Sunday, February 23, 2014

James Hope Howard Liveblogs the CBC Feed of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony

9:50 AM

Well, good morning, sports fans! Hey, how 'bout that hockey game earlier today, huh? Canada can breathe easy for the next four years, now, after a Gold Medal game that was very exciting and not at all anticlimactic.


We're live from (the CBC broadcast feed of) Fisht Stadium for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremonies, so I'll do my best to keep up with it; let's you and I experience whatever's about to happen together, as the natural pairing bookend to my previous 2014 Opening Ceremonies liveblog (as well as the opening and closing ceremonies from 2010).

They've just flashed a notice that the Ceremony proper isn't for another 27 minutes -- I presume they're starting it at fourteen past the hour, as they did with the opening -- but I'll kick off from the top of the hour and we'll figure it out from there. (It's all just montages, right now, so, y'know.)

10:00 AM

The hockey and curling montage taking us into the top of the hour featured The Tragically Hip's classic "Blow at High Dough", which really just made me miss the Rick Mercer vehicle Made in Canada. Man, I liked that show.

Exciting footage of athletes walking! So many athletes! So much walking!

We join Scott Russell and Diana Swain -- what, where're my Ron & Peter, I was looking forward to those two -- Scott & Diana in the Fisht broadcast booth, who kill some time by listing the upcoming rebroadcasts before throwing it to various interview snippets from Canadian medal winners. Including an appearance by the Jennifer Jones team, which was nice; I lit out bright and early to take in that St. Vital Curling Club watching-party event earlier this week, it had a breakfast buffet at 6:30 AM and the bar open at 9:00 AM, it was super great.

Back now with Scott & Diana, who plug Collider Films before now throwing to -- aww, man, another The Olympians feature? Erghhhhh can we just get to the vaguely terrifying Russian wackiness already, c'mon hurry it up already

10:10 AM

Ah, this is better. We get a rapid-fire day-by-day Canadian highlights summary package, which is handy for those of us (and by 'those of us' I mean me) who honestly kinda just tuned out during those middle parts with all the identical-looking-jumps-off-of-stuff events. I don't recognize the song, but it's one of those jangly midtempo guess-who-grew-up-listening-to-U2 tracks.

Whoa, we jump right from that to our fanciful-CGI-frozen-hellscape montage -- it might actually be the same one from the Opening, it all seems so long ago now -- featuring our Hero Girl Lubov and snow-covered clocks sitting out in forests and children running through glowing mirrors. That kind of thing.

I guess the mirror they ran through at the end is the trigger mirror, because we jump from there to a barrage of live-action fireworks outside the venue, then inside to a curtain of icicle lights and a bunch of runners carrying gigantic bird statues. This is followed by a boat suspended in the air, led at its tip by a chalk-white mime-clown waving a butterfly net at nothing.

"There will be some nostalgia -- but we'll also have some fun. Clowwwwns will be involved -- as well as ballet dancers." was that a warning Scott or

The floor below the flying child-carrying sky-boat is now overtaken by a rush of a couple hundred runners, all of them decked out what appear to be full ponchos of Christmas tinsel, and they form a yin-yang sign (I have no idea what special significance that holds in Russia) before breaking into a circular run and scurrying away again. This leads us into a commercial break, because, sure? I don't know how that supports the narrative being crafted here, but what do I know.

10:20 AM

This is a very, very long commercial break, making me worry we're missing all that plot -- I tuned in for pageantry madness, you guys better not be making me miss any -- but it also does remind me that the World Cup is coming this summer, which honestly I usually enjoy way more than the Olympics on balance. SORRY WINTER

Sure enough -- god dammit -- we come back from break to a full routine on stage, seven hundred dancers forming swirls and patterns. In a cute spot, they form into the now-famous Four Olympic Rings and One Olympic Nub, waiting a comedic few bars before that fifth ring finally slowly uncurls to complete the set.

Everything stops now and the announcer welcomes President Putin, walking into the dignitaries box to... modest applause.

A male PA announcer, now: "The host nation flag is carried by the Russian champions at the 2014 Winter Games!" They won, incidentally, both in golds and in overall medals, so I guess the whole thing went pretty well for them after all. (Hockey aside, of course. haaaaaa)

The seven hundred Glittery Jims from earlier form a wall on either side of a white-light path for the 33 Russian medalists and a bigass Russian flag, carried slowly to the same ice podium from the Opening Ceremonies. Scott & Diana take this time to summarize, as neutrally as possible, the underlying tension of Putin as public face of the Sochi Games.

Those rocket-popsicle lights are back as well, this time looking even cooler because they have the forest of icicle-rods suspended from the ceiling. We get the Russian anthem from a choir of what appears to be at least a couple hundred children, decked out in solid-colour puffy coats. But not in the layout of the flag, interestingly, just sort of strewn about. (Except they wouldn't be, would they? Someone must've carefully coordinated their coats into that seemingly-random order, the Olympic Closing Ceremonies aren't a time they just let performers wear whatever. OVERTHINKING THIS MOVING ON)

man this is the extended version of the song, huh

10:34 AM

Both the Russian and Olympic flags now raised, the song concludes; Scott, as Ron did before him, frames that anthem in the Canadian context of the '72 Summit Series. This takes us into another commercial break. (Man, I picked the wrong time to segment this.)

CBC still doing everything it can to hype the Canucks/Senators Heritage Classic, because it desperately needs to squeeze all the hockey revenue it can out of the time it has left.

Back now into the stadium for the closing flood of flags and athletes, which is always vastly speedier than the Opening Ceremony equivalent because everyone just speeds on in at once. The entry music is a slowed-down and European-productioned-up version of 2 Unlimited's "No Limit", which I am vastly more entertained by than I should be.

This is also the triumphant return of the White-Russian-Metropolis-bot-Ladies, buffering the rows of athletes on either side as they come to a stop. The music transitions to a remix of Boney M.'s "Gotta Go Home" / Nighttrain's "Hallo Bimmelbahn", because Europe.

"And there they are, the rest of Team Canada, you can see on their faces they're ready to have some fun." Yeah, uh, given the last two weeks of news outlets providing free publicity for Tinder, I'd say a lot of 'em're already probably all funned out by now.

(Music update: Daft Punk's "One More Time".)

10:43 AM

Do you like watching large groups of people walk slowly and take selfies on their phones? Well, have I got the ten minutes of programming for you!

For the second time in a row, the feed cuts to commercial just after I timestamp and segment-break, so I guess that'll learn me.

Dear CBC: stop trying to make Recipe To Riches happen. It's not going to happen.

And we're back! There's a fun LCD-display effect going on over the crowd, the house lights strobing and the athletes milling around as Scott & Diana do their desperate best to make someone, anyone, care about the season premiere of Mr. D.

Scott jokes around a bit about Jonathan Toews' "Captain Serious" monicker and Diana laughs a little about how surprisingly funky this segment of the ceremony is, so I'm already enjoying this way more than the segments preceding it.

(Music update: Blur's "Song 2". Sigh.)

OH BY THE WAY TEEMU SELANNE IS FINLAND'S FLAGBEARER, AS WELL AS THE HOCKEY TOURNAMENT MVP, AND BOTH OF THOSE ARE GREAT. Even Swain is not above our mass shared Teemumania, noting his civic cultural importance during her years working in Winnipeg.

With the Russian athletes arriving at the back of the parade, we take a moment to admire the giant spinning globe projection over the floor of the stadium. Then they throw it to break, ah-ha! Knew I could wait it out that time!

10:55 AM

"Monday -- it's the season premiere of The Ron James Show!" "Gerry Dee: The Substitute -- Monday at 8:00, on CBC!" oh god this network is doomed


For reasons that I'm not entirely clear on, we're now doing a medal ceremony right here in the middle of the Closing Ceremony. Wait -- oh, it's the marathon medal, I get... it's the marathon ski medal? Well, I... I guess I sort of get it, then. It makes sense, but it doesn't make sense, y'know?

Mike Babcock in a total dad-outfit taking awkward iPhone pics just legit cracked me up right now. He was making a quintessential Babcock face, too, it was majestic. You can do it, Mike, I believe in you!

Great big cheer now for the men's marathon medalists as they enter, because Norway swept the women's event and Russia swept the men's event. Boy, these go on, don't they? They take their time with these, even when they're plunked down in the middle of something else.

11:05 AM

The crowd goes wild for Alexander Legkov! He is apparently kind of a big deal. (When's the WAG's "Big In Russia" fundraiser?) Here, have more Russian anthem!

The venue's certainly very nicely lit up, have to give 'em that. We get the newly-elected IOC members onto the ice podium now, including Canadian hockey heroine Hayley Wickenheiser. Four volunteer-representatives show up in ring-pop-lookin' snowsuits to wave as the Salute to the Volunteers, everyone provides a standing ovation, and we cut to an ad break because of course we do. YES WE GET IT YOU CALL THE BUDGET THE "ECONOMIC ACTION PLAN" NOW THANK YOU

11:10 AM

And we're back to--OH GOD WHAT ARE WE BACK TO

In the time it took for an old dad to miss the start of the game at a McDonalds, the stadium has been overrun by a vast swarm of colourful bird-clowns on stilts and an upside-down floating inflatable village and flying white-queen-women playing violin. A man in a sailor outfit is trapped in a snowstorm under a starry moon sky. Everything is happening.

Then, suddenly, nothing is happening; the stadium goes dark with a thunderstorm noise, and at centre stage a piano rises from the mist. Now it's just a pianist in a tuxedo playing Rachmaninoff, by himself, because -- as with the Opening Ceremony -- I guess occasionally they just pause and throw some culture in there by itself for the heck of it.

Oh, no, wait, never mind. He is promptly approached by the three children from the CGI intro, Our Hero Girl Lubov and her two new friends, and they are promptly swarmed by a flood of high-wigged old-timey-musician caricatures pushing a phalanx of stage-prop pianos. We fire to another ad break just as the pianos begin rotating in sequence, so I can only imagine what we're about to return to after this.

11:20 AM

We return to a giant curtain facade lifting and the played-totally-straight ballet portion of the event, which I am entirely on board for. D'you know how much all this culture'd run you on the street? This is good stuff!

"To give you some idea of scale," Diana chips in, "that chandelier is seven meters tall." It looks very tiny on screen. This is a very big stadium--OH GO AWAY ALREADY TRANSITIONAL MYSTICAL CHILD GANG, C'MON

Something large drifts along in the background, behind the wave of ballet dancers long-stepping in unison, but I guess we'll have to wait to see what that ends up being. We're into the part of the ballet where long rows of people run onstage, do a move, and then stand in place for the next row to run in, so we're probably getting close to the end of the segment.

(Yep, ad break.)

11:25 AM

SunCor what in hell is your ad even talking about, seriously


We return, finally, to an overhead shot of the Games grounds; inside the stadium, a magical Winnebago decked out in Christmas lights is leading a parade of Christmas-cracker-lookin' allegedly-clown-gymnasts around the room. The projection lights swirl a candy cane pattern in five distinct circles; a giant circus tent rises and expands above the centre of the floor, the gym-clowns turning to it and raising their arms to hail their new tent god.

Most gymnasts are tossing clubs or balancing from hoops or flinging and catching each other, so it's really funny when they cut to a side view and there's one clown-dude who's seriously and legitimately just breakdancing. BREAKDANCE CLOWN DEMANDS YOUR RESPECT

The Stay-Puft soldier guy reappears in the crowd behind Our Hero Girl Lubov and her nightmare hallucination travel team, and their arrival once again heralds an oncoming commercial break. From the sound of the commentary team, the Ceremony's set to wrap up pretty soon -- but first, away we go again!

11:35 AM

Well, it must be getting close to over, we come back and the stadium is all dark-blue lighting. Quick crowd shot of the Canadian Olympic team -- haaaa I love you Babcock -- and then back to the ice-podium for the Greek national anthem and the ceremonial don't-think-too-hard-about-this-part portion of the Olympics brand. Lotta fierce Skeleton competitions in ancient Greece whole lotta legendary Curling rivalries.

As the symbolic Ancient-Games representatives lower the Olympic flag and make off with it, we can take a moment to admire the crowd lights; they'd apparently handed out light-up medals before the show, so the crowd is now a vast sea of blinking white pods.

IOC dignitaries are now on stage for the ceremonial handing-over-of-the-flag -- I'm sure there's a more proper name for that, it's a heck of a thing to type -- which means we should be getting a pretty flashy South Korea hype video in a minute or two.

"The Mayor of Sochi hands the flag over to the President of the IOC," the PA announcers narrate in three languages, "who then entrusts it to the Mayor of Pyeongchang." Yes, I just had to Google how to spell 'Pyeongchang'. No, I ain't proud of it. The handoff complete, we get two adorable Korean children in traditional dress now singing the Korean National Anthem. It is very pretty. Everyone applauds.

"And when we come back, we'll hear Korea, as they begin their invitation to the next Winter Games!" oh c'monnnnn

11:45 AM

hey Government of Canada you do get that the rest of the developed world is still laughing at us for how exorbitantly we're overcharged on cellular service right

We come back partway through the Korea segment -- c'mon, man -- to an elegant opera singer and a flock of bird-ish winged runners, who light up luminescently as the floor darkens and projects a starry night sky. They flap their glow-in-the-dark wings and swirl around as a second Korean singer takes over, then everything explodes into action at once; giant glowing dung-beetle-ish balls are rolled in from all directions, a man in a retro white suit bangs on a grand piano, someone in a sequined white tuxedo begins singing and emoting on stage, a sudden string of small children begin running through giant paper gates, a man in a silver jumpsuit does a very flexible high kick beside an inflatable snowman.

A circle of jumping and waving dancers dressed like microwaved potatoes lead in a bunch of people in understated blue snowsuits, who then link hands and circle around a smaller group of decorative children. The floor projection forms "See You in Pyeongchang" in stars, an oddly modest little sentence, and their segment ends with a big cymbal crash and all of the performers waving with both hands.

This leads into a video package of slow-motion highlights, to fill some time while they get the physical stage moved back around again, and when we come back we have men in suits standing very rigidly and awkwardly on either side of the podium -- aww, heck, it's the speeches. Well, settle in for platitudes, I guess. (Example excerpt: "Thank you to the athletes!")

12:00 PM

The Sochi 2014 organizing committee head sticks almost exclusively to Russian, unsurprisingly, but from the translator's account of it we aren't missing anything in particular. Polite applause for volunteers, folks woo-ing whenever Russia is mentioned, that sort of thing.

"This is the new face of Russia," he declares, switching to English. "Our Russia. And for us, these Games are the best ever." Is it weird that every successive Winter Games host seems to be able to declare that?

We throw it over now to IOC President Thomas Bach, who basically duplicates the work of the speech prior ("Thank you, volunteers! Thank you, ath-e-letes!") to continued polite applause. He again offers an Olympic message of tolerance and dialogue and peace, which NBC'll probably cut from their broadcast again (haaaaa, that was really something, wasn't it), and complements the Russians on getting such admirable facilities built so noticeably quickly. There is a... cautiously positive crowd response upon his thanking Putin personally.

Bach continues ever-so-slightly pushing his luck with his statements, asking everyone to build a civil society with an open mind in Russia, that sort of thing, before returning to the safer neutral statements about goodness in sport and everyone being friends and whatnot. (To help show how riveting this must be in person, the production team cuts to crowd shots of Russian athletes taking selfies with each other.)

"We'll return to the Closing Ceremony in a moment," we're told as soon as Bach stops talking, so let's wait around that little bit longer to see what's left. AD BREAK

12:10 PM




The three animatronic horrors continue slaloming around the stage, a series of suspended mirrors very slowly rotating in the centre of the stadium; the mirrors then rise to reveal the Three Terrors standing around the Olympic cauldron, the Bear looming over it like he's going to blow it out. He... emotes, sort of? It's very technologically impressive, but also probably inspiring deep shivers and nights of lost sleep around the world right now.

So the gigantic hellbear blows a gust of grey-blue smoke over the cauldron -- simultaneously extinguishing the Olympic Flame statue outside, a cutaway reveals -- and then they ZOOM RIGHT IN ON THE BEARFACE and THE BEAR CRIES A SINGLE MELODRAMATIC TEAR and holy shit I am laughing way harder at this than I would ever have expected. THEY LINGER ON THE SINGLE TEAR AS IT VERY SLOWLY STREAKS DOWN THE BEAR'S FACE.


There are thousands of children on the stage, now, carrying tiny lights and singing some sort of melancholy farewell ballad as SINGLE TEAR BEAR CONTINUES EMOTING and an airship -- AN AIRSHIP -- the goddamn Blackjack from Final Fantasy III/VIj comes sailing through the airspace with Our Hero Girl Lubov and a motherly-looking opera singer aboard. Yellow confetti is flooding the world. The Bear is staring up into nowhere and waving its arms slowly like it's stoned at Folk Fest.

It seems we've hit peak weirdness with that segment, as the finale of the song transitions into an exterior shot of the stadium and a big dramatic closing fireworks display. Set to a surprisingly reserved solo piano, at that!

I am really excited for the inevitable wave of crying-giant-Sochi-Bear animated .GIFs, you guys, you have no idea.

The fireworks continue, exploding in time to the piano flourishes as the rest of the orchestra joins in, and culminate in a gigantic cinematic fireball over the left side of the screen. The PA announcers thank everybody in three languages for being in attendance, Scott Russell promises that we'll be right back -- to what, I don't know yet -- and we go to what will surely be a ridiculously long commercial break, since we made it almost twenty minutes since the last one.


12:30 PM

(That was quick. AHHHHHH ha ha ha ha ha ha)

good news ladies you can finally be strong independent women because Cover Girl has given you permission

We return to a... to a laser Eurotechno athlete rave? All right, laser Eurotechno athlete rave it is, then. There are screens set up with a CGI leopard DJing on them, and glowsticks are a-waving all around the floor, so the CBC takes this time to throw it to a prerecorded interview with Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut. Then I guess they realize that this must seem sort of boring by itself, so they do a split-screen of the interview on the left and the rave on the right, but you can't hear any music so it looks like a thousand people jumping around and just jamming the fuck out to a grandfatherly old man talking about sports. Then they start alternating the full-screen between the two, because why not, right, and it turns out they interwove prior highlights into the interview with Aubut, so there's a real kaleidoscope of who-even-knows going on right now onscreen.

We finally return to live footage as the interview runs its course, smaller fireworks still exploding over the Olympic site as volunteers dance around and very, very '90s dance music pumps through the stadium. Lot of milling around on the floorcam, here, so -- another video package set to a vaguely-inspiring instrumental? Yep, another video package set to a vaguely-inspiring instrumental.

And then a commercial break. So, yeah, all right, I think we're pretty well near done here. I'll give it one more segment just in case, though!

12:45 PM

CBC already advertising the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, could you hold off on that for a little while longer maybe or

We return now, through the lead-in ad bumper, tooooo -- an ad for the encore broadcast of Canada/Sweden. Oh, and Mr. D, because they know you care very much. And then an ad for the encore broadcast of the Closing Ceremonies, but apparently from the sound of it that one gets Ron McLean hosting? Man, I don't even know.

We get some brief closing impressions from Scott & Diana, who chat a bit about the athlete's experiences and whatnot, and the broadcast closes with a quick video package of the Ceremony's main hits. (Though they use the Bear extinguishing the flame rather than the Bear crying, so the heck with that.)

And that wraps it up! Well, that was... as strange as I know this sounds, that was actually sort of understated, compared to the endless lucid maniascape of giant Mounties and inflatable moose that Canada put on four years prior. Though, considering how badly some of the comedy bombed at that show, it's probably wise to just stick to visual flair.

Anyway -- I guess that's the show! Thanks for reading along, and I hope you've enjoyed the experience as much as I have; I'll be back here later tonight with some Manitoba Links Weekly, if you're into that. Until then!

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