Monday, January 16, 2012

Part 31

I found myself unable to sleep the other evening. I ended up doing something that I had been meaning to do for awhile, I grabbed my headphones and listened to a wonderful two part podcast by "After Movie Diner". There were a great many choices of subject matter, but I decided to go with the ones featuring one of my life long obsessions: James Bond. I may or may not have agreed with some of the opinions expressed on the podcasts, but they did serve to remind me of the passion that I have had for the books and films for over four decades. I urge you to check out "After Movie Diner" podcasts here: http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=110745&cmd=tc and I would like to thank them for the inspiration for this piece.

 So on the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise here is my take on the subject....



Excerpt from "Thunderball"

This is how James Bond is described by his creator Ian Fleming. Fleming often stated that he pictured Bond as resembling the above mentioned singer Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael. Which becomes clear when we see an artist's sketch of how Fleming saw Bond in his mind's eye.

                                                     Hoagy Carmichael


A few years ago someone produced a composite face of what Bond would look like taking using every description Fleming wrote, see below.


When I read the novels I pictured a much different face, but more on that later. It was these descriptions and other elements that have left an indelible impression of how James Bond should be portrayed, not only in cinema, but in the subsequent books by a variety of different authors.

The James Bond of literature and the one of film are indeed two distinct entities. I believe that anyone who is a fan of the literature must have a love/hate relationship with the films. Bond was never really the best of anything as he is portrayed in the cinema. He wasn't the best shot, the best skier, he was though in fine physical shape for the most part because of a rigorous exercise routine. Any success he has as a secret agent, and his continued survival stem from his physical conditioning, cunning, and lady luck. He never relies heavily on gadgets, and is stated to hate them. His adoration of M is never really touched upon in the films. The two do intersect with his love for women and the finer things in life.

 The films being shot out of order leave the film goer at a bit of a loss continuity wise, an example of this being "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" being filmed after "You Only Live Twice". Certain key plot points are never addressed on film. Bond suffers from amnesia at the end of the novel "YOLT". He "feels" that he must visit Russia for clues about his former life. He leaves Kissy Suzuki behind, unaware that she is carrying his child. I always thought this was a major plot point that fairly demanded resolution. It wouldn't be addressed until some 27 years had past. The next novel "The Man With The Golden Gun" would be the last Fleming wrote, he died with only a first draft written. It opens with a brain washed Bond returning to London from Russia and attempting to assassinate M. This would have been a great scene in a film, but would have made entirely no sense given the films production order.

As for the films, the first one I ever saw was "Goldfinger". The year was 1967, and I was six years old. I remember being mesmerized by the action, the girls, and Bond himself. From that point on I waited eagerly for the other films to be scheduled on one of the few channels available at the time. I watched any of the made for TV specials from Britain when they aired like, "The Incredible World Of James Bond", and the making of the films specials. By 1971 I had read all of Fleming's novels, as well as the first and still best followup by any author: "Colonel Sun" by the great Kingsley Amis writing as Robert Markham.

This was also the year that I got to see my first Bond film on the big screen, "Diamonds Are Forever". I recall sitting in the theater wishing that the short subjects would hurry and finish so the movie could begin. This film marked the return of Sean Connery to the role of 007, who simply is the best incarnation of Bond the film series has produced. The only other memory that stands out was that the film varied considerably from the novel. Up to that point they had followed the novels very closely, particularly the film previous, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". I have been asked in the past what I think is the second best Bond film, and I say without reservation, "OHMSS". The reason being it is the closest film to the novels, it has great locales, plenty of action, and the best musical score of the series. Then there's the Lazenby thing. George Lazenby was not as bad as many said at the time or now. Let's face it anyone who stepped into the role right after Connery would have suffered by comparison. One thing I wish the screen writers would have omitted was the line at the beginning of the film, "This never happened to the other fellow". When the line was delivered it simply served to take the viewer out of the film, and become entirely aware that this wasn't Connery. I also could have done without the scene where Bond is cleaning out his desk and we are reminded of his previous adventures through souvenirs and music. Lazenby did a passable job for a first time actor, still I wonder just how sublime a film it would have been with Connery instead........

Connery had publicly stated that "Diamonds" was to be his last outing as 007, but no one had a clue as to who would replace him after what was considered a financial disappointment with Lazenby. I wasn't too worried, the producers knew they had a cash cow and seemed to know what they were doing. One day I opened the Lethbridge Herald and was met by the news that Roger Moore was to be the new Bond. "No, no", I thought, "he's completely wrong". I was familiar with Moore having watched "The Saint" on television many times, he just wasn't right. For one thing he was blonde which Bond was clearly not, and he was just too damn........British. It's been said that James Bond should be able to make love to a women and then stab her under the dinner table an hour later if he found out she was a double agent. I couldn't then, and still can't conceive of good old Roger doing that. What made Moore such a success in his role of Simon Templar in "The Saint" would prove to be his very undoing as 007. Still I held my hopes high, and in 1973 I convinced my Aunt Elsie to take me to a screening of "Live And Let Die" in Calgary.

"Live And Let Die" is an excellent Bond film, but sadly the best that would star Moore in the role. Mad Magazine issue # 165 managed to illustrate my feelings perfectly in their parody of the film entitled, "Live And Let Suffer".


 It was all downhill from there. I think it was about the time that Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper was introduced that I had my first misgivings. It was the beginning of a more comedic Bond era in which, unfortunately, Bond was too often the butt of the jokes. My suspicions were confirmed when I attended "The Man With The Golden Gun" and watched the scene where Bond swallows the flattened bullet that killed agent 002 from the navel of a belly dancer. Connery certainly had his share of quips in his films, but now with each passing film almost every line that came out of Moore's mouth was sexual innuendo. Plots and villains grew increasingly ridiculous, and the gadgets in the films were out of control. There are so many cringe inducing moments in Moore's portrayal that I am wincing as I type this. I shall never again revisit Moore's final five films, I just can't do it. Bond in a clown costume, fuck me.....

Sadder still is that an entire generation of film goers grew up thinking that this was what Bond films were. This would not bode well for Timothy Dalton who would next assume the role. When a 58 year old Moore finally decided to retire producers made a decision to go back to the basics, tell a story of espionage with the charismatic, deadly Bond of the Connery area. The year is 1987. I am again sitting in a theater waiting for a Bond film to begin, something that I haven't done since 1983. (I had to compare "Never Say Never Again" with "Octopussy".) The lights dim, and I am stunned and delighted at the film's opening scene. Bond is back !!! Timothy Dalton is without hesitation the second best screen Bond, he has the look, the demeanor, and the attitude down pat. I do wish that he was a little more broad shouldered, as there are a few scenes in his films that aren't particularly flattering, though this is a minor quibble. The box office is not what the producers had been expecting, nor was the film to the liking of the Moore enthusiasts. Where was the humor, the gags? Two years later we were treated to what I consider the third finest Bond film, "License To Kill". A superior film in every aspect, it should have cemented Dalton for the long term however box office again disappointed the producers. Had the franchise blown its wad? Had the public grown tired of 007 after twenty seven years?

The producers took a six year break in hopes that this would counteract franchise fatigue. This time the man they cast as Bond was a fan favorite for the role, Pierce Brosnan. The writers wrote this incarnation as an amalgamation of Moore/Connery-Dalton. Did this experiment work, partly. I enjoyed Brosnan as Bond, the problem I had with the films were with other important things like weak villains, contrived plots, questionable casting, ridiculous gadgets, some horrible CGI action sequences, etc. The only one I paid to see at the cinema was "Die Another Day" which left me, shall I say, wanting. That is to say it was shit. Brosnan was unceremoniously let go after his four film contract was up. The search for a new Bond was on again.

Back in 1998 I had rented a British film entitled "Croupier" after hearing good reviews. As I watched, I kept looking at the main character, and it struck me that facially he looked almost precisely like the James Bond that I have pictured in my head for over forty years. I found out his name was Clive Owen. He was young and rather slight, but I thought he'd make a perfect Bond someday. Jump to 2004, I am watching "King Arthur" and who should be in the title role but Mr. Owen. This time though he has matured and filled out. I damn near shit myself, "there is James Bond".


Today Owen is an established star, one need look no further for a Bond audition than the series of short films he made for BMW called "The Hire" in which he plays a Bond like character. Check them out on youtube, or contact BMW, they will ship you a free DVD. (you pay shipping.) Then news came that he was being considered for the role. Many fans started campaigning to the film makers, websites sprang up, so many thought he was the perfect choice.


That Clive Owen is not James Bond still pisses me off immensely whenever it comes to mind. Why he isn't is a matter of speculation, Owen claims he was never offered the part. There are rumors the decision was a financial one. The truth may never be known. So what did we get instead? The worst possible casting, Daniel Fucking Craig. There isn't a single strand of DNA in this man that would suggest a connection to the character of James Bond. He looks nothing like Bond, blonde and rather ugly with jug ears, he exhibits nary an iota of charisma. I am not the only one who shares this opinion, check out http://danielcraigisnotbond.com/index/


I've only seen the first half of "Casino Royale" when it was free on Movie Central. It was enough. I do what every rational person should do when faced with something that displeases them in any art form. Don't give them your money. Just this week it was announced that producers have offered Craig the opportunity to star in another five films, for a total of seven. This horrifying news means that I may never see a quality Bond film again in my life. Unless they increase the rate they're being produced his last film would be in 2032 when I am seventy and Craig sixty three. Even if he does only four, the next Bond to step up wouldn't debut until 2020, pretty much precluding a fifty five year old Clive Owen. Fuckery, pure and simple.

One thing I wanted to address is character rape. This is when a beloved character is changed in literature or cinema for no apparent reason except to suit the story; acting, reacting, or appearing in ways counter to what has been established. In the films we see it a lot, like when you suddenly get a black Felix Leiter, or a white Solitaire. Most of these are inconsequential. When it happens in the literary form however it drives me absolutely bugfuck. It was thirteen years after the publication of "Colonel Sun" that the first new Fleming estate authorized continuation novels were published. I purposely omit the novelizations of "James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me" and "James Bond And Moonraker" by Christopher Wood. In May of 1981 "License Renewed" by John Gardner was released. When I read the first press release I was aghast. Someone had decided that Bond was to exhibit 80's sensibilities. This Bond didn't smoke and was more respectful of women. (Read: Doesn't fuck as much, beware AIDS.) Some might be fine with this, I am not. In fact I'm sure Ian Fleming was rolling in his grave. This is the character rape of which I speak. This new version of Bond is older as well which at least makes sense, but Gardner takes other liberties with his character, and often ignored established Fleming canon. He went on to write sixteen Bond novels ending with "Cold" in 1996, each as dreary as the last. I being the completist read them all, though it was a chore. That I cannot clearly remember much of the plot of even one of them is telling. If you are considering reading James Bond books I highly recommend you ignore Gardner completely and jump right to the novels written by......

Raymond Benson is a Bond aficionado, before his novels he had published 1984's "The James Bond Bedside Companion". Now here was a Bond that was familiar, Benson's writing and treatment of the character evoked Fleming while managing to update the character. He single handedly rekindled my passion for the character after Gardner did his able best to extinguish it.  I was positively giddy when I read 1997's "Zero Minus Ten", it had been twenty nine years since I had read a "real" new 007 adventure. Earlier that same year his short story "Blast From The Past" was published in Playboy Magazine wherein the questions I had about what had happened to the child Kissy Suzuki was carrying were addressed.  Benson went on on to write a total of six novels, two movie novelizations, and three short stories. His novel "High Time To Kill" ranks up there with anything Fleming wrote. 2001's "Never Dream Of Dying" included the first graphic sex scene in a Bond novel, if one can consider the use of the word "clitoris" graphic. 2002 saw the publication of "The Man With The Dragon Tattoo", for whatever reason this would prove to be his last Bond adventure. More is the pity.

By now I was accustomed to droughts in Bond books, and I had to wait until 2008 when "Devil May Care" saw publication. I have never seen a book's author listed this way before: "Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming". Having read each Fleming book at least six times I must give Faulks kudos for emulating Fleming's style flawlessly, he even got Bond's snobbish nuances perfectly. The Bond character here is recognizable, the story is well paced with a nice, if predictable, twist at the end. Where this book goes wrong is sticking too close to formula. It's as though Faulks took the events from Fleming's novels and switched them slightly, instead of a round of golf we have a tennis match, etc. This leaves the reader feeling like they've been there before. Still a great gift to Bond fans however.

I just finished reading original James Bond novel 36, "Carte Blanche" by Jeffery Deaver the other night. I think I almost ground my teeth to nubs as I got into the story. Here is character rape at it's finest, he fucks Bond hard. I accept re-imaginings of movies for the most part, they are generally never as good as the original. But here, here friends is something I cannot abide. Bond is thrust into the modern day in his mid-thirties. He is no longer on Her Majesty's Secret Service, but rather some acronym, B.A.S.T.A.R.D.R.Y. or some such nonsense. He is a veteran of Afghanistan. He carries an iphone equipped with special apps from Q branch that is jokingly referred to as an "IQphone". He is once more a non smoker, and is kinder to women. Jesus Christ ! If you did this with Sherlock Holmes there would be an uprising of literary critics and fans alike. "Sherlock Holmes has to find the clues to stop Al-Quaida from detonating a dirty bomb in Chelsea before time runs out". And Watson would be an African American Gynecologist. (Again, I enjoy BBC's "Sherlock" as a re-imagining for television audiences, but the literature is canon.)  I am appalled that the Fleming Estate allowed this, I truly am. It is totally unnecessary and a disservice to long time Bond readers everywhere. It's too bad because once one gets past the nonsense, Deaver has crafted an engaging novel. I guess the book's title refers to what Deaver was given when creating the book.

As you can see it hasn't been an easy path being a fan for the last forty four years. There have been many disappointments, but I still get that feeling of excitement when I re-watch or re-read Bond done properly.
A couple of years ago someone gave me Scene-It the James Bond edition, I have no one to play with. If you are reading this and would like to challenge me I would be delighted.

 It seems whenever the subject arises I always get the same questions, so here are some subjective lists followed by some trivia.

BEST BOND
1). Sean Connery
2). Timothy Dalton
3). Pierce Brosnan

BEST BOND FILM
1). Goldfinger
2). On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Argue with me, but the Bond Geek on "Beat The Geeks" agrees.)
3). License To Kill

WORST BOND FILM
1.) Moonraker
2.) Die Another Day
3). The World Is Not Enough/AView To A Kill (Tie)

BEST BOND MOVIE VILLAIN
1.) Auric Goldfinger
2). Ernst Stavro Blofeld (the many incarnations)
3.) Dr. Julius No

BEST MOVIE HENCHMAN
1). Oddjob
2).Donald "Red" Grant
3).Rosa Klebb
(Nick Nack almost made the list because I do an amazing Herve Villechaize impression. It's sort of a tie between Klebb and Irma Bunt, I went with Rosa because she is homelier. Notice Jaws is absent, this is not an oversight.)

WORST MOVIE VILLAIN (How do you narrow it down?)
1.) Carl Stromburg
2). Elliot Carver
3). Renard
(The order here is entirely interchangable.)

HOTTEST BOND GIRL (To my tastes)
1.) Claudine Auger
2). Jill St. John
3). Ursula Andress
4.) Jane Seymour
5.) Daniela Bianchi
6.) Maud Adams

BEST BOND SONG
1.) Goldfinger
2.) Thunderball
3.) Diamonds Are Forever
4.) Live And Let Die


Random Tidbits


- To my way of thinking there hasn't been a great Bond theme song since "License To Kill" by Gladys Knight way back in '89. For the best theme song you've probably never heard check out Alice Cooper's album "Muscle Of Love" for his "Man With The Golden Gun" which was submitted to and summarily rejected by producers. Too bad, it's would have worked.

- If you want a good laugh check out "Operation Double 007" A.K.A. "OK Connery" (1967) starring Sean's brother Neil Connery as what else? Bond's brother. The Bond enthusiast will recognize Adolfo Celi, Daniela Bianchi, as well as Bernard Lee, and Lois Maxwell in their familiar though unnamed roles. The film is precisely poor enough to have received the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment, and is the best way to view this parody.

                            "The brother of our most successful agent"

- In "Goldfinger" all of actor Gert Frobe's dialogue had to be overdubbed as the actor spoke not one word of English.

- Though not considered to be part of canon "Never Say Never Again" is a very good film despite some apparent flaws. Q in the film is terrible for one, though the biggest complaint is the music or lack of. The lack of the James Bond theme stands out like a sore thumb. Someone out there with tech savvy should dub in music from the other films and post it on Youtube, just saying. "Never Say Never Again" was a remake of "Thunderball" which producer Kevin McClory was able to make because he helped Fleming with the initial story. For awhile  McClory talked about another remake of the film titled "Warhead", then "Doomsday 2000" Witness this press release:


The legal dispute ended behind closed doors, and the film was never made. Obviously. I'm glad, as Connery would have been too old to play Bond convincingly. McClory died in 2006, and future "Thunderball" remakes with him.


- Quentin Tarantino approached producer Barbara Broccoli stating that he would like to make his version of "Casino Royale" with Brosnan in the lead. This is the greatest Bond film never made. Sometimes I ponder on how great it would have been - Tarantino is a fan well versed in the literature. Unfortunately Ms. Broccoli had plans of her own and went with the simian Craig.

- In preparation for this piece I was re-watching some of the films I hadn't seen in a awhile (fast forwarding through the later Moore) to refresh my memory. In the middle of "The Spy Who Loved Me" I recognized, what was to me, a very distinctive voice. "That's Scott Tracy", I thought, and sure enough it was Shane Rimmer playing American Submarine Commander Carter. Rimmer voiced Scott Tracy in one of my favorite shows of all time "Thunderbirds" 1965. The IMDB also informs me that Rimmer had small roles in "You Only Live Twice" and "Diamonds Are Forever", how did I miss that?



- "For Your Eyes Only" was subject to a scandal when it was found out that one of the uncredited Bond girls, Caroline Cossey A.K.A. "Tula" was in fact a transsexual. So much ado about nothing, but it certainly helped her modelling career and landed her in the pages of Playboy.



- I just ran across this the other day. It seems there are those who don't appreciate Bond the way I do, in fact they think he's a bit of an asshole. Enjoy the video:


I found this on the net the other day, I seem to recall it being from the National Lampoon:


- Finally, I've always been a memorabilia collector, even as a kid. I wish I still had all of it, sometimes I want to weep thinking of the valuable things that have been lost over time. There is however one James Bond treasure that I have kept these many years. Back in 1965 Corgi made a replica of the Aston Martin DB5 used in "Goldfinger" complete with machine guns and the famous ejector seat. At the same time they also released a special edition gold colored model. Below is a picture I took this morning of mine. I have seen it fetch between $350.00 to $800.00 Canadian. I would be loathe to part with it though.




No comments:

Post a Comment