For many people Russia is the answer to the question "Can a nightmare be depressing?" But these days it's much more than that, because it's also the host nation of the 2014 Winter Olympics! Now, obviously, everybody is aware of certain terrible things going on in Russia with regard to its various militant insurgencies, myriad human rights violations, threats of terrorism, roving mobs of gay-bashers, a history more troubling than even our own, and of course the country's brewing president-for-life leadership situation. But here's the thing: Russia IS a beautiful place full of wonderful people, and that definitely seems to apply to Sochi, the southwestern resort town recently converted into a world's stage. Ignoring the headlines of basically every newspaper or website in recent weeks, Sochi seems like an okay place! And it just staged an Olympics Opening Ceremony to match!
As a fan of both high and low culture I've always been pretty fond of Russia. It's the kind of place that will take a truly stunning, naturally gorgeous woman and douse her in glitter eye shadow and cram her into a quinceañera dress. That aesthetic more or less describes THIS Opening Ceremony also, as it combined some of Russia's most majestic and beautiful cultural history with strobe lights, fog machines, and LED-lit rollerbladers. But the most shocking element of all? I LOVED basically all of it. I am just as surprised as you are. I was truly bracing for a four-hour onslaught of atonal melancholy and choreography involving masses of people just lying prone in snow drifts. Call it a benefit of low expectations, but I really enjoyed a lot of this Opening Ceremony, particularly compared to the frequently headache-inducing London Olympics one. Sure, Sochi definitely brought us some truly baffling and nightmarish imagery, but despite looking insanely expensive it all had a ramshackle charm, like it was devised and performed by a billion eighth-graders. I was very into it, sorry.
Let's talk about it? Question is rhetorical!
NBC's presentation package began with a truly ominous montage of Russia's wilderness looking not unlike the Lands North of the Wall. But I guess that was the point, because guess who was narrating? Peter Dinklage!
It was a lot of very typical Russian stuff. Like, here was some kind of guy being dragged around the tundra by reindeer.
And here was a perfect statue that every town should have. But don't worry, NBC definitely got in as many of the stereotypes as they could:
The beverage that always ruins my Sundays!
NOPE, NO GAY STUFF. NEVER GAY STUFF. This was obviously an editing mistake. Let's hope it was because NBC might be going to JAIL, you guys.
Bob Costas's studio was looking VERY tight and alright. Poor Bob Costas had some kind of pink-eye situation going on. I'd give you a close-up image but nobody really needs one, to be honest. Meanwhile these two jokers were back:
I bring this up every time I see these people, but during the Athens Olympics the NBC commentators talked through Bjork's performance and I will never, ever forgive them for that. Still though, they did an okay job tonight? Yes, they yammered constantly throughout everything, but they at least kept their fun facts fun and factual. I'm not sure why Meredith Vieira needed to hug herself and remind everyone that it was a freezing "high-40s" out there. That seemed unprofessional to me. Also does Matt Lauer look like a racquetball-playing cab driver now?
Bob Costas had a long via-satellite interview with President Obama who said nice things to the athletes and also DEFINITELY owned up to sending a very gay U.S. delegation in lieu of any high-ranking leaders so that Russia would know we think their anti-gay laws suck super hard. President Obama seemed slightly tired/stoned here but I was very proud to be American in this moment.
Then Bob Costas brought out Tilda Swinton to talk about whatever. Just kidding it was Maria Sharapova and she's from Sochi, so she talked VERY ENTHUSIASTICALLY J/K about being from Sochi. She then took one of TV's handsomest young hunks Mary Carillo on a walking tour of her hometown, during which Sharapova claimed her favorite activity is going to the Russian circus and her favorite part of the Russian circus is Russian circus clowns.
There is a chance that Maria Sharapova is not doing so great mentally these days.
Here's U.S. Snowboarder Shaun White high-fiving a man in a bear suit:
Oh, okay, so here's what the inside of the Opening Ceremony stadium looked like raw:
See that big open space in the ceiling? That's not an open space at all! It's just a very heavy duty conveyor belt that can drag enormous set pieces into and out of the building. When Matt Lauer first described it I was like "LOL okay Russia" but it ended up being so amazing. Anyway, this whole building was only built to house the Opening Ceremony and the Closing Cermony and nothing else, so that's just Russian efficiency right there.
One of NBC's guest correspondents was Apolo Ohno, a gold medalist in the sport of Terrible Soul Patches. I honestly cannot believe NBC allowed this. Television is a VISUAL MEDIUM. Many people have HIGH-DEF TVs. That soul patch was truly disgusting. All soul patches are, but especially this one. If Putin decided to throw Apolo Ohno in a gulag for disrespecting his country I would not sign any e-petitions about it, sorry.
Speaking of Putin, do you enjoy tons of cutaways to an unamused-looking world leader staring straight ahead? Then this was your night!
Okay, so then the show began. The motif was a little girl named "Love" experiencing the Russian alphabet and learning about all the great people/concepts/inventions that came from Russia.
The crazy thing was, this was obviously the fever dream of somebody with terrible mental health issues. Like, this girl should probably be in a facility based on what we saw here. But also I was NOT mad because a lot of the imagery was really beautiful? (You know, when it wasn't super ugly.) Like, I LOVED this guy:
But this was probably my favorite:
And did you know there's a letter in the Cyrillic alphabet that looks like "ho"?
That is rude!
Anyway, back in the stadium, a bunch of islands came out suspended on wires and containing animatronic animals and there was even a VOLCANO one! I just really and truly loved it. It was so dorky and fun.
Also the little girl was suspended very, very high in mid-air and she did not look terrified at all.
Matt Lauer casually mentioned that a few months earlier in rehearsal she had BROKEN HER ARM. Haha oh man.
That is an optical illusion, the islands are actually floating and the "reflections" are just hanging fabric. Guys I just really liked this, okay? It reminded me of the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, which everybody knows is secretly the best one. Sorry, Space Mountain hurts my neck and skull. But Peter Pan is THE ONE.
Then the fog demons came out and shouted at everybody.
This part was instantly famous: Five beautiful snowflakes came down and attempted to transform into the the Olympic Rings!
Haha awww. I really related to that failed snowflake, though. It reminded me of the stillborn baby robot in Batteries Not Included. Maybe all it needs is the kind-hearted ingenuity of a mute janitor to bring it back to life?
Then some men in suits came out and screamed the Russian national anthem. Sorry if this is racist but is it like ALL Russian choruses are just so angry? So much low male shouting. We get it, you are a nation of Zangiefs, please relax.
I liked when all the people in LED light-up suits came out and pretended to be the Russian flag while the real Russian flag was being raised. And then they even ran around to simulate the flag waving. Honestly I am easy to please when it comes to a mass of people moving in unison, so I was very pleased by this and easily!
Then the stage opened up and the Parade of Nations began! The cool thing was the video projection onto the surface of the floor that made it look like the athletes were emerging from the depths of hell beneath their respective nations. So, like, in the photo above, the Greek athletes are emerging from Greek Hell. I just felt like that was very thoughtful. Also, the music the whole time was a truly embarrassing '90s-style euro techno that suddenly became that one t.AT.u song when the Russian athletes walked out. If you ask me, THAT should be their national anthem, it's much friendlier. (Quick question, is that song really the ONLY international hit Russia has had since 2002? Jeez, guys.)
But if we're being real, the Parade of Nations was nowhere near as good as London's. Yes, Winter Olympics teams are smaller than Summer Olympics teams, but in my opinion that's probably for the best because having crushes on 2,800 people is much more manageable than having crushes on 10,500 people. But the downside is that winter wear is just not as fun to look at as the regular suits and, like, grass skirts that they wore at the Summer Games. Still though, what else was there to do during this hour-plus parade than rate everybody's jackets?
I loved Great Britain's jackets. Puffy coats with burgundy lining! Very posh.
Yes, Germany's had a rainbow feel, but Matt Lauer was very clear on the fact that absolutely NO gay pride was intended. NONE. Deal w/it.
I'd wear Mexico's jacket for sure.
I would not wear this, but points for tropical sassiness.
I think France won, though. Both the male and female jackets looked warm AND smart. Good job, Lacoste!
Haha oh man, the USA sweaters. Now, obviously they are tremendously terrible. But I will say this in their defense: They look cozy! If I received one of those as a gift from, say, my grandma, I'd totally wear it around the house for the entire Christmas break. Plus there's a definite "don't give a F" quality about them that delights me. America! Why not.
But I am not kidding when I say how much I love, love, love our athletes so much. NBC showed us so much footage of them goofing around (NBC even embedded a camera within the team as they emerged into the stadium) and every moment with them made me so happy and proud.
This is what youth and joy look like. Marry me, all of the athletes?
But if we're being honest, the REAL stars of the Parade of Nations were the ushers who had to arm dance for the entirety of the procession:
That guy was DEFINITELY feeling it. And you know what? So was I.
Then there was another video presentation showing how the original Greeks left the Mediterranean so they could populate Russia (uh, great call, guys).
And then, like, all the different engineers of every era somehow combined forces to create this:
That's what the stadium looked like from the outside. A crushed potato bug. Oh well, at least it had ENORMOUS conveyor belts on the ceiling!
Then three glowing horses came out being chased by an inflamed b-hole. Sorry if that sounds graphic but I did NOT design the opening ceremony, Russia did.
Then all this happened and it was straight-up annoying. I really hate this kind of stuff. This is NOT fun for anybody, not even children. I don't even wanna look at any of this junk.
The little girl was still floating around and walking on peoples' heads (because she's Russian?) and I guess that's when I realized this was all her nightmare? The whole night? I respect her imagination, but somebody should put her under anesthesia and gift this girl a dreamless sleep because I am exhausted.
Then all the buildings lifted up and they looked like novelty condoms.
The floor projections were always awesome, though. In this case, a fake-3D-looking ship was projected across the floor and actors in powdered wigs jumped up through trap doors and walked along like they were on the ship's deck. I liked that part. Also some of the men in powdered wigs did some hot dance moves and I am ALLLL about that sort of thing.
More dancers came out and busted out some hot moves. I will always love en masse dancing like this. Do it Russia, get it.
Then ladies came out and the whole thing turned into a Russian cotillion.
There was definitely fake snow and arm dancing, those things definitely happened. But again with the fine art mixed with strobe lights. So lovely/tacky!
Then the TERROR TRAIN came out and, I guess, brought with it an avant-garde representation of the Industrial Revolution and the endless horrors of human existence during that time?
What is it with countries always wanting to represent their industrial revolutions during opening ceremonies? That's what London's was basically ALL about. We get it, first-world countries, you turned yourselves from farmers into factory workers at some point. Let's just take that as a given next time? We don't need you to spend eight figures reminding us of this fact. It's not fun to watch and I can't imagine anybody is particularly proud of it really. It happened. It was necessary. But it's not so important that it bears talking about during a party. Although, that being said, this whole RED-ON-RED terror train motif was very strikingly nightmarish in a good way. It was supposed to be a riff on Soviet propaganda and it was very memorable in general. Points for execution.
Then after the Industrial Revolution happened, I guess all the Russian citizens banged on steel girders from Donkey Kong.
I legit loved the floating hammer-and-sickle statues. It was a truly powerful and terrifying representation of communism lording over the people. That's some credit that I need to pay Sochi: Its portrayal of the Soviet empire seemed both self-deprecating and proud in a sort of resigned way. It's like if America said, "Yeah Manifest Destiny led to some bad times, but just look at how awesome California is now!" So I do really think Russia handled itself pretty well when it came to not glossing over how horrible much of the Soviet empire was. In my opinion it was fine that they focused on some of the cooler, kitschier aspects of that era, particularly since Soviet pop culture of the '50s and '60s was not something we were exposed to very much. I don't know. I just liked this part, what are you expecting, a professorial discourse about it?
Then the little girl floated up and her balloon floated away. Matt Lauer said something about the balloon representing the Russian dream or something else super sad like that. Who knows. Metaphor stuff.
Then the Olympics dude came out and made a speech about whatever.
Then Putin stood up and said that everyone may now proceed with the Olympics.
And then fireworks! I love those.
The traditional white-dove-inspired dance was set to "Swan Lake" finally and it was absolutely gorgeous no diggity. These ladies had LED light ropes and swirled them around so that they sometimes looked like jellyfish, or sometimes like those bugs from Avatar, or, from certain angles, sometimes like white doves. That's how the white doves factored in. Anyway, it was lovely.
Then some old cosmonauts and probably some random townsfolk who happened to own white trench coats walked the Olympic flag up onto the ice podium.
This lady came out and screamed the Olympic anthem. I'm no Kurt Loder but I don't think the Olympic anthem is very good from a musical standpoint. Not enough hooks and the bridge left something to be desired. I would not download this .mp3.
Oh and THEN the glowing rollerbladers came out and I am telling you this was my number-one favorite part of the whole night. Not so much the rollerbladers, they reminded me of Wheelers from Return to Oz. No, I am talking about the floating constellation wireform athletes that began lighting up in darkness while the Daft Punk score from Tron: Legacy played.
Guys I don't know if I'm losing my mind or not, but this part made me cry. I thought it was so gorgeous and meaningful and it made my brain tingle. Just giant, floating people lighting up in complicated patterns. There is always talk of how athletic competition elevates humanity or whatever, but it's always struck me as a stretch. And yet this imagery made me really reconsider. The human body is really fantastic! We do such great things with it. Man, I love the Olympics.
So then Maria Sharapova ran out with some stick that was on fire. I'm not sure if anybody told her it was on fire, so that made me nervous. But then I think she finally noticed, so she ran across the stadium and gave it to some other people, "You deal with it."
Again, I must have been feeling very mentally weak at this point because THIS also made me tear up: The final athletes running out of the stadium while ALL of the Russian dancers and performers, still in costume, waved them goodbye. It was like an All That Jazz ending where everyone we'd seen earlier in the night returned for one final salute. I just felt so happy!
Then the Giant Man and Tiny Lady lit a fuse and it traveled up a tower:
And then the big torch lit!
I always love that. I am a sucker for a torch-lighting. My heart was so warmed by these last parts. It was almost enough to forget that the whole thing was a FOUR-HOUR ORDEAL.
This lady knows what I'm talking about:
So there you have it! The Sochi Opening Ceremony. Part elegant, part tacky, part immaculate, part trainwreck. I am frankly glad it was ALL of those things. Most of my favorite things are! As much as I wanted to just sit back and "bust caps" or throw down "mad snaps" on this ceremony, I was surprised by how into it I was. Sorry for not being more of a hater (I'm not sorry, haters), but that's just how life goes sometimes.
... What did you think of this Opening Ceremony compared to ceremonies past?
... What was your favorite sequence of the night?
... Does Russia seem very intense?
... What is your favorite Russian pop song not sung by t.A.T.u.?