Thursday, 2 August 2012

Britain: Brilliant but Barmy. London 2012 Opening Ceremony

So I finally found a copy of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony online and watched it. I'd seen bits on YouTube, but I must say I was impressed. I imagine if you didn't understand any of the imagery, it might not have been as impressive as the sheer scale of Beijing 2008, but to me it was considerably better.
The flame made of copper petals brought by the teams was a nice touch. Source here.
I must admit that I've found nearly all of the opening ceremonies I've seen crushingly dull. Beijng may have been visually impressive, but it was meaningless. There were colours, acrobatics, coordination and organisation, but no spirit. Danny Boyle's Isles of Wonder performance told a potted history of British culture, introducing countless pieces of pop culture imagery in a show that did a surprisingly good job of capturing the changing nature of Britain without resorting to either pessimism, cynicism or excessive nostalgia.
The Queen with James Bond (and Corgi). Source here.
Sure, it wasn't on the scale of Bejing, but it more than made up for that in character. This excellent review from Ai Weiwei, the Chinese political problem child who designed the Bird's Nest but turned down the opening ceremony gig, hits the nail on the head. The London ceremony was a genuine attempt to reflect the things held dear by real people in a real society - not just an idealized vision of a faceless nation. This is perhaps clearest in the fact that many of the cavorting medical staff were genuine, members of the construction team formed the guard of honour for the torch, and instead of a great name lighting the torch, it was seven young athletes. Oh, and no lip syncing-children either.
The industrial construction of the rings was ingenious and spectacular. Source here.
There was also a healthy injection of humour, which was exceedingly welcome. One of the things I've found hard to swallow about previous ceremonies is the stoic commitment to straight-faced seriousness, less so here. You can hardly accuse a ceremony of excessive seriousness when the highlights are the Queen 'jumping' out of a helicopter to arrive by parachute, and the most-discussed bit on Twitter was a cameo from Mr Bean and the LSO. One Guardian reviewer deplored the Mr Bean skit, and in the process showed that he completely fails to appreciate the mood of the nation.
I was left wondering what the rest of the world must think of us now. I can only wonder what those not in on the story of Mary Poppins made of a horde of flying 1920s women with umbrellas should warding off Lord Voldemort. It makes sense though, this is the country that brought Monty Python to the world. Danny Boyle created a show that was quintessentially British in all its multi-faceted meanings, who care if the world thinks we're barmy.

And the best bit? We all expected to be completely embarrassed, but we weren't. It wasn't totally rubbish at all.
England's Green and Pleasant land. Source here.
Oh, and can I just say, British Eurosport's coverage was fantastic. Barely a word of commentary with no inane waffle. Take note, BBC.