Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Opening Ceremony

We are not a sports oriented family and rarely watch sport on TV, but I have always loved watching the Olympics. When the 2012 Olympics were first awarded to London I hoped to get tickets, but decided against due to a combination of price and the high demand for tickets here in the UK that left pretty much every event massively oversubscribed. Even without the prospect of being able to watch live, anyone living in the UK over the past few weeks would have to live under a rock - and a pretty big rock at that - not to get caught up in anticipation of the London games, and on Friday night all five of us settled down to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.

We had no idea what to expect. Britain is superb at the big royal events - think William and Kate's wedding and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - but has a decidedly patchy track record when it comes to other public celebrations. The uninspiring "River of Fire" on the Thames to mark the Millenium barely even lived up to the billing of damp squib, for example. So who knew what we might get for the Olympic opening! It was also hard to see what might work. A Beijing style ceremony was never on the cards, both because the cost would be unacceptable in the current financial climate and because the British simply don't do massed ranks of identical performers. Neither was a Hollywood style extravaganza likely - again, too expensive, and that sort of razzmatazz would be likely to leave the British public cringing at the sheer un-Britishness of the spectacle (we might enjoy watching other countries do this type of show, but just can't take it seriously in ourselves). We also tend to be uncomfortable with overt displays of patriotism ... so what was left?

What we got was an opening night romp through aspects of British history and culture which reflected our peculiar national character - quirky, eccentric, diverse and humorous. We are a nation of individuals, yet still value popular institutions (we LOVE our NHS!). We are four countries tangled together into one. All that came through in Danny Boyle's show. The ceremony zoomed from Jerusalem and Abide With Me (which I understand NBC cut from its coverage in the US) to the Beatles and the Sex Pistols, by way of Shakespeare, James Bond, the Queen, the invention of the world wide web*, Mr Bean, and the defeat of Voldemort by a fleet of flying Mary Poppinses. It was weird, crazy, moving, and entertaining, sometimes all at the same time. Tevye and I started watching with a slight feeling of pessimism (see River of Fire above), but by the time the show reached James Bond and the Queen we were shouting "genius!" at the TV set. With all the financial doom and gloom of the last years as a nation we really needed the morale boost of a party we could enjoy, and we got it. We did wonder what viewers around the world wouAkersake of the whole thing, but I did a bit of googling of reviews and they seemed to be mostly positive, if occasionally baffled.

So now we move on to two weeks of indulging in the great British sport of gallantly failing (mostly) to win medals.

Oh, I nearly forgot ... I thought the cauldron was amazing! So different to anything that had been done before, and so effective.

*Did you realise that when Sir Tim Berners-Lee typed "This is for everyone" on the computer in the stadium it was live tweeted. How cool is that!


Pamela said...

We loved the Opening Ceremony. At the first three or four bars of Jerusalem, I burst into tears (it's sort of a family hymn, always sung at weddings and funerals so a host of memories flashed by), and I have to say that I was pretty emotional through the whole thing. I thought it was super, very British - as you said, a Beijing style or Hollywood extravaganza would just not be what one would expect. Loved the cauldron. I must have missed the explanation of the petals the young people accompanying the flag bearers were carrying in the Parade of Nations - I think I thought I heard "kettle" instead of "petal" and couldn't figure out why they were all carrying some form of kettle so I didn't pay much attention.

Heard from my close friends in the UK who were quick to point out that Danny Boyle is from Bury, where my parents last lived. Lots of local pride there.

We don't watch much sport either but we're going to be glued to the TV for the next two weeks, alternatively routing for Team USA and Team GB!

Catherine said...

We loved it, too!! We all watched together, including our Greek exchange student (who has never heard of Mary Poppins!!). We are all Anglophiles and very much enjoyed the whole show. Well done!

Karen Edmisten said...

I was visiting family, talking, drinking wine, and catching only parts of the opening ceremony, so it's all a happy blur to me. :)

ellie said...

It was wonderful! We loved it (up to and including writing it up on my blog!). We're unrepentant Anglophiles of course :-) but even so, I truely felt it was a superb Opening Ceremony.

Oh! And I, too, thought the announcer was saying "kettle" so that nit didn't make sense to me until it came time to light the cauldron -- which I loved, thougt it quite innovative.