Welcome to the Opening Ceremony!

Kick off the Winter Olympics with the Addison Recorder! Andrew and -J. will live-blog the not-live Opening Ceremony from the comfort of a TV screen on the north side of Chicago.

Is that an asterisk?

10:27 PM: Really, Lauer? NBC had done a great job of not whitewashing the external negatives that surround these Games. Well, not too much. Then you go and end it by pleading for folks to only talk about what we ‘should’ talk about at the Olympics? No, sorry Matt, you lost me. –J.


10:17 PM: ANDREW says — Maria Sharapova is one of the most accomplished torchbearers ever, although she’s not Muhammad Ali or the Tenth Doctor.

The final relay is a fine mix of different athletes representing all the different sports, including the gold medal gymnast who happens to be dating Putin. Two 1970s national heroes from figure and hockey are make the final run to the torch. There’s a youthfulness in their running, almost an Updike-Rabbit Angstrom quality, which is touching to see. The torch itself is a slimmed down Devil’s Tower, the “Pictures at an Exhibition” recall fits, and together they light the torch, and the most spectacular display of fireworks which thankfully do NOT blow up the roof cascade into…the Nutcracker. AND THE SNOWFLAKES WORK THIS TIME!


10:10 PM: So, what you’re saying is, Putin put his alleged girlfriend into the torch part of the ceremony? Well-played, Vladimir.

That bit where the torchbearers run through the actors and dancers, though? Inspiring, uplifting. Unlike the Sochi sign that proclaims the Olympics: “Hot. Cool. Yours.” At least they had some good pyrotechnics to finish it all off.

Oh, and welcome back, fixed fifth snowflake! –J.


10:05 PM: ANDREW says — The dance of the athletes is wondrous…I can now definitely move beyond the fifth ring. The perfect synchronicity of the skating, the timing of the electric explosions, the contrasts of brightness like stars and darkness… the Olympics, no matter how politicized they get and how much Putin wants to prove to the world he can do whatever he wants, are at their heart something as essential to human existence as perceiving the stars and wondering what is out there, what our place is, what the meaning of it all could be… the need to match ourselves against someone or something and prove something to our self, to judge our worth by our own standards, to live a dream of showcasing our gifts on the grandest scale. That’s what this heavenly vision of the competition says to me.

Sochi from above looks like Tomorrowland at DisneyLand Russia.


10:00 PM: I dig the constellation theme in this section. Well done, Russia. This is pretty damn cool. –J.


9:57 PM: ANDREW says — As the flag is brought in, I need to share that one of my favorite officemates–an MBA candidate, devilishly handsome amateur weightlifter–grew up in Russia during the dying throes of the USSR and he has told me that Sochi is the middle-class vacation destination deliberately designed as such where no one, I repeat NO ONE, wants to go, and there were at least ten better sites for the games in the country. Sites with great natural features and plenty of room to plan things out.


9:55 PM: (-J. takes a quick gander at the Blackhawks game, currently in the 2nd intermission.)

GAH! So much for that immaculate penalty-kill. Ouch, man. … Sorry, back to the Opening Ceremony. –J.


9:48 PM: ANDREW says — The speech about thanking people for patience and understanding is not as funny as saying that these are games about “bringing people together and embracing human diversity.” Apparently this applies only to athletes. The Russian gay population and alternative ideas contingent are not welcome. In fact, this entire speech sounds like a plea to the world to keep their noses out of Russian social business no matter how oppressive.

Putin stands in the box. I’m trying to figure out how George W. Bush saw into this man’s soul.

Again, silent prayer of thanks to God that the roof didn’t explode.

The myrmidons and whirling dervishes of the Swan Lake scenario are symphonically lovely. It reminds me of the opening sequence of Fantasia and Donald in Mathemagic Land in the classically lovely geometry of the lines. Given my setting (-J. and Steph’s), I find it appropriate to say that this flies in the face of Lovecraft and I’m alright with that. Curious as to how wide the radius is on these spinning circles


9:45 PM: (watching all the spinning) “I give up. How come he doesn’t throw up?”

Because I can’t watch ballet without thinking about John Turturro in Brain Donors. –J.


9:39 PM: I like this new guy heading up the IOC. He knows how to speak in front of a crowd. I will not miss Jacques Rogge one iota. But when he talks about diversity and tolerance, however, I want to ask him how to say “self-awareness” in German.


9:34 PM: ANDREW says — Flying steam trains belong in Japanese anime and magical realism, not Russia…there’s a very steampunk aesthetic going on right now which is very appropriate, and so exciting that -J. is twirling is mustache as we speak.

The tractors, the red lights, it’s a wonderful way to show what Communism and the Soviet Union wrought without mentioning that period specifically. Since you can’t well dance about slave labor and self-genocide, this is alright, and the “Time Forward” march is good, all culminating in the frenzy stopping for a memorial to World War II.

The silence lasts only a moment before we march on to…the Infrastructure Tango? In all fairness, this is pretty good stuff and the Futurist aesthetic/Stalinesque posters are appropriate, though how the poppy guitar fits in with a country so reluctant to allow rock and roll is interesting…


Schoolkids, giant statues, this is the ultimate kitschy expression of a culture.

David Remnick is right that this is “highly idealized.” From every history I’ve read of Russia, especially by liberals, George Orwell was really close to the mark in imagining totalitarian Russia as oppressive. And Putin’s reign seems equally in this vein.

I am now watching a choreographed planting of baby carriages and the a dance of working men supporting typical housewives/ladies who lunch. The feminist in me is screaming at this.


9:27 PM: The pop-infused post-Stalin section, however, has left a permanent furrow in my brow.

And it keeps getting kitschier. And the overused narrative device — I mean, child guide — returns to remind is that everything should be approached with the wonder & discovery of a child. Or something. Or not. –J.


9:20 PM: Yes, the giant train was what pushed out Imperial Russia. At least the blood-red color sets the right timbre for this section. I jest, but I did like this section. I realize that avant-garde art gets trashed quite regularly, but let’s face it: Realism isn’t exactly the way to display over a bloody part of history without completely glossing over the inhuman toll. –J.


9:18 PM: ANDREW says — I don’t think Winter’s Tale would be the perfect date movie if I had a girlfriend.

We have now entered imperial Russia, and the entrance of the ships, I must say, is very impressive: very high graphic novel art as the ships sail across the black and white seas. These are all the more impressive in light of the four rings.

Now, I’ve had a lifelong fascination with maps, so turning the stadium into a giant map is awakening a giant rush in me. And speaking of childhood, the dance going on right now looks like the one dances they taught us in middle school gym class.

The men also all look like they’re auditioning to play Andrei in War and Peace, or Count Vronsky.

The art is very Constantin Guys as I think about it….inspired by J.’s woodcut comparison…and now they recreate the ballroom scene of War and Peace, and the amber lighting, the rising pillars, the sudden appearance of Pierre, Natasha, Andrei, Anatole, and Count Rostov is a delight for this literary man’s eyes. The dance is magnificently choreographed, the gowns and suits handsome, and this is making me happier than any Opening Ceremony moment in history. The creation of real intimacy in a gigantic space. And I hope people are watching Natasha’s dance…I want to know who’s playing Natasha and have her dance in America as soon as possible…though Anatole is making some startling leaps (as befits the character).

The final strobe-light snow effect was a good one.


9:10 PM: Here come the Russian big guns. Flashy lights? Thousands of drummers? Fah. Try the world’s most exquisite ballet. I’m not much of a ballet guy, but this is a thing of utter beauty. –J.


9:03 PM: Meanwhile, over the commercial break, I check out the Blackhawks game, where they’re saluting some of he players from the 1980 Men’s Hockey team — the “Miracle on Ice.”

The commentators joke that the commercial break was ‘centuries’ long. It hurts my brain, but the artistic style of this segment is fantastic. From old woodcut art to old-style maps. These are the things that -J. likes.


9:02 PM: ANDREW says — Great twitter commentary from the queen of the tweet, Maureen Johnson: “Suggested NBC commentary: When you think about it, statically, most of these people are future losers.”

This Russian history montage looks like an endless variation on the closing shot of Doctor Zhivago, where Alec Guinness smiles at the rainbow crossing over the dam.

I am very that Stravinsky is being used as the backdrop for a “kitsch” version of Russian history but really happy they mentioned Gogol and Dead Souls!

I am wondering how they’re “accomplishing these amazing visuals” since the bloody mechanical rings didn’t work!

The It’s a Small World array turning into a big fish is kind of ridiculous, as are the pink polka dots and tutus. And oh, the child is back after a long absence and I’m glad they reminded me that this is “the history of Russia as told through the dreams of a child.” Children dream of fish, apparently.

The giant dancing Boyars and St. Basil’s Cathedral show, the “medieval Coney Island,” sounds like it’s being set to the most ready-to-freak-out folk song ever.

The US team’s female athletes wear a lot of red lipstick.


8:54 PM: “This is more of a ‘kitsch’ version of Russian history.” Surely, not, NBC commentator! Kitsch, at the Olympics?! How unexpected. … That said, the imagery of the horses and sun is really beautiful & dramatic. The child-like and mobile Russian skyline, however, creeps me out a bit. Especially those “boyars” that look like the wacky-waving-inflatable-arms-men. –J.


8:50 PM: ANDREW says — The pattern of multicolored shapes on the Czech Republic coats reminds me of a really artsy 1980s synth-pop album cover.

Simon Ammann looks like a Rostan with the specs and delighted smile.

Matt Lauer just explained what “YOLO” meant to the world. One more check on my bucket list.

The Estonians look amazingly classic…

“YEAH JAMAICA GOT A BOBSLED TEAM!” (This is my childhood. Don’t judge.)

Lauer redeems himself by using the term “bedlam” to describe the stadium once Russia enters its home turf. And indeed the stadium cheers, t.A.t.U. blares, Putin looks completely unexcited, as if he were applauding the beheading of a traitor to the state. The Russians look ready for a fairy tale, with the giant fur-lined almost gowns of coats on the women and the purple hats on the men. It’s a regal look, and the crowd delights as such


8:47 PM: The commentators mention  the t.A.T.u. song that plays over Russia’s entrance. They mention the Russian hope that nobody will “get” them (hence the song), that is, catch them in the medals. No mention of the song for which the rest of the world knows t.A.T.u.? Okay, then. –J.


8:41 PM: Man, those French outfits look great. Really wish the US could’ve had outfits like that…

The announcers spotlight the guides/dancers around the track. They joke about what the auditions must’ve been like, but based on the music playing, I’m not sure the organizers didn’t just hire a bunch of kids from a Muscovite house club.

Speaking of… the announcers just defined what YOLO meant to the TV audience. Hooray, generation gap! –J.


8:38 PM: ANDREW says — Oh my God, Vanessa-Mae (we have two of her albums at home) SKIS in the Olympics. This is the equivalent of Hilary Hahn competing for the US team.

Finland will be playing hockey in just a few hours. Have to admire the stamina of athletes who participate in these ceremonies and immediately, sometimes on just a shred of sleep, are ready to play again.

As the French team is about to march in, I’m going to share one of my favorite Olympic anecdotes. A few years after his unprecedented domination in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, Jean-Claude Killy starred in a motion picture with Vittorio de Sica (!!!) called Snow Job, in which he plays a ski instructor who robs his resort. And the plot apparently involves skiing. And just typing this makes it sound ridiculous. On the other hand, the film’s leading lady became Killy’s wife and they were married until her death from breast cancer


8:36 PM: Gosh, that Putin guy just seems ever so swell–

AH! Those USA sweaters, again. They sneak up on you, and then attack the eyes. –J.


8:30 PM: ANDREW says — During the commercials, J. immediately identifies Andrew Bird playing. This is part of why we’re friends. Oh, and Stephanie Ruehl (@a_wyrd_sister on twitter) bakes a hell of a good chocolate cake.

The Pakistan sign girl looks so unhappy to be there.

I love my country. But I’m getting upset that so many countries have athletes who either live in or train in the United States, to the point where J. looks up while describing a guy from one of the South American country’s bio and asks “Wait, did I miss the USA?”

Zdeno Chara makes J. happy (“6’9″ without the skates on”), but Slovakia (half-Slovak, all my mother’s side) makes me happy. Always wonderful to see the ancestral land make their appearance.

Now comes Team USA, wearing what looks like the sort of Starter gear that would have been the toast of 1992 mixed with a touch of Etsy with the random star pattern on the bottom. Heidi Kloser is happily marching on crutches…one of the first victims of the breaks of the game. Shaun White has a sleek, aerodynamic haircut that makes him look like a video game hero. Gracie Gold looks like she could have played Anna and Elsa’s other sister in Frozen. And there’s a man with a mustache to rival -J.’s…that is a sentence I rarely get to say and I love saying it


8:24 PM: Zdeno Chara! That’s a big man with an even bigger smile.

Hello, U.S.A. Your sweaters look awful, but I love ya. Can we talk about the sweaters? Can we maybe stop asking Ralph Lauren to outfit us.

It’s great to see Heidi Kloser get a call-out from the announcers. Yes, it’s sappy to re-tell her story, but it’s still awesome that she’s out there. It’s great to see all the athletes. Chicagoland native Gracie Gold, whoever that was with the magnificent mustache. –J.


8:21 PM: The Polish outfits are simple, classic, and rather beautiful. Applause to their designer. –J.


8:17 PM: ANDREW says — The Canadian team gives off the “force to be reckoned with” vibe in their unified red-coated look. Especially in hockey, I would never bet against them.

The white-clad dancers on the sidelines, I imagine, are indulging in the most ridiculous moves, knowing no one is looking at them.

I once worked with a Latvian: body of a supermodel, kept in excellent shape, boxed and lifted weights, and ALWAYS got what she wanted. She was the best salesperson I’ve ever known. I think based on this unscientific sample I’d find it hard to bet against Latvians.

Did the Lichtenstein tailor get inspiration from a Rauschenberg book?

According to Deadspin, Russian television did not show the ring malfunction. If everything is indeed a reflection of the beautiful soul of Vladimir Putin, a symbol of impotence is definitely a no-go. Russia-1, the state broadcaster, apparently edited in footage of the Rings working during a rehearsal. Did Putin expect viewers to notice that suddenly everyone fled the stands and the lights got dull? Or maybe they thought it was part of the show.

A friend of Andy Warhol, pop singer, businessman, 55-year-old athlete. Mexico indeed winds “most interesting athlete of the night.”

The Netherlands is always my favorite European country to root for apart from the UK. (Anglophile) I lived there for four months and really appreciated the spirit there; plus black and orange are an intimidating match


8:06 PM: So… Latvia is the BGSU (or Cleveland Browns) of Eastern Europe? I can’t not love that color combination. Ay Ziggy Zoomba. –J.


8:01 PM: ANDREW says — The German “multi-colored ice cream bar” outfit may not be worth copying.

Apparently no man has ever competed for Hong Kong until now.

Denmark’s top athlete works for an insurance company and trains when she gets out of the office. I am instantly rooting for her. Solidarity.

So let me get this straight… if I do lots of charitable things for a country, I can get citizenship and they’ll let me compete in the Olympics? Andrew Rostan for the poor of, um, Monaco (tiny country) coming up! But what sport could I do (Addison Recorder readers, suggest a sport.)

J. and I applaud the Irish outfits. They look like they’re going into battle together.

Why doesn’t Iceland have a bigger team? Ice… suitable training ground.

Spain looks classy, although they also look like a co-ed prep school a cappella croup.

By the way, as I watch a jubilant Italian squad, the Russian techno music backdrop is quite a choice…ready to pump up the energy, and the hard, electric sounds match the landscape.

The Kazakhstan team has the most well-dressed flag bearer of all.


7:57 PM: Whoa. I really like the Irish outfits. They look the perfect combination of badass + awesome.

And Spain is looking classy as all fuck. Italy, on the other hand, leaves me ‘blah.’

The flag-bearer for Kazakhstan wins. He just plains wins. Sorry, everyone else. –J.


7:54 PM: Georgia enters. If it wasn’t enough that there’s tension between Georgia & Russia, the NBC commentators talk about the Georgian luger who died last Winter Games. Yikes.

Hey, another curling mention when the Danish team enters! (If you can’t tell, I love me some curling.) –J.


7:52 PM: ANDREW says — I had no idea that once some winter events were played in the summer (1920, Antwerp). I’d imagine the hockey players fit right in with soccer and handball.

Yes, the Bermuda shorts fit right in here in Sochi.

J. and I are both really curious about The Lego Movie. This has nothing to do with the Olympics but it looks really funny.

Brazil’s team has showed more enthusiasm than any team yet. Giant smiles, although how their medal chances are is beyond me. But 43 year-old Antonio Pardo of Venezuela, LEAPING through the air with his flag, trumps them. Great Britain has been the most formidable force thus far, with their navy blue jackets and very Russian hats.


7:48 PM: Great Britain steps into the parade, which gets the hosts talking about curling. Hell yeah, curling. –J.


7:45 PM: ANDREW says — “Australia is very strong in the snow.” I’d imagine they head over to New Zealand and have fun in Middle Earth.

“Azerbaijan is a nation very rich in oil” and not quite as rich in Winter Olympics.

There are a record number of athletes in this Olympics. When Lauer mentions the reasons there are so many less athletes than at the Summer Games, he neglects to mention that there’s BLOODY LESS EVENTS and that’s a big part of it!

While -J. discusses the “living signpost” quality, I want to add that the women walking with each country also look like they stepped out of a Pre-Star Wars dystopian sci-fi film with ultra-clean aesthetics, and that those rings are going to hold them in place forever.


7:40 PM: My friend was right — she told me I would enjoy the snowflake-esque women who accompany each country. Over-the-top, absurd, and strangely compelling. They’re living sign-posts. Andrew mentioned they look like characters from a sci-fi flick who have informational rings floating around them. Anything that invites interpretation can’t be bad, right? Seriously, I love their costumes. So much so that I’ve missed a lot of the countries’ fashions. –J.


7:34 PM: ANDREW says — If Vladimir Putin loses a bit more hair, he’ll be ready to play Ernst Stavro Blofeld. And the girl next to him looks like she could give you a disapproving duchess stare before crushing you Xenia Onatopp-like between her thighs. It probably says a lot that I relate to Russians through Bond movies.

The Russian Federation Anthem is gorgeous; one of those moments you don’t need to know the language to get the feeling. It has the feeling of a particularly lush Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky overture passage, or a John Barry theme.

Lauer keeps stressing that “Putin had a lot to do” with everything. Including the electric vests? All kidding aside, this song IS enough to make you want to defend Stalingrad, and the final waving flag effect makes up for the ridiculousness of the electric vests.


7:30 PM: Hiya, Putin!


7:28 PM: ANDREW says — This Russian alphabet is fascinating. “D is for Dostoyevsky” would be an incredible children’s book. Corn mowing machines are not as fun for kids…nor is Vladimir Nabokov, no matter how much I love him. A little ticked off Tolstoy has to share “T” with television, but at least he’s in there with Chekov, Chagall, Kandinsky, and Pushkin…as a cultural primer, this is doing a worthy job.

Surprised there was little mention of Communism. Not surprised there was no mention of Boris Pasternak.

The stadium roof did not catch on fire. For this I am thankful.

Glad to see Matt and Meredith are as cute as ever.

“Russians see themselves as dreamers.” Some of the most creative geniuses in the history of mankind. Truly revolutionary. And right now they seem to have adopted the worst sides of the American Dream. (Capitalism-based absolute power…). But I cling to War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov as proof a soul can endure.

The production is not as impressive as Danny Boyle’s 2012 ceremony… very grand 19th century drama stagecraft…but it’s pretty impressive, and the flying girl is definitely admirable. In a remarkable bit of synchronicity, Lester Holt says Putin was “trying to project modernity and strength” in this display at the moment the weakest-looking wooden houses you could imagine float by.

Our flying girl has a lovely singing voice to welcome the Giant Chorus of Resurrected Boyars.
Snowflake number five does not open into the last ring. -J. is saying more on this; but I would have thought this would have come from more testing.


7:25 PM: “They’ve waited 7 years, for this moment,” the commentator states, moments before we watch the Olympic rings get an asterisk (see the image at the top). –J.


7:19 PM: Color me surprised. Wait, no, strike that. I meant the opposite. A young child guides us through a journey through her country’s culture. Can we move on from this device for future ceremonies? Please? I mean, the visuals were cool in that opening video, but the child thing is getting a bit tired. –J.


7:04 PM: This “Maria Sharapova tours her birthplace of Sochi” feature is… Well, I guess it’s standard fare. A Sochi ex-pat who plays a summer sport talks about stuff. Sorry, I’m drifting off. –J.

(Meanwhile, I think it’s a good time to mention the great work being done by Yahoo’s Martin Rogers. Like this story about the break-away province of Abkhazia, next to Sochi.)


6:50 PM: The President joins Pink-Eye Costas via satellite for an interview, and it only takes two questions before we get to the question of having openly gay delegates as part of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics. -J. is really digging the fact that NBC and Costas have started the Olympic broadcast with the serious stuff. Not just the stuff about Sochi and the Caucasus, but even the relations between Obama and Putin, and their positions in world politics. Dig it.


6:40 PM: Remember when -J. talked about how much sportswriters LOVE LOVE LOVE their narratives? We just got a 7-minute intro that set up all the narratives that you’ll expect to see. It’s 20 different teasers all rolled into a slick broadcast package. At least Pink-Eye Costas brought up some of the controversial aspects of the games. Good on ya, Bob.


6:30 PM: It begins!

(Wait, the TV just said that, too.)

Welcome to the live blog. Let’s get together and learn about Russia.


Yesterday: Hey, did you know that the Olympic Games start the day before the Opening Ceremony? Yup, there were qualifying runs in Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle, the Snowboarding event that’s new to the Olympics this year. The Team Figure Skating competition started with the Men’s and Pairs’ short program. And Freestyle Skiing got underway with qualifying heats for the Women’s Mogul event.

NBC’s coverage left a bit to be desired. Twitter amused itself talking about Bob Costas hosting with an apparent case of pink eye. The Slopestyle hosts were the low point; it’s a completely new event, the judging is baffling, and they never really got around to explaining what goes into a “good” Slopestyle run. The Figure Skating commentary was better, and the Russian and Canadian skaters (especially the pairs) were amazing, and put their teams atop the Team event leaderboard. The Women’s Moguls had the best broadcasters, and even though it was only qualifying runs, it gave the audience a great introduction to the event.


The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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