Sunday, January 3, 2010

Alaska January 3, 1959

Alaska is one of the eight states I have not yet visited. I suspect it has a lot more to offer than the book I selected, Williwaw by Tom Bodett; and the movie I watched, Mystery, Alaska. James and I joke that there are really only three basic plots to movies: the first is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back; the second is cute kid saves the day (think Home Alone); and the third is ending-hinges-on-a-sporting-event. Mystery, Alaska was quite decidedly type 3.

While the U.S. population is slightly over 50% female, in Alaska it is just under 48%. It is a man's state and that is the message I got from this hockey movie. The ficticious town of Mystery loves hockey, and Saturday mornings revolve around hockey games that only about a dozen of the men get to play. These players are chosen by a committee of three other men in town, who deliver news of being cut from the game the same way a judge might deliver a hanging order. Women's roles are to support the men in their hockey pursuits. When the cuckold mayor (Colm Meany) discovers his wife's transgression with one of the players "Shank" (played by Ron Eldard) Shank promises to make it up to him by winning the exhibition game the town has scheduled with the New York Rangers. Hank Azaria plays Charlie Danner, a native son who left Mystery in order to pursue a career in journalism. He is constatntly chided when he returns to town, writing is such a sissy career after all, apparently even if one writes for Sports Illustrated. This point is driven home by the comment "I heard he played hockey like a homosexual" made by Marla Burns (Rachel Wilson) the daughter of the town's local prick (played ably by Burt Reynolds). Of course, just as the credits roll we discover that old Judge Burns has a human side after all. This bad-guy-turns-out-to-be-okay-after-all  theme also plays out at the end in Bodett's predictable book, but I can forgive some of that since it was written for a young audience.

A williwaw is a type of fierce Alaskan storm that those who grow up there can recognize easily. The characters in Bodett's book, Autumn and Ivan, a brother and sister, are left by their fisherman father in their remote cabin with radios as their only a point of contact. When Ivan fries the radios by hot wiring them to his video game he and Autumn come up with a scheme to fix them before their father calls again so he won't find out. They break every rule their father had set down for them, and of course he finds out - parents always do. Plus they are almost killed in a williwaw trying to beat him back to their cabin. I did learn a bit about Alaska from the book, and Bodett (yes the guy from the Motel 6 commercials) is quite a good storyteller. And I learned more than I wanted to know about hockey from watching the movie. I did promise myself when I started this project to pick some things that I would not usually read or watch. I can check sports movie off my list. I was interested in the commentary made on racism in sports mascot the movie made as well. The promoters of the exhibition game wanted to call the Mystery team "The Eskimos". The locals pointed out that none of the players were, in fact, native americans, and that native Alaskans who lived in the area were called Inuits in any case.

We enjoyed wild Alaskan salmon and cod for dinner with a pecan crunch coating. Our friends Anna, Brendan and Amelia joined us for this delicious meal.

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