An Opening Ceremony, the Danny Boyle Way
I knew that an Olympic Opening Ceremony where the artistic director was striving for a “personal and cinematic” experience would contain many great pop culture moments. And come on, it’s Danny Boyle, who is responsible for some of the most daring and innovative films of recent memory: Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later…, Slumdog Millionaire, and even Frankenstein at the National Theater. In the end we got a very British presentation, especially with the segment that chronicled history up to the Industrial Revolution. But the overwhelming celebration was that of UK culture: film, music, children’s literature, and social media.
The ceremony began with Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt narrating a panorama of all things UK, making me wonder if someone organizing this just happened to catch Ewan and Emily on a Salmon Fishing in the Yemen press tour. I’m not complaining; Ewan got me pumped for the rest of the show.
If you, like me, thought you spied Kenneth Branagh among the masses, you were pleasantly correct. Although to my eyes he seemed to belong in a Dickensian London, he of course recited Shakespeare’s The Tempest and you cannot go wrong with Branagh and Shakespeare.
The next bit of clashing of classic Britishness and pop culture came in the short film with Daniel Craig as James Bond coming to pick up the Queen from Buckingham Palace, culminating in a helicopter ride that made a joke of the two of them parachuting into the stadium.
Flash forward to JK Rowling reciting from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, introducing a segment that celebrated the NHS and the contributions of British children’s literature. A hospital setting turns into the children going to sleep where we encounter the stuff of their nightmares: the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Voldemort, and Cruella de Vil. And who saves the children from these beasties? The best nanny in the world (or in this case 100’s of duplicates of) Mary Poppins! At the end of the segment, the hospital beds turn into one giant baby (Trainspotting, anyone?) and Matt Lauer hit upon my thoughts: “I’m not sure whether that baby is cute, or creepy.” It was creepy.
Our next pop culture reference comes with a London Symphony Orchestra rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme. And who do we get playing the most boring background note? Rowan Atkinson, a very inspired choice, to play up the boringness of that note.
And finally we move into the most cinematic of all the segments, a dual love letter to both the internet and UK popular music through the decades. We have two central actors who depict meeting and falling in love amongst the chaos of dancers and the main “house” that uses screens to show clips from TV shows, films and concerts. At one point during Bohemian Rhapsody, I swear I heard a TARDIS sound, which was random but welcome. And as soon as the beginning of Underworld’s Born Slippy was played we got a Trainspotting scene. Throughout the rest of this segment, as well as during the Parade of Nations, we got a lot of great music and luckily a playlist has already been provided! (I was planning on compiling a playlist of my own, but this is much easier. I’ve included it below.) Finishing off, we got a great cover of Come Together by the Arctic Monkeys and Hey Jude performed by Paul McCartney, a perfect sing along song for the multitudes at the stadium. Powerful stuff.
To conclude, I just want to give a special shout out to Gabby Douglas, the “flying squirrel” gymnast for the US. She is from my hometown community and I will be keeping a close eye on her. I also *actually* know a girl swimming for the Czech Republic so I can’t wait to see some video of her competing.
Standouts for me: New Order, Underworld, and Franz Ferdinand.