Spoiler Alert: Pictures from the Olympics Opening Ceremony Rehearsal
We made a film about London 2012. Watch The VICE Guide to The Olympics here.
At the Beijing Olympics In 2008, I stayed up till 4 AM to watch Shanaze Reade crash out of the BMX final. Four years prior to that, I was ecstatic to watch Kelly Holmes bag two gold medals in Athens. When the IOC announced that the 2012 Games would be taking place in London, and that the main stadium would be in Stratford, 15 minutes from my home, I couldn’t believe my luck. Being a long-time armchair sports fan, I volunteered to work unpaid on the London 2012 team. It was the Games’ official slogan—“Inspire a Generation”—that convinced me. I am that generation, I thought to myself. So this must be my time!
How wrong I was.
While LOCOG were busy stalling my volunteer application, scandal after scandal emerged; the inevitable strain on the transport systems, the reckless irony of the world’s greatest sporting event aligning itself with McDonald's and Coke, Dow Chemical’s role in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the monopoly on ticket and merchandise sales held by Visa, and a bunch of other stuff you can find out about in The VICE Guide to the Olympics.
In light of all this, when my request to work unpaid was processed and the offer came, I declined it. As if to extend the olive branch, LOCOG got in touch to let me know that I had been allocated a complimentary ticket to the Opening Ceremony technical rehearsal, which took place on Monday. If you're one of the #savethesurprise clan, and want to wait until the event later today, look away now.
At the stadium entrance, I was greeted by Her Majesty’s finest and their prying machinery. For all the talk of the G4S screw ups (such as allowing a VICE reporter dressed as a builder to waltz in to an arena unchecked), this part of the process was actually very thorough.
What wasn't so rigorous was the security I had to pass through to get to this point. When I arrived at the Olympic Park, I realized I had printed out the wrong page of the invite and it was missing the barcode I'd need to be able to enter the stadium. This was remedied by stopping the nearest helper, briefly explaining my error, and then being presented with a brand new ticket. It was as simple as that. I didn’t even have to give my name.
Inside the stadium, I realized I had almost perfect seats. I was more or less directly across the field from the press and dignitary boxes, seated directly beneath the Olympic flag. I was also treated to a glimpse of Danny Boyle’s much discussed "British countryside," which resembled something between the set of Teletubbies and the Shire in The Lord of the Rings before the cricketers and maypole dancers started frollicking all over it, nonplussed at the 80,000 seats their village idyll suddenly found itself in.
The first action I saw from cast members was them carrying out a bunch of clouds.
The woman next to me was wowed by them. I'm not sure why, because there were also real clouds in the sky, which are far more impressive if you think about it. The aerial sheep were soon joined by real sheep, as well as ducks in the enclosures mapped out on the grass. I guess they were supposed to represent the border with Wales or something.
An MC took to the stage, trying to whip us all into a frenzy by telling us to clap and stuff. Attached to the seats in front of us were what appeared to be electric flyswatters, which the MC referred to as “pixel batons.” The combined effect was something similar to the North Korean Mass Games’ card mosaics, albeit without the precision and dynamism you get when everyone involved is scared of being disappeared if they fuck up.
The handsets bore stickers claiming their place of manufacture was Belgium. The crowd participation section also involved floating large pieces of material over the heads of spectators, to create the illusion of an ocean and block any view of what it might be that you paid to go and see.
However, this was just the rehearsal, and the stadium was only three quarters full. A lot of empty seats in my vicinity caused the material ocean to become caught on the seats. I struggled to help a steward free the material, and when we finally got it loose, a number of the pixel batons were broken out of their plastic support stands. Modelled on Pyongyang, made in Brussels, mangled in London.
Things got more exciting as the countryside began to modernize. The outfits of the cast members became grubbier, and steam and chimneys began to fill the air as the green of the grass made way for the grzy landscape of an age of industry, conjuring images of dark Satanic mills and child slavery.
The set-piece turnovers were not speedy enough to suspend disbelief, however the music and the sheer number of people in view kept attentions focused. For television audiences, the coverage will undoubtedly fill in the gaps with replays while the new sets are being prepared. As the pace quickened, so did the speed at which the years passed by. There were references to the Suffragettes, the Jarrow Marches, Windrush, and other historical touch-points, before the industrial age reached its climax in the form of the welding together of the Olympics rings, which is exactly how it happened, I think.
Via Great Ormond Street Hospital, we were transported to a land of fairytales and bedtime stories, featuring hundreds of children in hospital beds and their medical chaperones. This was nice.
However, what followed was quite simply ridiculous. Magical, perhaps, for those under the age of 13, but ridiculous all the same. A number of online news outlets have picked up on this detail already, the response to which has been sheer astonishment and scepticism in equal measures.
But I can confirm that the rumours are true. A 50-foot Lord Voldemort does indeed square off against 50 Mary Poppinses. I have been trying for the past 24 hours to put this movie-mashup showdown into some kind of context. I'm just not sure the world is ready for a cross-promotional film tie-in of this magnitude yet. I guess we'll find out in a few hours.
The battle did at least set the tone for the rest of the ceremony: Pop culture collages and soundbites. A canvas home and a brick home were erected onstage, one containing an ambiguously mixed race family, and the other projecting the best of British music videos of the past decade. There, Millie Small met the Prodigy and The Clash met Dizzee Rascal.
For the closing sequences, I was reminded that British people were capable of many profound things, all of which I've since forgotten. There was plenty that the organizers kept from us—look out in particular for the Holy Trinity that encompasses all of British masculinity: Rowan Atkinson, Daniel Craig, and David Beckham. It was actually a glorious success, and barring alien invasion or terrorist attack, it should ensure that the Games at least begin in a brilliant way, even if what follows in the weeks of competition and beyond isn't quite as appealing.