TV REVIEW : 'On Ice,' 'Larry Wright' Share Growth Theme

Two unusual short documentaries, "On Ice" and "Larry Wright"--one shot by USC students, the other by New York independents--get their television premieres at 10 tonight (Channels 28 and 15) on the PBS show "P.O.V."

And though, superficially, they have little in common--one is an ironic color discussion on cryonics, the other black-and-white cinema verite on a brilliant 14-year-old Harlem drummer--they share a kind of theme. Both show the extreme ways in which people try to extend themselves, escape their seeming destiny and reach for the heights.

I've seen "On Ice" before, at USC student showings; it holds up well. The directors, R. Grover Babcock and Andrew Takeuchi, have a subject worthy of a science-fiction Evelyn Waugh: a Riverside, Calif., Life Extension Foundation, Alcor.

Alcor's director, Mike Darwin has the easy, glowing manner of a hip evangelist. Surrounded by his "patients," all frozen shortly after death and immersed in huge canisters, he talks of the beauty of life--all that study, fun, food, sex--and the need to keep hope of its extension alive. His believers, apparently including that old turn-on specialist Timothy Leary, seem equally transfigured.

By contrast, the nay-sayers, frozen tissue specialists and doctors, seem somehow grouchy, as if they would like to believe too. Babcock and Takeuchi reveal all this with only a touch of overkill: as when they use the Pogues' rendition of "The Worms Crawl In."

"Larry Wright" is a simple, powerful piece, mostly focusing on the flabbergasting skills of young street musician Wright, who performs with incredible speed, facility and concentration, using drumsticks and a compost can.

Co-directors Ari Marcopoulos and Maja Zrnic quietly bring out the meanness of his environment. Though Larry hardly talks at all, except with his sticks, his mother seems a classic ghetto maternal figure, bright and eloquent, determined to give her son a chance.

What happens to Larry Wright is, of course, unknowable. But this film suggests one of the most astonishing things about talent: that it can come, seemingly, out of nowhere . . . or perhaps what we, in our ignorance and complacency, wrongly dismiss as nowhere.

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