Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Can't do without Dick (Button, that is)

Cute as a Button in 1960
I think I've heard Dick Button's voice more than any other media personality's except that guy who does all the movie trailer voiceovers. Luckily, he's usually saying something thoughtful and cogent, and when he's not, he's letting loose with his own brand of always-entertaining cattiness. Like saying Lambiel's costume in the men's short program last night looked "like a distant cousin of my dining room curtains." Sometimes, he combines the two to spectacular effect, like when he said that Brian Joubert looked like a soccer player trying to tap dance, adding that he "has all the moves, but he's not fleet, he's not liiiththe." It may have been harsh and even bitchy, but it was all true. I like that kind of harshness. It keeps things honest. And as Dick Button has grown older (he's 76 now--Go Dick!), he seems to have become increasingly comfortable with telling it like it is, no matter how it sounds. I love him for that.

Not everyone does, I've realized while reading through blog posts about the Olympics. For most people's taste, he's way TOO harsh. They prefer Scott Hamilton's cheerleading to Button's admittedly "colorful," (shall we say?) analyses. (Happily, some balanced people like both.) That makes sense. Not many people seem to want to be challenged in any way when it comes to watching figure skaters. They want to idolize them, not hear about all the dozens of tiny mistakes they're making per minute. But Dick doesn't pander to the average TV viewer. Dick was known as a "skater's skater" back in the days of his world domination of the sport, and now he is most certainly a skater's commentator. I think he's too subtle for most people, who don't seem to want to understand the finer points of a sport like figure skating--being so artistic and all--the same way they would want to know about the plays in a football game or the mechanics of track and field events.

Skating is perhaps the hardest to pin down of all sports--as my comrade Philip has pointed out, they have to do these incredibly demanding, dangerous stunts while pretending that they're ballerinas. Now that I think of it, though, even ballerinas have to pretend that they're ballerinas. What's great about Dick is that he doesn't pretend about anything. He looks at what's going on from all angles and announces from a holistic viewpoint, commenting on each facet of the sport as it sparkles forth. He'll take a near perfect skater to task for the slightest thing, then decide to point out the incredible edges and artistry of a competitor who falls on all his jumps, as he did last night with Sandhu. He's a sort of storyteller, and a split-second reality sculptor, shaping what we see on the rink as soon as it passes before our eyes with brilliant, if sometimes rude, comments both profound and profane. To me, he's the Chaucer of sports commentators: First, he's the grand-daddy of the art the way Chaucer was of his; then there's the way he manages to make us feel the deep humanity of it all while meticulously pointing out every little wart along the way.

Thank the skating gods that he now, after years of being saddled with the beautiful and elegant, but not particularly sharp, Peggy Fleming, has a worthy sparring partner in Sandra Bezic. I think she says some high-handed things sometimes, and once in a while comes out with a whopper of a white person faux pas, but her commentary is incisive and lively. So what if she says some stupid things off the cuff. Everyone does. If they don't, they should. I just think the two of them are good together.

All four commentators last night--Dick, Sandra, Scott Hamilton and Paul Wiley--made a fabulous mix. They were like a particularly piquant small royal court in exile from some forgotten country where figure skating is the state religion, holding forth on their particular area of wisdom: Sandra and Dick were the queen and the king (with a little bit o'the ol' jester in him), sometimes bickering lowly but more often analyzing and agreeing in grand, imperious tones; Scott Hamilton was their prince, well into middle age but still retaining the brash and sometimes embarrassing enthusiasm of youth, mostly ignored by the royal couple; and Paul Wiley was the court astronomer, running in at every turn with new information about the scoring system as if he were reporting the positions of the stars with reference to the heavens' role in the progress of the kingdom.... Okay, that metaphor was way over the top, but thanks for indulging me. In short, they were great, even though they didn't look all that cozy together in the few shots we saw of "the booth." Think about it this way: great actors have never needed to like each other to give great performances together.

To my joy, the Olympics in general have been great. Someone in the production end has a keen, clean eye and a sharp ear. The presentation and commentary has been crisp and unfettered by too much heavy shop talk while still maintaining a technical flavor, and even the fluff pieces have been dry and cheeky. The few that have been overtly emotional, like the mini-doc about Totmianina's and Marinin's near-career-ending 2004 crash, have gone straight for the jugular of the story rather than the heartstrings. In fact, it's the only thing I've watched on TV for ages except for Project Runway, which I'll be able to catch tonight since there's no figure skating on NBC! I'm predicting that they'll can Kara today. I thought Santino was on shaky ground for a while, but it seems as though he's had his ego pummeled to dust thoroughly enough to be able to reign in the arrogance from now on. We shall see...

For now, as both Heidi Klum and Katarina Witt might say, Aufwiederseh'n!

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It is interesting that people think he is harsh, I watch the Candian and the ESPN versions of skating and I think he's a kind old Gent compared to the Candian's doing the comentary. The candian's wont stop yammering for ten seconds in each program and they are very cruel when a skater makes a mistake..
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