Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Olympics' Opening Ceremony

I cried twice.

To my credit, I only cried twice. 

I'm really a blubbering fool.  Honest I am.  NBC did this introductory thing, narrated by, I think, Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet, showing the cliffs of Dover, the Globe, Westminster Abbey, etc., then a montage of Olympics past--Keri Strug's vault, Usain Bolt's sprint, Greg Louganis diving, Michael Phelps--then current athletes, gymnasts, archers, sprinters, swimmers.  Then that sprinter with no legs.  Then those words.  OMG, those words. Spoken by athletes, the people for whom those words are a creed.  

Citius.  Altius.  Fortius.

That was the first time.

I didn't watch the opening ceremonies on Friday, when they were broadcast.  I was in Logan, seeing good theatre.  But we have a DVR, and last night, my wife and I finally had an evening free.  Danny Boyle celebrating Great Britain; the walk of nations.

I loved the whole thing.  The pastoral opening, Branagh quoting Prospero, all those faux village greens, that beautiful kid singing Jerusalem.  And you know, that song, that setting of the Blake poem, is very . . . British.  It's like their America the Beautiful, or Norge Mitt Norge--not the national anthem, but sort of their national song.  But Blake's poem celebrates, sure, but it also exhorts, it also castigates.  The rhetorical question: "was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark Satanic mills?" and then the call to action: "I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, 'til we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land."  Paradise lost, a paradise to fight for.  Britain celebrates the fight for future improvement.  Britain does not . . . settle. 

Then we got some dark Satanic mills, the industrial revolution tearing up the village greens, the huge frightening phallic smokestacks pouring out sulphuric clouds of pollution.  I've never seen anything like that for an Olympic ceremony.  Never seen that kind of moral complexity.  The industrial revolution transformed the world, at a staggering human cost.  This is a pageant, a celebration.  But Boyle showed--heck, highlighted-- the cost.  Even the Olympic ring had to be forged.  Boyle showed us the forging.

Okay, then came 007, to escort the Queen to a helicopter, from where she skydived into the stadium.  Bit of pop culture fun.  My favorite bit of which was Simon Rattle conducting the orchestra, doing the music from Chariots of Fire (by Vangelis, a Greek composer, but let that go), which Rowan Atkinson subverted in his inimitable style.  Loved that comedic interlude, also very British, very music hall. 

Also worth celebrating: the NHS.  Can't believe it, the composer of the music from The Exorcist, doing music from The Exorcist, in praise of naughty kids playing in bed when they're supposed to be sleeping, and especially, the glory of socialized medicine.  Man, loved it.  We're having this debate over something as mild as Obamacare, and the Brits love their health care system so much, they give it twenty minutes in the Olympics opening ceremony.

Best of all, an acid trip tribute to children's literature, crazy-wonderful images, with a ginormous  Voldemort puppet defeated by legions of Mary Poppinses.  Followed in turn to a montage of great British rock and roll--the Who, the Stones, the Clash, the Arctic Monkees doing "Come Together," along with a sweet little love story, showing London, modern London, modern clubbing wired cosmopolitan London, the greatest multi-cultural city in the world.

NBC has been criticized for cutting from a tribute to the Tube bombing victims to show instead Ryan Seacrest interviewing Michael Phelps.  That criticism is completely justified--that was a dumb decision. Overall, though, I thought they did a good job, especially Bob Costas, who has the ability to make scripted comments sound spontaneous.   

I made it through the parade of nations.  I made it through seeing all those countries, all those outfits, all those athletes, all those flag bearers.  Loved the Canadians, outfitted like K-Mart assistant managers.  Loved Bermuda, in their shorts.  Burkina Faso, wild red striped jackets, over green slacks.  Cameroon rocked, as always.  Then the Americans showed up, and you could see 'em, Misty May and Keri Walsh, Rogers and Dahlhausser.  Kobe. Kobe, quite possibly a rapist, quite possibly falsely charged, the most loathsome and brilliant of NBA stars, one of the most intelligent, sophisticated men in professional sports, fluent in several languages, a ferocious competitor, a Jazz-killer. A terrific Olympian too--you see him all the time, supporting women's volleyball, supporting kayaking, judo, fencing. A complicated man, deserving a complex response. Watching him walk, I thought--for the next three weeks: truce.  He's an American, and I'll have his back. 

Then we were at the end, after the cycling doves of peace going all ET on bicycles, the older athletes passing the torch literally to the next generation, and it was time for Paul.  Paul McCartney, live.  Sir Paul McCartney, I should say.  And I thought, when he was a kid, growing up in Liverpool, working class family, lower class neighborhood, could anyone, his teachers, his friends, his parents even, have thought--that little kid is going to be Sir Paul, is going to be internationally acclaimed, wealthy, revered.   And he sang, "And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."  Segue to "Hey Jude."  And the sound was off, it took them a second to fix it.  And I thought, he looks so old, the voice is shot, I can't bear it, I can't bear to watch this.  And then, as he sang and played the piano, the voice got stronger and stronger, and then the song built, "better, better, better, better, better, better OH" and he nailed the high note, just nailed it, and I cried once again, couldn't help myself, the tears just flowing.  And the "na na na, na na na na, na na na na, Hey Jude" just kept repeating again and again and again, the crowd singing it now, carrying Paul along with them, and I wanted it never to end. 

Citius.  Altius.  Fortius.  Let them begin. 


  1. It was moving to me, too. I couldn't help wondering, as I marveled that humans can put together a production like that, what it looks like to the athletes from poverty-stricken, war-torn countries. Do they think, "The world can do this--why can't they fix my land?"

  2. I cried too. That sort of thing moves me.

    I cried at the Disneyland California Adventure World of Color show. The Little Mermaid projected onto fountain mist against that giant ferris wheel? Tears worthy for me.