Friday, February 07, 2014

James Hope Howard Liveblogs the CBC Feed of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies

9:50 AM

Hello out there, sports fans!

I'd done this for the 2010 Olympics' opening ceremonies (and for their closing ceremonies as well), and while the Sochi Olympics are a tad more... problematic, I figure I may as well keep an eye on the ol' zeitgeist and see what happens.

The hosts for this CBC coverage are Peter Mansbridge and Ron MacLean, who are doing their best to fill time until the ceremony proper; interviews with various CBC personalities, footage of a Russian police choir singing Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", y'know, standard fare to build up to the top of the hour.

10:00 AM

There will come a time when "Fish Stadium" ceases to be funny to me, but today is not that day.

We're live with Ron and Peter -- can we just make Ron 'n' Peter a thing, all the time? -- and Vladimir Putin is mentioned within the first minute of the coverage, to give you some idea of the Games' general storyline.

The ceremony actually won't start until about a quarter past, with what turns out to be a perfectly reasonable explanation: it's 8:00 PM Sochi time right now, or 20:00, so the organizers figured they'd start the show at 20:14. And sure, that's cute now, but if this sets a precedent the show'll just seem later and later every four years.

"Life is short, art is long. We'll break bread with the Russians' ancestors in the Opening Ceremonies, coming up." So no wordplay out of Ron yet, but the day is young yet. D'you suppose there are people out there laying wagers on how many minutes into the show Ron'll crack a pun? What am I saying, it's Russia, of course someone bet on it.

This commercial break leading up to the ceremony just busted out a Tourism Manitoba commercial -- the Manitoba's Heart (obligatory pause) Beats campaign, you remember it -- and boy, it was, uh... nondescript. I mean, I'm not the market, though, so what do I know. At least they're airing them when they count!

10:13 AM

We have footage of the Canadian team being led in, then a wide shot of what one presumes is the inside of the stadium, just darkness and a few strings of lights and folks cheering on command.

"This is Lubov (sp?), our hero girl --" we're into a video now of a little girl sleeping by a window and a book opens, which starts firing Cyrillic letters at the viewer; each letter corresponds to some important Russian historical or cultural icon, Mansbridge having to provide as much context for each as he can fit in while the little girl walks through this soft-focus CGI dreamscape montage alternating between Skyrim scenery and decongestant ads and what is happening and what is happening--


so now amidst the planetarium music, a small child is whispering a countdown as the numbers are superimposed over the crowd in lights, not creepy at all thank y--AHH CLOSE SHOT OF LITTLE GIRL STARING DIRECTLY INTO CAMERA PAN OUT PAN OUT

10:21 AM

Okay, panning out makes it all very much less The Shining, thank you for that. Lubov raises a kite, which promptly carries her off over a sea and past a moon; a treed island with a live horse on it(!) and a volcano float along the floor of the stadium, amidst some dry ice, as our white-dressed child protagonist is suspended from the rafters by the kite.

I'm sober right now, by the way. Olympic Ceremonies just have this effect on people.

More scenery floats in along the 'sky', large round stars illuminating the continued parade below of simulated Russian scenery -- including a TINY ANIMATRONIC WOLF, thus far my favourite character in the piece. Ron and Peter are trying their best to demystify the sights, bless their hearts, but what is this I don't even.

Then about two hundred people dressed like the clerics in Final Fantasy Tactics walk out and begin belting out a choir, the giant snowflakes -- five of them now, I've just now noticed -- and the giant snowflakes unfold to reveal... four of the five Olympic rings, because the fifth didn't open. "Little ring malfunction, there." Oh, dear. Someone in Russia is sure to be killed for that.

10:25 AM

Everyone applauds for a wide shot of the dignitary booth, and then -- if there's one thing Russians are super god damn good at, it is making their anthem sound impressive, so out comes a full men's choir (in standard black suits, a surprisingly restrained touch for an Olympic Opening Ceremony) to belt the anthem out the way it and all anthems deserve to be belted.

We get a shot of Putin in the stands, looking as unimpressed and as Putin as ever. He is plotting a death, surely, as he is doubtlessly almost always plotting a death, but this is one of the rare times we can be almost certain who he's planning it for.

Hundreds of Russians dressed in light-up Weeble-Wobble costumes -- luminescent, dumpy beacons of white, blue and red -- are marched onto the floor to arrange themselves into the Russian flag. Similarly themed beams of light cross over the centre stage, looking very much like rocket popsicles (you were thinking it too), and finally the giant flag of the host country is raised.

Ron MacLean: "Any time we heard that anthem, we were guaranteed a great hockey game. The logo didn't make it, but the anthem still has a nice ring to it." AAAAAND TIME, WHO HAD TWENTY-NINE MINUTES IN THE RON MACLEAN PUN POOL

10:30 AM

Man, these are long commercial breaks. Olympic-sized breaks! Have to get used to these again.

Back from break, a lava-lookin' light-up map of the world spreads across the stadium floor, then opens up(!) to reveal a white ramp and begin the athlete parade. So they'll just parade 'em up through the floor from the basement this year, it seems.

As always, we get Greece first and then the rest of the nations in alphabetical order before closing with the host; nothing particularly exciting in the As yet, though the production crew seems to make a point of cutting to each nation's head of state as well thus far.

Azerbaijan has a population of 9.5 million, sent four athletes, and won zero medals last time. Albania has a population of 3 million, sent two athletes, and won zero medals last time. Andorra has a population of 80,000 (!), sent two athletes, and won zero medals last time. This is always my favourite part of Olympic ceremonies, by the way, I'm endlessly fascinated by the tiny little longshot countries. (Though, as I've noted before, it's way more fun in the Summer Olympics because you get everybody showing up.) And I'm a huge sucker for flags.

Peter notes around this time that all cellphone communications in the stadium have been cut, so I guess the spy teams needed time to stop and catch up on everyone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

10:38 AM


We get our first mention of the gay-rights movements and Russian anti-gay laws as Belgium arrives, as Belgium has an openly-gay Prime Minister (!) who is not in attendance for what are likely very understandable reasons.

Bermuda has a population of 60,000 people and sent one athlete, who is also their flag-bearer by default. I believe in you, Bermudan! You can do it, you can win whichever sport you're in.

There are some really awkward geopolitical moments when certain countries arrive, and given Russia's influence both historical and current, that is not a small list of certain countries. "Bosnia-Herzegovina!" (really hesitant cheering)

10:43 AM

"Hungary!" (really hesitant cheering)

Venezuela, population 28 million, has sent one athlete; he is by default the flag-bearer, and he is SUPER STOKED. Dude is jumping up and down and toting it like a halberd and everyone is cheering because they are really happy for him. d'aww <3 Germany gets a surprisingly loud cheer, perhaps driven by their conspicuously-rainbow outfits; their organizers' official position is that it isn't necessarily in support of gay rights, because they're not allowed to just come out and say "man Russia the fuck's wrong with you", so the outfits will have to do for now. They also happen to look like Astro Pops, defiant against their Rocket-Popsicle surroundings.

Zimbabwe has a population of 13.1 million and is represented at the Olympics for the very first time, by one athlete, who is also an incredibly white guy. Huh! Whaddya know.

The Ireland athletes are dressed like paratroopers and I have no idea what that's about.

10:50 AM

Oh my god everyone from Spain is dressed like a travel agent, with a red blazer and a white shirt and a red tie and I can't even, you guys. Travel agents in berets, though, because nothing makes an outfit less silly like adding a beret to it.

Kazakhstan's team is dressed in blue and yellow jackets, save for their flag bearer, who got to wear a full old-timey Cossack outfit INCLUDING the fuzzy little hat. He looks like a Civilization unit, and I love him for it.

Canada arrives, now, to a reasonable cheer -- remember that we're going in Cyrillic alphabetical order -- decked out in red kinda-voyageur coats and those little hats and mitts that everyone you know seem to go nuts for. (F'real, was I the only person not obsessed with the mittens last time around? What was with that?)


okay we get it the Canadians are still walking, okay listen I know we like them and all but do we have to watch them sitting down, can we just -- oh for god's sakes

The Latvian Olympic Team is wearing deep-orange jackets and deep-brown pants, and they all look like human Reese's Pieces, and I approve of this choice wholeheartedly. Ron MacLean helpfully chimes in that their hockey team is being coached by the Buffalo Sabres' Ted Nolan, because I guess they needed somebody who can emphatically land them at the bottom of the standings.

Commercial break! (Looooong commercial break. The Olympics!)

11:00 AM

We're back in the Ms somewhere, Mexico arriving as we return from break, and the music is getting Eurotrashier the longer the ceremony goes on. I approve, of course.

I'm surprised I've made it this far without mentioning the women sent to lead each contingent out, so: remember the android from Metropolis? The original German film, not the Japanese anime reimagining decades later. They're all dressed like that, if the android were white, and also if the android had those floaty wide-bar Evangelion circles around it. I am dead serious, they are ringed in with plastic circles that they have to hold up as they walk. Track down a picture, it's mad goofy.

Peter Mansbridge listening to Ron MacLean tout Norway's credentials as a winter-sports power and then slyly trolling him with "yeah, but they can't play hockey" is some next-level impishness. I want more playful Peter Mansbridge in my life, I think we as a nation would benefit from this.

We get a picture-in-picture with Hayley Wickenheiser -- you don't know how disproportionately pleased with myself I am for spelling that correctly on the first try -- for some thoughts on flagbearing, while the main screen features the bright-lime-green Slovenians entering.

I know you've already heard about and seen this, so I won't go on for too long about it, but holy shit those Team USA outfits. It looks like a bunch of horse-racing jockeys rolled around in those glow-in-the-dark star sheets kids used to ruin the paint in their rooms with, and then slapped giant butcher-counter stickers on their shoulders. My goodness. Oh dear. Oh my.

11:15 AM

Ron & Peter take a moment to send a welcome to the Canadian Forces TV audience, and -- and Uzbekistan's flagbearer is really cute. Lost my train of thought for a second, there. Hang on.

Ukraine is wearing... what appears at first to be camouflage, but upon zooming in it appears more to be some sort of grey-yellow microbiology printout. Actually quite mesmerizing.

Finland is wearing the exact blue and white you'd expect, except for the scarves, which have this super-neat orange streak added to them. Peter and Ron take this opportunity to talk about Teemu Selanne, because obviously. I would too! You would too.

We're starting to get into that weird all-the-colours-were-taken territory where France comes out in grey (what) and Croatia comes out in black and white (whaaaat), but thankfully Montenegro puts a stop to that with some very appropriate red.

Everyone on the Czech team -- scratch that, almost everyone, some dudes didn't play along -- have their flags painted on their cheekbones, which is pretty darn cute. Switzerland's flagbearer is a handsome fellow in red Lisa Loeb glasses and I am having very confusing feelings.

11:20 AM


Japan is the penultimate nation, wearing a very reserved white-on-black set, and then the crowd comes to life as the Russians enter. All of the dignitaries stand up and applaud in time, on-beat, to the music being played. Everyone on the Russian team is dressed in a big furry Santa Claus coat, and you probably think I'm joking about that, but noooooooope. Some of 'em are blue Santa Claus coats, and some of 'em are white Santa Claus coats, but a whole bunch of 'em are red Santa Claus coats and -- whoop, hold on, now following them are just a bunch of dudes in dark-blue doorman coats, presumably also athletes but you never can tell. Ron & Peter note that the athletes are receiving a noticeably better crowd reaction than the President did, because Ron & Peter are subtle shit-disturbers.

Is this t.A.T.u they're playing for the Russians' entrance? What is this? ...What IS this?

Everyone in the dignitary booth stands and applauds in time, and everyone in the crowd stands and applauds in time, and it all just kind of lingers weirdly for a while until we fire to break.

11:30 AM




The giant rabbit, bear and leopard (the leopard was Putin's idea, and no, I'm not kidding) leap without transition into a Civilization V CGI opening, with triremes reaching land and some settlers and workers leaping out to cut trees and -- no, wait, now everyone's wearing grey and they're in the fields and they pull up an entire electrical grid out of the snow because that's how electrical grids work and -- WHY ARE THERE DUDES IN FRENCH RENAISSANCE WIGS -- NOW WE'RE IN WHAT APPEARS TO BE BRITAIN, WHY ARE WE IN -- okay, I think I've fully and completely lost the thread now. Anyway, it all builds to a wide shot of stadium we're currently in now, and it transitions from the video shot to the live shot.

Would you like an ethereal flying two-dimensional Troika made of Christmas lights, pulling what appears to be a giant red blood cell? Well, here you go, then. This is definitely a thing that is happening. The symphony is playing disjointed horn noises while this happens, apparently representing a storm, so... well. So.

"We're about to witness a giant whale through the stadium, formed by inflatable shapes." Peter was not kidding about this; a series of inflatable buildings, which we're told represent feudalism, bob along in what does sort of appear whale-shaped from the high camera.

The whale of buildings stops at centre stage and the red blood cell floats into the space above them. Our little girl hero from earlier walks to the front, and a troupe of mustard-yellow clowns float a giant snowglobe over to her. Drums start pounding, the nightmare parade from Paprika swarms the stage, the ambient lighting turns purple and yellow and everything turns to madness.

11:40 AM

A bunch of dudes in yellow-green shirts and puffy yellow Hammer pants begin lifting Lubov upwards; the inflatable whale-buildings take off into the sky and float around, arranging themselves into what I can only best describe as the title screen from NES Tetris.

COMMERCIAL BREAK (a shorter one, mercifully)

Peter Mansbridge reads Prime Minister Steven Harper's tweets live on-air, because that's the world we live in these days, and now we get what is actually a super-cool raging greyscale sea superimposed over the floor. Actors representing Peter The Great and his crew march along as a cel-shaded ship follows along the floor below them, and I seriously cannot exaggerate how impressive this looks, especially with the 3D effect of rolling it up like parchment to close.

Two or three hundred men in fancy lilac-purple suits march onstage to lively military music and play air-flute, as one does, while the still-pretty-cool black-and-grey 3D-esque projections form maps and military layouts around them. This does not get nearly the applause it deserves. Now the men stand still and a cloud of women in pastel ballet dresses fills up the space, Ron explaining that the next segment is a tribute to Tolstoy's War & Peace. This also requires Ron to quickly summarize the plot of War & Peace to the audience, at least in the sense that one can. Y'know how it is.

Quite refreshingly, this is just presented and filmed as a conventional ballet production, no flying lightshows or inflatable whatevers taking the attention away from the artistic performance. I can appreciate this! I turned on the big dumb Olympic Ceremonies and actual culture broke out.

11:50 AM

Seizure warning! Representing the internal turmoil of the characters, we get a giant snowstorm scene with all of the background dancers shuffling in place and strobelights flickering across the stadium as the string section goes full Bernard Herrmann on us. This is all legitimately impressive, and I'm sort of sad now that Canada's ceremonies were a jumble of Michael Buble pop and giant inflatable moose.

Nothing lasts forever, alas, so the massive ballet eventually does give way to more crazy flying shit -- a giant sky train, symbolizing the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the Bolsheviks, as geometric shapes and loose interpretations of machinery roll out along the floor below. Remember the toy montage from How The Grinch Stole Christmas? It's like that, but sinister. Dudes walking around inside giant gears and shit, the orchestra playing a constant chugging beat, dancers standing in place and doing a combination of The Robot and The Monkey as rectangular platforms wheel 'em around.

This goes on for a very long time.

12:00 PM

This goes on for a very long time. Long enough that I start thinking about how weird any celebration of Russian history always feels, but particularly those eras which left a whole ton of people dead that really didn't need to die.

The industrial segment finally concludes with a flood of white light, then a fade almost entirely to black. "Welcome to the mid-20th century, hope and progress permeate the Soviet Union," Ron narrates, clearly having to pull this off of the event's provided script, because nobody looks back to that time on their own like "oh yeah, man, Russians really loved the shit out of life in those days."

This segment is all very impressive, and also all very silly; Papers, Please newspaper clippings are superimposed over white-clad crowds of astronauts and pedestrians as disembodied heads and sickles float around in the sky. A pack of brightly-coloured Mod types run into the middle of a car-packed street and have a dance party, as Russians did in those days.

The modernist music finally slows down to more traditional Red Army Choir fare -- "Moscow Nights", we're informed -- as the crowd pairs off and begins a wedding-themed dance number. The mass marriage then leads into a bunch of sailors carrying bright red baby carriages, the whole thing is a very weird celebration of rigid heterosexuality (you were thinking it too), and Lubov finally reappears to walk on a floating blue ball which represents modern Moscow or dude I don't even know at this point.

That's how it ends, The Shining girl running on a Peter Gabriel album title, everyone claps and the feed skedaddles off to more McDonalds commercials.

12:10 PM

The ice-podium from earler has made its return, the one they raised the giant Russian flag on, and a lectern has been set up for the Russian Olympic organizer to make a speech about nothing in particular. Pride of the nation, sacrifices of athletes, that general boilerplate stuff; the language may be different, but man, you've heard this exact speech before a great many times in your life.

His speech moves into some brief statements in accented but perfectly acceptable English, then into French, then into what I think is Italian--well, a carousel of languages, really, before finally closing in Russian with the event's catchphrase. "The Games are hot, cool, yours" or however the actual wording goes, remind me to look that up later. (Ha, no, I'm kidding. Remind me to be anywhere near a television in the next two weeks, they'll bring it up on their own.)

Onward now to Thomas Bach, IOC President and apparently 1976 fencing champion, who also delivers a standard but unremarkable speech across a variety of languages. I'll be honest: this isn't really the portion of the show you'll see in the highlights and news reels later. (Though the IOC President announcing "Thanks to the workers!" takes on a certain extra absurdity, given the circumstances.)

12:20 PM

okay, Bell's still talking

goin' on about athletes and inspiration and

12:23 PM

still Bell, still talking about striving for victory and the dignity of competitors and

12:25 PM

Bell, we only have fourteen days, d'you wanna maybe wrap this up or

Okay, it gets a little more interesting here: he begins offering a broad and not-at-all-targeted-at-the-host message of tolerance and diversity, about the Olympics serving to pull the world together rather than build walls to keep them apart, walking a very careful balance as he does between not offending the Russians but also acknowledging the less-than-thrilled world response.

Bell throws it to President Putin -- who receives the, er, politically necessary response -- who declares the Games officially open, punctuated by fireworks.

This leads us to more ballet! I'm actually sort of surprised at how excited I am now for the ballet segments. They're performing Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and because it's the Olympics all of the performers are wearing a weird light-up jellyfish collar that unfolds as they spin around, but hey, I'll take this over most things.

12:30 PM

"Ladies and gentlemen -- the Olympic Flag!"

The lighting crew superimpose a curved white path across the now-purple stage floor and eight Russian luminaries, all of them decked out in classy but marshmallow-coloured outfits, carry the giant flag towards the podium. They carry it very slowly.

The Olympic Hymn is heralded, with Peter repeating organizers' promises from the day before that "you will not forget this moment". That feels sort of like a threat, but sure, I'm game.

A very talented and also deeply-orange woman wearing an exact(EXACT)-lookin' replication of the iconic blue Disney Cinderella gown leads the singing of the Hymn, backed from the second verse onward by a full men's choir in white suits. You can barely walk around Russia without trippin' over a full men's choir, it seems like. Just a whole bunch of them all over the place. I don't know how unforgettable any of this is, per se, but hey, that was as good an Olympic Anthem as any I've heard.

12:40 PM

Ruslan Zakharov is up to take the Olympic Oath On Behalf Of All Athletes, and he just plows through it, to the point that the translator actually has to abandon the first paragraph entirely ("Ladies and g--") to keep up with him. A man wearing a coat that looks like a box of fancy crackers takes the Oath On Behalf Of All Judges, at a rather more manageable tempo than the fellow before him, and a woman wearing what is clearly a Ric Flair robe completes the trifecta with The Oath On Behalf Of All Coaches.

Then a few hundred speed-skaters in white LED suits skate onto the ice to a bunch of computer noises, because reasons. Representing the future? Oh, representing the galaxy, Peter informs us, I see.

"You will hear a remix of 'The Game Has Changed' by Daft Punk," Peter continues, because we finally live in a world where Daft Punk is everywhere everywhere. (There are worse alternatives!) He also promises that the light-figures will eventually arrange themselves into a giant hockey player, who will shoot a puck that heralds the arrival of the Olympic Flame. This all proves to unfold exactly as he'd described, and yet even stranger than that description suggests.

The sky above the crowd lights up with floating 3D specters of the various athlete archetypes, floating amidst the black and dark-blue backdrop of the galaxy; I'm sure it's probably incredibly captivating in person, but watching it from home it just looks like a mid-2000s screensaver.

Wow, okay, Mansbridge hadn't quite captured the hockey player's role; his 'firing of the puck' is actual gusts of flame, streaking above the ice just prior to the runner and the torch arriving in the arena. Maria Sharapova is the initial carrier, which seems as sound a choice as any, and she kicks off the parade of handing it around to various other celebrated Russian athletic figures. Including Alexander Karelin! Oh, hey! That name probably means a lot less to you if you aren't as huge a Fire Pro Wrestling series fan as I am, but trust me, dude was kind of a big deal once.

A couple of older folks cheerfully jog down that final corridor, which is still a bit more dignified than Gretzky on a flatbed (in fairness), and Ron MacLean cracks some joke I missed about beach balls that gets a wry chuckling fit out of Peter Mansbridge. Seriously, dead seriousness, please just pair these two up for every major event and have 'em spend hours just trying to get each other to crack up. I would pay the CBC money for this, and they need to get funding from somewhere.

They're still jogging the very long way to the torch -- "he's looking like he wishes it were a little closer", Ron ad-libs, legit cracking Peter up -- and the initial torchpoint is lit, which triggers a line of fire geysers along the structure and a big ol' fireworks display once it reaches the top. That part was pretty fun! I like to imagine the fun that engineers have with this kind of thing.

"And game on!" Peter proclaims, a minute or so more of explosions and classical music playing us out to break.

1:00 PM

We come back to an interview inside the stadium with bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, who testifies that the whole thing was very impressive live ("the ballet was my favourite part!") and then fields some questions about her next few days, which apparently athletes do their best to treat like the leadup into any other event. The CBC then pops her down into a picture-in-picture and uses the primary screen space to replay the Canadian team's walk-in, even while I can hear fireworks in the background, so I'm a little grouchy about that. WHO SKIPS AN EXPLOSION, COME ON

"We'll continue our coverage of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremonies--" Well, at this point I'm honestly not sure what else's left to it (especially if they're throwing it back to commercials again already, c'mon mang), but I'll give it one more segment. What the heck, I got nowhere to be, right?

1:05 PM

Okay, that commercial break has to have been as long as the actual segment preceding it.

We return from the ads with some pictures that Olympians have been tweeting, which tells me I shouldn't really expect much else from this, and a replay of the torch being lit, which really tells me I shouldn't exp--"Still more to come, from Sochi. We'll be back in just a moment." WHAT

(Ad break)



1:10 PM

Several minutes of commercials later, we come back to Ron MacLean advertising tonight's rebroadcast of the Opening Ceremonies -- once was enough for me, I think, but thanks Ron -- and the times for the first few events coming up.

So Ron and Peter appear on-camera to wrap, and holy shit, we get some surprisingly brutal honesty from Peter in the wrapup. Let me rewind this for a second, I want to make sure I get this well and properly transcribed.

Exact quote:

"It was a good start. There was, ahhhh, y'know, a lot of very nice moments to watch there -- there were some hiccups. A few things didn't go right, the five Olympic rings, we only got four of them -- the seats weren't all full... the crowd was less than enthusiastic." (MacLean: "Yeah.") "Y'know, they didn't sort of punch it out there. And there were a few skips in the history -- no mention of the Stalin years, no mention of the World Wars... but nevertheless, after all that, they got through the evening without any major hitches. And it's Game On now, and a great moment with Tretiak."

Ho, damn. That is admirably diplomatic phrasing, without sacrificing honesty or balance, and I love every bit of it. (I mean, obviously, because I just rewound it a bunch of times to make sure I had it right.)

A quick video package of the highlights follows, to what Ron informs me is Fefe Dobson, and that concludes that.

That was certainly a thing! That was, well, that was definitely something. Olympic ceremonies, man, there's nothing else quite like 'em. Onward to basically just hockey the Games!


Anonymous said...

Weeble-Wobble costumes -- luminescent, dumpy beacons of white, blue and red

Bottom right corner - 2 of the weeble's are out of sync, I think one bumps into the other and places are found - Putin is gonna kill one of them

Starling Social said...

This was AMAZING.