So the Blades of Glory DVD came out on August 28th. I assume lots of you have already seen this Hollywood spoof of our beloved sport and some of you aren’t sure you want to.
I saw it in the theater and I’ll admit I came away disappointed. I wasn’t offended by how they were lambasting our sport. On the contrary, I think it was a matter of Expectation. Like many of us, I knew about this production long before it hit the big screen. “An ice skating comedy starring Will Ferrell?”…I literally thought I might jump out of my skin with excitement.
It’s the whole New Year’s Eve Phenomenon: the more you anticipate an event, the greater chance it will disappoint. I expected to be laughing during every single second of Blades of Glory, unable to catch my breath, maybe doubling over in the aisle and having to be escorted from the theater in hysterics. Pretty much anything short of that was going to feel lackluster. So I’d set the bar pretty high. I realized this was unfair, and this is why I trotted down to my local video store this weekend to give it another chance.
Okay, so a lot of the humor is pure smut and derived from the fact that Will Ferrell’s character, Chazz Michael Michaels, that “Tsunami of Swagger,” that “Leather-clad Lothario,” is an admitted sex addict. But smut is pretty much the basis for the majority of comedies these days. You really have to just not think about the fact that most of your 8 year-old students have already seen the film or will soon.
And, of course, the plot is wildly improbable: a guy/guy pair team training in a cold-storage warehouse frozen over with a garden hose. They “qualify” for the National competition by merely signing up (if only it were this easy…). But when have Hollywood depictions of figure skating been even remotely realistic? According to Tinseltown, hockey players can successfully switch over to Olympic-level figure skating within what seems like the course of a few weeks, and, recently, an ice princess progressed from a single salchow to a triple with lightening speed, (how long was it, a few days?) thanks to her knack for Physics.
So Blades of Glory is trashy and it’s implausible. But it’s also very funny and I was able to appreciate this once I calmed down and stopped expecting so much. The writers, directors and actors managed to capture the ridiculousness of skating and take it even further.
Case in point: The classic Peacock program performed by “Skating’s Little Orphan Awesome,” Jimmy MacElroy (played by John Heder). This program features an impressive leaping move called a Galloping Peacock and requires the gawky actor of Napolean Dynamite fame to wear a bejeweled turquoise costume, complete with a flouncy tail and a glove made to look like a bird. It’s Johnny Weir’s notorious Swan program ratcheted up a few notches. The performance ends on a nice theatrical note when, in a flourish, MacElroy releases a dove into the arena, at which point, Scott Hamilton comments quite seriously and with a hint of admiration: “It’s important to remember that that dove was in his suit the whole time.”
It’s perfect that the first time Michaels and MacElroy compete together, their theme is Fire and Ice and they are dressed accordingly. It’s also fitting that, in the opening of this program, they get on their knees and swoop their bodies around and away from each other just how Torvill and Dean did, so romantically, at the beginning of their famous Bolero freedance. What kicks this over the top for me is the choice of appropriately-mushy music: Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which includes lyrics such as: “Don’t want to close my eyes/ I don’t want to fall asleep/ ‘Cause I’d miss you baby/ And I don’t want to miss a thing…” The actors’ facial expressions, especially during a series of crotch lifts, convey extreme discomfort and the song nicely amplifies this. Michaels and MacElroy may have joined forces, but, in the end, they’re still who they are: after this number, dainty MacElroy bows gracefully and masculine Michaels somehow shoots fire from his sleeves.
Their rivals are brother and sister pair team, Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg, played expertly by real-life husband and wife, Will Arnett (Arrested Development, etc) and Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, etc.). For their hip hop routine, these so-called “Blue-eyed Funk Machines” wear what I think are the funniest costumes of the whole flick. They both have mesh around their midriffs, baring what appear to be gang tattoos. Her hair is all kinky and he has a gold tooth. Her skates look like Converse high tops and his are Timberland work boots. When they slouch gangsta-style in the Kiss and Cry, we see that he’s been skating with his Timberlands unlaced. Naturally.
In keeping with an icky yet comical sexual tension between the Van Waldenberg siblings, their other number is an homage to “forbidden romance” and depicts JFK and Marilyn Monroe. The Van Waldenberg plot to physically hurt their competition is obviously inspired by the Harding/Kerrigan debacle, but this saga culminates in an action-packed, high speed skating chase through the canals of Montreal. The best is when Michaels and Van Waldenberg each limbo under some low-lying pipes with their own panache. (This whole scene is almost as funny as a skating chase scene in a terrible movie from about 10 years ago called, The Long Kiss Goodnight, in which Geena Davis plays a secret agent. At one point, her target is located in a moving car directly across a frozen lake. The camera cuts to a pair of old ratty skates on an abandoned porch. In the next instant, she is power skating across that lake with a gigantic gun strapped to her back. This isn’t meant to be a comedy, but, it is hilarious.)
Speaking of action, I appreciate all the reverence for pair skating prowess. When Coach, played by Craig T. Nelson, first introduces this new couple to pair skating, he holds a pointer out to what looks to be a 1970’s era skating poster. He says, “The Dance Lift, the Press Lift, the Twist Lift, the Side by Side Jump, the Throw Jump: all of these are weapons in the pair skater’s arsenal and used properly, they can slay your opponent. Used improperly, they can break every bone in your body.”
Later, Coach unveils the vaunted, utterly impossible Iron Lotus trick by showing video footage from North Korea. In this, the guy swings the girl around in a show move called a Headbanger, then flings her into a Back Flip and simultaneously kicks his legs up in an Butterfly spin. The point is to not cut your partner’s head off but, in the video, the guy doesn’t quite succeed, so her head bounces cartoon-ishly onto the ice. Likewise, while Michaels unsuccessfully practices this move in the warehouse with the aid of a suspended dummie, we see that dummie heads in MacElroy’s likeness are strewn all over the ice. Having experienced many pair skating injuries, myself, I don’t actually think it’s funny how pair skaters get seriously hurt all the time, but it is funny how Blades of Glory exaggerates this in such a slapstick way. I think just about everybody, both skaters and non-skaters, cringe a little bit while watching pair skating. The truth is that it’s almost exactly as dangerous as it looks and the movie capitalizes on this perfectly.
If you haven’t seen this yet, you should: whether you end up loving it or hating it, it’s just another way of staying current. Maybe it’s not as directly valuable as attending a PSA event, or watching a Grand Prix competition on TV (or on the new and improved icenetwork.com), or flipping through the latest Skating Magazine, but most of our students have seen it and so we probably should, too.
So what did you like (or loathe) about Blades of Glory? Please comment.
And stay tuned…Are you curious what it must have been like to be part of the movie? Next week, I get the inside scoop from Blades of Glory skating stunt double, Tiffany Scott…
Blog Bonus Material:
MY TOP FIVE FAVORITE BLADES OF GLORY LINES:
- When Michaels is showing off his $12,000 Italian hair brush, The Verticoli, he says: “I could not love a human baby as much as I love this brush.”
- When Michaels is showing off his tattoos to MacElroy, he says. “Yeah, some people call me the Illustrated Man…You got any tatts?” MacElroy answers eagerly: “I had my face painted at the Blueberry Festival one year.”
- At a press conference for the new pair team, a journalist reads off an old quote of Michaels trash talking his now-partner. Michaels answers angrily, “Okay, Mr. Smart Reporter, you figured out how to work the Google on the internet machine.”
- After Michaels/MacElroy successfully perform the Iron Lotus in competition, the stunned announcer working alongside Scott Hamilton states, “Scott, I seem to have wet my pants.”
- At some point, Michaels says, “Mind-bottling, isn’t it?” When MacElroy questions this expression, he responds, “Yeah, when things get so crazy that you get your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle.”
BEST PARTS OF THE DVD EXTRAS:
- Celebrities on Thin Ice: Seeing the actors falter around on the ice and get hooked up to harnesses to help keep them from falling.
- 20 Questions with Scott Hamilton: As always, he’s affable and charismatic.
- Gag reel: At one point, they show Scott Hamilton guzzling celebratory champagne with MacElroy and Michaels in the Kiss and Cry.