Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics was a genuine surprise, a modern masterpiece. With a cracking score by Underworld, the loving attention of thousands of volunteers, stunning set pieces and a programme that was just on the right side of pantomime, the event as a whole was a stunning introduction to the Games. The opening twenty minutes, in particular, were simply astonishing: the Industrial Revolution sequence looked like a modern, live version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in the centre of East London.
Boyle’s masterpiece was always going to be a hard act to follow, but ultimately yesterday’s Closing Ceremony, directed by Kim Gavin, astonished me again—with how dreadful large portions of it were. I’m not alone in this thought, but I think my main complaint is simple: it was vacuous.
Consider the Opening Ceremony, which began with a soliloquy from The Tempest read by Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. After a mesmerising and jaw-dropping seventeen-minute Industrial Revolution, we were treated to a quintessentially British cultural feast.
We had an entertaining skit with James Bond and the Queen, and a masterstroke in the revelation that Mr Bean was playing the synthesiser on Chariots of Fire. We were treated to a dance with the staff of the NHS and children from Great Ormond Street, a reading from Peter Pan by J.K. Rowling, arguably the most important children’s author of our generation—complete with a giant inflatable Lord Voldemort. We had a montage of the greatest pop songs of the generation, and even Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, at an authentic NeXT Cube.
The Opening Ceremony was as great an advertisement for the United Kingdom as a country, and for London as a city, as could possibly be conceived. It made a very clear statement: we British helped instigate the industrial and digital revolutions; we are proud of our cultural icons, our history, and our National Health Service; we believe in building a better future for everyone. This was reflected perfectly in Thomas Heatherwick’s exceptionally novel cauldron design, featuring a “petal” for each individual country entering atheletes to the Games. Boyle himself stated, in no uncertain terms, “this is for everyone.”
In comparison, yesterday’s Closing Ceremony, directed by the altogether less-renowned Kim Gavin, felt old-fashioned, incoherent and disjointed.
The bulk of the ceremony consisted of pop music performances—many without the original artists present. From a surprisingly muted rendition of Waterloo Sunset to a pre-recorded Kate Bush song over a dance routine involving a giant monochrome Lego podium, it created the illusion of being an amped-up Children in Need concert (with the main beneficiaries being McDonald’s, Samsung and Coca-Cola.)
Jessie J valiantly attempted to salvage something from the wreckage around halfway through with a passable rendition of We Will Rock You with Brian May, and the Spice Girls were as acceptable as ever as they arrived in decorated taxis. Elbow, Annie Lennox and Take That also made appearances, but even these leviathans of pop music were unable to cover the fact that the organisers didn’t even bother to come up with a separate playlist for the atheletes’ entrance, instead repeating the songs that had already played on a loop.
Even Eric Idle, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser with Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, was inexplicably shoehorned into the middle of the ceremony, before the forced-emotion speeches of Lord Coe and the IOC’s President. The Who rounded off with a decent set, but even that wasn’t enough to clear out the sour taste in my mouth.
The most genuinely baffling moment—even more than Russell Brand butchering a song from Willy Wonka—was when eight fashion models (only one of whom was male) appeared from inside eight lorries. Even accounting for the knowledge that fashion is one of London’s greatest exports, this turn is difficult to rationalise. Is this what we want to say to the world? “We British can produce unhealthily thin and implausibly attractive women whose job is to look pretty in front of a camera.”
This is not to criticise the models themselves: although hardly in the Olympic spirit, given Kate Moss’s history of drug use, I’m sure they’re all reasonably nice people (except Naomi Campbell, who has a conviction for assault.)
Overall, the whole thing was a basic antithesis to the opening ceremony, and not in a good way. If Boyle’s ceremony was like Metropolis, Kim Gavin’s closing ceremony was more reminiscent of Vampires Suck! with an added performance from pubescent Cowell-backed boyband One Direction.
We were promised the world’s biggest, cheesiest afterparty: unfortunately, by the time it had started to get good, most of us were already on the street outside, in the pouring rain, miserably waiting for the night bus home.