Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dead Poets, Dreams and the Habs

In November, 1985, MGM released the movie "Rocky IV," and I went with my brothers to see it; the last film on the big screen before our local theatre closed down. The film was okay, but the soundtrack...ah, the soundtrack. That album became a secret personal pump-up play list to which I'd listen before every Habs game in the spring of 1986, during that season's magical, unexpected Stanley Cup run. In the superstitious mind of a kid Canadiens fan, playing "Eye of the Tiger" on game day meant the hockey gods were appeased, the juices were flowing and the beloved players somehow just knew we willed them to win. Nobody else knew about this secret ritual because nobody else could understand how the right song could make the spirit lift and the heart fill with confidence.

If only I'd known about Tim Thompson then. He would have gotten it. Thompson played junior hockey, then when that path ended, studied history in university. He grew up surrounded by music on mixed tapes and in his dad's huge vinyl collection, and he absorbed it genre by genre, singer and song, until it was part of him. In the end he became neither a hockey player nor an historian nor a musician. Instead, he found the perfect craft for all his talents and became a brilliant video editor. He learned how to weave threads of history through the intricate tapestries of his Hockey Night in Canada pre-game videos, always set to the perfect, gut-churning song.

"I've always had this weirdly cinematic mind," Thompson explains. "I'll see a bird flying overhead and someone walking across the street and a certain song will come into my head. And growing up playing hockey with music always around, these two roads, hockey and music intersected in my life and turned into this really cool career."

It was a great career, too. In his eight years at Hockey Night in Canada, he lived the rush of trying to cut video like a 33 played on 45 for two straight months in the spring, ready with a new piece of art nearly every playoff night. When he talks about choosing just the right song and the perfect images to go with it, his words are a passionate tumble.

"The art of hockey. It's such a great sport, really rich fodder for what I was doing," he enthuses. "You have this beautiful, graceful, elegant side of the game, and then you have the dark, physical, uncompromising side. And the two often clash head-on in the blink of an eye and create this beautiful storm. You add the history and the past and lay a really great song under that and it really takes off."

It's all in the eyes, Thompson says. If you know what to look for...the drive, the trepidation, the desire and the thrill...you'll find it in the eyes. It's one of his little secrets; the kind that elevate his work and let his gifts shine.

"I use a lot of people's eyes. I really feel that dives into the humanity of the players as people. You read a lot in their eyes. At least I do. So I would see a lot of the anthem shots, or the cameras would catch guys getting ready in the dressing room, staring off into space or on the bench visualizing what was to come. All those things got me excited and made me think of a certain song or lyric I could build it around."

Things were going well for Thompson, glorying in the love of his dream job. Then CBC lost the rights to Hockey Night in Canada to Rogers. The new guys wanted things their way and that way wasn't the way of art or emotion or creative beauty. In February, Rogers gave Thompson the boot and the dream job ended, just like that.

Fortunately for him and for hockey fans, art and emotion and creative beauty...and history and passion...are the way of the Montreal Canadiens. Few organizations recognize the power of ceremony and feeling like the Habs do, so when Thompson found himself out of work, he hardly had time to absorb it before his Twitter inbox lit up.

"Kevin Gilmour, one of the executives with Montreal messaged me  and said he had an idea and asked if we could talk," he remembers. "He was a big fan of what I'd been doing on Hockey Night and asked if I'd be interested in doing something for a specific team. I said that would be amazing and I had this idea in my head to do the piece that came out with Dream On and the scenes from  Dead Poets Society. I made it at home in my studio over two days last week and they were really, really ecstatic about it."

The piece, with Dream On and the scenes from Dead Poets Society has now been viewed by hundreds of thousands of hockey fans. It's a powerful blend of Aerosmith, Robin Williams at his pep-talk-giving best and Habs, past and present, with special care to pay tribute to those of the Canadiens family who have so sadly left us. It's a wonderful example of Thompson's fine work, and it seems almost meant to be.

"I have a huge love of history and that organization has it in spades and celebrates and does it so well," he says. "My dad's from Montreal as well, and his dad played a bit for the Maroons, so my dad was around some of the old Habs and old Maroons back in the day. I have a lot of respect for that city and that organization, and it was an honour to be asked to do this by the team itself."

The Aerosmith selection fits the piece perfectly, but it's almost an aberration for Thompson, who often chose to highlight obscure Canadian musicians in his Hockey Night in Canada days.

"I have the knack for finding songs," he states, matter-of-factly. "My benchmark for that is it an honest song and does it fit and work in the situation. And I didn't care if it was someone that would sell out arenas, or someone who plays to 20 people on Queen Street. If it's honest and it works, there's no better feeling."

The Canadiens have given an artist the chance to have that feeling again. even if not in the daily whirl of producing for the big show at the busiest time of the year. He hopes the relationship between creator and hockey team can continue, or that the opportunity will open new doors.

"I know what guys are feeling when they're standing there during the anthem and they look like they want to throw up. That nervous tension. As Ken Dryden said, "The game is coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it." Maybe having that knowledge and knowing what those feelings are like helps with shot selection, to elicit the most feeling. You try to make something that will really hit people," Thompson says.  "Hopefully, in the end, you make people want to climb a mountain or run through a wall or cry their eyes out. If you do one of those things, you've done your job."

Job well done, Tim. I wish I'd known you in 1986.

Click here to see Tim Thompson's Habs playoff 2014-15 video.


Ian said...

I got up this morning in more pain than usual. I put on a new 125 Mcg Fentanyl patch (this is my life nowadays) to help get me through the next 3 days.

I read your blog, Leigh Anne, and clicked on the video.

I watched with awe and great memories, having been a Habs' fan since back in the 50's.

I felt a warmth flow through my body, and a tear in my eye.

The video was so moving. Many people wouldn't understand the emotion, but if you are a Habs' fan, you would.

Just awesome! Made my day.

Go Habs Go.

And thanks again, Leigh Anne. You came through yet again, as you always do.

Harry said...

I am not a hockey fan,I am a Montreal Canadiens fan and I felt it too,like Ian. Even senior citizens like us still get chills from the CH.
Thanks JT for pointing out the video,I will enjoy it over and over.

moeman said...

Great piece about a great piece from two great artists.

Steve said...

There is a GOD!

Ian said...

Sorry, Leigh Anne, just need to rant for a second, and since your blog is easily my favourite....

If Subban was on the receiving end of the Stone slash and flopped around on the ice like Stone did (not saying he wasn't hurt), he'd probably get 10 minutes worth of embellishment penalties.

As for the Karlson hit on N8, it has been acknowledged as a head shot (though accidental IMO). The commentators didn't duck that.

Will the league even review it...they reviewed film that was over a week old to give Subban an embellishment fine. REALLY! That desperate to find something to go after PK for. I doubt if they review film of every game and all 700 players on a regular basis.

I'm hearing no commentary at all about a review for Karlson.

Thanks, needed to vent.

Phil G said...

I dreaded the Senators this series.I believed that the Habs would have their hands full with the many changes they made picking up certain player so.Good players on the surface,but mixing with a teams chemistry is always dangerous.They seem like tight bunch but we're were playing much better with original they had during the season.Chemestry is an art and the mix sometimes offset the balance of a team.I could see some line changes but I'm not the expert.Montreal has to start matching lines with Ottawa.Our defence has been up to task but the lack of defensive support
I have issues with media which has picked a favorite.I paid for Rogers ..this agreement with HNIC is and having the broadcasters with their cheerleaders is enough to turn a dogs stomach.It is biased as hell.It atrocious the love in the commanders have for the Sens.Its insulting to Hab fans and insulting to journalism to hear and understand their every slight.You don't have to read between the lines.Its out bare faced favouritism they show to any team playing Montreal.I would wish that Rogers would drop a few of the WORST on HNIC.We all know the history of some of their past teams these commanders have prejudices against Montreal.It seems since Rogers took over these boffons still remain.