Olympics Opening Ceremony Was a Delight
In the spectacular tribute to British history at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics in London, it's better to ask, perhaps, what was left out...song and dance tributes to the Great Plague? A reenactment of the royal beheadings at the Tower of London?
Hard to believe, but back in the day, the Olympic opening ceremonies yes, had some pageantry, but primarily were a Parade of Nations around the track by fresh-faced athletes, accompanied by some grand Olympic music and not much more.
In the 21st century, apparently, we're not satisfied unless we get some sort of recreation of the Bronze Age, the extinction of the dinosaurs -- or, in the case of the Opening Ceremonies last night, a symbolic reproduction of the eco-terrorism of the pastoral english countryside.
The entire effect of the Industrial Revolution was replayed as workers in 19th century costume scarred the idyllic stadium turf, erected towering smokestacks, and left it a charred relic of an industrial wasteland.
As it was, the opening task of representing history in song and dance was doomed to suffer multiple corny moments. There was that industrial cauldron at the center of a kind of minature Mordor -- forging giants rings, which, in turn, were raised above the stadium to form the Olympic logo. There was a tribute to the National Health care system with pre-war nurses in full-length aprons, tending a field of children in hospital beds.
And to their credit, the Brits (and director Danny Boyle) didn't miss the opportunity to join in the long English tradition of tongue-in-cheek self-mockery. Comic actor Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Black Adder) was at the center of an orchestral spoof of the film Chariots of Fire, and even a stand-in for the Queen parachuted into the stadium as a Bond girl.
(As mockery went, that was OK, but where were the uber-mockers Monty Python, at least with a line, "and now for something completely different...")
But, there was no denying that the show, as characterized by The Onion website on Friday (more mockery), delivered some "kick-ass pageantry." As jaded as we might be about the overblown, over-eager spectacle of it all, it was, in many ways, great television.
If you suspended your 21st century internet-soaked irony for a few moments, it was very possible to get immersed in the sincerity that should be underpinning the thing — the joining together of the world, bearing witness to experience the great archetypes of a great host country, and the simple joy of athletic competition these athletes have assembled to perform.
By some trick of monumental stagecraft, all of those belching smokestacks evaporated, and gave way to the enthusiastic athletes marching into the stadium to greet the well-wishing crowds.
There was magic, with a cast of marching thousands, and a descending army of Mary Poppins characters, (pictured at top) floating down, with umbrellas open, to save the children in the old-style hospital ward from their bad dreams.
There was the music of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles blasting throughout the stadium, and costumed glam-rockers of the '70s rocking out even more furiously.
There was an imaginative raising of Olympic rings of fire, and 204 sculpted bronze torches, symbolizing all the individual countries coming together as one giant Olympic flame.
And of course, there had to be Sir Paul McCartney, leading the stadium in a rendition of "Hey Jude" as the broadcast went worldwide to an estimated billion plus viewers. That was an amazing 21st century update to when he and the Beatles broadcast worldwide in the first-ever global television transmission by the BBC in 1967. The song performed that day? It was Oympian in spirit: "All You Need is Love."
Plenty had been written, in advance, that the London ceremonies couldn't match the modern, surreal power of the visuals that came out of the Beijing ceremonies in 2008. And in many ways, they didn't. After all, there just weren't the bold performance art and acrobatics of that event.
But while the Bejing games might be remembered for the high modernism, the London games literally started on the plain ground -- the pastures of old England -- and created their own world. And that was a smart change-up.
It certainly revved up to a sports spectacular, a Super Bowl halftime brand of show -- but a dozen times as long and large as that annual American circus.
That was just enough to make us jaded viewers stay tuned. And smile.
(All phots from AP, BBC, Daily Mail)