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Sat July 28, 2012
A raucous, riotous and audacious Olympic opening ceremony
Originally published on Sat July 28, 2012 8:25 am
Here's what Danny Boyle got right in his raucous and riotous opening ceremony extravaganza for the London Olympics. In sharp contrast to the militaristic precision of Beijing's spectacular 2008 effort, Boyle brought wonder and whimsy and wit to the proceedings, without skimping on any of the patriotic touch points that are a must at any Olympic opening ceremony.
If I gave you a list of the ingredients that were part of this rich menu, you would be hard pressed to imagine how they could all come together. The much-mentioned sheep, cows, maypoles and pastoral idyll formed the early part of the show, and it was hard to imagine how this scene of a Britain of times gone by could possibly be transformed into anything resembling the last two centuries of British history.
In an astonishing display of audacity and bravado, we were soon entering the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, with the green pastures of the shire replaced by the ferocity of industrial destruction and creation. The percussive drums of Scottish drummer Evelyn Glennie, deaf since birth, led the musical charge that saw the Olympic Stadium transformed into the grimy, harsh and at the same time spectacular landscape of industrial Britain.
Top-hatted plutocrats sashayed across the stadium, as the workers of Britain's industrial heights forged iron that transformed into a ring that formed the fifth Olympic ring, rising majestically above the stadium to join the other four rings, with fireworks exploding as they were suspended high in the air.
What followed was a who's who of British cultural icons; James Bond (Daniel Craig) and The Queen, together. Yes, really. The Royal Air Force, Cockney Pearly Kings and Queens; a beautiful homage to British children's literature from the scary Lord Voldemort and the Child Snatcher to Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, including a reading by the modern queen of children's literature J.K.Rowling.
A celebration of Britain's National Health Service was a remarkably political statement on the part of the director that came across as something more benign - a celebration of the accomplishments of his country. The sight of hundreds of pajama-clad kids trampolining on hospital beds represented all that is soft and fuzzy and right about aiding the sick, a sketch that would probably never make it in an equivalent ceremony in the U.S.
Throw in some Mr. Bean, Mike Oldfied's tubular bells, a medley of the last 50 years of British music — rock, pop, ska, and grime — and there was something for everyone.
What was amazing about the whole thing was that it worked.
It was dazzling and grand and heartwarming and emotional and fun, all at the same time. And it was the fun that came through the most. People seemed to be having fun. Contrast that with the automaton nature of the Beijing performers, and one could get misty-eyed about the whole thing.
Danny Boyle gave us the Britain we have all heard about, but he wrapped it up in his unique creative style. I wasn't sure what to expect from him, but the fact that he got James Bond to escort The Queen to the Olympics is enough to earn my respect and my gratitude. I hope that the television watcher in the U.S. will get a full sense of the whole package; it was an entertainment worthy of the spectacle.