Red Army is a feature documentary about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team. Told from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the story portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy. From the USSR to Russia, the film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union.Written by
When you die, this is gonna be your legacy.
[Taking phone out]
I know and I appreciate it. You're a good guy. I'm lucky to have you.
I think we're both lucky to have each other.
[Not paying attention, calling on phone]
That's even better. California boy and good guy.
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I watched "The Red Army" a documentary about the Russian hockey players that dominated the world in the 1980's during the Cold War, and the human story that emerged took me completely by surprise. The film features the Russian hockey players that played on the so- called "KLM" line, which consisted of defencemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, and forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, the best five man unit that ever played the game. I feared these guys and the Soviet Union hockey team during the 1980's, my entire country did; Canadian hockey announcers pointed out the lack of emotion in their faces when they came to visit, suggesting that they weren't human. Every young child I knew growing up was afraid of the Russians and their way of life, anti Russian sentiment flowed through pop culture, it was a Cold War, a term that baffles the Russians interviewed in the film. This documentary reminded me of how ignorant we all were, the Iron Current prevented the western world from seeing people in the Soviet Union as human beings. The propaganda in my country prevented me from recognizing the creativity and talent these hockey players possessed.
Viacheslav Fetisov was the leader of the group, he treated Alexei Kasatonov like a little brother all his young life. As I watched the images of early Russian hockey I must admit there was a part of me that envied the young boys that got sent to these hockey camps. Their coach Anatoli Tarasov mentored his players, and in the old film they showed he really seemed to enjoy himself. Tarasov was unorthodox, he saw hockey as a ballet, he had his players juggle during training, and they were rolling around on the ice like gymnasts. I never knew the early history of the "KLM" line but before they were Olympians they were children, and that's what this film depicts so brilliantly. The director and writer Gabe Polsky seems very close to Viacheslav Fetisov while he interviews him, and that really helped authenticate what I was hearing.
The coach that took over the Russian hockey program from Tarasov was completely different from the gentle father that wanted to inspire. Viktor Tikhonov was a military man first, and according to Fetisov he cared nothing about his players as human beings. He wouldn't let his players see their families, even when a family member fell terminally ill. The relationship between Fetisov and Tikhonov is what pushed Fetisov out of the Red Army, the Russian government agreed to let him go after his many years of service but Tikhonov took back that offer, stopping the government from letting Fetisov join the NHL. The other players on the "KLM" line were eventually told they could join the NHL, but they would have to give up half their salary to mother Russia. Fetisov held strong, he would not go to the NHL without getting permission to sign his own contract, in his mind he was finished serving the Russian government.
The film demonstrates how the politics at the time reflected the lives of these young hockey players and as I watched them go through this, I found myself cheering for them for the first time. A handful of young Russian hockey players were sent out to make money for their cash starved government, a couple of them signed with my beloved Vancouver Canucks. I still here the local stories about Vladimir Krutov, while he was in Vancouver he found the North American life style very hard to adjust to. When he arrived in Canada, he couldn't get over the fact he could get a hamburger from McDonald's anytime he wanted to, he could buy soft drinks and hot dogs from the corner store any hour of the day. He ballooned in his first year, growing bigger and bigger, his new freedom leading him to over indulgence. He didn't last long in the NHL; during his interview in this movie he was very stoic, he had lost his life in hockey without his country, he seemed so distant when he spoke.
The Russian culture has always fascinated me, I've regarded our two national hockey teams as the best for many years. Hockey has changed however and Russia has changed right along with it, hockey has become more about skill and less about physical intimidation. Russia is now a democracy, still in its infancy, lots of good and bad going on in that country, and dealing with political corruption is at the forefront. This film starts at the peak of the communist regime and ends in present day Russia, a democracy still haunted by its past. Viacheslav Fetisov is now working in the KHL, a league that would never exist without political change, in 2002 Vladimir Putin made him minister of Sport for Russia, he never turned his back on his country and at no point did Fetisov take the easy way out. He faced his government like the big man he is, he looked the minister of defence right in the eyes and challenged him to send him to Siberia. The courage Fetisov shows in this story impressed me the most, and I loved learning that his closest friends were five boys that loved to play hockey together.
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