With the dust now settling and the Olympics well under way, Simon Schama adds his voice to the praise for Danny Boyle's weird and wonderful opening ceremony:
Powers obsessed with their present or impending grandeur (or sophomorically threatened by rumors of decline) do opening ceremonies differently, humorlessly: much gorilla chest-beating disguised as epic; pumped-up self-congratulatory bombast, deploying vast numbers of bodies in perfect coordination in the service of kitsch folk ballet; synchronized smiling; selective allusions to precisely the popular homely traditions from which state and corporate power have sucked the lifeblood. A ghastly synthetic simulacrum of national unity, every leg in perfect alignment with the Overall Theme. That’s the way it’s been since Leni Riefenstahl invented the genre for Hitler’s 1936 Olympische Spiele. And though subsequent renditions have been less sinister, they’ve still had a kind of mechanical megalomania about them. You will mouth platitudes of universal brotherhood. You will celebrate the harmonious comity of the ripped....
How sweet it is, then, that while redundantly Communist China gave us impeccable corporate entertainment, the Brits delivered what may be the last of the great socialist pageants. A bit—a very small bit—of Bard cued up the insular sorcery, but the real presiding genius of the proceedings was the revolutionary enthusiast William Blake, whose evangelical call to arms, “Jerusalem,” was present in no less than three places during the proceedings, even if all of them were given a Poppinsian spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
He identifies another influence, which I'd missed:
There was a lot of Potter at work here. Not Harry despite, the blow-up Voldemort and J.K. Rowling reading from somewhere remote, but the late, great Dennis Potter: the unrepentant lefty, Orwellian satirist, and fiendishly inventive playwright whose The Singing Detective (with Michael Gambon turning in a staggering piece of acting) is still one of the great free-form masterpieces of modern television, by turns suicidally bitter and redemptively sweet and constantly harking back to Potter’s own childhood up trees in the half sylvan, half industrial Forest of Dean, not such a different place from the hillsides of Boyle’s Lancashire. No one does the darkness of childhood, its realm of startled pathos, its deep hauntings, like the Brits, from Alice and Peter Pan to Harry P., all of whom had an airing in the show, along with Kes (another glory of English cinema) and Bill Forsyth’s adorable Gregory’s Girl. But The Singing Detective also featured scenes in which nurses and doctors treating Potter/Detective’s hideous case of psoriasis break without warning into song-and-dance routines.
Smart stuff, as you'd expect from Schama:
What Danny Boyle and his team achieved in this was to break open the formula that was getting dinosaur-like in the lumbering immensity of its brainlessness. That’s what the British are still good at: tearing up the convention, starting over, letting the imagination rip, summoning the inner child.