Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic Blues and the Closing Ceremony

After the brilliance of the Olympic opening ceremony, I was hoping not for a show of equal power and depth, but for one that complemented the themes and feel of the opening night of London 2012. Obviously, it was going to be difficult to beat the creativity and power of the opening ceremony, but since this was the Olympics, I was hoping for at least a bronze or silver to stand alongside Danny Boyle's gold.

Instead, we got a postmodern pastiche of British pop and rock music that, despite some wonderful highlights from Fat Boy Slim and Eric Idle, lacked the power of story-telling that was so apparent in the festivities 17 days earlier on the opening night at the Olympic stadium.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Whereas opening night director Danny Boyle has made his film career by telling dramatic tales - think Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine and Shallow Grave -  Kim Gavin's speciality has been putting on one-off musical spectaculars. With his list of shows including Dancing on Ice and the Take That Circus Tour, last night's Symphony of British Music was never going to be a work of creative genius. It certainly fulfilled musical director David Arnold's prediction that the event would be, "beautiful, cheeky, cheesy, camp, silly and thrilling".

As I mentioned at the time, Boyle's opening night event was certainly very British, and therefore to some audiences inscrutable. The big difference with Symphony, however, was that Boyle's story of a rural, pastoral past, an industrial revolution and a high-tech present was rooted in a  narrative that was inclusive without being politically multi-cultural. It told of a Britain that had both a distinct culture and at the same time the capability of embracing all races and creeds.

Gavin's spectacular, meanwhile, offered no such vision. Instead, we were invited to "Imagine" a world with no nations, no heaven and no possessions - John Lennon's anthem to secular humanism being at the centre of the show both chronologically and metaphorically. Superficially, the "dream" in John Lennon's song shares similarities with the inclusiveness of the opening night. But it was a pale comparison.  

Comments throughout the show from the BBC presenters that "all the athletes were really enjoying the party" seemed increasingly forced and awkward. TV shots of happy, dancing athletes were exclusively focused on a handful of British, American and Dutch party-goers. We were not given access to the reactions of the Egyptian, Kenyan or Chinese Olympians after their initial entry into the stadium in order to know quite what they made of the Spice Girls or Jessie J in a flesh-coloured skin suit that left nothing to the imagination.

The closing ceremony of course had its highlights. It was slick, colourful and well-produced. But the lack of cohesive story-telling in the show left me with a feeling of disappointment that the greatest show on earth had to end with such a limited vision. If Danny Boyle offered us Jerusalem,  then Kim Gavin seems to have produced Babylon. And of course, we all know what happens to Babylon in the end.



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