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Rendez-Vous 87: The NHL All-Stars, the Soviet National Team, and the Super Bowl of Hockey

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Image courtesy of GreatestHockeyLegends.com

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, a team of NHL All-Stars faced off against the Soviet National Team in a pair of exhibition games in Quebec City. The games were two of the main attractions of Rendez-Vous 87, a week-long series of events held during Quebec’s Winter Carnival. The “Super Bowl of hockey” featured lavish meals, fashion shows, the Bolshoi Ballet, and even Ontario native Alan Thicke. Here’s a brief history of the spectacle.

The Idea Is Born

According to Sports Illustrated writer E.M. Swift, the idea for Rendez-Vous 87 was hatched at a 1983 NHL Board of Governors meeting in Quebec City. The league expressed interest in hosting an All-Star Game in one of North America’s oldest cities in the near future and Quebec Nordiques president Marcel Aubut began brainstorming ideas to spice up the typically boring midseason exhibition between the NHL’s two conferences. Quebec City was officially awarded the 1987 All-Star Game in 1984. Two years later, Aubut presented his idea for a two-game series between the NHL All-Stars and the Soviet National Team, which would serve as the centerpiece of a larger celebration and showcase for the city. “It should be an event where sports fans who otherwise have no interest in hockey have no choice but to watch and where even the people who are not interested in sports have no choice but to watch,” Aubut said.

The Date Is Set

The league liked Aubut’s idea and moved to extend the All-Star break from two to five days, even before the NHL Player’s Association and Soviet Hockey Federation agreed to participate. “The players haven't said yes yet because they haven't been asked,” said Alan Eagleson, the executive director of the player’s association. “The Soviets haven't agreed because they don't know anything about the project. It is my guess that if the money is right – if the pile is high enough – there will be no problem.”


Eagleson used the series as a source of leverage during collective bargaining, but eventually gave his blessing. The Soviets were also on board. Each of the NHL All-Stars received $1,000 per game plus expenses, while the Soviet National Team earned $40,000 per game plus expenses. The dates for the series were set for Wednesday, February 11, and Friday, February 13.

Much More Than Hockey

Aubut was determined to make Rendez-Vous 87 hockey’s version of the Super Bowl. “If people think this is going to be just a couple of hockey games with a few other things thrown around it, they're wrong,” he said at a press conference. “That's not the case at all. This is going to be one of the big events of the decade.” Indeed, the hockey games were but two items on a jam-packed schedule of events.

Festivities began on Monday with a 10-course, $350-a-head dinner for 1,500, prepared by top chefs from the Soviet Union, United States, and Canada. Subsequent events included a variety show featuring local acts, the Soviet Red Army Chorus, and members of the Bolshoi Ballet; a business lunch with Chrysler president Lee Iacocca; brunch in a museum decorated by Pierre Cardin to resemble Maxim’s of Paris; and a $250,000 fashion show. United States President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Andrei Gromyko delivered video messages of peace during a black-tie gala. Guests included Joe Dimaggio, Gordon Lightfoot, Wilt Chamberlain, Pele, and Thicke, who wrote the words for the event’s official theme song.

Previous Series

Individual NHL teams and various all-star teams had played exhibition games against the Soviet National Team before, but Rendez-Vous 87 marked the first time that North America’s best professional players faced off against the world’s most dominant team. In the 1972 Summit Series, a team of Canadian players defeated the U.S.S.R. 4-3-1 in an eight-game series. The Soviets won two out of three games in the 1979 Challenge Cup held in New York, but that exhibition excluded World Hockey Association stars. The WHA merged with the NHL after the 1978-79 season, putting all of North America’s best players in one league.

Coaching Controversy

It was customary at the time for the coaches who appeared in the previous season’s Stanley Cup to coach in the All-Star game. Montreal hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1986, but the Canadiens’ bitter relationship with the Nordiques led many to wonder if their head coach, Jean Perron, would be selected to lead the NHL’s team of stars. Aubut, whose dislike for Perron was well known, wisely removed himself from the process for picking the coaching staff. Perron, Nordiques head coach Michel Bergeron, and Calgary Flames head coach Bob Johnson were eventually tapped to lead the NHL team.

Picking the Team

Picking the players was almost as controversial. The NHL team’s starting lineup, save for the goalie, was determined by fan vote, while eight NHL executives picked the rest of the squad. Many fans cried foul when Mario Lemieux beat out Wayne Gretzky for the starting center spot, despite the fact that the Great One’s scoring stats were far and away the best in the league. These fans accused the Nordiques organization of being, as one reporter put it, “tastelessly aggressive in the manner in which it has distributed and collected all-star ballots.”

Ten days before the first game in the series, Lemieux offered Gretzky his starting spot, but the Great One politely declined.

The Oilers had an NHL-best seven players selected to the team, but only one – Ontario native Paul Coffey – was voted a starter by the fans. (Coffey would sit out the series with an injury.) The final roster was comprised primarily of Canadians, but also included four Americans, two Swedes, and two Finns.

The Hype

A few months before the event, a report emerged from Moscow that, while the Soviets supported the series publicly, they were privately against it, fearing the embarrassment that would come with potential defeat. “It is ridiculous to say one side or the other does not want to play because it may lose,” said Gennadi Kasnachev, the Soviet consul in Montreal. “The game, the two sides meeting; that's what's important, particularly now with the political situation being so dangerous.” Pundits argued over who should be favored. The NHL All-Stars would only have a couple of days to prepare as a team, which was one of the main reasons that Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider ripped the series. “I think it's terrible,” Snider said. “(The Soviets) have all the advantages and we have all the disadvantages. They've created this illusion of being supermen. But all they do is maneuver and manipulate to always get the edge in sports, just like they do in everything else.” On the other hand, the Soviets would be jet-lagged.

The Ticket Fiasco

A month before the first game in the series, Eagleson threatened a player boycott. Aubut made 500 of the 15,000-plus tickets for each game at Quebec’s Colisée available to the public. Most of the rest were reserved for Nordiques season-ticket holders, corporate sponsors, and government officials. The 75 tickets Aubut set aside for the players and NHL officials was “unsatisfactory” to Eagleson, who asked that each player receive two tickets and the right to purchase two more in the best section. Aubut eventually caved and averted a crisis, providing Eagleson with 500 tickets no more than 20 rows from the ice. The ticket fiasco was only one of the headaches leading up to the event. Toronto pulled out of the parade, which was supposed to feature a float from every NHL team, because its owner didn’t like the Soviets. Eagleson and Aubut also haggled over hotel rates.

Game 1: NHL All-Stars 4, U.S.S.R. 3

After the Red Army Choir, Harvard Glee Club, and Quebec Symphony Orchestra Choir sang the national anthems of the Soviet Union, Canada, and United States, the NHL All-Stars jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. The Soviets came back to tie the score at 3-3 in the third period, but Dave Poulin’s goal off a deflection of a Lemieux shot with 75 seconds remaining gave the NHL team a stirring victory. “We can’t win every game,” Soviet coach Victor Tikhonov told reporters after putting his team through a rigorous practice the following day.

Game 2: U.S.S.R. 5, NHL All-Stars 3

The Soviets got a strong performance from goalie Evgeny Belosheikin and overcame an early 1-0 deficit. Before the event, the two sides agreed that co-champions would be declared if the teams split the series. Given that his team had outscored the NHL All-Stars in the two games, Tikhonov was asked if he considered his squad the champions. “It is important that you know that the NHL didn’t win, and neither did we,” he said. “The person that won was hockey itself. Both games were like holidays, like festivals, two of the greatest hockey games you’ll ever see.” Tikhonov praised the performance of the NHL All-Stars. “If they were my team, they'd never lose a game,” he said. “ …Of all teams, this is the one I admire the most.”

A Success

For all the consternation leading up to Rendez-Vous 87, the event was a success. At least 125 million people in more than 20 countries watched the games, with Game 2 drawing a 50 percent audience share. CBC produced the telecast and controlled the Canadian rights to the broadcast, while ESPN owned the rights everywhere else except the Soviet Union. Aubut would later report that the event, which cost $9.4 million, turned a $1.9-million profit and generated at least $18.5 million in economic spinoffs. Aubut returned $500,000 to the public purse as “an exemplary gesture.”

Postscript

Hockey hasn’t had another event like Rendez-Vous 87, partly because the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1989, Sergei Priakin became the first player from the Soviet Union permitted to play for a professional team in North America when he signed with Calgary. Today, there are Russian stars throughout the league. Aubut remained president of the Nordiques until 1995, when he sold the team to an American company that relocated the franchise to Denver. Today, he is the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Eagleson, who fought so hard for those tickets, was later convicted of fraud and embezzlement, disbarred, and removed from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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