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I, Tonya to Bambi: Film on Ice

TO be a figure skater, you must be able to dance on a knife-edge. It is a fine balance that makes the art form so daring and graceful when executed at its pinnacle. Poise, flair and unmelting nerves are just a few ingredients needed.

As we have been reminded in recent weeks, figure skating is a performance art that also doubles as a sport. Those observing the 2018 Winter Olympic Games will have witnessed the likes of Aliona Savchenko (Germany), Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) and Tessa Virtue (Canada) showcase the sport at its very finest and clinch gold.

This exposure in Pyeongchang coincides with the imminent release of a film documenting ice skating’s most controversial story. I, Tonya relives the scandalous career of Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie), a skater who helped turn this elegant sport into a thuggish headline-maker.

Although many of us already know the story, I, Tonya is still sure to stun audiences. The cinema-goer, after all, is not used to seeing this art form in the context of bloody fractions. Rather skating holds a long association with bringing people together on film.

Bonding on Ice

PAUL Michael Glaser’s The Cutting Edge (1992) sees an injured NHL player Doug (D.B Sweeney) take to the ice with emotionally erratic skater Kate (Moira Kelly). It turns out to be a transformative experience for both as their chemistry leads to glory on the ice and love off it.

Another unlikely skating duo unite in 2007 comedy Blades of Glory. Will Farrell and Jimmy MacElroy don skates and spandex as bitter rival skaters who team up for redemption. The outcome is ludicrous Farrell comedy on top form, riffing off the supposed femininity of ice skating and taking the stakes to deathly high levels.

Blades Of Glory
Innovative same-sex figure skating in Blades of Glory

Healing on Ice

ICE is known for its soothing and healing qualities. It is the first thing we reach for whenever we roll an ankle or get a fat lip. In Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere, the ice goes some way to mending (at least temporarily) the most tender of relationships – between father and daughter.

Coppola shoots a delicately beautiful scene as Cleo (Elle Fanning) performs her ice skating routine in front of faulty father Johnny (Stephen Dorff). Cleo is a picture of innocence and grace as she dances to Gwen Stefani’s Cool – a song that has undertones for their relationship. Johnny, a public figure and absent father, goes from staring at his phone to being entranced by his daughter’s skill.

Tender skating in Somewhere

Father and daughter share a more overtly cathartic moment by the ice in Aaron Sorkin’s 2018 film Molly’s Game. Fresh from questioning in New York City by the FBI, Molly (Jessica Chastain) heads to an ice rink to decompress, an act that brings her back to her original passion as an aspiring Olympic skier.

Molly’s father Larry (Kevin Costner) spontaneously shows up to have a heart-to-heart with his distant daughter. In this instance, the ice acts as a call back and a setting to cool deeply strained tensions.

Love on Ice

A SPUR of the moment trip to the ice rink also occurs in Henry Koster’s 1942 film The Bishop’s Wife. Dudley (Cary Grant) halts his taxi to hit the ice with Julia (Loretta Young). The two share a moment in ‘heaven’ as Dudley flaunts his remarkable ice skating talents. This snowy scene in The Bishop’s Wife is part of a long tradition of cinematic romance on the ice.

Grant and Young skate in The Bishop’s Wife

Sporty, macho-types Happy Gilmore and Rocky Balboa both take their respective love interests to ice rinks on ‘first dates’. Also, budding couples in Elf (2003) and Serendipity (2001) share romantic scenes on the ice against the irresistible backdrop of New York City.

The Big Apple hosts perhaps the unexpected moment of icy romance as Ann (Naomi Watts) and King Kong slide around in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film. Kong, clutching Ann gently in one hand, displays a playfulness that betrays his monstrous image. The romance and fun, however, is brought to a crashing close when the military launch fire at Kong.

Kong and Ann in King Kong

Laughter on Ice

AN ape of a much smaller kind threatens to cause harm to a group of young protagonists in 2015 film Goosebumps. The slippery ice rink surface adds to the physical comedy and builds towards a Zamboni joke as Champ (Ryan Lee) foolishly attempts to make a speedy getaway.

Likewise, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) uses the sluggish Zamboni for comedic purposes, slowly driving the ice cleaning machine towards a bloody victim, telling him to spill the beans ‘or you’ll die.. in 10 minutes.’ Interrogation via Zamboni.

Deadpool drives a Zamboni (slowly) towards his target

The greatest display of humour on the ice in film comes from Disney’s 1942 classic Bambi. The scene involving an exuberant Bumper and a clumsy Bambi is so magically constructed – with Frank Churchill’s amusing music and stunning animation – that this iconic interaction spawned the commonly used phrase: ‘like Bambi on ice’.

Much to their credit, filmmakers have never been afraid to step onto the ice in search of powerful cinema. Expect I, Tonya to write a bloodier chapter in the history of those who do so.


1 comment

  1. I didn’t know about “Somewhere.” I recently watched “The Beguiled” and had no idea that Sofia Coppola and Elle Fanning had previously collaborated! That sounds like a good scene.

    Great transition into the next paragraph there, btw.

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