Night of wonder
By ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, July 29 2012
EVEN before one minute of the London Olympics opening ceremony had elapsed, the British press were reporting that it cost GBP 27 million (TT$270 million) to put on. For these were figures which were disclosed, up front, by the state-run organising committee.
The opening ceremony, titled “Isles of Wonder”, was really a spectacle. The Queen parachuted into the stadium (not the real one: an actor) with James Bond (Daniel Craig); David Beckham sailed up a river bringing the Olympic flame; Muhammad Ali made an appearance. Mr Bean and JK Rowling did their dues. Even Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, made an appearance.
There were really awkward bits: all that NHS stuff with the children and hospital beds, and a strange propaganda sequence involving “youths” spurting hormones and playing on phones as text messages popped up on screen. Also, it is yet to be explained why Sir Kenneth Branagh was playing Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel and reading Caliban’s speech out of The Tempest, and why Caliban was himself not worthy of inclusion. (Not to mention the white-washing of the role of slavery in industrialisation.) Did we really need Mary Poppins and the Child Catcher out of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang? There were a few sheep and cows. And a bit of maypole action.
All of this was a far cry from the simple but awesome majesty of Beijing 2008, when thousands of Chinese drummers performed in spectacular unison, their drumsticks illuminated in the dark.
But the British people got what they paid for by the end: the lighting of the torch on Friday night will go down as one of the greatest moments at any Olympics. It rivalled the immortal moment when an archer appeared to light the giant Olympic flame cauldron at Barcelona in 1992.
Going into the 2012 ceremony, there was speculation over who would light the cauldron: would it be one of the first British long-distance runners? Or maybe the Queen? There was great speculation over where the cauldron would be located: inside the stadium or outside? And what would be the role of Anish Kapoor’s “Eyeful Tower”: the temporary “sculpture” erected next to the stadium in the Olympic Park, which overshadowed all vistas of the Olympic Stadium?
In the end, in a true masterstroke, seven youths were chosen to light the flame. They each lit a series of smaller torches which had been brought into the stadium by each country represented at the Olympics during the parade of nations. After each petal-shaped torch was lit they all seemed to levitate and come together to form one huge torch. What symbolism! Each country contributes to the flame; each person is a part of a larger spirit. UK Guardian commentator Xan Brooks remarked: “So in the end, the cauldron is not lit by a lone Olympian from the past, but by seven teenagers whose days of glory are surely yet to come. It is a dazzling end to a night of wonders and a glorious salute to the democratic spirit of Olympics; enshrining these Games as a collective endeavour and a celebration of emerging talent.” The UK’s The Sun newspaper simply declared it “The greatest Olympics show ever.” The Telegraph effused: “Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British … an Olympic opening ceremony like no other.”
And now on to the rest of the Olympics.