Like many people in the skating world, I watched RISE, with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. For those of you who don’t know, this is the figure skating movie about the 1961 World Team who perished in a plane crash, on the way to the World Championships in Prague.
Beforehand, I wondered if I should cut my skating lessons short that night in order to rush over and see the movie. I am glad that I did. Likewise, beforehand, I wasn’t sure whether or not to aggressively recommend the film to my skating students, because I wasn’t sure how painful it was going to be to watch. Though it is a horrible tragedy and it is difficult subject matter, it is treated tastefully and has a positive message. The focus is not on the crash itself but on the skaters and coaches who were on the plane. This event had an impact on so many lives and on the American skating community for years to come.
I think my skating students should see this film, as should their parents, as should anyone involved in skating and other sports, too. It is playing again in theaters around the country on March 7. I recommend that you get your tickets now. You can find theaters and buy tickets here.
Not only is it important to learn the history of this specific event, RISE provides us with an all-too rare opportunity to view skating footage from a bygone era. (Like people tracing out figure eights!) It also gives us a chance to understand that skaters of yesteryear, despite their plain costumes and their different skating style, struggled with many of the same challenges as skaters do today. Even back then, some top skaters moved across the country to seek expert coaching, some families were split apart, and some parents pushed too hard. These athletes experienced injuries and disappointing performances, and also victories. Finally, viewers can take a bit of time to consider the skating community as a whole rather than just our own little corner of it. Skating requires so much focus on details that we can easily forget that we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.
The title, RISE, (the ‘i’ of which cleverly depicts a skater mid-jump), is accompanied by a subtitle: Can the end of one dream give rise to another? The documentary’s answer to this question is: YES. A panel of skating greats like Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Michelle Kwan, Brian Boitano, et cetera, help us to see how we can be inspired by these athletes from the 1961 World Team.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie is how it effectively conveys the concept of legacy and the connectedness of everyone in the skating world. In some way, most of us are either directly or indirectly connected to this event through our coaches or skaters that we know. For example, I was coached by Ron Ludington, who was trained by Maribel Vinson Owen, who is featured in the film.
And many of us have benefited from the Memorial Fund, a very direct form of connectedness. I knew that F. Ritter Shumway set up the Memorial Fund after the crash, but didn’t realize that he did so only eight short days afterwards. Thousands of skaters have been helped by this financial assistance, a very direct form of connectedness.
I was interested to learn that the 1961 National Championships were the first to be televised. And there is an old cigarette advertisement that had the whole theater laughing. There are some photos of the crash wreckage that are not overly gruesome but heart wrenching. There are some compelling stories about skaters who might have been on the plane but were not either due to injury or sickness.
I enjoyed the segments about the SC of Boston and about the Broadmoor rink in Colorado Springs. Before the Broadmoor was razed, my brother and I trained at that beautiful (though crumbling) rink for one summer. We also competed at our first Midwestern Sectionals there and discovered just how beautiful and majestic that hotel is. (We also learned how higher altitude really does affect your stamina.)
Evidently, there was a RISE pre-show hosted by Matt Lauer and Peter Carruthers that our theater didn’t play. But we did see the after-show. This was sort of an Oprah-esque set-up where participants in the film (including the filmmakers) immediately discussed the movie and the topics at hand. It was kind of like seeing the DVD “extras” while still sitting in the theater.
During this portion, both Frank Carroll and Evan Lysacek were interviewed. Evan said something to the effect that, after a performance, it is great to be out on the ice by yourself while the audience applauds, but the real celebration takes place when you step off the ice and hug your coach. The way Evan has so kindly shared his Vancouver victory with Frank Carroll is truly endearing.
I gasped, along with many others in attendance, at Dorothy Hamill’s disparaging comment about the rink named after her, in Greenwich, Connecticut. There were likely many people in our theater who coach or skate there.
As always, I enjoyed seeing Scott Hamilton and think he had some of the most poignant things to say. He said that one of the main lessons he learned from skating is that, “You reap what you sow.” In other words, if you don’t practice hard, and go to the rink even on the days that you don’t want to, you can’t expect to succeed. He also reminded us that when, in any aspect of your life, you fall down, you just have to get back up. (In other words, “rise.”) Maybe these are obvious adages, but it can’t hurt to hear them again, especially from him, and especially in light of the health issues he is going through right now.
My one criticism of RISE is probably not a fair one: I wanted more! While it was fascinating to learn about these individual stories, I didn’t feel like there was enough detail about enough people. I suppose there is only so much ground that can be covered in 94 minutes. And truth be told, this sense of wanting more prompted me, when I got home that night, to pore through the pages of SKATING magazine’s February issue, a large portion of which is dedicated to the crash and the film. I am now also intrigued by Patricia Shelley Bushman’s book, Indelible Tracings: The Story of the 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team. So my interest has been further piqued and I presume it has created similar curiosity in many others.
Like I said above, go see RISE on March 7. Many of us have seen that iconic photo of the team lined up on the steps of that fateful airplane. After seeing this film, their faces will look a lot more familiar.
What did you think of the film? Feel free to leave a comment below.