Why on earth would an Oscar winning movie director – who can pretty much pick and choose his projects these days – wish to take on the impossible challenge of directing the London Olympics opening ceremony?
Any way you size it up this really was the poisoned chalice – the hopeless cause – the no-win situation.
- It would be impossible to top the massively funded, meticulously choreographed (some might say ‘regimented’) show that the Chinese put on in Beijing four years ago.
- Given a potential world-wide audience running into the billions it would be completely impossible to please all – or even the majority – of them, let alone to entertain everyone whilst contriving to offend no-one.
- From the director’s point of view devising such a show would surely be – in any case – an impossible task. How could one create a show that was at once local and global – embodying some essence of this sceptred isle whilst not being so parochial than no-one else would get it? How could one reconcile the demands of the TV close up with the requirement for a spectacle that would fill a stadium? How could the show be at once personal and universal?
As you may have deduced – I spend Friday evening watching Danny Boyle’s bizarre, amateurish (in the best sense), messy, insanely brilliant opening ceremony. I fell off the sofa laughing. I howled like a baby – at some points so hard that I could scarce catch my breath. In the kaleidoscopic whirl of layered references (oh what delight – an Olympic opening ceremony incorporating subtlety and ambiguity, whilst at the same time displaying complete self-confidence!) I repeatedly heard and saw images and ideas in the magical musical and visual smorgasbord that made me cry out, “Yes – that’s us… and that… and that…”
From the exquisitely intimate (the tribute to the dead of 7/7) to the breathtakingly spectacular (the dark satanic mills rising Bosch-like from the stadium floor, the newly forged Olympic rings coming together in the sky above the crowd) Boyle nailed each potentially difficult shift in tone with complete assurance. The collective gasp when it appeared as though Her Majesty herself was going to take part in Daniel Craig’s granite-faced Bond spoof (she couldn’t be – she was!!), and smirk of pleasure at the wonderful tongue in cheek arrival of the Olympic flame carried on a powerboat skippered by David Beckham, in exactly the image of himself that we all believe he holds – merely confirmed a sureness of touch that the rest of us can only dream of.
That touch extended right through to the Olympic cauldron itself. Assembled unseen throughout the parade of athletes as each team carried in one of the ‘petals’ that formed the organic heart of the sculpture, and lit – not by any of the luminaries that had been the subject of pre-Olympic speculation, but by seven young athletes nominated by seven existing Olympic heroes – the individual flaming branches each representing one of the competing nations slowly rose toward the night sky, coming together to form a single, united blossom of fire. As Tim Berners-Lee had previously texted to the stadium – and to the world – “This is for everyone!”
Did everyone ‘get it’? Well – the correspondent of Le Figaro observed – with a generosity not always apparent in the relationship between our ancient races:
“The display reminded a billion viewers of the best contributions that Britain has given to the world for over a century: its sense of humour, its music, and of course sport”.
My view? Danny Boyle is nothing short of a genius. Give that man a knighthood!