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London 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony – Anyone got Danny Boyle’s number?

 

"Ships? I see no ships."

 

Olympics Closing Ceremony – Kim Gavin

Gutted. My pride in being British sparked by Danny Boyle’s imaginative, aspirational, well-judged opening ceremony; reinforced by the courageous, dedicated, totally committed performances of our athletes over three weeks of breathtaking, heart-stopping sporting brilliance was shamed and cheapened by this inchoate, muddled mess where even the several good bits were submerged by the dross surrounding them.

The BBC’s team of 3 commentators were rendered virtually speechless before this virtually indescribable, often tacky, sometimes perversely awful concoction. Possessing neither vision nor narrative, Kim Gavin’s extravaganza displayed no coherent links or design consistency between sequences of what was essentially a cross between an excessively prolonged pop festival concert and a self-promoting British business exhibition.

So ill-judged: crassly oblivious to the events it was supposed to celebrate – it had nothing whatsoever to do with sport, flair, brilliance, dedication or the emotions of triumph and disappointment. We had three weeks where our magnificent, multi-ethnic team of totally united athletes finally nailed the myth that to be quietly self-confident without conceit or braggadocio must make you a loser: and the lie that you can’t be a winner and be generous in defeat and magnanimous in victory. We were also celebrating the humbling, self-effacing good will and good humour of thousands of volunteers.

So with what do we celebrate these profoundly valuable very British virtues; these genuinely rare human qualities? Why with the bombastic narcissism of a George Michael, resplendent in cod-piece silver skull belt buckle, working the runway and the crowd as if this was a come-back gig and indulged with the promotion of a new song tenuously linked to the night’s events. Having almost recovered from this heart-racing experience we were treated to the head-up-her-own-fundament self-importance of Annie Lennox in an embarrassing reprise of her Jubilee concert excesses prancing about in this manic incarnation dressed like a cross between Madame Pompadour and Cruella Deville. Mysteriously arriving in a Viking Longboat – well you would wouldn’t you – it was sad to see this once great singer becoming a slightly mad parody of her former self.

Even good people were wasted: Emili Sande has a great voice and has written a couple of tuneful songs – neither of which she performed here. The idea of celebrating 60 years of British music by having modern groups sing famous older songs had a bit of juice and worked well with the Kaiser Chiefs and Pinball Wizard and Jessie J was a natural to stand in for Freddie singing with Queen. Ed Sheeran’s grungily diffident style was a refreshing, much needed change of pace on a Floyd song that communicated with what should have been the mood of the evening. Del Boy and Rodney’s appearance as Batman and Robin must have been sublimely incomprehensible to 90% of the global audience watching it. No Mr Bean moment here. And Eric Idle’s laboured Look on The Bright Side of Life became embarrassing. Like doing the dead parrot sketch with an elephant and wearing boxing gloves. Over Russell Brand’s (fresh from his triumphantly execrable performance in the triumphantly execrable Might Mike) rendition of I am a Walrus through a megaphone I will draw a discreet veil: though to be fair I am a dedicated Brand-ophobe.

A blatantly commercial fashion sequence included a Victoria Beckham dress among the top 9 British dress designers of recent years. In your dreams Posh.  This segment, apart from being gratuitously unconnected with anything else was also highly regrettable. For three weeks inspirational, confident, fit young women of all sizes and shapes had offered a range of healthy role models for young girls and women in contrast to the determinably quasi-anorexic model shapes of the catwalk fully represented here by Kate Moss and Co. Another bad judgement.

Ray Davies gave us our Hey Jude moment with that over-praised little ditty Waterloo Sunset just about as thin and reedy as the original; and lor lummy, Madness were back, again (twice), with a medley of their hit – Our House.

Nothing better sums up the febrile mediocrity of much of this than the fact that The Spice Girls were pretty much as good as anything else on show with a very professional, well-choreographed turn flying round on the top of what looked like Pearly King London Cabs. I confess to the unworthy thought that this was a clever device to keep the Famous Five Girly chums separate so they only had to sing together, not be together.

Like the show, I could go on, and on, and on. I’ve been mischievous and a little self-indulgent in having a pop at a few of my pop bête noirs – like Fat Boy Slim in front of a totally gratuitous, what-the-f*ck-has-this-got-to-do-with-anything inflatable octopus. Our Norm in the centre of 80,000+ people, beamed across the world to billions more, made an wonderfully energetic job of turning a couple of knobs. That’s er…sort of what he does isn’t it? Fancy all those crazy people taking the time to learn to actually play a musical instrument – when they could be a master knob-turner.

All these slithers of musical interest were, it is true presented with a breath-taking spectacle of over-production which at times dazzled the eye as much as it bemused and numbed the brain. It really isn’t good enough to excuse all this disconnected dross as being a great party. The songs chosen often displayed the Jude-syndrome: talented artists singing the worst songs from other singer’s songbooks just because of some vague reference to London or a grandiose Lennoxish humanitarian theme.

What was lacking were the critical qualities at the heart of Danny Boyle’s piece: a coherent concept of something worth saying; an aesthetic vision of how to say it; a narrative to give it structure; and some sense of theatre and dramatic cadence. When Darcy Bussell floated beautifully, Phoenix-like from above the iconic cauldron to dance with members of the Royal Ballet – this just came from nowhere and went nowhere – she might just as well have been Russell Grant sporting his human cannonball helmet.

The first moment of the night with any resonance was provided by a man 32 years dead. The theme of John Lennon’s Imagine, however sadly hackneyed the song often now sounds, was entirely apt for the gathering of young people from virtually every nation on earth; and when his image appeared singing this anthem to peace which still seems to carry a frisson of emotion when, as here, it is presented well, it was both poignant and effective. Building up a 3-dimensional head that from above seemed to hover ghost-like at the heart of the stadium was a good moment, for once paced properly to allow the dramatic effect to resonate.

The other touching moment of the night was the unexpected appearance of Gary Barlow with Take That – his turning up given his recent personal tragedy in a sense uniting him with the kind of dedication and commitment of many of the sports people he was there to celebrate.

The formalities were functional and effective though both Rogge and Coe still didn’t think it worth including in their welcome, the thousands of children present and millions watching – the actual generation this Games was supposed to inspire. Unseen. Not heard. Not mentioned. Rio de Janeiro’s trailer was surprisingly dull and uninspired with what appears to be de rigeur for all these mega-It’s-A-Knockout displays, loads of people walking within strange support frames carrying a drum or some such thing that perplexingly appears to be impossible to play. These creations make their wearers look like eccentric entries to the London Marathon.

The extinguishing of the Olympic cauldron was predictably the image of the evening yet again this had none of the imaginative dramatic choreography of the lighting where old Olympians symbolically handed the flame to young successors. Here we were told that every ‘petal’ of the cauldron would be returned to each country that had brought it to the construction, as a reminder of the London Games. Nothing was said of this. Zilch. What’s the betting half the countries have refused to pay the going rate for their Petal?

And so, just when everyone was ready to go and many in the crowd had already left; when a touching mood created by Take That had been reinforced by the contemplative tone of the extinguishing of the Flame – they wheeled out the Who, windmill-flailing Pete Townsend n’ all. Singing one of The Who’s substantial back-catalogue of forgettable songs, they tried to crank up the energy again. Large chunks of empty spaces in the stands suggested a gold medal in the Dead Horse-Flogging event.

I loved the Olympics. A thrilling, inspirational, wonderfully positive 3 weeks: great theatre, drama; laughter and tears, pride and disappointment, passion and good will. Nothing can take that away – and that after all is what is important. But the athletes from around the world, and the army of extraordinary volunteers deserved a closing celebration that displayed the same imaginative understanding of the meaning of the Olympics Danny Boyle’s Opening ceremony had. They didn’t get it: for all the money, glitz and misused talent on show.

Disappointed. Sad. Gutted.

 

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