital essay, intercutting archival documents and stills, appropriated and self-shot footage, and re-photographed and processed imagery. On-screen text, voice-over narration, and music add additional layers of audiovisual information. As Kashmere writes, “Valery’s Ankle is a dense, synthetic film. Each sequence is intended to overload viewers with interrelated images, ideas and data. Why? Because hockey is a fast, transitional game. In order to best represent its speed and flow (also the cause of its violent collisions), I built a montage that moves quickly and transparently between sections and time periods. Like swift skating strides, short bursts of still images and primary documents build momentum then recede, imbuing the film with circular hockey-like rhythms.

“Peter Gzowski’s description of hockey’s fluidity sums up my editing strategy for Valery’s Ankle: ‘There is an awesome, rushing beauty to this game. Even from this perspective, patterns emerge, fade, shift, change, fade and form again. A rhythm sets in, as the play flows back and forth, eases off, gets broken and picks up. For an immeasurable instant, a gap appears….’ These gaps provide opportunities to ask questions. I say in the film that an image can cover up as much as it reveals. Too often, we blindly trust what we see. As with the ubiquitous image of Paul Henderson’s goal, its mass reproduction informs and obscures at the same time.”

This is one DVD you’ll be anxious to share with friends, and one that will get everyone talking about the state of the game post-1972, post-Bertuzzi-Moore, post-whatever event next happens to highlight the other side of the speed and beauty of our sport.

Brett Kashmere can be reached via email at: brettkashmere@yahoo.com. Copies of his film, a must-see for hockey fans young and old, American and Canadian alike, are available for a $10 (USD) donation. More details, including press materials, stills, and ordering information, can be found at brettkashmere.com.

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