Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brilliant, bonkers and Bond it like Beckham - Boyle's triumphant Olympic opening ceremony

Boy, am I tired this morning! I'm not suited to sitting up till 1am and then getting up at 7:30 for a meeting. I'm an old lady (about to be older) and I need my sleep. The fact that this was written yesterday shows just how tired I was - after a busy day, I collapsed on the sofa and went to bed early last night. Anyway, here's my account of Friday's Olympic opening ceremony.

I usually avoid these things because they bore me. A lights show and lots of people walking round. And boring speeches.However, with the Games here, I thought it was my duty to have a look at it. Maybe I was intrigued to see what Danny Boyle would do with the £27 million budget. Given that Trainspotting disturbed me more than any other film I've ever watched, I was slightly anxious, I have to confess.

I was not disappointed. It was slightly unsettling to see the Stadium filling with livestock to complement the green and pleasant land scene which started the show. What's that they say about working with children and animals? There were maypoles and morris dancing and Jerusalem, Danny Boy, Cwm Rhondda and Flower of Scotland to reflect the entire UK. As the ceremony started, there was a fast fly through along the Thames from its source to the Olympic Stadium which had more than a nod to Trainspotting for me. This came after a spectacular fly past by the Red Arrows who'd had a long  day covering the UK.

The first mystery of the night was who would ring the huge Olympic Bell to get the ceremony under way. I was dreading Cameron or Boris. My first bout of blubbing came when Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour De France, stepped forward, in yellow, to do it.

The country idyll in the Stadium was soon transformed into an industrial landscape complete with dark, Satanic mills and Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Each stage had the participation of hundreds of extras in costume. There was a nod to the Suffragettes, too, and to the benefits immigration has brought this country.  The workers on the ground forged Olympic rings which lifted into the sky in good time to provide a sensational image for today's front pages.

For me, the moment of the night was the scene filmed at Buckingham Palace. Having visited it last year, you knew that they were definitely filming in there. They'd even managed to find a couple of corgis.  It never dawned on me that they were the actual Queen's dogs, and even after the grey haired lady said "Good Evening, Mr Bond" my brain just wouldn't compute that it was the actual Queen and not Miranda Hart dressed up or something.

So, we saw the Queen head into a helicopter with James Bond from the Palace, we saw the progress of the helicopter and wondered where it would land. Well, the occupants parachuted out and a few moments later, the Queen was introduced walking to her seat. Pure, dead brilliant!

What happened next prompted Tory MP for Cannock Chase Adrian Burley to tweet that the ceremony had been full of "leftie multi-cultural crap". Hopefuly his constituents in Cannock Chase will give him the boot for that in 2015. There was a huge celebration of the NHS and children's literature as children in hospital beds were read to in a celebration of British authors - and one of the people reading to the kids was J K Rowling herself. There was a massive Voldemort, loads of Mary Poppinses arriving on umbrellas

That gave way to a celebration of British film and music with all sorts of iconic sights and sounds. There was even a whoosh of the TARDIS which was the only homage to Doctor Who. A fair part of the fandom wanted David Tennant's Doctor to light the flame like he did in the 2006 episode Fear Her.

There was a poignant moment as the victims of 7/7 were remembered accompanied by Emili Sande singing "Abide with Me". This wasn't shown in the US, sadly, where an interview with Michael Phelps was deemed more important, much to the choreographer's annoyance. It made me think how many British people and organisations had put time and effort into making sure those who died on 9/11 weren't forgotten. NBC, the official US broadcaster, should take note.

You would have thought that the arrangement of Chariots of Fire conducted by Simon Rattle would leave not a dry eye in the house. And you'd be right. Actually, though, they were mostly of laughter as Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean, placed on a keyboard in the middle of the London Symphony Orchestra played his part with his usual comic brilliance. There can't be anyone on the planet who does facial expressions better.

The parade of the athletes entering the stadium gave us the opportunity to laugh at the unchic sheen of the French team's trousers, of the 1970s cabin crew uniform of the US team and the hilariously camp and gender stereotyped jackets of the German team who looked like they could be headed for the West End stage rather than the sports field. My husband left school in the late 60s and clearly hasn't done much in the way of atlas studying since. "That's not a country, is it?" was a constant refrain. The flags were arranged in the one remnant of the rural scene from the beginning which remained, a reproduction of Glastonbury Tor.

We'd been promised a spectacular entrance for the Olympic flame which had been resting for several hours on a barge near Tower Bridge. It was next seen as darkness fell speeding up the Thames in a power boat accompanied by a very suave looking David Beckham and one of our female football stars of the future. It made me think of James Bond again.

After the Bond it Like Beckham moment, the flame was met, as everyone had speculated, by multiple gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave. So, he was bound to be lighting the flame wasn't he?

But before we could find out, we had speeches to listen to. I guess we should be grateful there was no raffle, but people had paid out so much for their tickets, they probably wouldn't have been able to afford it. Anyway, Sebastian Coe and Olympic President Jacques Rogge didn't really speak for that long, but it was still way beyond most people's tolerance levels. It was left to our wonderful 86 year old Queen show how she was a master of the art of brevity - she simply declared the Games open. That was it.

Another moment of blubbery for me came when the Olympic flag was paraded around. Two of the people carrying it were Shami Chakrabarti, one of the strongest voices for liberal values in this country if not the world and Doreen Lawrence, whose refusal to accept the shortcomings of the establishment led her to fight for years to ensure that her son's killers were brought to justice.

So, Sir Steve ran in with the flame, looking for all the world that he was going to light the as yet unseen cauldron. And he would have succeeded if it hadn't been for a bunch of kids! Seven young athletes, nominated by greats of the past, put the Games' theme, "inspire a generation" into reality. It was them, not a famous name, who set the cauldron, constructed from the copper petals each nation brought in with them, alight. It was beautiful.

The ceremony closed with Sir Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude and lots of fireworks. One of my favourite people with one of my least favourite things. It was pretty spectacular, though.

It all made Mitt Romney's churlish and rude comments seem even more inappropriate. I liked the homage to Tim Berners-Lee, too,a reminder that it was a Brit who invented the internet, not Al Gore.

I'm so looking forward to two weeks of watching all sorts of weird and wonderful sports. Nadia Comaneci made me fall in love with gymnastics in 1976, and I love swimming although I rarely watch it at any other time. Then there's the archery and rowing and dressage and diving and cycling. Bring it all on! Let's hope it all goes fabulously well. Yes, I hate the corporate dominance too, but the Games are here. Once they are over, we have precisely nothing to look forward to. Let's enjoy every second while we can.

I've made a Storify thingy of my tweets on the night to capture my heat of the moment thoughts and interactions with others.

It was an night where I, along with half the country, alternated between laughing, crying and wide eyed wonderment. No wonder Stephen Tall has chosen Danny Boyle as his liberal hero of the week over at the Centre Forum blog.

1 comment:

Edis said...

The American author Ursula LeGuin had thoughts on some of these themes in her reflections on writing fantasy fiction 'The Language Of The Night'.

This is part what she has to say about children and in particular about the way they will devour rubbish literature (it may even be good for them) but have not yet learned to eat plastic, unlike too many adults.

'It is simple writing for kids' she says 'just as simple as bringing them up'.

She goes on: 'The young creature does need protection and shelter. But it also needs the truth. It seems to me that the way you can talk absolutely honestly and factually to children about good and evil is to talk to the self – the inner, deepest self. That is something children can and do cope with; indeed, our job in growing up is to become ourselves…What we need to grow up is reality, the wholeness which exceeds human virtue and vice. We need knowledge, we need self-knowledge. We need to see our selves and the shadows we cast.

And she also says:
'Those who refuse to listen to dragons are probably doomed to spend their lives acting out the nightmares of politicians. We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.'

Le Guin also comments positively on the British approach (as she sees it) to fantasy compared to what she sees as the American approach.

Does this make sense?


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