don't cry for me, leni riefenstahl

Just following up to an earlier post, via Edge of Sports' Dave Zirin (who conincidentally is kicking much ass this Olympic week), juggling truth, splendor, and a few film directors' legacies in Beijing:

On this morning, the day after the spectacular, pyrotechnic launch of the Olympic games, lets take a second to recall who was excluded from the party. No not George W. Bush or Vladamir Putin. Both men took time away from bombing other countries to attend the dazzling opening ceremonies in Beijing. Not Henry Kissinger, who probably attended because China is one of the few places he can fly without risking arrest. As the jaw dropping exhibition displayed, what Tom Shales of the Washington Post called, "enough fireworks for 100 fourth of Julys", it was Steven Spielberg who was left at home, crying with his Oscars. Spielberg had agreed to direct these opening ceremonies, which may turn out to have been the most watched television event in the history of the world. And it was Spielberg who was shamed into breaking his contract when Mia Farrow called him "the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games" this past March.

Riefenstahl was of course the visionary Nazi filmmaker who on the behest of Joseph Geobbels directed Olympia the documentary of the 1936 games. It was a rather unfair charge. Riefenstahl, who lived until 2003, was despised for her role as a Nazi propagandist. But Olympia was visionary, changing the way sports would forever be filmed. Every opening ceremony since has owed something to the 1936 games. All their wildly praised grandeur owes a great deal to Nazi Germany. Before those 1936 games, there were no grand opening ceremonies and no running of the torch. As Jeremy Schaap wrote in his book Triumph, "The Nazis had taken what had always been a rather clubbish, overgrown track-and-field meet and turned it into the spectacle that even now we recognized as the modern Olympics."

Last night's opening ceremonies were a continuance of what Schaap calls "the pagan pomp" which have been the hallmark of these opening ceremonies since those Berlin games of yesteryear. This has been true of all the opening ceremonies--taking the bombastic nationalism of 1936 and leaving the straight-armed salutes at the doors. What made China's different though was the extraordinary money and space technology they devoted to making sure the spectacle could be all it was supposed to be.

As Zhou Fengguang, head of the Engineering Design and Research Institute of the People's Liberation Army General Armament Department said to the newspaper Xinhua, "The engineering design at the opening ceremony borrowed many of the latest space technologies. They ensured the stable operation of thousands of devices." Yes, just as these Olympic games are ushering in unprecedented surveillance technology to the world, they are also allowing us to witness the latest in military hardware while the war mongers of the moment Bush and Putin, watch in awe, and maybe sign some military contracts on the side. No wonder Kissinger wanted a front row seat.

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