The Ice King
As a film title, The Ice King is unfortunate. It gives the impression that we’re about to watch an over-the-top sci-fi/fantasy B movie, whose only hope for success is to be just the right combination of bad and good that it ends up being funny.
But James Erskine’s documentary is nothing like that. In reality, it tells the story of John Curry, the Olympic athlete credited as being the first to mix sport with artistry. His commitment to figure skating with grace reflected his lifelong love of dance, and changed ice skating forever. But his journey was not an easy one.
His refusal to adhere to the typical gender roles imposed on his sport is covered at length in the documentary, and it’s fascinating to see footage of what was once considered appropriate “manly” skating juxtaposed with Curry’s beautiful routines. One can’t help but be moved when watching the way he danced on the ice, and admire what it must have taken to own his sexuality after he was outed. Not only did he make it socially acceptable for men to be graceful in sport, but he made it popular in the extremely homophobic time in which he lived.
The Ice King’s strength comes from the wealth of videos, photos and private letters shown throughout. The editing is superb, and the effort it must have taken to curate these images must have been huge, with some of the videos being the only known recordings of Curry’s routines. This archive of footage, pictures and private writings gives the audience a very intimate look into the life of a very public figure.
The film is noticeably different to many others of its kind in that most of the interviews given by the people in Curry’s life are used as voice over. Viewers hear their memories and thoughts about the Olympian as a friend, a lover, a co-worker and a family member most often over lengthy, almost loving videos of his routines and private photos taken away from the limelight. This is only effective to a point. It makes the historical footage feel personal, however, it also makes it difficult to distinguish the speakers. Not only that, but the choice to only do short, close-up, slow-motion shots of some of the interviewees is a little mystifying.
On the whole, The Ice King is a touching look at the public and private life if an important cultural icon. The choice to show so much video footage of Curry is a very wise one, as it allows the documentary to rely heavily on the beauty of his art and on his eloquence.
The Ice King is released nationwide on 23rd February 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Ice King here: