Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zhang Yimou, Master of Ceremonies

Sorry I've been mostly absent this weekend. The Film Experience (i.e. Nathaniel) is relocating to DC for a month starting tomorrow. This hopefully won't affect you as readers much but you never know. Between packing, shopping for trip and watching the Olympics I haven't had any time to think let alone write or see movies. The summer has been busy: I still haven't even seen Mamma Mia! and that opened weeks ago. Can you believe it? All that buildup to a new Streep Sings moment and no payoff for Natty.

But let's talk about the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics for a second.


I'm feeling eternally grateful to political activists and the inimitable Mia Farrow who succeeded in pressuring Steven Spielberg into backing out as the "artistic advisor". I know that people think Spielberg is the greatest film director on earth and [insert hyperbolic statement here] but to me Zhang Yimou, who did directing duties, is better at two things and they happen to be two things the Olympics can't do without: pageantry and spectacle. Plus, he's Chinese. Shouldn't Olympic Ceremonies always run to homegrown talent first? I doubt he needed advice from Spielberg.

Zhang Yimou's filmography includes Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Ju Dou so when it comes to a skilled way with eye candy, well, I rest my case. Yimou was pleased with the big night and why not. It was the best opening ceremony I've personally ever seen: that absurdly precise choreography of thousands, those vibrant storytelling colors, the elaborate but still human special effects and costumes, the incongruously calm brush strokes in the midst of chaos; It was just like Hero only less violent.

I'm sure it cost more to produce than three over budget Hollywood blockbusters put together.

Just about the only thing that wasn't perfect was the absence of Chinese movie stars. Did we really need what I presume was China's Liberace? Did we really need ...Sarah Brightman? (a useful question in many situations). I know the torch finale is an athletes-only kind of gig but couldn't they have let Gong Li or Tony Leung Chiu Wai do a lap with it or something before the big scrim-running finale?

Did you watch? Did you love?
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17 comments:

Margaret said...

It sounds silly, but ever since I saw Mamma Mia! on opening night, I have been almost anxiously waiting to hear what you thought of it. (I even had a dream that I read a full length review of it on TFE. Odd.) Perhaps because I feel the need to hear it both properly appreciated for its good points as well as thoroughly admonished for the bad.
I hope (like, really really hope) that when you do see it you'll share.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the Best Actress Psychic contest meant to be updated Aug 9....? Its Aug 10. Just thought you should know.

J.D. said...

I don't really get excited for the Olympics (and I was probably asleep) so I didn't catch the opening. But, strangely enough, I watched The Story of Qiu Ju Friday night! It's like my brain was trying to make up for it with something else by Zhang! I couldn't stop giggling when I realized that. AND it starred Gong Li. So I think I made out pretty well. I guess.

Marshall said...

Welcome to DC.

Pavel Shestakov said...

So that you know, the whole Olympics cost 44 billions.

Hayden said...

Yeah...I posted some other pictures from this last night and it was really phenomenal.

I, too, was confused by the random inclusion of Sarah Brightman. I was thinking, "wow...is her Phantom of the Opera cred still that valuable?"

Emma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emma said...

I absolutely adored the opening ceremony to the Olympics this year. It was very cinematic – throw in Indiana Jones and you wouldn’t have been out of place in a Spielberg movie – and thus, I thought it was a very clever way of China to stick two fingers up at Steven Spielberg for backing out of it.

Incidentally, Zhang Yimou is my third favourite film director AND directed my third favourite film of all time, Not one Less.

Kamila said...

I watched the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and Zhang Yimou did a wonderful job! It was something beautiful and, probably, the best opening ceremony I have seen since Sydney-2000.

par3182 said...

spec-frakkin'-tacular. i spent a lot of it wondering "how did they do that?" (especially the printing press choreography)

i loved how zhang yimou gave a shout out to himself - the raising of the red lantern

london 2012 must be wondering what the hell they have to do to follow that. i wonder if they'll get a brit director to oversee their ceremony? hmm, what would mike leigh do..?

NATHANIEL R said...

@ the viewing party I went to London was the big topic.

Like: how the hell do you follow that up?

We joked that London should get Peter Greenaway... just to you know, be avant garde about it. Certainly his taste for categories/listing could be visualized and didn't he mount a big opera a few years back?

Garen said...

Hmmmmmm liang liang is actually a legitimate pianist. He's big on the Chopin and the Rachmaninoff. I've seen him in concert, it's pretty sweet.

But his hair and facial expressions did definitely freak me out. I wouldn't equate him to Liberace though, despite Yimou's hairstyle team's efforts.

adam k. said...

Apparently Sarah Brightman is really big in China. I don't think it was a nod to her "cred" or them trying to please other countries or whatnot, I think they just really really like her. Did you hear the roar or applause when she opened her mouth?

Anyway, the ceremony was fab. Best I've ever seen.

Kamikaze Camel said...

If they were going to get an international, I was hoping they'd get Kathleen Battle. Especially after Yimou used her on Flying Daggers.

Anonymous said...

Sad that you mention feeling "eternally grateful to political activists and the inimitable Mia Farrow," but then seem to completely miss why they were pressuring Steven Spielberg in the first place.

Don't you care that the Chinese government is a fascist, oppressive regime that not only harms its own citizens but also facilitates bloodshed and funds genocide globally?

By watching the opening ceremonies, you're tacitly supporting China's reprehensible human rights record -- and for what? Some fancy light show?

I love the Olympics and what they represent, but it's a shame that the IOC has gotten into bed and sullied its reputation with China. Farrow's a role model and probably would agree with me that you and other liberals who imply they could care less give us a bad name.

M

NATHANIEL R said...

thanks.

I understood the point and I do love Mia for speaking out... but i also love a good show and live for entertainment (hence this blog) -- I realize that that will read shallow for someone like you, who has decided to boycott these games... but it's how I feel.

As for me giving liberals a bad name... My policy is to never worry about things like that. When I spoke often about Brokeback Mountain I would hear that I was giving gay people a bad name. It's a lose lose situation so I don't do it. I've found that no matter what I've written that grazes by or touches any controversial issue someone somewhere has been offended. It's probably true for every other writer too. Worrying is an unproductive exercize.

...even if one of all time favorite actresses thinks little of me as a result (since you're speaking for her --but whatever. I'm THRILLED if she's reading. hee.)

Log Cabin Republicans and Active Gay Mormons make me crazy for their insistence that you change things politically from the inside but I'm going to be a bit of a hypocrite and admit that in this particular case I like the naivete of thinking that responding courteously to China's attempt at openness will open the floodgates enough to make change an inevitably more efficiently than a rejection would force a change externally.

Any repressive society that attempts a little openness will benefit from it I think. Maybe not as much as we'd like but these things don't happen over night.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

Honestly, Sarah Brightman should perform at everything ever. Phantom of the Opera gives her a free pass.

Seriously, though. The entire opening ceremony was great, including Brightman, who still looks amazing and sounds amazing in that crystal-clear soprano even at 40-something. Bliss.