I, Tonya: The Making of an Image

Tonya Harding was an American figure skater who qualified for the Olympics in her sport in the 1980s and 1990s. Tonya was – by admission in the film – an uneducated ‘redneck’ from a poor family. She was a brash, foul-mouthed girl who had neither the cash, the style nor the inclination to conform to the ‘good American girl’ image her status as a champion skater demanded. An ‘incident’ in which a rival skater was attacked and seriously injured, added to Tonya’s infamy and led to severe consequences for Tonya’s career.

I, Tonya is Tonya’s story. And that of her husband’s. Her mother’s. And her coach’s. All these ‘versions of the truth’ are presented in a documentary style with mock interviews of the characters interspersing the action. The aim of the film may have been to create a more sympathetic image for Tonya. She was a brilliant skater – the only one of very, very few women who could do a move called the triple axel. And she did this despite a background that worked against her: a relentlessly hard mother, a low-class husband who hit her, and no education.

But what the film also does, importantly, is mock the press and the public’s acceptance of what is dished up to it. It highlights – and therefore questions – the unfairness of American society and what/who is deemed acceptable. Tonya is portrayed to some extent as a victim of her circumstances. The interviewees – including a self-proclaimed bodyguard and and secret agent – speak with irony, creating a sort of black comedy effect. The result is that the viewer is left wondering, not so much what the truth really is, but how society forms opinions and unfairly demands conformity.

Australian actress Margot Robbie is excellent in her role. She pulls off the hick, tough and graceless (only off the ice) Tonya really well. She even does a lot of the skating scenes herself. Alison Janney is likewise very good as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s harsh mother.

I, Tonya is really worthwhile viewing. It opens at Ster Kinekor cinemas in South Africa on 16 February 2018 and carries an age restriction of 16 for DLSV.

Olympic Delights

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a beautiful mountainous region one-and-a-half-hours by train from Munich. It’s a well-known (think Olympics) ski resort in winter and a simply lovely walking/hiking area in summer. My husband and I dashed around Munich recently from one train station to another trying to figure out the German-encrypted directions on our maps before making it (correctly) to Munchen Hauptbahnhof in a sweltering heap. The overground train return trip was very pricy (65 Euro each) but took us through soft-green countryside, dotted with curious wooden huts and giant versions of my cuckoo clock at home. When we reached Garmisch we travelled 10 minutes on another train to the foot of the Alpspitz where we bought a cable car return journey up the mountain.

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Looking across the Garmisch valley from Alpspitz. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

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An unfriendly cow on Alpspitz. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Some handsome German men joined our cable car ride bearing staggeringly huge backpacks, which, it turned out, were paragliders. At the top we got to see the pair lift off with ease and glide with their colourful chutes down the curving valley. We followed some way on foot enjoying the striated rocks, meandering hikers, and bell-clunking cows. Well, not the mildly aggressive beast that charged us at any rate. After a delicious apfelstrudel mit vanillesauce (apple strudel and custard) we decided to skip the train back to Garmisch and walk instead. The 10-minute train ride was an hour by foot and by the end I was quite jealous of the cyclists that sailed past us at frequent intervals. We arrived back in Munich tired but happily marked with a German sunglasses tan.

My brief encounter with Garmisch-Partenkirchen was fortunately not at an end. On the aeroplane back to South Africa next evening I chose to watch the film Eddie the Eagle before going to sleep. Eddie the Eagle is the true story about the very likeable Eddie Edwards (imagine calling your child that?) who, through sheer determination, became the first Briton to do ski-jumping at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. And where did he first practice this thrilling sport? In Garmisch-Partenkirschen! Against the wintry landscape in the film the ski jump looked normal. Against the velvet-green hills we had just seen the ski jump looked like a giant bleached waterworld slide. Eddie the Eagle stars Taron Egerton as Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his grudging coach, Bronson Peary. It is a delightful movie. Watch it while the 2016 Rio Olympics are on. You’ll love it.