Friday, October 4, 2019

The life & times of skating champion John Curry in James Erskine doc, THE ICE KING

What a sad, sad life. Though Olympic champion John Curry is most remembered for his magnificent ice skating that turned sport into art, as well as for his "off-the-record" remark about his homosexuality that made him the first openly gay winner of an Olympic championship, viewers of THE ICE KING, are likely to come away from this surprising and very moving 2018 documentary feeling as saddened as they are surprised by the life of this man -- who died in 1994 at the untimely age of 44.

As written and directed by noted documentarian James Erskine, shown at left, the movie plows right into this almost typical -- except for Curry's amazing skills and tenacity -- story of a 20th Century growing-up-gay man, including that withholding father whom you can never quite please, and the consequent loneliness of a life lived far too long in the closet.

Thanks to a trove of varied and pointed archival footage -- much of which is not first-rate quality but is clearly the best of what was available -- we experience Curry's life as a child, a young man and finally as a hugely successful skater/artist.

As narrated by actor Freddie Fox, the documentary moves at a good clip, underscoring the more important points along the way and making good use of that fine archival footage with much less time given to the usual "talking heads" we encounter in so many more typical biographical docs.

We meet the friends, lovers and business associates of Mr. Curry (the artist is shown above and below), who together help build a portrait of a driven, lonely and not ever very happy young man.

The film allows us to see enough of his training, skating and "dance" -- I think there's no getting around the fact that viewing Curry in action was like watching the finest male ballet dancer (think Nureyev, among a very few others) on ice -- to understand why, as both athlete and artist, this man was exceptional.

The Ice King also gives us its subject, warts and all -- late in the film we learn that Curry could be particularly nasty to the women in his troupe -- including the various demons that drove him (he liked to be "punished" sexually, it would seem).

Through it all, however, what emerges is an artist of huge talent and possibility.

What Curry achieved, as shown here, should only make you sorry you could not have seen him in action at, say, his debut on the stage of New York City's Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. The word wow would seem to have been coined just for him.

From Film Movement and running 89 minutes, The Ice King makes its American DVD and digital debut this coming Tuesday, October 8 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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