let’s watch tv– sochi winter games opening ceremony

(I’m writing this on Stinky, the faithful Stinkpad laptop, in front of the the TV as I watch one of my favorite Winter Olympic events, long track speedskating. I like the real world renditions of super hero costumes, and I’m mesmerized by the way the racers maximize their aerodynamics and by the swinging-like-a-pendulum motion they take on. I could watch this all afternoon, and I probably will, commercials excepted.)

Big, flashy public ceremonies are an art form all their own, and we sometimes review them here. Olympic opening ceremonies are among the biggest, flashiest, and most public, and always get a mention. For the record, Calgary was my all time favorite Winter Games opening, and I think London is now my favorite Summer Games.  (Read about that one here.)  Last night’s opening ceremony in Sochi is not going to present a challenge to anybody. It was overblown, overlong, incoherent, and notably self-serving in a class of things that are designed from the beginning to be self-serving. It was also completely lacking in the kind of humor that is necessary to lighten the effect of any vast pageant dedicated to a serious subject. Other than a very charming set of inflatable fantasy onion domes in candy colors that decorated one of the endless historical sequences, there was precious little lightness here. It might not be easy to make ballerinas seem ponderous, but this ceremony succeeded.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there weren’t any notes to take.

First, there’s fashion: Fashion highlights are rare in the Winter Games uniforms, which by necessity usually consist of winter coats, winter hats and some kind of pants and boots, but there were a few. Canada had Hudson Bay blanket coats and Tonga had parkas in a palm tree print, and the Bermudans astounded all by appearing in their trademark shorts. Otherwise it was all about the hats: Spain had cute berets, Norway had silver pleather driving caps, and Kyrgyzstan repeats from the last summer games in the “great traditional hats” category. The best hats, though, were worn by the Czechs, who sported pointy round furry hats, grey for the boys and white for the girls. I am looking for a new winter hat and would like one of the grey ones. Still, those of us who are old enough to remember may be spared a moment of nostalgia for the bad old days, when athletes from many of the the Northern countries appeared in gorgeous fur parkas, fur coats, and big fur hats.

Speaking of fashion, it’s always a wise idea to accompany your national anthem with fifty or so people in creepy glowing parkas n the colors of your flag.

And everyone’s seen the giant snowflakes that were supposed to form the Olympic rings. Except for that one. The one at the upper right.

The pageant, on the obvious though rather overly large topic of the history of Russia, had its high points, starting with the troika of gigantic folkloric horses prancing slowly across the the great void of the stadium and the already mentioned onion dome inflatables, but most of it was tedious, crude, or both. The ballet based on War and Peace was exactly as horrible as you might expect a ballet based on War and Peace to be, and it lasted almost as long as the war. But even that fades in memory compared to the tribute to the city of Saint Petersburg, where historical maps of the city were projected onto the the stadium floor and a troupe of men danced long dances on top of each of an unending list of its notable landmarks. (Is Vladimir Putin a native of that city​? Yes, I believe he is.)

On the other hand, representing the entire Great Patriotic War with a spotlight, the sound of a bomb falling, and a moment of silence was actually subtle, and quite touching.

The cars in the postwar Soviet Union sequence, a magnificent Chaika and a pack of Ladas and Volgas , as well as the classic Ural motorcycles in the tribute to Soviet sport were cool and picturesque, but the 50s hipsters and the heavy handed “baby boom” bit with the red baby carriages were kind of gross. And the representation of the Revolution as a floating, fragmented propaganda train in a nest of disconnected symbols with a vaguely Constuctivist feel was pretty, but kinda left a lot out, even for a pageant. The two periods of industrialization, pre and post war, one with giant gears and one with giant blueprints, were just endlessly long, and rather meh.

The Dove of Peace bit, danced to themes from Swan Lake, was weird and interesting, if far too long, and the Russian anthem, sung by a men’s choir, and the Olympic hymn, sung by an opera singer, were very good indeed.

The best thing about the Sochi opening ceremony, though, the surprise cameo appearance in the opening “Cyrillic Alphabet” sequence of our mascot the Lunokhod, which did an admirable job representing the letter L.

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5 Responses to let’s watch tv– sochi winter games opening ceremony

  1. Rick Santman says:

    NBC is showing live events and highlights on AT LEAST five different satellite channels and I have yet to find any curling. Bah. (I did catch some biathalon action yesterday however)

  2. Pam Bliss says:

    I saw the biathlon too- -very fun. A lot of people claim to not understand that sport, but I think it’s easy enough to picture people living in the country in cold places going out on skis to hunt small game with a .22. Fresh meat is no doubt at a premium in winter, and it gets those energetic young people out of the house. For skiing with more action, the downhill is tonight.

    I believe curling is still in preliminaries. It’s long tournament.

  3. Wolfie says:

    Not having a television in the house, I catch what I can online. Last night I caught BBC’s coverage of the women’s 3000m speed skate, also one of my favorites, for the reasons that Pam mentioned (aerodynamics and form). The body suits as superhero costumes are indeed interesting because I would assume that any real-world superheroine would have a body much more like these speed skaters (or cross-country skiers) and a lot less like Marilyn Monroe.

    The event, btw, was won by Irene Wust of (no surprise) the Netherlands, and this was the first gold medal taken by an openly gay athlete in these games. Take that, Vlad.

  4. Rick Santman says:

    (In my mind’s eye see athlete after athlete grab Putin by the throat and slap him vigorously front hand and back hand, spabita, spabita, spabita, until he agrees that he’s got a caveman attitude and shapes up. )

  5. Pam Bliss says:

    Cross country skiers and biathletes have great superhero looks. The Frenchman who won the biathlon I just watched, the pursuit, looked very much the part if you like them dark and dreamy.

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