The Danny Boyle-directed Olympics Opening Ceremony was, well, Britain on acid. Or maybe ecstasy. A wild, weird and wonderful party. With great music.
I loved some of it, especially the corny bits. I cleared my throat a lot and wiped my eyes surreptitiously when the children sang the songs from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Those are my songs; I sang them all as a child. I coughed and swallowed when all those fine social justice types carried the Olympic flag around the stadium. I am a sucker for the-best-we-can-be stuff. However, I did find some of the show rather baffling–the dancing nightmare monsters, the jitterbugging medics–which I’m guessing people without intimate knowledge of British children’s literature or the NHS found mystifying. Americans could probably keep up, mostly (Mary Poppins floating in to save the day, er, night is at least a recognisable figure) but viewers from Tanzania or Uzbekistan: maybe not so much. The modern-day love story didn’t work for me, either. Though I did enjoy seeing the two women kiss in the montage. Sir Paul and “Hey Jude”… Well, if I had to guess why Boyle chose that song it was so that audience members had something to sing along to that didn’t require knowing any lyrics. “…na na na na-na-na naa…” is easy enough for most people to remember. And there’s nothing as community-building as a sing-along. The people in the stadium probably felt the glow of universal love. At home? Eh, the song seemed to go on a bit too long.
My favourite bits? James Bond and the Queen, of course. Closely followed by the Bohemian Rhapsody clips. I enjoyed watching Rowan Atkinson subvert the schmaltzy Chariots of Fire sequence. The nod to Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the internet, could have been better, but I’m glad it was there. The doves on bikes were very cool, as was the athlete shown in tiny LED panels running around the stadium seating. Also high on the list of Good Things: the depiction of Britain as multi-cultural nation, and the very, very cool copper buds/petals that made up the Olympic cauldron. But for me what epitomised the show was the forging of the Olympic rings: a unique mix of technology, imaginative staging, and potent symbolism: the joining of light, movement, northern industrialism, and the Olympic spirit. Very British: mighty, but not too expensive.
I don’t think anyone but a director born and bred in the north of England could have conceived this show. The music, the patriotism, the belief in world systems along with a hint of outsider-ism, and, over all, the sly acknowledgement that it’s all a bit of lark, really, and needs to have the mickey taken out of itself. Boyle himself summed it up neatly: “sly, surreal eccentricity.”
Tonight I’ll drink a toast to The North: the place and the people who started the Industrial Revolution (and not a few political revolutions) that make us who we are today.
I loved it.