Oh, Danny Boyle!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Image Source: flickrDanny Boyle was given a daunting responsibility: staging the first opening ceremony of a summer Olympics after Beijing in 2008 set a standard that seems unreachable in any other country. So he did the only thing he could do – change the whole tone and dynamic. He did it brilliantly, and with critical infusions of humor.
My observations:

– The Queen and Bond. Greatness. Daniel Craig did a phenomenal job of being both Bond and Daniel Craig, playing the part tongue in cheek yet with Bond-ian style.

– Boyle’s most creative moment I thought was the inclusion of Rowan Atkinson on the Chariots of Fire sequence. You have no choice but to include Chariots of Fire in an opening ceremony for an Olympics in the UK, but it would be really hard to do in a non-clichéd and non-boring way. The silent comedy of Atkinson was the perfect device.

– I understand the U.N.’s reasons for referring to the country as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” But can we at least let them walk in the parade of nations under the “M’s” rather than under “F’s?” Talk about confusing a crowd. And it does raise the question of where Prince would have marched in his “The Artist Formerly Known As” days if he had been in a parade of nations.

– I loved Maria Sharapova as the Russian flag bearer. What a contrast to Soviet times when the flag bearer would be some man-mountain like Vasily Alekseyev or Aleksandr Karelin.

– I also loved the choice of fencer Mariel Zagunis as the U.S. flag bearer. It’s a great concept to have the U.S. athletes themselves make the choice, and the athletes get it right. They always make the decision based on Olympian reasons, not pop culture reasons.

– You get the feeling that Bob Costas lives for the parade of nations, though he is at his best ad libbing rather than making the comments he has spent many months preparing.

– You rarely see the Secretary General of the U.N. blending in with 7 other flag bearers, but that’s exactly what Ban Ki-moon did, thereby signaling that the work of his fellow bearers of the Olympic flag is equal to his own. A wonderful show of humility (and on the same night that the Queen displayed her sense of humor).

– This was not the best deployment of Muhammad Ali. The stopping of the Olympic flag procession beside Ali was somewhat gratuitous. He had his Olympic coronation in Atlanta in 1996 – a remarkable Olympic moment. If Ali lighting the Olympic flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was akin to the Thrilla in Manila, his appearance in these opening ceremonies was akin to the Drama in Bahama – his last fight against Trevor Berbick in 1981; a fight that never should have happened.

– Steve Redgrave was the right choice to be the last torchbearer, and I am okay with the person who actually lights the cauldron being a symbolic choice, as it was this year with the 7 aspiring athletes. There have been similar sorts of choices in years past, one of the most poignant being a French-Canadian teenager at the Montreal Olympics of 1976 by the name of Stephane Prefontaine, evoking memories of the American track star of the same name who died in a car accident the year before.

– When Redgrave entered the stadium, I could not imagine what person would light the flame who had more British Olympian credentials than he did, so I was prepared to be disappointed by the choice. I mean, how can you beat 5 gold medals in 5 successive Olympics? The only two persons who came to mind were Roger Bannister (who never won an Olympic medal) and Sebastian Coe himself, who is the Chairman if the London 2012 organizing committee. But I could not picture Lord Coe pulling a Dick Cheney. Cheney, of course, was selected by George W. Bush to head the selection committee for his Vice-Presidential nominee. And who was selected? Cheney. Glad LOCOG did not follow suit.

– Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” blasting out through the stadium during the fireworks show was fantastic. I learned today that the noise supposedly kept awake Michael Phelps and other Olympians who did not participate in the opening ceremonies due to competition the next morning. But if there is one guy in the Olympic village who I would think might appreciate “Dark Side of the Moon” after midnight, it’s Michael Phelps.

– I hate to say it, but the day may have finally arrived when Paul McCartney is past his expiration date. A shaky start to “Hey Jude” and the whole thing seemed to be a comedown from the powerful “Eclipse” moments. It should have ended there.

But all in all, a remarkable, well conceived and well delivered kick-off to what I expect will be 16 more days of exhilarating moments.

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