Pulling out the stops for Olympic ceremony
Filmmaker Danny Boyle turned the Olympic Stadium into a jukebox, turning up world-beating rock to send the planet a message: Britain is ready to roll.
Shaken and stirred.
James Bond and the queen making her film-acting debut teamed on Friday to give London a wild Olympic opening like no other.
Creative genius Danny Boyle turned the Olympic Stadium into a jukebox, cranking up world-beating rock from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who to send the planet a message: Britain, loud and proud is ready to roll.
To kick off a 17-day festival of sports, this was brilliant and cheeky. Now over to you, athletes.
Queen Elizabeth II playing along with movie magic from director Boyle provided the highlight of the Oscar-winner's high-adrenaline show. With film trickery, Boyle made it seem that Britain's beloved 86-year-old monarch and its most famous spy parachuted into the stadium together.
Daniel Craig as 007, the queen, playing herself, and her royal corgis starred in a short movie filmed in Buckingham Palace.
"Good evening, Mr Bond," she said before they were shown flying by helicopter over London landmarks and then leaping – she in a salmon-coloured dress, Bond dashing as ever in a black tuxedo – into the inky night over Olympic Park.
At the same moment, real skydivers appeared as the stadium throbbed to the James Bond theme. And moments after that, the monarch appeared in person, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip.
Organisers said it was thought to be the first time she has acted on film.
"The queen made herself more accessible than ever before," Boyle said.
Full of surprises
Boyle sprang another giant surprise by giving seven teenage athletes the supreme honour of igniting the Olympic cauldron. Together, they touched flaming torches to trumpet-like tubes that spread into a ring of fire and then joined elegantly to form the cauldron.
With a sing-along of Hey Jude, Beatle Paul McCartney closed the spectacle that ran 45 minutes beyond its scheduled three hours.
Organisers said the cauldron would be moved on Sunday night to the corner of the stadium where a giant bell tolled during the show.
The show had not time to catch its breath with a nonstop rock and pop homage to cool Britannia. The soundtrack veered from classical to irreverent. Boyle daringly included the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant and a snippet of its version of God Save the Queen – an anti-establishment punk anthem once banned by the BBC.
The encyclopaedic review of modern British music continued with a 1918 Broadway standard adopted by the West Ham football team, the Rolling Stones' "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction" and Bohemian Rhapsody, by still another Queen, and other tracks too numerous to mention, but not to dance to.
The evening started with fighter jets streaming red, white and blue smoke and roaring over the stadium, packed with a buzzing crowd of 60 000 people, at 8:12pm.
Boyle, one of Britain's most successful filmmakers, who directed Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, had a ball with his favoured medium, mixing filmed passages with live action to hypnotic effect, with 15 000 volunteers taking part in the show.
Actor Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean provided laughs, shown dreaming that he was appearing in Chariots of Fire, the inspiring story of a Scotsman and an Englishman at the 1924 Paris Games.
Headlong rushes of movie images took spectators on wondrous, heart-racing voyages through everything British: a cricket match, the London Tube, the roaring, abundant seas that buffet and protect this island nation, and along the Thames, the river that winds like a vein through London and was the gateway for the city's rise over the centuries as a great global hub of trade and industry.
Wearing his yellow winner's jersey, newly crowned Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins rang a 23-ton Olympic Bell from the same London foundry that made Big Ben and Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. Its thunderous chime was a nod to the British tradition of pealing bells to celebrate the end of war and the crowning of kings and queens.
The show portrayed idyllic rural Britain – a place of meadows, farms, sport on village greens and picnics – that then gave way to the industrial transformation that revolutionised the nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, the foundation for an empire that reshaped world history. Belching chimneys rose where only moments earlier live sheep had trod.
The Industrial Revolution also produced terrifying weapons, and Boyle built in a moment of hush to honour those killed in war.
"This is not specific to a country. This is across all countries, and the fallen from all countries are celebrated and remembered," he explained to reporters ahead of the ceremony.
"Because, obviously, one of the penalties of this incredible force of change that happened in a hundred years was the industrialisation of war, and the fallen," he said. "You know, millions fell."
Olympic organisers separately rejected calls for a moment of silence for 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The parade of nations featured most of the roughly 10 500 athletes – some planned to stay away to save their strength for competition – marching behind the flags of the 204 nations taking part.
Greece led, as the spiritual home of the games, and Team Great Britain was last, as host. Prince William and his wife, Kate, joined in thunderous applause that greeted the British team, which marched to the David Bowie track Heroes. A helicopter showered the athletes and stadium with 7-billion tiny pieces of paper – one for each person on Earth.
Year of the Woman
Bahrain and Brunei featured female flag bearers in what has been called the Olympics' Year of the Woman. For the first time at the games, each national delegation includes women, and a record 45% of the athletes are women. Three Saudi women marching behind the men in their delegation flashed victory signs with their fingers.
"This is a major boost for gender equality," said the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, overseeing his last games as head of the IOC before he steps down in 2013.
Rogge honoured the "great, sports-loving country" of Britain as "the birthplace of modern sport," and he appealed to the thousands of athletes assembled before him for fair play.
"Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponents. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that, you will inspire a generation," Rogge said.
The queen then said: "I declare open the games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era."
Last month, the nation put on a festive Diamond Jubilee – a small test run for the games – to mark her 60 years on the throne, a reign that began shortly after London's last Olympics, in 1948.
Former world heavyweight champion and 1960 Rome Olympic gold medallist Muhammad Ali was cheered when he appeared briefly with his wife, Lonnie, before the Olympic flag was unfurled.
Some 8 000 torchbearers, mostly unheralded Britons, had carried the flame on a 70-day, 8 000-mile journey from toe to tip of the British Isles, whipping up enthusiasm for a $14-billion Olympics taking place during a severe recession.
The final torchbearers were kept secret – remarkable given the scrutiny on these, the first Summer Games of the Twitter era.
Boyle's challenge was daunting: To be as memorable as Beijing's incredible, money-no-object opening ceremony of 2008, the costliest in Olympic history.
"Beijing is something that, in a way, was great to follow," Boyle said. "You can't get bigger than Beijing, you know? So that, in a way, kind of liberated us. We thought, 'Great, OK, good, we'll try and do something different.'"
The view from abroad
"The most rock and roll opening ceremony ever?" asked one Chinese journalist, as baffled overseas commentators digested Boyle's vision
Across the globe, Boyle's opening ceremony provoked respect, excitement, the occasional whiff of disdain and no little bafflement.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic foreign reaction came from the US, where both the Washington Post and New York Times live blogged the ceremony, although hard ball negotiating from NBC meant it was only broadcast after the event.
The Washington Post appeared particularly energised by the Queen's appearance. "So, we're all watching this movie at Olympic Stadium in which James Bond [Daniel Craig] walks into the Royal Palace," wrote Mike Wise. "He's followed by two mutts and suddenly walks in to see, yes, Queen Elizabeth. It's her first role. Ever!" The Post's verdict? "It's corny, cheesy, altogether over the top. And it works! [...] This is awesome."
It fell to the US Slate economics columnist Matt Yglesias to dampen spirits, he tweeted: "Watching these open ceremonies, fairly confident that China will bury the west."
In China the state TV commentators did an admirable job of galloping through potted explanations of everything from the industrial revolution to Mary Poppins but appeared to be stunned to near-silence by the parachuting Queen.
On Sina's Weibo microblog, ordinary viewers seemed more enthusiastic, with one voting her an adorable old lady for participating – but concluding that the ceremony did not match the grandeur of Beijing's. Others seemed to see that as a plus: "Will this be the most rock and roll opening ceremony ever?" asked one arts and entertainment journalist.
Japanese channel NHK showed the ceremony live from the early morning. Two enthusiastic reporters explained cultural and historical references, with nods to Harry Potter, Peter Pan – and Rowan Atkinson's turn in Chariots of Fire – producing the biggest excitement.
On Copacabana beach, nervous Brazilians watched the show they would have to live up to: laughing at Bond, commenting that the Queen looked grumpy, but generally impressed by the spectacle. "I hope Rio can match this," said one. "Perhaps we will be embarrassed after this," added another.
The commentator on Italy's state-run RAI network pointed out that Boyle was "as unpredictable as the people here", with Italian correspondent Margherita Ghinassi adding: "Only in London could it be this way."
Germany's prestigious conservative newspaper the FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung said that London's hosting of the opening ceremony passed off with "heart and humour ... spectacular, but also thoughtful and touching". It said: "Billions worldwide in front of their TV were enchanted by a stylish show that merged the traditional and the modern in colourful images." Spain's El Mundo correspondent John Muller tweeted: "I think that, despite all their mistakes, it has become clear that without the UK our lives would not be the same."
At the High Commission in Delhi, the Queen's appearance brought every guest to their feet, but tweets from across Africa were rather less supportive. Zimbabwean journalist Ranga Mberi tweeted:"#OpeningCeremony segment supposedly showing the people who built modern Britain. But I don't see many immigrants. OK Britain, we see you flaunting your history. Where's the bit in which you invade, loot, kill and plunder?"
Zimbabwean "gadget geek" Richard Mberi tweeted: "Worst Olympic opening ceremony ever! Trust the Brits!"
Confused South African political activist Zak Mbhele tweeted that viewers outside the country needed "to have taken a hallucinogen before watching the #OlympicGamesOpeningCeremony to get it."
But Verashni Pillay, deputy editor of South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online, tweeted: "Other countries show off their national costume, a few local dances. The English boast by being excessively self-deprecating. Awesome."
Perhaps the only country not to be caught up in the thrill and fun of the event was, perhaps inevitably, our neighbour across the Channel who merely gave a Gallic shrug. At the display of British technology and invention, French commentator and tennis star Amelie Mauresmo said: "Decidedly, they [the British] have invented things," while during the NHS section another commentator said that in the health service the medicines and treatment were free, but added: "Of course you have to wait several weeks to be treated."
The royal scenes, at least, needed no translation, with the commentator noting: "Ah oui. Les corgis." – guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012, Sapa-AP