At the fireworks with a hundred thousand friends (West End Times)

At the fireworks with a hundred thousand friends

Guy MacPherson gets lost and discovers he’s at the Symphony of Fire

The West End Times, August 9, 1994

I had always thought there were two types of people in this world: those who would go out of their way to watch fireworks, and those who wouldn’t. After attending last Saturday night’s premiere of Symphony of Fire, along with a couple hundred thousand of my closest friends I concluded that maybe there’s only one type.

People came from all over the Lower Mainland to experience this many-times-in-a-lifetime event. Come to think of it, I was there – and I always considered myself in the second group, thinking fire flower spectacles were a big waste of time and money (to produce the four shows in Vancouver, the cost will be over one million dollars and takes producer Frank Furtado a full year of planning. Need I say more?). Although, in my defense, I was there under false pretenses. I was certain I read it was going to be a Symphony on Fire.

However, there was no symphony. Not in person, anyway. There was music, including a rendition of the Spanish national anthem, also known as Requiem for a Dictator, sans whirlwinds of tempestuous fire. With the militaristic march aside, the program began. The competition between the countries is partly judged on the ability to synchronize skyrockets to a musical score. Now, if you can get explosives to detonate expressively during the slow movements, you’ve got yourself a pretty good trick. I heard the music and I saw the pyrotechnics, but I failed to experience the synchronicity.

In fact, the whole exercise reminded me of something I learned in some film class in university. The great Russian film maker Eisenstein – or was it the great Life photographer Eisenstadt? It definitely wasn’t the great German brainiac Einstein because he had more important ideas on his mind. Whoever it was used the same picture of an expressionless person to convey different emotions, i.e., depressed, loving, angry, satisfied, etc. The same picture suited each description. We saw what we expected to see.

In other words, fireworks explode the same way in the fast, exciting passages as they do during the slow, beautiful parts.

“The joy of colour,” the narrator narrated. “The colours of our land.” Hey, ours too! Turns out there are only six different basic colours that can be used in fireworks. The Spanish firm of Pirotechnia Caballer, which was featured last Saturday, burst some beautiful bombs in the air that looked like giant weeping willows of yellow, red, green, blue and orange or squiggly white paisleys. Did you know that there are only 100 top fireworks firms in the whole world and that each company’s formulas are closely guarded secrets? That’s why if you saw Italy or Japan on Wednesday or Saturday you would have spotted much different weeping willows of yellow, red, green, blue and orange or different squiggly white paisleys. You don’t spend four months planning and designing a 25-minute show to do what everybody else does. That’s why I’m sure it’s only my untrained eye that makes these extravaganzas look like every other fireworks display I’ve ever seen, from Disneyland to Butchart Gardens to Canada Day to the ones my grandfather used to let off in our backyard on Halloween.

The mass of humanity seemed to enjoy itself. People parked themselves on the beach at English Bay hours ahead of the 10:15 start. Streets were closed off by police officers, who showed remarkable restraint by not shooting tear gas at the crowd. Maybe it’s a good thing Canada is not competing in this year’s contest. There’s no telling how the Vancouverites might react if we didn’t bring home the prestigious Benson & Hedges Inc. Gold Trophy.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the exhibition. It brings people together in a way that only hockey playoffs had been able to do. And in a much more peaceful fashion. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford $13.95 for 25 minutes worth of entertainment, or you happen to be in the media, you can enjoy reserved seating, along with free cookies, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Blis, the “ultimate dessert.” It was to my deep regret that free Benson & Hedges smokes weren’t handed out because I’ve always wanted to take up the habit. I resigned myself to breathing really deeply and getting the full effect of the fireworks.