Sax von Stroheim writes:
One’s a masterpiece, one’s an interesting-if-not-exactly-good little movie.
First the masterpiece:
Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1977)
A vulgar, American comedy from one of the 70’s most underrated filmmakers. (Considering the “classic” status of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, one would think he’d get more credit, but the appeal of those movies is usually put down to the dual star power of Redford and Newman). Slap Shot is a perceptive and compelling look at guys, sports, working class towns, class issues in general, economics, homophobia, violence-as-spectacle, and the connections among all of those things. Kind of reminds me of certain Renoir movies (especially Boudu Saved from Drowning) in the way that some Raoul Walsh films (like Sailor’s Luck) remind me of Renoir: it has a dense but lively mise-en-scene that suggests the messiness of life in all of its glory. The look Paul Newman’s wife gives him right at the end of the movie – in which she realizes how sad it is that this guy will always remain essentially clueless – is one of the great looks in American cinema.
Below the Belt (Robert Fowler, 1974 but released in 1980)
Robert Fowler made only one movie, and it’s about women’s wrestling. It’s based on Rosalyn Drexler’s autobiographical novel, To Smithereens, and though it’s quite amateurish – about half of it seems to be made up of montages set to songs that explain the action and themes of the film, as if no one trusted the filmmaking itself to do those jobs – it’s also very honest and lived-in, full of details that feel like they’ve been taken directly by life. The casting is great: a mix of New York City theater actors and people that look like they were pulled from real wrestling circuits (it makes for a great gallery of hard luck faces). It’s one of those little movies that’s winning not because it’s made with much talent, but because it seems very human, without any of the artifice that you get even when – or, maybe, especially when – a filmmaker tries to consciously, intellectually strip away the artifice
Both movies are currently playing on Netflix Watch Instantly.