Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Review of the Creative Part of the London Olympics Opening Ceremonies

Well, it's taken two or three viewings of the London Opening Ceremonies but, as promised, here are my thoughts on them.

First of all - and costs aside - don't even attempt to compare them with the Beijing Opening Ceremonies. They both come from opposite ends of the conceptual spectrum. Beijing concentrated on technological spectacle augmented by precision choreography of massive numbers of performers. London concentrated on pseudo-spontaneous theatricality augmented by technology. Producer Danny Boyle's theatre and movie background was obvious as he wove a story line of British history since the 19th century with music, dance, and technology. Although at times it was convoluted and quirky, it nevertheless was ultimately very successful. Here are some of my personal favourite moments and also some questionable moments.

Favourite Moments and Concepts - What Worked
  1. Slightly over-the-top steampunk meets the computer age opening segment of toiling 19th century workers and the construction of the Olympic rings. Great special effects, good design of the rising smokestacks, well-costumed performers, wonderful drummers and music. The choice of Sir Kenneth Branagh to play the part of engineer I.K. Brunel (he built some of the world's largest steamships, railways, bridges, etc,etc) was a good one.
  2. Fabulous segment on the National Health Service. Mike Oldfield's instrumental rock music was spot on and an interesting choice. The kids were all great, as they were for all segments, and were obviously an important ingredient for the entire ceremonies. The flying monsters and multitude of Mary Poppins were a cool idea and added to the fantasy. Good choreography of them and hospital staff.
  3. Use of comedy. Boyle did a great job of combining video and live performance for comedy. Of particular note was the Queen's arrival accompanied by "James Bond" and for me, Mr. Bean's participation as a musician and dreaming Olympic runner in which he nicely added the "Bean" touch to the beach running scene from the movie "Chariots of Fire."
  4. Use of technology. Rigging, general stadium lighting, fireworks were all excellent. There was a lot of rigging for flying and it was amazing that nothing got mixed up. Audio, except for a couple of very momentary lapses, was almost perfect for such a large venue. I never counted the number of suspended line arrays around the stadium but there were a lot. Of special mention, however, was the use of LED panels attached to each seat which allowed for complete control of the audience graphics. It must have been a huge cost but forever ended worries about whether audience members would hold up signs at the right time. Also brilliant was the first-time use of social media in the performances - or at least the reference to it. Interestingly, a web site called "emoto" ( actually began on the first day of the Olympics and can track and graph the emotional responses of audiences based on all the tweets coming in on a particular subject. Worth checking out.
  5. Music. Apart from everything else, the ceremonies were about music and the amazing legacy left to the world by British musicians. From children's choirs and traditional songs, to the new age rock of Oldfield, to the British invasion, and modern bands, there was no end of material for Boyle to use to back up the dancers and performers. Performances by the children's choirs all over Britain, "Abide with Me" sung by Emeli Sande, the Arctic Monkeys' performance, the wildly colourful musical/dance segment from the 50s to the present were all fabulous.
  6. Olympic cauldron. Very creative design, and all the arms - or maybe they were flowers - worked!!
What Did Not Work
  1. Starting British history in the 19th century. I was a bit disappointed that Boyle chose to begin his history lesson with the 19th century rather than include some of the more distant exciting past of the British Isles, like Stonehenge, the Magna Carta, and the unique character of the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh peoples. I'm sure he must have agonized on where to begin as there is only so much time allotted.
  2. Why David Beckham to carry the flame at an important juncture? He's never been an Olympian that I know of.
  3. Why Paul McCartney to end it all? He would not have been my personal choice. I think he struggled with trying to get a huge stadium crowd to participate in "Hey, Jude." If Boyle wanted an aging rocker why not someone a little more musically eloquent, like Sting or Eric Clapton? Or if he wanted just plain old-fashioned stadium rock, why not prune-faced Mick and the Stones? "Start me Up" would easily have them all rocking. Again, it's probably just me.
Apart from these very minor points, I think Boyle scored a bullseye. Well done!

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