I am one of those people known as a “biennial know-it-all,” meaning that I don’t know the basic rules of football, but every couple of years I think that I am a sporting expert. Why? Because it’s Olympics time!
I love the Olympics beyond all measure, winter or summer, and I will watch any sport, no matter how boring, with the avid interest of a parent watching her child in the sack race on Field Day. Or a bored office worker watching cat videos on YouTube. As far as the Summer Olympics goes, my favourites are gymnastics, (rhythmic and artistic, I am no rhythmic snob) (see what I mean? I’m starting already!), swimming, diving, equestrian and track and field, though I’d watch someone standing still and staring into space if you told me it was called the statue race and it had a complicated jargon and you could tell me the history of the sport and maybe there was an underdog involved.
But the best part of the Olympics are the opening ceremonies. By the time the closing ceremonies roll around, even people like me are kind of over the whole thing, but the opening ceremonies are all about the hope and anticipation that this will be the Best Olympics Ever.
Of course, the Beijing opening ceremonies set a pretty high bar, especially in retrospect, as personally I practically remember a game of Quiddich being involved. London has a lot to live up to, especially after that double-decker bus that they trundled out in the closing ceremonies four years ago, which everyone said made it look like a bunch of red-assed baboons interrupting a performance of Le Lac des Cygnes, but I have faith in Danny Boyle.
So, it’s my favourite part of my favourite biennial occurrence in my favourite city, what could go wrong? Can these ridiculously sky-high expectations be met? How many double-decker buses will there be? Will there be pearlies? Well, I’m about to find out!
It starts with the sun rising over the British Empire, beautiful shots of scenery, pictures of Shakespeare and Darwin and Lennon and McCartney, while two beautiful voices speak words of pride. The guy is definitely Ewan McGregor, which makes perfect sense considering the Danny Boyle connection, though I think the woman’s voice is Emily Blunt. Is this a subliminal way to boost DVD sales of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? Then they show Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four minute mile–a clip of him doing it, and him standing on the track now, holding his medal, and I immediately burst into tears. We are one minute into the show, so that’s about par for me and the weeping.
They show various Olympians at the last summer Olympics, Beijing, 2008, triumphant, and include a Paralympian, which I think is pretty awesome. Many shots of clouds going quickly across the sky, as though to make you realize that there will be plenty of rain over the next couple of weeks, but look how fast the sky clears!
Then there is Bob Costas, without whom there is no Olympics. Um, wait a minute. Did Bob Costas have a face lift? Seriously? Because that may be Bob Costas’ voice, and that may be Bob Costas’ hair, but there is no way that that is Bob Costas’ face. I suppose if you are famously boyish, and HD-TV has been invented, the pressure to remain glassily smooth in the face department must be pretty great, but I find it disappointing. Unless I am imagining the whole thing. No, I am not. He looks like a vampire. Especially next to Tom Brokaw, who is a normal old man.
They talk about Olympic security and how much it costs, then the weather. Way to be dynamic, guys. It’s like listening to a couple of retirees down at the donut shop.
Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera? Well that sure is a kiss my ass to poor old Ann Curry! Matt mentions that the British call television “the telly,” as though nobody had ever heard the term, and Bob Costas said that someone used the term “dismal Johnnies” about Olympic doubters, and so far it seems that NBC is going to be acting as if the Brits are re-enactors at Colonial Williamsburg or possibly performing mice. Really? “Telly?” Don’t ruin my Olympic fever by being condescending, guys, especially since I actually love Bob Costas and Matt Lauer!
After an interview with some gymnasts, a few commercials, and me wrestling with two corgis (not televised), there is kind of a marvelous little film showing the length of Britain, starting from the mouth of the Thames, passing land so idyllic that you expect to see a dead body any minute (Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple, etc.), swooping past British Olympians, then what is clearly a brief glimpse of Pink Floyd’s flying pig, the Clock Tower to the London Eye, a brief snatch of the Sex Pistols, then a bird’s eye shot of the Thames and I expect to hear the theme from Eastenders, but it leaves me hanging. The Tube, “London Calling,” posters from all of the modern Summer Games, a countdown, and here we go! Nice start, Danny Boyle!
Bradley Wiggins, first British Tour de France winner, comes out in his yellow jersey and rings a gigantic bell to start it off. An adorable child sings “Jerusalem,” and hopefully it’s the same adorable child singing as is pictured, unlike in Beijing, while old-tymey Brits dance around a maypole and play cricket. Then we go to Northern Ireland, where a children’s choir sings “Danny Boy,” then Scotland where the children are singing “Flower of Scotland”, then Wales where they sing “Cwm Rhondda” and I would be crying, except there is Ken Brannagh in a top hat and I am being distracted from tears. Also, they are singing in English, and that song only makes me cry in Welsh.
The rest of the English children in the stadium continue with “Jerusalem,” and let me tell you, when they get to the line “Bring me my chariots of fire,” there is such a cheer! I would cheer too, but I’d wake the corgis.
Then Ken Brannagh starts talking, and it’s Shakespeare, and it sounds familiar, than then I really start crying, because it’s me, it’s Caliban. Thank you, Danny Boyle, this is such a gift. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the opening ceremonies, I don’t care what happens in the Olympics, that moment was just for me. Pardon me while I rewind and watch it four more times.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
Then, drumming. Evelyn Glennie, practically the only percussionist that I actually know who they are, because she is deaf, who sort of looks like a druid witch, beating forth the industrial revolution along with a drum chorus. No more cricket whites and maypole dances, instead it’s grim-faced miners emerging from the ground. Will there be a strike as part of the ceremony? Will they burn Thatcher in effigy?
The workers, as directed by men in top hats, rip up all of the green grass all over the stadium and turn it all into a smokey, hellish nightmare of industry. As the smokestacks rise, I am waiting for the workhouse to rise as well, because it ain’t the industrial revolution without debtor’s prisons and hard-faced children selling matches and picking pockets in the street! Will the Ghost of Christmas Present open his robes and show us the girl, Ignorance, and the boy, Want? So far, this is actually kind of subversive. Progress can only happen if you destroy the past? These are the people who built this great nation and then were abandoned by it when they outgrew their usefulness? Men in top hats gesture, men and women in rags toil? What are you saying, Danny Boyle?
Holy cats! A suffragette march! While the fat cats in suits grin, standing on the bones of the workers! I may have exaggerated that last bit, but not the former. Then, poppies, and a moment of stillness for the dead of the Great War, and all wars.
Then, streams of men in Sgt. Pepper costumes! And the forging of a giant ring. Is it really, actually being forged? It kind of looks like it, and Matt Lauer says that you can smell the forging in the stadium. Well, since they are making the Olympic rings, it would be pretty sad if the forging didn’t work, so it probably is an Amazing Simulation, but it’d be nice to think it was real. Pearlies! I freakin’ knew there would be pearlies.
The ring rises and joins four other rings that fly in and they all rain fire down on the performers and the audience, somehow not killing them. This is kind of standing up to Beijing. And what I love about it is that it is not all “Britain is the greatest thing ever!” it’s more, “This is our history, good and bad, and sometimes the bad creates the good.” Or at least, that’s what I’m taking away from it.
Then a film where a taxi drives into Buck House while children are on a tour, and Daniel Craig as James Bond, wearing a tux and accompanied by two corgis who are frankly not as cute as Cathy and Josh, my current companions. And holy cats, it’s the actual Queen! Saying, “Hello, Mr. Bond!” How the hell did Danny Boyle make this happen? They get in a helicopter and fly over London, everyone smiling and waving, including the statue of Churchill that comes to life (hopefully after the camera goes away it doesn’t suddenly start eating the citizenry, which is what I expect when statues come to life), then they switch to live and actually DO fly into the Olympic Stadium! And then they jump out of the helicopter with Union Flag parachutes, although I am pretty certain that Her Majesty didn’t actually make that jump herself. Apparently, Daniel Craig died, because he’s not there at the end of it when the Queen and Prince Philip come out.
Members of the various British armed forces carry in the Union Flag, is this to commemorate the sad passing of James Bond? Then the national anthem is performed by the Chaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children, which just may be my favourite thing ever. Between this choir and Evelyn Glennie, the deaf are being reasonably well-represented tonight, for once.
After the commercial, they show a book with raised letters saying, “Second to the right and straight on till morning,” which means one of two things will be next, either a parade of great British fictional characters, or a surprise tribute to Michael Jackson. Probably the former, but that Danny Boyle, he’s a wild card! Wait, it’s a celebration of the National Heath Service while “Tubular Bells” plays? Is one of those children in the beds rolled by nurses going to start spitting pea soup? This was exactly neither of my guesses; I wasn’t even within sight. You got me again, Danny Boyle!
Now everyone is swing-dancing and the kids are bouncing on the beds and a giant NHS is lit up, and now this opening ceremony is officially as weird as all of the others turn out to be. Okay, now the children are nestled all snug in their beds. If we then watch them get a good eight hours of sleep, I might end up tuning out, but only after about four or five hours, I’d give it that long without my expectation flagging.
Nope! The kids are reading under the covers with flashlights (my childhood, right there) as J.K. Rowling reads from Peter Pan and, um, nightmare creatures in black with glowing yellow eyes spill out over the stadium. Are you trying to create the restless sleep of all the children and half of the adults watching this all over the world, Danny? Because if so, you are doing an excellent job. Terrifying puppets! The Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Cruella DeVille, and Voldemort! As all of the nurses dance in a zombie-like fashion! Good luck ever sleeping again, kids! And then, down from the heavens, fifty Mary Poppinses fly in on their parrot-headed umbrellas to kick the nightmares’ asses. Then everyone dances some more and a giant baby is created out of sheets. Matt says, tentatively, “I don’t know if that’s cute or creepy!” You do too, know, Matt.
The London Symphony Orchestra plays the theme to Chariots of Fire, with Rowan Atkinson marvelously playing the single note over and over, brilliantly playing how bored he is by the whole thing, checking his watch, changing fingers, flipping through the music to see if anything changes, taking pictures with his iPhone, sneezing and trying to get to a Kleenex without stopping the note, it’s fantastic! Then he closes his eyes, imagining, and we see them running down the beach in the movie, and there’s poor Ian Charleson throwing his head back, and I’m singing in my head the words that we used to sing, “The chariots of fi-i-i-i-re/We run down the beach/In our bare fe-e-e-e-eet/I’ll sing it again.” I’ll bet they are going to bring the actors out from the play version that is currently in the West End, but I won’t bet very much, as Danny keeps fooling me. Nope, Rowan’s in the film and he beats them all!
Now it’s “Frankie and June Say Thanks Tim”, the digital age and everyone is on their devices and there is too much information all at once, but everyone is also having a good time! And Frankie and June, a girl and a boy meet. Seriously, this bit is much harder to describe, but they are traveling though British music, while bits of movies and TV shows play. A Matter of Life and Death, one of my fave raves! Earlier they had Gregory’s Girl. And of course, Trainspotting, then Four Weddings.
Finally some live music, Dizzee Rascal, or, as I always think of him because of The Catherine Tate Show, Naughtee Rascal. The Tim thanked by Frankie and June is Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, and there he is, typing out the message “This is for everyone.”
The torch is coming up the Thames, David Beckham is driving the boat. I have been watching this for four hours and I am not even two hours into it yet. I need to go to bed soon, I am running out of words.
Okay, it’s the next day, I have been singing “Jerusalem” all morning, and I am refreshed and ready to watch another two and a half hours of Opening Ceremonies! Which is mostly going to be the Parade of Nations. The Olympics: when you say, “There are this many nations?” And if you are a bad, thoughtless person, you start fast -forwarding around the K or L mark.
The first two flag bearers, for Greece and for Afghanistan, were both Tae Kwon Do-ers. Did they beat up their teammates for the opportunity? My favourite teams are always the ones with two or three athletes. Although if you are from a team that small and you are not the flag bearer, that’s gotta be a blow. The flag bearer for Andora is 61 years old, a shooter who has been participating in the Games since 1976. I love sports that you don’t have to be young to participate in.
Okay, John Cleese’s DirecTV ad is just one of the most spectacular things ever.
Will the athletes from Bermuda ever be allowed to wear long trousers in public? Nope, never. I’m pretty sure they wear them in the Winter Games as well, if they field a winter team.
I’ll admit, I have zoned out and am checking Facebook, and we are only at Chad. The Dominican Republic’s bearer is in Tae Kwon Do as well! Bob just said that in all of his Olympics, he has never seen a Parade of Nations zoom along at such a pace. He said that perhaps it was the uptempo music, which was, at that point, “Stayin’ Alive”, and it is completely impossible not to walk to that beat, so I think he has a point.
The Independent Olympic Athletes? Three athletes jumping around like loonies (one not arrived yet), who have no country so they are competing together. I kind of love that beyond all measure and am rooting for them ahead of any other country. They are a marathoner, a 400m runner, a sailor and a judo-er. Go IOA! The Irish flag bearer is a female boxer, a sport I am really interested in because NPR did a whole series of stories on it and got me hooked. Usain Bolt bears for Jamaica.
Bob keeps mentioning how fast they are marching, that they have to edit through their notes as the various nations sprint in. I, for one, appreciate it! The exhausted athletes, less so. The Solomon Islands win best outfits, brilliant blue, green and yellow to match their flag, and one of the athletes dyed his beard to match.
The United Arab Emirates! We are in the U’s, and here comes the USA! Great Britain is soon, then the lighting of the flame, then Sir Paul McCartney, hopefully not on fire. The cameras keep drifting away from Uruguay and Vietnam and the other teams later in the alphabet, and back to the USA. The cameras are a magnet and the USA team are steel.
And here is Great Britain, as everyone loses their freaking minds. The Queen kind of looks irritated at the whole thing. Weirdly, Bob says, “There’s the Queen, cheering wildly for Great Britain!” but I think he was saying that the crowd was cheering, and in the middle of the sentence, as an aside, said “There’s the Queen,” but it did sound funny as she had her grump face on. David Bowie’s “Heroes” accompanies their entrance, which is kind of grand. Bob says that Great Britain only won one gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and set themselves a programme to up their medals, then said that the home country gets about a 50% medal boost. So that means they will get two? JUST KIDDING, GB! LUVS YA!
Okay, the Parade of Nations is over and we are BACK TO DANNY’S BOYLE’S IMAGINATION! We come back from commercial, and it’s the Arctic Monkeys singing “Come Together”, while hundreds of people ride around on bicycles with flapping, light-up wings on their backs and livid red faces, because they are doves of peace. Doves of crazy nightmare peace, maybe. Then one flies off like ET on his bicycle (Bob said that before I thought of it, but it totally is).
Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the LOCOG, will now be boring. Caught up on Miss Doxie‘s Facebook posts, then realized that the Olympic flag was being carried in. They bring the flag over to Muhammad Ali, who is almost completely paralyzed due to Parkinson’s, and it is just agonizing to see him like this.
Back to David Beckham driving the speedboat up the Thames, the torch is then passed to Olympian Sir Steven Redgrave, who will carry it into the stadium. I feel as though that boat was driving for a really long time, but of course, I went to bed in the meantime.
Redgrave runs past an honour guard made of construction workers who worked on the stadium, then passes the torch to young British athletes, Olympians of the future, as an original composition entitled “Caliban’s Dream” plays, calling back to Branagh’s speech from the beginning. I hold Caliban as close to me as I do Bottom, I love that he has a song and was an integral part of this Opening Ceremony. Good heavens, Evelyn Glennie is still playing? She must be exhausted! The young athletes each have an Olympic champion as a sponsor, who embraces them, and then the flame continues, running past all of the nations, then they light the copper bowls, one for each nation, carried in during the parade, then the bowls all rise up to form the Olympic cauldron. It is astoundingly beautiful and symbolic. Then all the fireworks on earth! Followed by Paul McCartney, singing “And in the end/the love you take is equal to the love you make,” which has made me cry uncontrollably since that moment on SNL when Chris Farley asked him about that line, hopefully, fearfully, “Is that true?”
He sings “Hey Jude”, which I think he needs to take down a half-step, as it may no longer be in his range. But as he goes on, especially at the “Better, better, better, better, WAAAOOOOHHH!” he proves me wrong, it was just a momentary glitch at the beginning, because Sir Paul does not flipping lip-synch. He has the audience sing the “Na na na na, hey Jude” part on their own, which sounds huge and marvelous. This has never been my favourite Beatles song, but it sure works as a climax to the evening, because it’s a song that everyone knows, and even if they don’t, they can pick it up pretty fast!
And except for Meredith Vierra interviewing Danny Boyle about directing the Queen, then Matt and Bob chatting about what happened over the past four hours, we are done, and everything went, as Danny Boyle said, tickety-boo!
Let the Games begin!