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Did Rio Pull Off a Better Olympics Opening Ceremony Than London?

Brazil picked up where the UK left off in 2012, so naturally we're not going to review Friday's ceremony in relation to London's at all.
August 6, 2016, 4:00pm

This definitely looks weird, but was kinda great. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP/Press Association Images.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

If this was the "make and make do ceremony," the Poundland stickers had been thoroughly scratched off. Big, brash, joyous, and with a borderline priapic preoccupation with trees, South America's first-ever Olympics kicked off last night in spectacular fashion.

First, let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. There's no escaping the fact that, from above, any stadium at night whose rim is lit by pink and red fireworks looks like a bit like a giant, gaping sore. There, it's been said. We all thought it. It's done now.

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Open sores aside, City of God director Meirelles delivered an epic, rousing four-hour opener, and all on a budget a fraction of London's famously actually-quite-good opening hoo-hah in 2012. Exactly what fraction this is remains a mystery. One of the event's organizers, Antonio Abete, said it was "difficult to know what the real number is." Nevertheless, spectacle was in gushing supply, and for a few hours all the controversies leading up to the Games—questions as to Brazil's ability to afford dumping millions on new giant gaping sores; the fact the entire Russian team could be doped off their tits; the Zika virus—was forgotten.

If nothing else, it was a booming advert for underfloor projectors. Like the twinkly dance floors you get in Flares, only much bigger and minus people slipping over on bodily fluids, this nifty device allowed Meirelles to switch subjects with nothing more than a… switch. One of the main talking points was Pele's absence. The football legend has been getting gyp from his hip replacement surgery, so wasn't in "physical condition to take part." Nevertheless, the cauldron was instead lit by ex-marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who was denied a Gold in 2004 when some defrocked priest accosted him mid-race.

This was a ceremony more about what there was than what there wasn't. With Christ the Redeemer looking down like some kind of despotic overlord—which, in many way, he is—Meirelles somehow managed, through science, to engineer a genuine party atmosphere—no easy feat for a televised broadcast with Brits on Twitter primed to make digs at.

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You'd expect dancers and color in a Brazilian ceremony, but probably not this many or this eye-meltingly vibrant. It was infectious, and the kind of masterly display of choreography not seen since Backstreet's Back. The vertical structure to the right of the stage was awe-inspiring too, playing host all to the crooners and minor Brazilian celebrities visibly chuffed as mince any of this was happening at all. You didn't know who any of them were of course, but your Vote Leave ignorance isn't Brazil's fault, so shut it.

If you had to have a complaint, it would be that the whole thing was possibly a tad over-sincere in a post-Boyle, Bond-jumping-out-of-a-fucking-helicopter world. Though, perhaps, nudge-wink self-reference is probably all the UK could get away with, considering so many problems this country has are of its own stupid making. Brazil's had genuine problems, and commendably the ceremony didn't brush over its history's darker patches, from its native-slaughtering European invasion to a 400-year history of slavery and general brutality. Instead of avoiding these subjects, Meirelles used them to emphasize how such hardships have made the multicultural Brazil of today stronger. A tricky balancing act, and one he pulled off. Brazil deserves to celebrate itself. So it did.

Comparisons to Danny Boyle's opening ceremony—which managed, for a fortnight at least, to peel the protective film of cynicism and misanthropy from this nation—are inevitable. Brazil's… wasn't as good. There's no getting around it. It had one-too-many clunky moments, from the bizarrely reverential prominence shown to supermodel Gisele Bundchen gingerly ambling across the entire length of the stage, to the totally-worthy-but-come-on-wrap-this-up bit on sustainability—the good work of which was surely negated by the number of people who went and put the kettle on.

Yet despite acting president Michel Tamer receiving boos and anti-government protesters jostling with the police outside the stadium, Rio's opening ceremony felt like a success. It was also a huge advert for the country, and will have made a whole new generation of pre-uni pricks from the south-west add it to their "finding themselves" backpacking itinerary.

An emphatic pro-Brazillian statement then, and a huge achievement on the parts of Meirelles and everyone involved. And if Brazil is following the pattern that the UK did, the closing ceremony will be absolutely awful. So that's something to look forward to.

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