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Olympic Opening Ceremony, 2012

July 28th, 2012 (10:44 am)

I am too tired to mount an exhaustive exploration of last night's Olympic opening ceremony. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a self-aware exploration of the force of imagination and narrative in the face of social and economic transformation. The incorporation of 'Flower of Scotland' among the national anthems gained greater resonance as the ceremony progressed, suggesting not conflict between peoples, but resistance to whatever Westminster can throw at the people of Britain altogether. Escorted to Stratford by James Bond, the skydiving sovereign practically became a symbol of authority, political or sporting, as a game of hopscotch on the squares of fiction and reality. The rejection of historical national heroes, with an ambivalent portrayal of Brunel-as-Prospero by Sir Kenneth Branagh as presiding genius, emphasised that this was a pageant of social and cultural history, and Danny Boyle's overhauling (in both senses) of the national stereotypes many across the world no doubt expected to be rehearsed was exhilarating.

ETA: Not Brunel-as-Prospero, but Brunel-as-Caliban. Ambivalence upon ambivalence.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/528476.html.


Posted by: phoebesmum (phoebesmum)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:22 am (UTC)

I loved it - rather unexpectedly, and almost completely without irony; I was nodding along going "Yes, I think that's a jolly good thing about Britain, too" instead of being sophisticated and clever. You can miss a lot of fun that way.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:01 am (UTC)
Charles I

Agreed - the whole thing was full of visual gags, essentially. The idea of industrial workers as fairy folk in the hill, or possibly hobbits in their holes, was a great knowing wink.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)

I also got a disctinct feeling of Oompa-Loompas at some point...

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:59 am (UTC)
cricket ball

a pageant of social and cultural history

I enjoyed it enormously as a popular history in the best sense, emphasising a British tradition very different from the one we've seen recently in the Jubilee and royal wedding.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
Arthurian Logo

I think the Jubilee tried to be inclusive, but was badly reported. As for this ceremony, the absence of King Arthur from Glastonbury Tor was noted, as was the church tower; only the Thorn remained, possibly representing folk religion.

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:10 pm (UTC)

However inclusive the Jubilee tried to be, it was still inherently a celebration of inherited privilege. I was glad to see a vision of a different kind of nation and a different kind of patriotism. Arthur didn't make it, but the Archbishop of Canterbury was still in the royal box.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC)

In the royal box, though, not in the arena; and I don't think Jubilees celebrate privilege so much as duty and a socially cohesive though hierarchical country.

Edited at 2012-07-28 05:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC)

I don't think Jubilees celebrate privilege so much as duty and a socially cohesive though hierarchical country

I have to say, that's pretty much diametrically opposite to how I experienced it personally :-) They _can_ celebrate the things you name, but I didn't feel that this one did.

Posted by: Kargicq (kargicq)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:20 am (UTC)

Yup, I thought it was awesome. Sat down fully expecting to be huffing and puffing about the waste of money, but absolutely LOVED it, and now need to get hold of the soundtrack, and ideally a 3D Blu-Ray if one exists... Neuromancer

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 04:56 pm (UTC)

I imagine there will be a director's cut DVD/BluRay release, but the BBC plan to repeat the ceremony on 18 August.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:45 am (UTC)

I have about half a notebook of analysis of the ceremony, which I *loved* for its all-inclusive representation (highlighted by its use of the audience in lighting and filtering some of the performers through). I especially loved that he got a lesbian kiss in that montage-- broadcast live worldwide, including places like Saudi Arabia. :) There was Welsh spoken in the tv-house project footage, and there were American imports as well, I noted. Almost all of the main British metonyms were in there (the Queen & Bond was my fav, plus the TARDIS noise and the pre-recorded bit with Cumberbatch was coded to reference without being Sherlock, so you could read him as being 'in disguise'-- shame about the cut musical section).

Your point about Brunel-as-Caliban is further illustrated if you note movement. Branagh's Brunel moved naturalistically and freely, responding to what he saw around him. ERveryone else was stylised and mechanistic. This reinforces Brunel as 'magical' or liminal (or audience identification point, which is also liminal) which fits well with the ambiguous Caliban and the magical, liminal nature of The Tempest.

I have more notes (so many more notes...) but I'd need to go shot-by-shot to get a proper analysis. Hopefully I can get hold of a recording... :)

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC)
cream tea

Yes, like DW it will bear numerous repeated viewings to capture all its levels of meaning. In fact, I'm still unpacking Brunel as Caliban!

It struck me, from the GB vs England POV that they did well to include Branagh (from Belfast) and JKR (Edinburgh), not quite sure the Welsh were quite so well-served, but then they did get the honour of hosting the first events.

Re Mr Bean - whom I generally loathe - a great idea to get some visual humour into a multi-national celebration, and if we're honest the Vangelis tune is a little tedious.

Like the Jubilee, very much a feeling of the torch being passed to a new generation (I hope HM and the Duke were supplied with earplugs given their advanced age).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:37 pm (UTC)

I'd read the concentration on the industrial revolution as a topic which encompassed the entire United Kingdom, as well as one which heralded the later celebration of voluntary collective action, in opposition to the coercion of the early industrialists who nonetheless set a precedent.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC)
Wrexham club shield

"...not quite sure the Welsh were quite so well-served..."

I was assuming that the sheep were for us...

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 29th, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)

Can I quote you on that? ;) (Planning a paper on the ceremony...)

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: July 30th, 2012 10:11 am (UTC)
Wrexham club shield

Always happy to help the academic community...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)

The BBC will repeat it on 18 August, as I've told Neuromancer above, and it's available on iPlayer at the moment, but then I'm sure you know that...

I noticed the movement issue. Many strands in the narrative self-consciously invited interpretation and counter-interpretation, and they deserve more consideration than I can give here.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

plus the TARDIS noise

I was wondering if I had imagined that...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)

Apparently, if the cameras had been on the other side of the 'house', they would have seen the TARDIS materialise briefly. A later segment celebrating British television more directly, which would have featured the Doctor Who theme alongside those of Coronation Street and Monty Python, was dropped for time reasons, reportedly.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

shame :-(

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 05:41 pm (UTC)

It made me very sad. I missed the beginning while watching Beethoven's 7th on the Proms, so missed the green and pleasant land before it got the all too realistic belching industry plonked all over it, but I liked the Glastonbury-Tor-as-omphalos theme, and found some of it too saccharin and some of it frankly creepy (giant mushy baby??), but by the time it got to the Dark Side of the Moon I realised it had made me remember viscerally why I fell in love with this country and wanted to stay here, only to find once I'd achieved that, that those in power were intent on sucking the blood out of it, stashing it offshore, and throwing away the husk.

If my metaphors are slightly overheated, blame Charlie Stross. It was an impressive show, shame about the authoritarian corporatocracy that has occupied London for the occasion.

Edited at 2012-07-28 05:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 06:31 pm (UTC)

The corporatocracy were at least faced by a court jester with a subtle knife, given the content of Boyle's performance.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
Devil's Crown

Very few criticisms, as far as I can see. The Los Angeles Times carped, I see that a Daily Mail columnist is rubbisjing it as leftist propaganda (so it must have been good) and of course we have the Nazi-toasting MP calling for Shakespeare (which proves he wasn't watching) and the Red Arrows (James Bond and the Queen in a helicopter is more imaginative).

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)

Here's my interpretation. http://philmophlegm.livejournal.com/246015.html

I suspect it was meant to be lefty propaganda, but I'm deliberately choosing to see the NHS section as a searing indictment of centralised state bureaucracy in healthcare provision...

I must admit though - I quite liked it. I was annoyed by the absence of metal from the musical genres on show. Surely, this is an important genre pioneered by this country and therefore more deserving of inclusion than twerps like Dizzee Rascal. Little sport too. I mean we invented most of the events in the Olympics, so you'd have thought that would have been mentioned. I liked the stuff with Her Majesty and James Bond, and the Rowan Atkinson thing. Fireworks were good and the cauldron thing was great.

Oh, but somebody needs to take Trevor Nelson out and slap him so hard that he'll never manage to speak again.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)

I can't really tell genres from one another, though metal would have had international recognition; and last night was the first I had heard of grime. That being said, Dizzee Rascal is successful and local and contemporary and also has international recognition.

The success of last night's work was that so much was open to multiple interpretation, and deliberately so. Those who are confused should probably take advantage of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's invention, where and when they can, and look up the allusions.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)

Thank you, that was a great nut-shell view.

I must admit I approached the broadcast with some trepidation, but also bearing in mind the a comment from the RT preview feature, which pointed out that the man who gave us (certain details in) _Trainspotting_ was unlikely to give us merely a "bucolic and anodyne vision of Britain" (certain details did of course feature in the montage later). When Jerusalem was sung it started dawning on me that "dark satanic mills" might play a part...
(I'm not sure how fair it is to blame Brunel for the industrial revolution, though ;-) )

I think it was very cleverly done and very subtle, the politics, the humour, and the cultural references. I am sure I missed many of the latter, and I wonder what some of the foreign audiences made of it. But then, so much of it was universally enjoyable even without the references, and I'm sure most viewers will have recognized James Bond (lucky Daniel Craig for being the current one!) and Mr Bean (I also spotted Blackadder in the telly montage).

I think it bears repeated viewing in a way that Beijing, for all its grandeur, might not. Comparing the two seems futile, though: they exist on different planes.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 28th, 2012 11:48 pm (UTC)

Oh yes, the whole thing was historically suspect, as the programme acknowledged by crediting Abraham Darby in 1709 with launching the industrial revolution, which is itself arguable given that manufacturing industry in a form we might recognise had been going on for some time before that, if not always successfully and on a small scale.

Definitely an antidote to Beijing, which was technically impressive but bland, as far as I recall.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 29th, 2012 12:05 am (UTC)

Of course Brunel was voted second Greatest Briton a few years back (despite my efforts on the phone on his behalf). The winner did not feature as prominently yesterday, I observe...

I remember finding Beijing quite enganging, too, but it was very straightforward, nothing to go back to and find out more about (at least not for us foreigners). It did what it was trying to do brilliantly, and I am happy that DB did not even try to emulate it, but spectacularly (literally) succeeded in doing something so utterly different. Respect to both directors, but *this* show is the one I might consider getting a DVD of...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 29th, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)

Winston's statue danced and waved from Parliament Square, but that's all - only the artworks, not the politicians themselves.