Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Ice King: NZIFF Review

The Ice King: NZIFF Review

A doco that's as much about showing the balletics of ice skating as it is interested in delving into its protagonist's torture, James Erskine's The Ice King celebrates John Curry.

To be frank, he's possibly a name that's less familiar to some, but Erskine's fulsome piece could ensure that changes - and Curry becomes known more about his ice-capades than being thrust into the spotlight after securing a gold medal at the 70s Olympics and coming out "off the record."

Using voiceover interviews, rather than endless talking heads, and with letters from Curry himself helping to sell and tell the story, The Ice King is not really your traditional documentary and also not really your traditional sports story.

"Whatever greatness I possess, there are demons of equal value" is a phrase uttered twice in this piece, and it becomes clear that Curry's life is haunted, blighted by reaction from his father to his desire to learn ballet and by the melancholy which hits his life as it goes on.
The Ice King: NZIFF Review

Interestingly though, Erskine only really ever skates around the issue of the depression and it comes more strongly to light in the back half of the film where Curry's time outside of the skating spotlight and as he toured with his own company becomes more relevant.

It's helped little by the fact hardly much archive material of Curry's skating exists, so there are times when it feels like the film dwells too long on one performance. And yet, watching Curry at work, is mesmerising, a confluence of skill and desire, sadness and loneliness all wrapped up in one performance (regardless of whether it's handheld footage from an audience, or intercutting ballet with his interpretation of the similar).

Erskine uses reasonable aplomb to pull the story together, and this Storyville entrant is certainly solid enough, but while it's balanced and compact, it never fully feels like the rub of the man is actually fully exposed.

It's a muted piece, that enlightens and enthralls occasionally, but never fully grips when the spotlight shifts from what Curry could do on the ice - at the end, he still remains an enigma to the audience.

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