The Olympics, London 2012: a postscript


I am sorry to see the London Olympics end. It was a jolly old time: lots of surprises, lots of upsets, lots of new friends. Glad about so many things:



·       Glad to see Michael Phelps win his eighty-two medals and announce his retirement, which means we don’t have to look at his ugly sub-primate face anymore, except maybe in Subway Sandwich advertisements.

·       Glad, in a different way, to see Usain Bolt (from a much smaller country than Michael Phelps) prove once again that he’s the fastest runner in the world, and be smug about it, and we’ll probably see him again in 2016, and he will be at least three times as smug, and probably even faster.

·       Glad to see lots of smaller / less populous countries win medals of all kinds: Grenada, Mexico, Tunisia, Ireland, Slovenia.  (Grenada, with its one gold medal, has the most gold medals per capita of any country in world. In your face, Michael Phelps!)



(Which reminds me: I truly want to see India win a gold medal one of these days. They’ve never won a gold, in all these years. It will be madness in Chennai and Mumbai when that day comes.)



The London closing ceremony, like the opening ceremony, was controlled chaos, slathered with lots of music. The opening ceremony was meant to be thought about, and talked about. This closing ceremony was just meant to be fun. (There’s a very heavy message in listening to The Who – the members of which are in their sixties at least – sing “My Generation.”  It makes me feel strange. Isn’t there a line in there that says “Hope I die before I get old”? Doesn’t Roger Daltrey feel funny when he sings that?)



Also Eric Idle, leading a huge chorus of everything and everyone imaginable (including nuns and Roman soldiers) in “Look On the Bright Side of Life,” from the Python movie “Life of Brian.” This bookended the Rowan Atkinson “Chariots of Fire” number in the opening ceremony, with that kind of deranged I-don’t-care British humor that the world has come to cherish. And it turned into a singalong with the audience!



And then Boris Johnson, the highly peculiar Mayor of London, handed over the Olympic flag to Jacques Rogge, who handed it over to Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Olympics will take place.



(Can you imagine what that opening ceremony will look like?  We had glimpses: there was a samba spectacular, and Pele made an appearance! And one of the performers was dressed as the Santeria goddess Yemanja, goddess of the sea!)



See you in Rio, kids!



(If I live that long.)



The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus

For a while in the 1940s, British cinema was really spectacular. Four movies are my particular favorites: “Black Narcissus,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” and “The Red Shoes.”


All were directed and written by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. All are in beautiful Technicolor, or some mutant version of Technicolor that’s even more vivid than the real thing. All four are full of contrasts: sincerity and cynicism, religion and worldliness, life and death. All four accommodate these contrasts with ease and grace and humor. All four feature fascinating actors and actresses: Deborah Kerr, Moira Shearer, Roger Livesey, David Niven, Anton Walbrook.


Powell loved extreme close-ups and theatrical gestures and bright primary colors. And Pressburger, a Hungarian who spoke better English than most native speakers (a regular Joseph Conrad type), wrote beautiful dialogue.


My favorite is “Black Narcissus,” I think. It’s based on a Rumer Godden novel about a group of Anglican nuns who set up a convent in northern India near the Himalayas. It’s too much for them. They fail spectacularly, against a background of spectacular scenery.


My friend Pat prefers “The Red Shoes.” She saw it when she was a kid – but let her tell it: “I was maybe eight or nine years old. The theater was several blocks away on a very busy street – 55th Street in Chicago – and I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon for a double feature. In those days one could sit through the showings as many times as the movie was shown and I loved the Red Shoes so much I waited through the second feature until Shoes came on again. My mother wasn’t one for franticness, but she was pretty worried when I didn’t show for dinner. She didn’t scold much though, I think she thought it was clever of me to be so entranced. After that I had to have a coloring book of ballet dancers and I remembered that the ballerina in the movie had white makeup on her eyelids and black dots in the corners of her eyes. So, naturally, all the dancers in my coloring book had to have that too.”


When’s the last time a movie made you feel like that?



In the words of Libby Gelman-Waxner: this is what movies are all about.



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