Life teems with a myriad of grand endeavours; acts of kindness and unspoken tales which will never be captured on screen no matter how profound they are. Meanwhile celebrities, public figures and YouTube stars belch out putrid accounts (breakfast intake, subsequent bowel movement and surgical blunders etc) en masse or captured in a pop-doc because their fan base ensures high hit/ audience numbers. Whether it makes for an enthralling work is almost irrelevant. It’s part of an adage that spreads to the generation of flaccid sequels, prequels, spin-offs and unwanted remakes, reboots etc and it will never stop as long as there’s a speck of milk on the udder.
In the matter of both The Ice King and figure skating artist/ legend John Curry this is not quite the case. Curry was not only an “ice-dancing” artist/ sports pioneer but a fascinatingly fractured, haunted individual and not enough of a name to make The Ice King a cash-in. Sadly though, documentarian James Erskine’s film focuses more on Curry’s art/vocation over the captivating man behind it and is crafted in a manner more akin to a Blu-ray extra than a more conscientious analysis.
A magical opening captures shadows, ice particles, pipes and dials while soaring music gilds footage of spectacular manoeuvring which will make some less dexterous viewers wince. A recording of Curry tells of his determination to triumph before Erskine’s film sashays through a bombarding assemblage of stock footage via light narration, spliced with so many skating sequences the film swiftly sifts into snore rousing monotony.
What Curry achieved was remarkable (changing what was once a “macho, technical sport” into a new artistic medium) but The Ice King feels like more of an airy celebration that captures, but doesn’t utilise, the relevant themes enough for it to resonate with general audiences who aren’t a fan of his sport. You don’t have to be a motor racing fanatic to adore Asif Kapadia’s Senna or be a Spandau Ballet lover to adore Soul Boys of the Western World but The Ice King will probably only work for lovers of Curry’s profession.
Without want of trivialising, or worse, sensationalising his personal demons, if extrapolated and utilised to a greater extent, The Ice King would have been gifted with a more pertinent core that would have made Erskine’s film flourish. Curry’s letters to his lover/ fellow skater Heinz Wirz are flatly relayed while cultural/ family conflicts relating to his sexuality could have also been better integrated to serve a narrative. Somewhere amongst the chasm of stock footage lies a linear, longer and more commanding tale, but, as it stands, The Ice King just unravels like a clunky conveyor belt of clips: a cluttered cine-scrap book connecting lost letters, newspaper cuttings and yellowing photographs into a colossal yet hollow assemblage.
Even though Erskine’s film brushes over fascinating facets (Curry’s fragile relationship with his father, insecurity living as a homosexual in a more threatening cultural climate), the director attempts to cover too much ground in too short a running time. Curry may crack with the complexities to make for a significant subject but The Ice King an adoringly bleary account that lingers for far too long on the rink. As a result, it resounds more like a curt skirting over than a weighty study which would have made for a richer, more relatable and rewarding experience.