LONDON – The Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games answered one question definitively.
Yes, Queen Elizabeth II has listened to both the Sex Pistols and hip-hop.
If she hadn’t before Friday night, filmmaker Danny Boyle’s eardrum-pounding, eyeball-exhausting whirl through British history brought Her Majesty up to speed. Actually, in a bit of filmic sleight-of-hand, Boyle and actor Daniel Craig turned Her Majesty into the latest Bond girl.
Boyle’s $42.5 million ceremony celebrated English contributions to the world – from iron-smelting to the creation of the World Wide Web, from Johnny Rotten to Harry Potter, from Rowan Atkinson to Monty Python to Sir Paul McCartney. In what was surely not a tweak of the United States, one segment served as a celebration of England’s National Health Service.
History was made as well as celebrated. For the first time, every delegation included at least one female athlete. Saudi Arabia, the last nation to permit women to compete, had three women among its contingent. But they marched behind the men.
One sad bit of history went unmentioned. The International Olympic Committee permitted a moment of silence for “loved ones who couldn’t be here,” including a montage of the departed on the giant screens around the stadium. That only served to underscore the absence of any formal recognition of the 40th anniversary of the slaughter of 11 Israeli Olympians in Munich in 1972.
Aside from the oversight, the ceremonies were an energetic, irreverent affair filled with remarkable and indelible images: an English pastoral scene giving way to enormous smokestacks rising from beneath the field; an enormous Lord Voldemort; the Olympic rings emerging from a forge; glowing blankets on giant beds; Atkinson’s slapstick antics as Simon Rattle conducted the London Symphony Orchestra; the lyrics to the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” projected on the upper decks of the stadium.
Oddly, the tamest aspect of the ceremonies was the lighting of the Olympic torch.
In keeping with the theme of “Inspire a Generation,” seven young British athletes took the light from Sir Steve Redgrave, the legendary rower. They touched their torches to what appeared to be flower petals in the center of the stadium. The petals lit, then rose to form a cauldron.
It was a brief moment of quiet elegance, immediately followed by fireworks and Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse.”
Besides the undeniable stamp of British whimsy on a sporting event so often viewed in reverential terms, perhaps the biggest difference at Friday’s Opening Ceremonies was Olympic Stadium itself. In contrast to the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, the humbler main venue nestled inside a reclaimed urban wasteland in East London is largely collapsible, with a permanent core of just 25,000 seats.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post contributed to this report.