… and a third ten on Danny’s Britain

3rd August 2012

Seven days later. A week on from Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony, and the great writing about that extraordinary vision keeps on coming. So I cannot resist offering links to a third group of ten views. Across the jump you will find political analysis, textual exploration and some fun – what more can you ask of a blog (or indeed an Olympics opening ceremony)? (Warning: contains link to toxic Richard Littlejohn.)

Previously on this:
• Ten thoughts about Danny’s Britain
• Ten more on Danny’s Britain
• Jennings and Powell, thou should’st be living at this hour: Paul Tickell’s dazzling analysis

21. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony is only a partial truth: Polly Toynbee for the Guardian laments the loss of so much that was celebrated in the opening ceremony – ‘Here’s the catch to the Boyle vision. Since the days of those confident history textbooks charting milestones of social advance, so much has gone into reverse. Imagining ourselves social democratic doesn’t easily make us so, when economic forces are stronger than the power of mere votes. Our postwar founding myth as social democrats is in danger of becoming as unreal as the prewar empire-building story. We can no longer count on the march of progress.’

22. Collective joy: Jenny Diski for the London Review of Books blog was unconvinced – ‘I understand and appreciate the coding, but, unlike everyone else, it left me as low as before it started. It looked like a last shout. It seemed to infantilise us as it pleased us. And after the athletes’ parade (during which, the Mail said, ‘viewers dozed off to the procession of banana republics and far-flung destinations nobody has ever heard of or even cares for’) we arrived at a celebration of popular modernity: mostly singing and dancing culture, and the not entirely uncomplicated or benevolent wonders of the internet as Tim Berners-Lee ciphered: ‘This is for everyone.’ It was all as well-meaning as a village fête.’

23. Why the Olympic opening ceremony was a triumph of git-prop theatre: for the Guardian (which has consistently had the best writing on this), Mark Lawson draws out another thread in the web of likely influnces – ‘several sections of the opening show seemed to me to nod deliberately to the work done by the pioneering Joan Littlewood, whose celebrated productions, such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, used song, dance, pageant and community participation to make political points in an accessible style – and, furthermore, did so just up the road from where the Olympic stadium now stands. Boyle’s tableaux of the industrial revolution and the National Health Service – and the moment when the CND badge was suddenly formed on stage – felt strongly Littlewoodesque, honouring an east London heroine in the same way that David Beckham’s participation honoured his local origins.’

24. Caliban and Brunel – Kenneth Branagh’s speech at the Olympics opening ceremony: Jem Bloomfield at quiteirregular reflects on the possible significance of giving Caliban’s words from The Tempest to Brunel in the guise of Kenneth Branagh – ‘For this show, the Industrial Revolution wasn’t something that Britain did for/to the world, but something which Britain experienced along with the world, in all its dislocation, horror and possibility.  In this imagined history, Caliban’s words coming from Brunel can offer comfort and reassurance, because they come from someone who is also afraid, also being worked on by forces he can neither understand nor control.’

25. The 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies recap – 5 hours of feel-weird fun: Michelle Collins has a lot of fun for Vanity Fair, and reading her thoughts you will too: ‘Friday, July 27, 2012: A date that will forever tattoo itself into the minds of British people for generations as the day when one billion people watching the Olympic Summer Games worldwide all wondered, at the exact moment, the very same thing: Why is Kenneth Branagh dressed up like Abe Lincoln?’ [Thanks to Ed Macdonald for this one.]

26. Pandaemonium and the Isles of Wonder: Luke McKernan at The British Library is very good on the influence on the ceremony of both the writings and the films of Humphry Jennings –

‘If you’re trying to celebrate a nation’s identity, you have to take things that are familiar parts of the landscape and make them wonderful.

So writes Frank Cotterell Boyce, and they are words to explain the art of Humphrey Jennings as well. It is what a great documentary filmmaker can do: capture images of common stuff, and transmute them into something wonderful. To do so, it is necessary not just to photograph your subject well, or to edit with a satisfying rhythm. You must have a governing idea to give those images meaning. Humphrey Jennings wanted to see Jerusalem built once more; Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce have encouraged us all to dream of the same.’

27. What every CEO can learn from the Olympics’ wacky opening ceremony: another view from across the pond, by Adam Hanft for Wired –  ‘Today there is no organizational framework for guts, and no will to create one. The crunch of bone, the industrial-strength sandpapering, that goes on every day in corporate America is audible and palpable. After all, the structure of the large American corporations–layers of decision-making, PowerPoint analyses, and then the final nail in the coffin, the “validation” of consumer research–assures the survival of the flaccidest. What would a focus group have made of Kenneth Branagh playing Caliban dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an English civil engineer who helped create Britain’s industrial infrastructure?’

28. Hacks Britannica – reviving an Olympic tradition of crapness: it would be fair to say that Rafil Zoll-Kraidi, managing editor of Harper’s Magazine but writing for The Paris Review, was less than enamoured with what Danny Boyle achieved – ‘The other problem [the first was ‘disconnectedness’] was subtler and deeper and arises from the fact that Boyle is not an auteur but an executive technician; he is, further, not really much of a thinker, and when evidence of his unfettered thinking emerges, in interviews and elsewhere, it usually does so in the form of platitudinous nonsense (superlatives and boosterism; lots of loves and timeless and amazings). “For inspiration,” explained NBC’s Meredith Vieira of the opening ceremonies, “Boyle says he turned to British literature. Shakespeare, Frankenstein, even Peter Pan.” This is how you end up with Branagh playing Brunel playing Caliban talking about an “isle” he is most assuredly not actually standing on: Boyle, who directed Shakespeare for the stage, isn’t unread, but as a bloke-with-a-book he has always been a dangerous, sloppy, omnivorous force.’

29. Underworld’s brief to ‘frighten people’ at the London 2012 opening ceremony: an engaging and informative interview by Robin Turner with Rick Smith of Underworld about the musical choices for the show – ‘”I started on the Pandemonium section in June 2011 when the band was touring. Danny wanted to frighten people. He was certain that by the end, people had to be going: ‘Christ, you can’t possibly do that to us for the next three hours.’ All the way along, he’d leave you with a sentence like that. That’s the kind of direction that leaves you empowered.”

30. It’s the closing ceremony and here comes Team GB: hmm, I thought for a while about whether or not to include this vicious, thoughtless, homophobic rant by Richard Littlejohn for Mail Online – but maybe, just maybe, its dismal desperation shows how effective was last Friday’s show; this is the intro (and the only paragraph that is not profoundly offensive) – ‘Emboldened by the rave reviews for Danny Boyle’s vision of Britain as a multicultural, socialist Utopia, the Olympics organisers have hastily revised their plans for the closing ceremony. They have invited Ken Loach, the celebrated Left-wing film-maker and Irish republican sympathiser, to present the world with his take on our glorious island story. This column has managed to obtain exclusive access to the rehearsals…’


  1. […] different pieces that have appeared in the press looking at the event from different viewpoints. Here’s the third one, but you can find them all by checking back on his […]

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