A Foreigner’s Guide To The Olympic Closing Ceremony
Possibly my most popular blog post was A Foreigner’s Guide to the Olympic Opening Ceremony after I just happened to catch the start of Danny Boyle’s extravaganza and got drawn in alongside the British viewing audience that saw literally a third of the country still watching at half past midnight. So when I discovered there was to be a similar Closing Ceremony extravaganza then how could I not tune in?
Or, for viewers of NBC: Here’s what you may have missed once it was filleted to make it more appropriate for an American viewing audience. For a time my Mum used to “edit” Red Dwarf to make it more appropriate. I must have been thirteen at the time, my brothers younger, but even so that was beyond the pale even then. Just saying.
Most dramas can be broken down into the classic three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end. The first act introduces the characters and sets them up in the world the live in and asked a question, the second takes them on leading to a dramatic height where the viewer questions what’s could come next, whilst the third act brings the tale to a conclusion.
Almost forgotten now, wiped from out collected memories, but at the end of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games we put on a short performance as part of the handover. It was embarrassing, it really was. The Chinese has staged a million drummers drumming and we sent over a bus.
It wasn’t even a real London bus, the old Routemaster type you’ll see in any Hollywood film to feature London, but a plastic-looking joke. It can’t be that hard to ship a bus over there as for filming of the 2009 Easter special of Doctor Who, on a BBC budget, they managed to ship one all the way to the other side of the world. All the way to Dubai. To the middle of the desert.
True the Dubai port authorities, in an effort to increase the authenticity of a London bus that’s just travelled through a wormhole to an alien planet, chose to drop something on top of it once it had arrived safely, but what can you do?
The British “performance” contained a reveal that the bus was in fact the worst Transformer ever when it mechanically opened up to reveal a faded greying rock star, one of Simon Cowell’s money-making puppets from a TV reality singing show…
And a enclosed platform which with David Beckham in close proximity to some young blonde in very short shorts.
God forbid this should resemble the actual opening ceremony on British soil… Well only two out of the three ain’t bad. The culmination of the handover event seems to have been when the aforementioned showboating philandering footballer kicked a ball into the audience…
Under-whelming does not describe it. Internationally shaming was a better fit. The event also introduced to the world, perhaps a little too soon before it was ready, the bumbling London Mayor (and future Prime Minister) Boris Johnson, who is a sort-of living embodiment of the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster.
I hope that the concept of the Honey Monster has international currency, I really do.
The Opening Ceremony might have consisted of carefully crafted set-pieces, each with a story to tell, from the changes caused to the country with the Industrial Revolution to the part the internet plays in modern life, but the Closing Ceremony seemed to have employed a different approach by firing a none-stop cannon of sh*t at the wall to see what stuck.
Acrobats hanging off the London Eye, orchestras, cars made of newspaper, choirs, people dressed in newspaper, and Beatles music, but they opened with Emeli Sandé, on a newspaper truck possibly only so NBC couldn’t cut her out this time.
And then Timothy Spall, as Winston Churchill, popped out of Big Ben looking like the Fat Controller. He was wearing a hat so there is a worry that some NBC commentators/viewers may have mistook him for Abraham Lincoln. For some reason that man has a monopoly on hats.
So all that was supposed to have been about the normal London working day, I get it, but then they hammered in was a puzzling flashback to The Italian Job and Only Fools and Horses where to cast a David Jason look-alike they seem to have trawled the CVs of every brick shithouse and fat bastard with an Equity card.
This led into Madness with a flying saxophonist, and the Pet Shop Boys who segued with a crunching of gears into one of Simon Cowell’s money-making puppets from a TV reality singing show… And so the prophesy was complete.
I thought there was something a bit pagan ceremony about having bandage-clad women build a pyramid for Kate Bush, but then I was even more surprised to see a deaf choir, dressed in virginal white, presented aloft on an altar before the mighty flame…
That was some sort of sacrificial offering to help with the resurrection of the giant John Lennon effigy, right?
The other day Russell Brand was ripping it up on BBC 2’s Newsnight, passionately discussing drug addict rehabilitation and getting some stuck-up oik journalist (Peter Hitchens) very angry as he just wanted everyone locking up.
And then here he is turning up as Willy Wonka in a top hat (NBC audiences may therefore have confused him with Abraham Lincoln) singing that song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory whilst dreamily cruising about on the roof of a psychedelic campervan, before becoming the Egg Man in a rendition of I am the Walrus. He wasn’t a tired old musician faithfully trolling through his back-catalogue one more time. Russell Brand was fantastic. He was literally the best bit.
I’m guessing this was in reference to the 1970 episode of Doctor Who where the plastic-controlling Nestene consciousness attained a critical mass on Earth and transformed itself into the ideal living creature, skipping millions of years of evolution and attaining the form perfectly adapted for its environment: And in the centre of London it became an octopus… For some reason.
Still, after they snubbed Jon Pertwee at the Opening Ceremony by cutting his appearance, ironically for time reasons, he didn’t bother turning up in 2012 to save the day. It turns out giant octopuses aren’t that bad.
And, in the bits they sung live, you could see why it was that people were quite happy they went away in the first place as they sped around stood on taxis screeching like harridans “Spice up your life!” repeatedly at the audience. I don’t even know what that means. But if they’re this bad now, I can’t wait for their fortieth anniversary reunion tour.
After failing to be shot out of a cannon one of the other highlights was Monty Python’s Eric Idle performing what ha become known as Britain’s alternative national anthem: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
“When you’re stuck on the World stage, with lots of loonies half your age, and everything is starting to go wrong. It’s too late to run away, you might as well just stay, especially when they play your silly song. And…”
There was some padding, and a whole knew verse, but then I guessed this was to get around a rather rude word which you surely couldn’t broadcast to a billion people around the world. But after an interruption from some Bollywood-style dancers, he gloriously got back in his stride with: “Life’s a piece of SHIT, when you look at it!” And I’ve not spotted one mention or complaint so far.
One reason may be the NBC approach which, after all the furore of the delayed and edited Opening Ceremony, I hear they did delay and edit the Closing Ceremony as well to stick a sitcom in the middle, or something.
And although for many people the London Olympics was the party that they didn’t want to ever end, this Closing Ceremony was successful in uniting people who wished someone would just put it out of its misery: A man came on and said it’s all over. That should be enough. The end.
That’s when Take That came on.
They started to extinguish the cauldron. That’s when Darcey Bussell came on.
The flame was out and the party over. That’s when The Who came on.
At this point it had already overrun by forty minutes and I was getting Lord of the Rings flashbacks. I think it’s now over… To be honest I’m too afraid to look in case it isn’t.
And then after the three acts of the British 2012 Olympics there’s the hook, that the story isn’t complete but is to be continued another time. Renato Sorriso the dancing street cleaner turned up, and the BBC commentator added that he’s well known for his samba, without any nod towards all the sterling street sweeping he’s been doing all these years.
Joining him was some old singer, the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and the old footballer Pele, well-known for his sex problems, who rounded off the presentation by taking his hat off…
Oh Brazil what have you started? Still, if London 2012 has sown anything, it that there’s plenty of time to improve before 2016.
And to finish, after an excellent Olympics, the Great British team’s group rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now including my previous favourite Victoria Pendleton. Even though she dresses up as a playful tiger in a bowler hat I’m shifting my loyalties to her fellow cyclist Laura Trott and all that wonderful hair.