Archive for the ‘priscilla hill’ Tag
When my friend booked my ticket to “Pop Star on Ice” at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, I knew the flick would dish up plenty of bitchy humor and celeb-style entertainment, and figured it would reveal Johnny Weir as a fascinating, but also superficial and narcissistic personality. Instead, he thankfully comes out looking disarmingly and utterly real, complex, insanely and innately gifted, and truly one-of-a-kind. And, the documentary itself is a lovingly crafted piece, telling the story of his life, not just to frivolously entertain, but also to enlighten and inspire.
I’ve always rooted for Johnny, especially when pitted against Evan (Lysacek). My tendency towards the underdog, and his vulnerable, straight shooting (pardon the pun) personality has always drawn me to him. Clearly, as 3-time National Champion one could hardly call him an underdog, at least a few seasons back, but the traditional expectations and desired mold purported by the US Figure Skating Federation and community against which he has had to push qualifies him as such, in my mind.
I will try not to divulge too much detail about the movie, as I’d hate to steal any of the thunder of your experiencing it fresh, but I want to at least help tout this excellent film by dangling a few carrots.
The opening titles are accompanied by critical sound bits about Johnny, narrated in multiple dialects/accents, with hysterical comedic flair: flamboyantly gay, Paris Hilton Valspeak, Minnesotan housewife, Russian, and so on. At the end we discover that this is not the voice of just any narrator, but Johnny himself…yet another skilled and entertaining facet of this performer and personality. If you don’t mind a spoiler, of sorts, watch this intro segment here.
One of the opening scenes sets the tone…clearly Johnny does not take himself too seriously (off the ice), and is just as willing to make fun of himself as others, which is very endearing. He sits naked (presumably) in a frothy bubble bath with his best friend Paris Childers, wearing a campy blond wig, whilst interviewing him in a thick Russian dialect. He asks him questions about Johnny (himself), and Paris answers in queeny fashion. Johnny says they’re so close, “we’re like a married couple without the sex”. Wait, married couples have sex? jk!
The story-telling of the documentary is crafted along a graphic timeline (complete with illustrated icons!) of Johnny’s skating career, and the three primary locales in which he has lived (Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Newark, Delaware; Lyndhurst, New Jersey). It moves back and forth along this timeline to give you a perspective of a competitive season, but also a bigger picture of an athlete’s progress over a longer span. This technique helps build drama, as we see Johnny train, and then how he holds up in competition (although the results are of course not a surprise, it makes the story more interesting).
We soon meet Priscilla Hill, Johnny’s coach from age 12 to 2007. Interestingly, he was drawn to her because she too was a clockwise spinner/jumper. Their relationship is just as complex as Johnny himself is. They clearly have/had a great love and admiration for one another (one part mother/son, one part fag hag/fag), and she helped make him what he has become, but also they had reached a point where they perhaps knew each other too well, and were steeped in some bad habits, which was leading to unsuccessfully training and poor competition results. As with any artist, sometimes one just needs freshening up, a new setting, and/or a new team to collaborate with. I even feel this in my profession, where every 5 years or so have found it best to move on to new horizons, and change things up a bit (of course, economic-related lay-offs have helped this along!). You learn different things from different people, and it would foolish to expect one person to be able to offer everything one would need in such an evolving sport.
It is moving to see Johnny return to his childhood home, where he has both sentimental memories, as well as anxiety, as he is hardly the Quarryville status quo. His first-grade teacher Tawn Battiste is a big fan, and they share a mutual admiration. He visits her current class, and poses for a photo with them.
Other skaters Evan Lysacek, Brian Joubert and Stephane Lambiel have a presence in the film, and some are even interviewed. Johnny’s realness is magnified when contrasted with interviews by Evan, who feels much more calculated, and as if he is carefully measuring what he says, likely to please. Although I have nothing against Evan, think he has much to offer, and certainly believe he deserved to be ’07 National Champion, I was highly amused by (and shared in) the audience hisses at The Castro Theatre, anytime he appeared on screen. He comes across as a villain/antagonist-of-sorts in this film, which is exacerbated by the general media’s highlighting of their “rivalry”.
Given that Johnny was inspired to start skating in his backyard, after seeing Oksana Bauil win the ’94 Olympic Gold, it feels particularly fateful, and fortuitous that he leaves Hill to train with Galina Zmievskaya, Bauil’s former coach. Her more demanding approach, less “friend” or “mother” than Hill had become, appears to be a smart move for Johnny, at least for his ’07-’08 season.
More than any other source I’ve experienced, this film really allowed me to symphatize with the trials skaters and athletes must push against, and the roller-coaster ride of ebbing and waning commitment, passion, connection to one’s sport/art, etc. It is unbearable to watch Johnny train for the ’07 Nationals. We see a quickly edited succession of his multiple jump attempts (and frequent falls). The toll this takes on the body is so easily understood when seen in this way. We see him distracted, without focus, looking quite underweight, and also struggling to work well or even communicate with Hill. It was clear the outcome would not be good.
Perhaps I should find it more frustrating that Johnny does not “come out” even in this context, but after watching this film, I feel he is withholding little about his life. Some notion of his romantic life would have been welcome, and the lack of it leaves him looking a bit asexual, but frankly, that is his business, and perhaps is better fodder for his tell-all autobiography (in 2020?).
The question of whether Johnny is a Pop Star, or not, is answered in that he is indeed one in the eyes of “Johnny’s Angels”, and his fans throughout Russia, Asia, and yes, even America. But, as to whether he’s a true, mainstream Pop Star, not yet…once his competitive career is over (after Vancouver, I presume), I’m sure he could be easily launched into that ether, if he so chooses…as he has all the makings of one, and will have more time to nurture his “brand”.
I was heartened to discover that this same directing team of David Barba & James Pellerito will be involved in the upcoming 8-part reality series about Johnny’s quest for Olympic Gold. At the end of the film there was a Q&A with them. Their involvement in the reality series compelled me to ask the following (to paraphrase): “Since training for the Olympics is such a grueling process, how do you remain transparent to Johnny so that your filming, or the “celeb” aspects of being in a reality series are not a distraction for him?“
The director’s responses were that they remain pretty invisible to Johnny and his team, and have developed a good relationship with him/them, so that if they felt their presence wasn’t welcome in a given context, they could give him/them space. But, Johnny and the team got so used to them that they weren’t playing for the camera, or really noticing them in the training contexts.
The reality series, which will pick up where this documentary left off, will air early next year on the Sundance Channel, building up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics!