Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why the Olympic opening ceremony was such a success

Photo: Matt Lancashire
Whatever its qualities, last night's Olympic opening ceremony had two people to thank for its popularity.

The first was Mitt Romney. As Jonathan Freedland said in the Guardian this morning:
We're quite happy to whinge endlessly about security, transport and ticketing failures – but we'll be damned if we're going to hear it from some perfect-toothed American. Now we'll get behind the Games just to spite him.
And the second was Aidan Burley - or "'Nazi stag party' MP Aidan Burley", as the Daily Telegraph calls him - whose crass views will have united all but the unpatriotic right of the Conservative Party against him and in favour of the ceremony.

But the ceremony's qualities were many, which was apparent even to someone (like me) who generally avoids these opening and closing events, believing them to be empty of meaning.

In part that was because it included so many elements - 'Nimrod', 'Jerusalem', children's literature, the internet, British films, pop music - that appeal to me and this blog.

But it was more the extraordinary profusion of ideas that made it so good - and bear in mind that the final ceremony had to be severely pruned to make it last a reasonable time.

I was reminded of the work of Humphrey Jennings, and not just because one of the section of the ceremony was titled Pandemonium. Danny Boyle had the same technique of setting cultural elements from widely different spheres side by side, to the detriment of neither. Jennings' Listen to Britain sets Dame Myra Hess against dance-band music and celebrates both.

It also has to be said that the opening ceremony benefited from the apparent absence of the two elements most obvious in the torch relay over the past few weeks: commercial sponsorship and security.

When the torch came through Market Harborough I was moved by the crowds - the spaces saved for local primary schools, the crowd's determination to enjoy itself despite the rain, its eagerness to cheer anything that moved, some police officers' willingness to milk this. But the actual passing of the torch was an anticlimax, being dominated by commercial sponsors' vehicles.

Given that security and business are the two dominant forces in the world of right-wing Conservatives, it makes you wonder what a ceremony approved of by someone like Aidan Burley (you know, the 'Nazi stag party' MP Aidan Burley) would look like and who would want to attend it.

1 comment:

crewegwyn said...

Surely the highlight in Market Harborough was the attendance of the Well-Behaved Orphans, and their success in soliciting generous voluntary donations from the crowds toward the not inconsiderable costs of their food and maintenance?

Agree with you about the OC however!