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  1. Who's Afraid Of James Bond?

    Written by Jord Schaap

    The Undertaker’s Wind

    Jamaica, 1962…

    A soft breeze streamed gently through the opened window. For a moment, it disturbed the white sheet on the bed, which was draped so ingenious over the construction of pillows lying beneath it. The wind which blew around this corner of the island at the moment was a hot, dry one, and the inhabitants of the island used to call it the Undertaker’s Wind for many unknown reasons.

    Anyone who would lean on the window frame and glimpsed inside the dark room would swear that someone was sleeping on the bed. But the twilight was deceptive. Behind the slightly opened door, giving access to the living-room, a man sat on a chair. He was waiting. The man wore a black leather Berns-Martin holster on a white shirt. In front of him lay a gun, with an extra silencer fixed.

    The man had stared towards his playing-cards for a considerable time when what he expected that night happened. He had already heard the intruder entering the house a few seconds ago. Slowly, the barrel of a small gun appeared behind the corner of the door. An arm pointed the gun on the pillow-construction on the bed, and the weapon fired one, two, three times.

    Suddenly the man on the chair switched on the lights, pulled the intruder inside the room and throwed him very roughly on the ground beside the bed.

    A few minutes a soft shot could be heard out of the house in the Jamaican mountains. The intruder was crawling around like a wounded animal. Blood was over his shirt. He died quickly. Then a second shot, totally needless, hit him in the back.

    James Bond, agent 007 of British MI6, had just shot Professor Dent, henchman of the illustrious Doctor No, in complete cold blood. The scene, part of the film Dr. No, was one of the most realistic violent scenes ever to be shown in a Bond film. Very explicitly it represented the essence of James Bond’s profession as secret agent with a license to kill.

    You’re kidding

    This raw, realistic approach of the James Bond character would not last forever. In fact, after Dr. No and From Russia with Love the atmosphere of the Bond films changed dramatically. The hard-lined, realistic approach dissapeared, and the gadgets came in. Overwhelming décors, more beautiful women, more humour.

    One can even distinguish the exact moment Bond said goodbye to realism, and entered the – now commonly accepted – world of the ‘unthinkable’: in Goldfinger, when Bond learns from Q that his Aston Martin DB5 contains a ejector seat button, his primary reaction is:

    You’re kidding.

    A logic reaction for a character that in preceding films used to work with his hands. But the moment Bond actually pushes the ejector seat button, launches him not only into air, but also into an era of witty gadgetry and anti-realism which would find its climax in the lowpoint of forty years of Bond-cinema: Moonraker.

    The Bond of the so-called “Moonraker-era” is the exact opposite of the Bond we saw in the Dr. No-fragment.

    But the seventies are yet far behind us. Therefore it is remarkable that theatres and distributors still describe new James-Bond films as ‘action-comedies’. Obviously, many people, when thinking of James Bond, still refer to the Moonraker days, with Jaws and the clownesque Bond of Roger Moore.

    It may be not noticed yet by the general public, but during the last years the character of Bond and the Bond films has really changed, slowly, but clearly. A development which started when Shakespearian actor Timothy Dalton debuted in his role as Bond. In Licence to Kill we could already see the return of hard, realistic violence: do we all remember the shark-scene with Felix Leiter?

    During the Moore-era action scenes were mainly humouristic, but the recent Bond films show us also very dark, realistic and violent action parts. The tone of GoldenEye was sometimes downright black. The character of Xenia Onatopp was one of the most violent and extreme ones the series have ever known. The classic Fleminguish melancholy of Bond returned in the scenes with Bond and Natalya Simonova on the beach.

    The new approach was also very noticeable in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. Despite the massive action scenes, the overwhelming gadgets and stunts, we could see a Bond which was sometimes very vulnerable and embittered.

    The scenes wherein Bond shoots Dr. Kaufmann and Elektra King in cold blood can be seen as a final return to the principles of Dr. No. The comparison with the massacre of Professor is evident.

    The producers want to show the shady side of James Bond and his profession again. Particularly the Bond of Pierce Brosnan shows us much more emotion, hidden feelings and unsteadiness. Bond as a cold assassin. Bond as a human being. Have the producers really returned to the Dr. No approach? Is the return of the Bond of Fleming and Connery their anniversary gift to the fans after forty years of Bond history?

    The Facts of Bond

    Before we can answer that question we have to wonder first who James Bond exactly is. For that purpose I’d like to quote a good friend of Ian Fleming, the author Ernest L. Cuneo. In his preface to Raymond Benson’s dossier he brought up a discussion between Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. Wallas said that Shaw in his book was proclaiming two opposite opinions.

    It seems that Mr. Shaw at different occasions is speaking like two different persons.

    Shaw’s reaction was:

    What? Only two?

    In my opinion this also counts for James Bond. When Fleming wrote Casino Royale, James Bond got his first personality: the Fleming-Bond. Strictly rational, five others would follow: the Connery-Bond, the Moore-Bond, the Dalton-Bond, the Brosnan-Bond and more recently the Bond of Raymond Benson.

    Options enough.

    But when we look at the Bond-history on a somewhat more abstract scale, say through the eyes of a real Bond-fan, I think there are three Bonds. Together, this three Bonds form the complete “Facts of Bond”. The world of Bondism.

    First, we have the Fleming-Bond, the Literary Bond. It is a dark, melancholical personality. Violent also. James Bond is a complex human being, with feelings, fears and obsessions. Often the Fleming-Bond is exactly like Fleming himself was. The Book-Bond is a real literary hero, a man with weaknesses.

    Second, we have the Bond of Broccolli, the Cinematic Bond. This Bond is a superhero, a joker, a born seducer. In the movies, the Fleming-Bond became a caricature with many different faces.

    At last there is the Bond of Bondism. The fans’ Bond. This is the most elusive Bond. This Bond lives in the heads of every fan apart, with one common characteristic: “Bond” represents to them a way of life, a feeling. We all recognize a bit of Bond in ourselves, but we also envy Bond for having some traits we don’t have. The feeling is double; although we probably never will experience any of the adventures which Bond went through, we still see him as a part of ourselves. We recognize fears, emotions, little obsessions.

    Will James Bond return?

    Bond is splitted. The character has obviously many faces, and often “Bond” is experienced totally different by every visitor of the movies, reader of the books or die-hard fan. So, in order to return to the principles of Dr. No, with the best will in the world I can’t pretend that with the return of the hard, raw Bond in the recent movies the real Bond has returned.

    For the real Bond doesn’t exist.

    But what I can say, is that with the return of this hard, realistic and human Bond the classic Fleminguish approach has returned. And wether or not it is the return of the real Bond, I think this realistic approach of the essence of James Bond’s task is very needed in this time. Violence isn’t entertaining. In this post 9/11 era I think the audience of Bond films has the right to see the shady sides of James Bond’s profession. A shady side which Ian Fleming showed us always very well.

    Jord Schaap © 2002

    Guest writer @ 2002-03-02
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