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Double Feature: Two Movies
Worth Seeing

Two new films—one on San Jose's history, the other on Soviet hockey—are worth seeing
HISTORY LESSONS: 'Changing Boundaries' examines the history of San Jose, while 'Red Army' tells the story of the 'Miracle on Ice' from the USSR's point of view.

What does San Jose have in common with the USSR? Both get no respect. The documentary Changing Boundaries: The History of San Jose is a small-scale but thoroughly professional overlook at some 240 years of valley history.

Surprising how much you can learn about a place you think you know. Director Tricia Creason-Valencia and producer Norman Kline can be proud of the documentary's emphasis on progressive politics, on strife as much as wealth. Once, the Mexican governor Pio Pico was decrying the problem of illegal Yankee immigrants; years later some civic bosses were still gobbling land. Such was A. P. "Dutch" Hamann, city manager for some 20 years, whose motto was "Let's make San Jose the Los Angeles of the north." He sought to do this through sheer square mileage: his department's speedy annexations were only half-jokingly compared to the progress of a Panzer division.

Even Carl Guardino, the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, has to admit that there was tragedy in the wholescale bulldozing of the finest farmland in the world. As the city sprawled, the downtown went vacant. Services were few in the dark and semi-paved streets of the Salsipuedes neighborhood, where Caesar Chavez came from. Turmoil at San Jose State University led to Tommie Smith and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

The documentary ends on a positive note, considering the racist blight of the past as a thing of the past: the discrimination directed first at the Chinese and then at the Japanese is now over with. As if our boom town wasn't still exploiting immigrant labor

But there's real history here: we were the crossroads of the state, the home of the first Bank of America that A. P. Giannini opened. And the area is still a center of education, of innovation and some really tasty garage band rock.

Essential to the transformation of San Jose from an oversized suburb to a real city was the San Jose Sharks—when they arrived in 1991, the city suddenly had a brand. The documentary Red Army was made out of a love of the dangerous game; director Gabe Polsky has a spellbinding story to tell about the golden days of Soviet hokej. It's so gripping that Polsky's fumbling interview style doesn't completely get in the way.

His main subject is Slava Fetisov, as renowned a player as ever put on blades. At first Fetisov comes off rude and prickly; later, it becomes clear that Polsky is editing Fetisov to bring out his stereotypical Russian moodiness.

As if Fetisov needed editing to look intimidating. As the team captain of the unstoppable Red Army hockey team, he and his cohorts dominated the international game. There was one glitch—the famous "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Note that Red Army adopts the salient visual feature of the Kurt Russell version of that American sports victory, Miracle (2004). Red Army stresses the look of obsolete color television with its bleeding colors, as well as clips from staticky, badly tracked VHS tapes.

The camp value and commie nostalgia is right in Polsky's comfort zone. The film sometimes seems a little unserious, given the background. Fetisov's teammate and friend Alexei Kasatonov says the Soviet team's triumphs represent "the story of our country"—the one thing that worked in a nation of dysfunction.

The training conditions were brutal: the dreaded coach Viktor Tikhonov allegedly tried to get his players to reach a 220 beat per minute heart rate during exercise. Despite this, the Russians played hockey with the grace of ballet dancers and the logic of chess masters (and the Soviets used instructors in both disciplines for their training). Interestingly, the New Jersey Devils—where so many of the Soviets ended up—were designed for collisions and assaults.

Russia is now one big farm team for the NHL. Patriotism may be the last refuge of a scoundrel, but it does exist even when money talks as loudly as it does today. Witnessing Fetisov's own moods and silences, one gleans that as wrong as the USSR was, Fetisov did the right thing by playing for his nation's pride.


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