For the first time I got to sit down and watch the Olympic opening ceremony. It was choreographed by Danny Boyle. Here’s what I thought.
The Best Bits:
The portrayal of idyllic pastoral England. It’s nice to know their ideal view of themselves is so similar to my ideal view of their country. It gives me hope that one day if I can travel there perhaps I’ll find glimpses of it.
The industrial revolution. I thought it was interesting the way they portrayed this part of their history; it was really incredible watching the black dirt and machinery take over the countryside, the green disappearing before your eyes. They didn’t try to sugarcoat it too much, although the multicultural aspect was an insight into how it might have been rather than reality.
Physically, it was the most incredible scene change ever! Watching the chimneys rise was really cool. And it was clever the way they showed that the revolution was driven by a small, wealthy part of society at the expensive of the lower classes who did all the work.
One of my favourite bits was the iron smelter and the forging of the fifth ring. As a spectacle it was just so impressive and astonishing.
As it rose it still looked like red-hot, newly forged metal. Cool! And when it joined the other four rings and they rained sparks: iconic!
Use of English literature and literary figures. Kenneth Branagh dressed as Abe Lincoln (kidding!) is all good, but Voldemort and the Child Catcher stole the show. I fell in love with books and reading as a kid and so many of the books I read were British (even though I may not have realised at the time).
The illuminated beds of the children looked great and the towering, billowing Voldemort was terrifying; his wand shooting out magic was an inspired touch. The Mary Poppinses did really well – very composed on their high wires.
Inclusion of various social movements in British history. Including new immigrants and the suffragettes with their signs and sashes.
Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. A really clever piece with him and the Symphony Orchestra.
The volunteers! They did so well being coordinated and in character the whole time. In particular the drummers who keep it up for the whole Parade of Nations. Legends!
The Olympic Cauldron. Made up of 204 petals which formed a flaming flower, part of the delight of the spectators, I’m sure, was relief at finally understanding what those bronze conch-shaped things were that entered with each country.
Having the cauldron lit as individual flames representing each country by a group of young athletes was a cool idea. Watching the petals rise into the Olympic Cauldron was really clever.
Other cool things included the children’s signing choir for the deaf (although since they didn’t show them that much I’m not totally sure how efficient their signing was) and be-suited David Beckham in the speedboat (although the beautiful young torchbearer in the bow kind of stole the show).
Overall the practically seamless choreography of the whole thing was really impressive. The way each vignette was obviously planned and storyboarded, the characters and camera angles each cinematologically deliberate.
But my very favourite part – can you guess? Clue: I love trees, sunshine, rolling hills and long grass. The grassy hill, criss-crossed by paths and covered in long waving grasses with little flowers, lit up by yellow lights so as people walked across it the close-ups looked like they were walking through a sunlit field. Really beautiful.
A CNN guide to the ceremony suggests the hill is reminiscent of Glastonbury Tor, a hill with associations with King Arthur, Avalon, and Jesus. Watching each person walk up the hill I was quite jealous – it looks like such a fun place to play! The tree atop the hill reminds me of a famous scene from Winnie-the-Pooh. Or maybe the Party Tree?
And then there were
The Weird Bits:
The giant baby. I missed the part where its relevance was shown. It looked like a huge bluish baby corpse with gashes in its head and a strange, rippling ghost body.
Zombie apocalypse? The whole industrial revolution thing was really well done, not just in terms of the scenery but with the happy, clean, carefree people gamboling about being replaced with dirty, downtrodden workers toiling away. But the fact that they came out from a dark misty cave beneath the hilltop tree and kind of staggered down to take over the landscape did make it look like a nineteenth century zombie apocalypse.
Mixed messages. I thought it was a nice touch having the “VIP” flagbearers carrying the official Olympic flag. Wearing white, presumably for peace and purity and whatnot, the bearers included “Angel of Mostar” Sally Becker, environmentalist Marina Silva, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and the director of ‘Liberty’ (a British civil liberties advocacy organisation), Shami Chakrabarti. These leaders of peace and unity then handed the Olympic flag over to uniformed military representatives of the British navy, army and air force. Incongruous, I think is the right word.
Her Majesty is not amused. Tipped to be the next internet meme, having celebrated her Diamond Jubilee this year Queen Elizabeth II seems to feel that after 60 years she doesn’t need to pretend to be amused anymore. Fair enough. But maybe just crack a smile?
Democracy – apparently it doesn’t mean what I think it means. I was a bit confused when North Korea entered in the Parade of Nations and their official name was “Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea”. Democratic? Really?
No Tolkien. It was great how they used the work Shakespeare, J.M. Barrie and J.K. Rowling in the ceremony, but where was J.R.R. Tolkien? The answer is: everywhere. The whole theme of the industrial revolution was so important to Tolkien and so informed his work that the first part of the opening ceremony was pretty much a retelling of one of his most famous books (including the forging of the ring :p). I’m surprised that they didn’t mention him overtly at all, even if they (presumably) couldn’t put in a Tower of Barad-dûr behind Voldemort and the Child Catcher for copyright reasons.
But even more than these, the bit I found the weirdest was those crazy national signs carried by the women in face dresses. As reader “CrossWC” wrote on the Washington Post site,
They look like they are suffering from some horrific neck injury and are wearing some sort of diabolical Halo neck brace device.
It’s so true! What’s up with that? Why can’t they just carry the names on a single pole? Those weird metal apparatuses are so distracting! And weird. Weird shoes, weird dresses, weird signs. But lovely smiles 😀
Despite this I did enjoy watching the Parade of Nations – more on that later…