jump to navigation

Bond-age November 5, 2006

Posted by John Hodson in : General, Film General , trackback

Straight off the bat; I’m not a fan, per se, of James Bond on film.

I will declare, however, that I am a fan of Fleming’s novels, which boasted a titillating cocktail of ’sex, sadism and snobbery’ that appealed hugely to this teenage reader back in the day (and a special mention too, for Colonel Sun, so well written by Kingsley Amis that it was hard to see where Fleming ended and Robert Markham began. I still have the first edition.) 

And when I say I’m not a fan of Bond on film, I mean every Bond. You see, I’m a Sean Connery man (a ‘Sir’ Sean Connery man…), an admiration cultivated in an even younger incarnation of myself. I grew up with the iconic images and sounds; Ursula Andress emerging from the sea, Bond shooting down the helicopter, John Barry’s familiar themes (’million dollar Mickey Mouse music’ he called it), the rotund Auric Goldfinger being sucked through an unfeasibly small aeroplane window into the upper atmosphere, all pressed the buttons of boys of all ages, everywhere. But for different reasons.

I remember fingering the pages of my Auntie Nora’s Great Universal Stores catalogue and staring lasciviously at the Dayglo orange wet-suit and spear-gun accessory that was the Thunderball outfit, little pieces of plastic that could miraculously turn your workaday Action Man into 007 (just ignore the crew cut and the scar. He didn’t need a penis by the way. That came later when my cousin bought Sindy. Hmmm…). If only mum could afford it. No, not even over 16 weeks. Actually, as I couldn’t even afford an Action Man at the time, the point was moot, but you see where I’m going - Bond, was - is - a fantastic character, a gigantic money making machine, that appeals to a huge demographic; young (oddly, young children fer cripes sake), old, rich, poor, males and females across the continents.

As a child, I couldn’t see quite where they were going with a name like ‘Pussy Galore’, all I knew was that ‘Oddjob’, that fiendish, mute, oriental master of the martial arts, died in a shower of special effect sparks - cor! By the time I got to ‘Plenty O’Toole’, I knew exactly where they were going, because I was headed in similar directions. Well, not so much the sadism and snobbery (though there’s an element of both in all of us), but sex. Oh, yes please. Commander Bond was well and truly on top with lines of submissive girls to bed, bad girls to turn ‘good’, lesbians to be made ‘normal’, and, in Bond world, STDs had not even been invented. Which teenager, hormones zooming around his system, would not want to be in his tuxedo? For decades, Americans had had the celebate super hero that was Superman, we Brits got James Bond. No contest.

Alas, Sean’s sad abdication of the role and George ‘Big Fry’ Lazenby’s roasting at the hands of News of The World hacks meant that my love affair with the screen Bond was near its end too, though oddly, OHMSS is one of my favourite Bonds today. OHMSS, by the way, not only contrived to defy expectations, it also followed the novel quite closely (Fleming, ironically, by this time writing with Sean’s Bond firmly in his mind). The spark was rekindled when Mr Connery did his bit for charity (and wig makers everywhere) and came back for Diamonds are Forever, but it was the Greatest Living Eyebrow who more or less did for me and Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

I mean, fer Gawd’s sake, what was Ivanhoe, what was The Saint, doing impersonating James Bond? It was on an Away Weekend to London that I saw Live and Let Die. I was 17 years old, with two chums equally determined to paint the capital red. Sadly we were given the bad news that our hotel had been overbooked, but at no extra charge, they slapped us into the Piccadilly Hotel. So, three teenagers, pitch up at this five star monolith, just off Trafalgar Square. We arrive as the top hatted doorman is ushering an Arab gentlemen in flowing robes through the door; he doesn’t bat an eye as three likely Lancashire lads slide out of their black cab complete with duffel bags and silly grins.

I’d never stayed in a ‘hotel’ before; the occasional guest house, but never a ‘hotel’. Were they all like this? Did they all have ‘Press Rooms’ (where we were too young to drink), restaurants (where we were too poor to eat), maids in black uniforms and frilly aprons (I kid you not), and plumbing that dated back to old King George? Was being woken by the Horse Guards trotting past outside de rigeur for a London stay? I know visiting Soho was, as was giggling as we bought porn magazines that promised much in their expensive vacuum packing, but delivered little (black spots printed over the naughty bits, Bah! We’d been ripped off. Well, I never…)

We queued for Live and Let Die at Leicester Square and, while waiting, were each offered a ‘good time’ by an over made-up good time girl in a skirt that was much too short for the time of year. No vest, the hussy (and, puzzlingly, a five o’clock shadow evident above her Adam’s Apple…)

What the hell? (No, not the prostitute - I owned a copy of The Kinks Lola after all). Roger Moore; I’m sorry, but James Bond you are not. Dismal - he even raised an eyebrow when he said ‘Bond - James Bond’. Bugger off. Useless porn, transvestite prostitutes, and Roger Moore. That London - a huge disappointment in almost every way.

A few years ago Mark Cousins asked the question of Connery during a BBC ‘Scene By Scene’; just what did he think of Bond post his tenure? The answer was succinct and, to my mind, perfectly correct: “Not quite hard enough, not quite dirty enough.”

Now read that again doing your best ‘Seany-Sean-Sean’ impersonation. Come on, the one you bore everyone to death with every Christmas when they show a Bond film on ITV: “Not quite haarrrd enuff, not quite durrrty enuff”. Better. And you can see the point can’t you?

Connery’s Bond was a steel hard ex-Navy Commander, licensed to kill. He could, with Her Majesty’s sanction, take it on his own initiative to snuff out the opposition through any means he felt necessary, with whatever weapon he had at his disposal; knife, bomb, garrot, Walther PPK, his bare hands. Up close and personal; strip away the girls, the gadgets, the jokes, the martinis, the dress suits, the globe trotting, the fast cars, the superannuated cartoon villains. What we have is a man who is perfectly willing and able to face you down, extinguish your life, quietly and quickly (but not painlessly) and then have enough strength of character not only to justify it in the name of duty, but, after washing away the blood, to sit down and enjoy a good dinner. Rights and wrongs don’t come into it.

And you could believe that of Connery’s Bond, those cold, cold executioner’s eyes, those whipcord muscles, the straightening of the tie before the bad guy even hits the ground. Hard enough. Dirty enough. All of it, I think, captured in that breathless, sweaty, bone-crunching fight scene with Robert Shaw’s equally frosty killing machine in From Russia With Love. It even hurts just to watch it; wonderfully written, directed, acted and, above all, edited. A fight in a train compartment; simple is best.

I accept totally the argument that I grew up with Connery’s interpretation, so, culturally, he’s bound to be ‘my’ Bond, but nothing will change my view that Sean is Bond, Bond is Sean. And down through the years the fights became bigger, the stunts became more daring, the bad guys more colourful. But as we moved on from Sean, to Roger, to Tim and Pierce, Bond became as predictable as the average episode of The Incredible Hulk (you know; sad start, Hulk change, lots of nothing (more nothing), Hulk change. Sad end).

So after the debacle that was Sir Rog, I’ve largely stayed away from Bond in the cinema, except when Timothy Dalton briefly intervened; the buzz seemed to have gone and, besides, real life inconviently barged in, curtailing regular cinema visits. Even on the smaller screen, I just couldn’t believe Brosnan, and it all seemed so bloody forced and contrived (and yes, I know it is ‘contrived’ or it wouldn’t be a film, but you know what I mean.)

But like Bond, I’ll be back to see Daniel Craig; tick the boxes - hard enough? Looks like he could be. Dirty enough? Again, the signs are good. And simple, a stripped back, licensed to kill secret agent for this, the 21st century, or indeed, any century, a truly timeless character? Just might be, though not everyone seems convinced.

23 years ago, after saying I’d finished Bond watching, Never Say Never Again took me back to the cinema for a film that I actually quite enjoyed. It wasn’t top drawer, but Sean was really quite close to the right age for Fleming’s Bond, though, at the very least, it missed the music (which is vitally important to Bond don’t you think?) and much of the verve. But Alec McCowen’s ‘Q’ had a great line: “Good to see you Mr. Bond. Things have been awfully dull around here. I hope we’re going to see some gratuitous sex and violence.”

I hope so too. Altogether now: #Da-da, di-da, da-da-daaaa, daaaaiiiahhh da-da-dahhhhhh (da-dada-di-dadaaaa!)#

Comments»

1. jackal - November 6, 2006

I’ve always loved the Bond films - even flatter instalments like ‘Octopussy’ or ‘The World Is Not Enough’. I think growing up with the series made me immune to even the slightest critical thought: watching them as a kid, I just accepted each different actor and their own interpretations. I had my favourites (Connery for cool, Dalton for edge), but each one - even Lazenby - was, in his own way, ‘Bond’.

I’m looking forward ‘Casino Royale’ immensely. Not only does it promise to go back to the more realistic early Connery outings, and dramatically cut down on the CGI, but Craig himself is a bold choice for Bond. When I first read Fleming’s novels, it was Dalton I pictured - for me, his was the only screen Bond that resonated with the cold, ruthless literary Bond. Watching Craig in the trailers and ads, I can easily picture him as Fleming’s guy too.


Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 5/5 (11)