Heather Conn Blogs

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Good on you, Danny Boyle

Few people would associate punk-rock strums from The Clash and Sid Vicious, the late Sex Pistols’ lead singer, with Olympic competition. But their gritty sounds helped make yesterday’s opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London the best I’ve seen.


I generally condemn the hype, corporate hoo-haw, and expense of the Olympics, but am a sucker for well-executed artistic, creative spectacle, from Burning Man to Cirque de Soleil. And director Danny Boyle’s historical extravaganza, although too long, was a whimsical, ingenious wonder.


I didn’t think that the bird’s-eye-view, film-journey intro was necessary and its quick-cut imagery created a disjointed effect. But overall, I liked the thematic thread of childhood play and discovery throughout the show, which I watched with my 93-year-old Scottish friend and neighbour Cathie. She loved it all, although the dance sequences that represented the 70s and 80s left her perplexed. (In the latter, I was delighted to see that the featured couple was not Barbie-and-Ken blonds with Chiclet teeth. Kudos to Boyle for casting against type.)


As a children’s author, I loved seeing J. K. Rowling, of course, and having children’s literature celebrated, along with kids reading surreptitiously in bed. But the benign stories included, such as Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, were far safer politically than the content of Charles Dickens, whose books like Oliver Twist revealed the many ugly sides of the Industrial Revolution (child labour, exploitation, pollution etc). No room for that in this sanitized portrayal.


Since my father received medical training at Great Ormond Street Hospital and always spoke highly of it, I was glad to see it gain recognition. And gee, in this era of Obamacare, what would the U.S. neocons think about this synchronized splash of light and dance celebrating Britain’s national health system? Subversive socialism propaganda beamed at the world’s millions, no doubt.


I appreciated the show’s historical perspective, the inclusion of suffragettes, and the portrayal of labourers toiling and sweating at their tasks. A fan of poet William Blake, I thought that the inclusion of his poem Jerusalem would undoubtedly raise the rancor of Arabs around the globe. Yet its inclusion was clever here. In the poem, Blake cites the “dark, Satanic mills,” used to produce iron and steel for England’s war effort, and mentions: “Bring me my Chariot of Fire.”


Blake’s Jerusalem, as one critic states, symbolized humanity free of war, the chains of commerce, and British imperialism; this was effectively conveyed in the bucolic splendor at the start of the ceremony. So, Boyle powerfully transformed this negative association of industrial production into the five Olympic rings, a symbol of countries coming together to show their best, not their worst.


My favourite parts of the compelling presentation included Daniel Craig as Bond, impatient to whisk away the Queen; Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the Chariots of Fire sequence; the choir of deaf children signing (not singing); David Beckham delivering the Olympic torch by boat, and the film series of “the kiss” projected onto the house exterior, which included Shrek, Prince William and Kate, and others. Sorry, Sir Paul, you’ve been far too familiar and predictable for too long and your croaky voice needs to stay low at your age.


I can’t imagine trying to conjure, let alone produce and synchronize, all of these shows-within-a-mega-show. Congrats to Boyle for telling the world: “Look who England is and what we’ve done!” You did it with more class and heart than any other Olympic opening ceremony.

Note: I didn’t watch the athletes’ procession. I was disgusted that sponsor Adidas had ordered all participants to wear Adidas shoes in this event. If they wore a pair made by a competitor, they had to cover the logos. Ridiculous and outrageous corporate power, all for the sake of advertising and marketing.

I wonder what Jamaican sprinter and Olympic medallist Usain  Bolt, sponsored by Puma, would have to say about that. He got a clause written into his contract to ensure that Puma outfitted all kids at his elementary school in Jamaica with running shoes. Otherwise, they’d be barefoot. Now, that’s a great use of corporate product.


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July 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm Comment (1)