Dir.: James Erskine; Documentary with John Curry, Heinz Wirz, Christa Fassi, Robin Cousins; UK 2017, 88’.
James Erskine’s documentary of the life of British ice-skater John Curry (1949-1994) is told as a classical Greek tragedy – which in many was it really was. Over one thousand letters by Currie and many witnesses tell a story of sporting triumph and a lonely private life leading to premature death due to complications of HIV and Aids.
Born in Birmingham, John suffered from an abusive father who forbade him ballet lessons, and continuously told him “something is wrong with you”. Luckily, John was allowed to take ice skating lessons, since this counted as a sporting activity. John’s father committed suicide when his son was fifteen. Soon John’s talent required him to leave Great Britain, to train in the USA with Carlo and Christa Fassi, a wealthy patron sponsoring his move. The British Ice-skating authorities ware not very helpful, they reminded Curry “not to skate so graceful”. Whilst male ice skating had for a long time been a mixture of running fast and jumping high, Curry innovated the sport by incorporating ballet moves in his free skate programme, a fore-runner of the Torvil/Dean partnership. In 1976 Curry won the European and World Championship and the highlight of his career, the Olympic Gold Medal in Innsbruck. He outed himself as gay shortly afterwards, and retired from the sport, to found his own Skating Company, performing in a West End Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall in 1984. World renown choreographers like Kenneth McMillan were instrumental in Curry’s success. “Scheherazade” (1980), was a great success, but “MoonSkate”, performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1984, was certainly the artistic highpoint of his latter career. Financially, not everything worked out, and Curry also became known to be a difficult director of his shows, particularly with female members of the cast. In 1987 he contracted HIV, and four years later Aids. Before living the final years of his life with his mother, his swansong on ice was a all male show of “The Blue Danube” to the music of Johann Strauss II.
Whilst his professional peers from the amateur days speak highly of Curry, such as Christa Fassi (“He was never a problem, we became friends”) and Robin Cousins (“He revolutionised the sport”). The ice-skater Heinz Wirz, who had an relationship early on with Currie, but stayed a friend and pen partner for the rest of the latters life, tells of Curry’s loneliness. It seems, that he wanted the perfect relationship, like the perfect skating troupe – and neither materialised. He also showed signs of bi-polar, certainly related to his deeply unhappy childhood. Erskine too often oversteps the borders of objectivity and delivers an hagiographic approach, which sits uneasily with the audience, since Curry was certainly not only the victim of others, but was unable to come to terms with the human fragilities of others, expecting always perfection on all levels. THE ICE KING is a moving document of the man who changed ice-skating for the better, and whose Ice Shows were a spectacular delight.AS
SHOWING AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE FROM 23 FEBRUARY 2018