Friday, July 27, 2012 at 8:32 PM
The technological wizardry, choreographed precision and sheer grandeur of everything on display during last night’s Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games kept me in such shock and awe that I was staring at the TV even during commercials.
(“Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)
Granted, expecting London 2012 to emulate the awe Beijing 2008 inspired worldwide is rather like expecting Paul McCartney to emulate the excitement Justin Bieber creates among teenage girls. And to his credit, it appears nobody appreciated this fact more than Danny Boyle, the man organizers of the London Games tapped to direct their Opening Ceremony:
Beijing was beyond compare. It was on a scale that was unimaginable almost anywhere else in the world. So you go, fine … all hail Beijing! That’s the peak.
(NBC TODAY Show, July 26, 2012)
Boyle, of course, is the Academy Award-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire. He evidently set out to portray – in the form of a “live film” – the dynamism that characterizes the history and cultural development of Great Britain. And sure enough what he produced stood in animated contrast to the robotic performances by thousands of seemingly cloned precision drummers, marchers, and dancers that were featured in Beijing.
In fact, so intent was Boyle on this contrast that what played out in the London Olympic stadium tonight (in live skits on the field as well as in cinematic vignettes on jumbo screens) evoked more joy and sorrow than shock and awe.
Truth be told, I think he made his fellow Britons proud with his Olympian tribute to Britannia – highlighting such things as the idealized days of agrarian life, the lasting influence of William Shakespeare, the rising and setting of the sun on the British Empire, the industrial revolution, World War I, the social revolution symbolized by sex, drugs, and rock & roll, the age of technology, the polyglot tensions that make London today ‘A Modern Babylon,’ and the UK’s notoriously dreadful weather, just to name a few of the themes he covered.
(The way Boyle glorified Britain’s National Health Service, with its universal healthcare for all citizens, President Obama would’ve been wise to hire him to direct the PR campaign for his Obamacare….)
As it happened, though, the most intriguing thing about this Opening Ceremony was the way all of Britain conspired to keep Boyle’s script top secret. Hell, one could be forgiven for thinking that MI5 deputized the thousands of performers and crew involved as British agents on Her Majesty’s secret service.
Apropos of which, it was really quaint to see Daniel Craig (aka James Bond 007) whisking the Queen from Buckingham Palace, soaring over London in a helicopter, and parachuting with her into the Olympic Stadium to make her royal entrance.
Mind you, this stunt would have been a little more entertaining if one imagined Helen Mirren playing the Queen. Come to think of it, maybe that was Helen…. But I suppose this was Boyle paying cheeky homage to his profession.
My favorite bit, however, was ”Mr. Bean” as guest pianist for the London Orchestra’s performance of Chariots of Fire – the instrumental theme for the eponymous 1981 film. It had him becoming so bored with hitting the one note required of him that he began fantasizing about being in the movie itself. His Forrest Gumpian dream sequence that followed evoked sidesplitting laughter.
This easily upstaged the Bond bit. But let’s face it: Bond is far more Hollywood than London these days.
On the other hand, we could have done without more Harry Potter mania. But leave it to the preternaturally irreverent Boyle to have the dainty Mary Poppins tame the evil Voldemort: talk about artistic license. And no disrespect to J.K. Rowling, but J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is more my idea of high-fantasy children’s literature.
According to the hype, over one billion would have tuned in. But truth be told, the vast majority of us would have done so – not just to enjoy the show but to take jingoistic pride in the few seconds the members of our national team were on display during the traditional parade of nations.
In my case, I waited for this fleeting moment to see The Bahamas, my country of birth. But I was also eager to see Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei make Olympic history by including at least one woman on their respective teams. No less noteworthy though is that the mighty Team USA included more women than men for the first time in Olympic history.
Indeed, with all due respect to Boyle, these historic firsts for gender equality alone made watching this Opening Ceremony worthwhile.
It did not go without notice that Michael Phelps, the undisputed star of these Games, did not march with Team USA. But this was only because the qualifying heats for the most challenging of his seven events, the 400m Individual Medley, are scheduled for the morning after the Opening Ceremony. And the final is later that same day.
Phelps is clearly sensible enough to realize that he has to skip the parade and rest to be in the best possible condition to win. Moreover, I suspect he fears, and I predict, that if he were to lose this first head-to-head matchup with team rival Ryan Lochte, his confidence and aura of invincibility would be so sapped that he’d be lucky to win gold in half of his remaining events. Understandably, he’s not taking any chances….
(Regarding the second-biggest rivalry of these Games, I heard Usain Bolt say on the BBC today that he’s only “95%” fit. Frankly, this struck me as a preemptive excuse for being upset by team rival Yohan Blake. At least Phelps seems mentally prepared to take on his would-be usurper mano-a-mano. I hope someone prevails upon Bolt to understand that it’s better to lose after being fully prepared and giving all he had than to lose because he couldn’t be bothered to get 100% fit for the biggest race of his life. But it would not surprise me if he false starts at these Games the way he did at the World Championships last year to avoid the ultimate challenge against Blake in the 100m.)
I gather they’re planning to feature Paul McCartney in the Opening Ceremony. But I think his Beatles nostalgia act is not only way overrated, but way overexposed – as his performance at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee just last month clearly demonstrated … on both counts. Instead, Her Majesty should commission Roger Waters and David Gilmore to reunite as the real Pink Floyd for this occasion – to make Britons truly proud and give the rest of us the experience of a lifetime.
(“Gone fishing,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 24, 2012)
Alas, my source was right. There was McCartney warbling out Hey Jude. Thankfully the obligatory crowd participation was such that it drowned out his voice for the most part. Mind you, I would not be so critical if this were the Closing Ceremony, when relatively few people tune in … for obvious reasons.
Finally, the lighting of the Olympic Flame is usually a very special moment, if not the highlight, of Opening Ceremonies. And, with all due respect to Muhammed Ali – who did the honors in Atlanta in 1996 and who for some sad, incomprehensible reason was propped up in Weekend-at-Bernie’s fashion to be a part of this year’s – my favorite lighting was when an archer lit the Olympic cauldron from about 1,000 meters away in Barcelona in 1992.
But it came as something of a letdown when Boyle ended this bang of a spectacular with a whimper by having David Beckham – who famously failed to make the UK’s Olympic soccer team - deliver the torch along the River Thames by speedboat to Sir Steve Regrave, a relatively unknown five-time Olympic champion in rowing, who in turn handed it over to seven kids who set the cauldron alight. The children are our future, but this is our time. WTF!
Anyway, notwithstanding my mild criticisms and opening caveat with respect to Beijing 2008, Boyle succeeded in showcasing Great Britain in all its glory before the world tonight in a manner worthy of the way Shakespeare regaled the Mother Country in this famous homage 400 years ago:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars…
This happy breed of men, this little world…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
(John of Gaunt, Richard II, Act 2. Scene 1)
A jolly good show. But memorable? I don’t think so.
Let the Games begin!
NOTE: Yes, I managed to circumvent the blockade NBC executives imposed on all Internet streaming of this Ceremony to maximize viewership of its delayed broadcast. What pettifogging, nickel-and-diming jerks!