London 2012 Olympics: Opening Ceremony – Bizarre and daft. It was very British

And breathe a sigh of relief. It’s here. The Olympics have arrived.

Over the next 14 days the aim of this blog is to bring you the news from the Games as well as the more odd stories making the events. Hopefully all of this will be done in a humorous way – though that is very much down to your own interpretation if humour. So to start the Opening Ceremony.

Going into the Games the entire of London and the UK held its breath in anticipation of what would come out of the mind of Danny Boyle. We had all seen the Chinese Games. They were good. And not just “That-piece-of-cake-was-good” good, more “holy-shit-did-you-just-see-that?!” good. The rhythmical and perfect light-drumming, the ripples of boxes moving up and down with people inside of them, the flame being run around the stadium via high-wire. Wow. So what did Britain have to offer? Well, from the looks of the early pictures, Farmville. Crappy Farmville, Jesus wept.

Now it has to be understood that a good ceremony will be tough. You have to take a cast of non-professionals (and in this case animals), an athletics stadium which has very rigid rules about the state of the field and the British weather and turn them into something that the world will see. Moreover, it has to somehow convey the ‘Olympic Spirit’ and the philosophies of that spirit into what will essentially be a massive carnival/bonfire night/theatrical show/circus/Jackanory

Danny Boyle set out to make the Opening Ceremony so different from previous ones that usually consist of rock anthems, choreography, doves and cute children, so different that it couldn’t even begin to be compared to the Chinese one. And to do this he began with thatched cottages, shitting ponies and cricket. Yup, very different. The story encapsulated in the following ‘Pandemonium’ section was one of upheaval, immigration, civil rights and protest. The use of the punk and the suffragettes showed that we are a nation of forward thinkers; the Chelsea Pensioners and the Pearly Kings showing we love a tradition or two. Boyle also used the Industrial Revolution as the catalyst for all this, much as it was in real life – all spurred on by the greatest Briton of them all, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

We shouldn’t have been surprised that Boyle took this tack. While most ceremonies have shown the best of the country and little of the history – there were no Native Americans at Atlanta ’96 or human rights of any kind in China – Boyle decided that instead of shying away from rebellion and punk, where the Queen was famously labelled a ‘fascist regime’, that this is exactly what makes Britain. This helps build the picture of the nation. In the past his films have been about drugged-up teens in Glasgow, starving orphans in Mumbai or even a zombie apocalypse in London itself; he was never going to gloss over the bits that some may struggle with.

It also showcased the great things that Britain has given the world. It read like a love letter to the British arts. JK Rowling read from ‘Peter Pan’ and Voldemort did battle with Mary Poppins over a little girl’s bedtime. Films were celebrated (ish) via a ‘Chariots of Fire’ dream sequence in which Mr Bean won by driving past all of the other runners. And music from OMD and New Order (which Trevor bloody Nelson kept talking over) lead us through to the 90s and the Spice Girls and up to present day with a live performance, Bangra-infused version of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’. This collection of musical hits were all great and the entire audience (both at home and in the stadium) sang along to those they knew.

There were also very clever moments in the script celebrating things that only we could do. The Queen and James Bond having a chat in the throne room is something very British. No other country in the world has a literary figure so exported and a national figurehead so beloved (especially this year) as those two. The Queen’s agreeing to jump from the helicopter and to have her poked fun at is a real testament to her sense of humour and desire to do what will work best for her country. Anyone watching with a foreigner, in particular a former colonial (as I was) you will have been subject to a Taken by Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulossqueal of amazement when the Q-dog herself turned to face the camera for the unveil. Little did any of us know that she would go beyond just being in the film. And in the age of international, instantaneous media the raising of the middle Olympic ring to join the other four above the stadium to rain fire upon the audience was an iconic and memorable moment. Trust a director to pick these images and to tell the world: The Olympics are back….

While it was a great event, it didn’t all work. Towards the middle of the ceremony the narrative wandered off a bit and I have to admit that I got lost. The true message behind the ‘Wall of Rememberance’ was lost too as we at home assumed it was the deceased relatives of those in the stadium, though many now say that it was a collection of images of those lost in the 7th of July bombings, with artistic dancing from Akram Khan’s troupe. That said if you watched in the States you won’t have seen this (more on that in a second). Also the use of Muhammad Ali to touch the Olympic flag before its hoisting was a heart-breaking moment. A once great man, now too frail and ill to support his own Parkinson-riddled body, his wife stood beside him asking him to wave to the crowd and smile he could do none of these. A sad and humbling moment. Finally, Paul McCartney nearly ruined the entire event by wandering out and warbling a tired, old song, written about a drippy teenage, through his old frog-like face. It truly was a bitter taste left in the mouth when he sang. Sure it is a rousing song and everyone knows how it goes so they can sing along, but I think other countries will start believing that this is our national anthem. He buggered up the Jubilee concert and now he tries to bugger up the Olympics. He should have his knighthood taken away and given to Ringo as punishment for his annoyance and stupidity. Bastard.

While I am whacking people with sticks, NBC are next. The American broadcasters decided to tape delay the ceremony so they could control the feed and insert advert breaks whenever they fancied. There also refused to make the original ceremony available to web-users or cable subscribers. The commentators too showed the true idiocy of American broadcasters, hired for their looks rather than their journalistic prowess. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieria were convinced that the Queen had actually jumped out of the helicopter and they stated “If you haven’t heard of him, we haven’t either” when Sir Tim Berners-Lee was brought out, despite the man inventing the very thing those morons use to do anything these days. Now both of these are a shame and a pity for the US viewers but all falls in the face of the almighty dollar, including intelligence, so hey. But the next cut was much more than a share-price nudge or a timing issue. NBC chose to cut the entire segment in which Emeli Sandé sang ‘Abide with Me’ and the dancers portrayed the sadness of people lost in terrorist acts in London the day after the Olympic announcement. What did they cut this for? A Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps. The reason was because the broadcast was tailored for American viewers. Well then, next time you have a 9/11 memorial, we might just cut in an interview with a plate of chips – it’s for British viewers you know.

These issues aside Danny Boyle managed to deliver a Great British ceremony for a Great British peoples. In the end it was so bizarre, bonkers, madcap and daft, it was very British. The ceremony was unlike anything else and therefore became in a class of its own. Now the light-drumming of Beijing just looked like some sparkies belting a bin, the waves of boxes looked like a bunch of kids playing fort and the flame on a high-wire was nothing compared to a forest of fire lit by the future, guided by the past. Let’s hope we can live up to Danny Boyle’s high standard when the events start tomorrow!

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