Tom Sutcliffe: There's no gold in the Games, Danny

The week in culture
Click to follow

Danny Boyle was coyly non-committal when asked to comment on rumours that he was the first choice for the job of directing the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. "I can't say any more", he said, "It would be lovely, wouldn't it?" Is he mad? The answer to that question is easy. No, it wouldn't. Poisoned chalice doesn't even begin to do it justice. This is the full poisoned three-course meal, with an amuse-bouche of arsenic, a palette-cleansing sorbet of cyanide halfway through and thallium-laced coffee to follow. Clichés fail in the face of it. Three bargepoles lashed together wouldn't give you sufficient distance from its radioactive capacity to take the sheen off your reputation. The horse you'd be flogging isn't just dead but deliquescent. Flog it and you'll get splashed.

Zhang Yimou managed alright, I can imagine someone saying at this point – and yes, it's true that the Chinese film-maker produced a pretty dazzling display for the Beijing Olympics. But then that's part of the problem. Zhang Yimou has already done the one thing that might draw a genuine artist to such an event– which is to prove that, against all odds, you can emerge with your standing intact. Worse than that, he raised the bar quite substantially above where it had last been set, by the memorably terrible and bizarre opening pageant for the Athens Olympics. For Yimou comparisons were more than likely to be flattering, even if he did something mediocre. But with almost limitless funds at his disposal and with enough human pixels crammed into the stadium to produce High Definition images, he managed to do something much better. As a direct consequence comparisons are going to be far more hazardous for Boyle. And it isn't just other film-makers he's up against. The rise of CGI over the past 20 years has reset the dial when it comes to visual spectacle, so that we now take for granted the kind of human swirl which would once have been an astonishment.

There's also the question of innate style. In The House of Flying Daggers Yimou had shown that he had an eye for the multi-component spectacle. It's a film in which Yimou paints with people – but also with repetition and variation – central to the aesthetic of the big-stadium spectacle. A Bollywood routine on an Indian station platform doesn't offer the same kind of apprenticeship in grand communal gesture. Boyle's real talent is for close-up, or for the drama of a single vivid individual set against a larger backdrop. Think of the opening sequence of Trainspotting, with its exhilarating concentration on Ewan McGregor's dash down the city streets. Or think of that shot in Slumdog Millionaire, in which Jamal looks out from the container in which he's taken shelter to see another child squatting in the backlit rain. These are shots which depend on the camera's ability to focus, or ours– and focus isn't what an opening ceremony rewards. It's not a medium for the telling detail – unless you fall back on the big-screen relays, which is a failure in itself.

I don't mean to be snotty about the kind of cast-of-thousand thrills that a really good spectacle can deliver. As Busby Berkeley understood perfectly well, there's a bit of a drill-queen in all of us – susceptible to the delirious abdication of being a mere cog in a machine. But you need a vulgar streak a mile wide to bring this kind of thing off with any flair. Or a genuinely fascistic indifference to human variety.

Embarrassment, or irony, is absolutely fatal to the thing – as is the human touch, which is one of the things I'd always assumed Boyle was interested in as a film-maker. He isn't a pattern-maker as an artist.

He tells the stories of individuals and what happens to them when they're put under intense pressure. In fact he'd probably find a great subject for his next movie if he takes the project on – but I don't think that's a good enough reason for him to say yes.

There's something about Stiller

A big-name star has attractions, but also drawbacks. At least one American cinema has been obliged to post a notice, in its foyer, informing prospective viewers of Noah Baumbach's Greenberg that "due to an extremely high number of complaints... we must limit refunds to an hour past the start time of the film". The problem is that it stars Ben Stiller – and audiences hoping for the raucous comedy of Meet the Fockers or There's Something about Mary have been less than enchanted sitting through a knowingly awkward comedy of manners.

One sympathises with their disappointment. You look forward to a guy getting his foreskin trapped in his zipper and you get nebbishy New York angst instead.

What is terrifically exciting, though, is the implicit acknowledgement that disappointment in film comedy might be the responsibility of the supplier rather than the consumer. I've long fantasised about making a multiplex money-back claim under the Sale of Goods Act, which promises redress in the event of an inherent "error in design". I'm not sure Greenberg would qualify under that heading – since it does what Baumbach intends it to – and nothing but the presence of Ben Stiller could be advanced as false advertising. But just think how many films that phrase does describe.

Gaga must be worn out by now

Dear God it must be exhausting being Lady Gaga. Her website apparently crashed the other day, under the weight of fans hoping to see whether the video for her new single, "Alejandro", exceeds in kitschy schlock the mini-epic of sapphic transgression that accompanied her track "Telephone".

She certainly can't be accused of not trying, having hired the New York fashion photographer Steven Klein to produce a striking blend of German expressionism, sado-masochism, Madonna allusions (singer not saint) and her own weird, flayed-rabbit looks. But all I could think, as she simulated wild gay sex with a writhing male model, was what a relief it must have been for her to strip down to a plain bra and knickers for a change – rather than rack her brains for a costume to top the last one.

For me she always brings to mind that possibly apocryphal French aristo who was found dead at his own hands – the note by his side reading "Too many buttons". Does she have dress down Fridays, I wonder, when she recharges her batteries by slobbing around in tracky bottoms?

Or does she never really want to come out of costume at all? It all looks like bondage to me – whether it's lace or leather.