CommanderBond.net
  1. The 007th Chapter: The Man With The Golden Gun – Un-real Estate

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Start over, and simplify.

     

    Often dreamt of by chaps sliding towards their forties, therefore not unusual for James Bond. True, it’s more commonly contemplated when staring into a ready-meal and the ready-meal stares right back, rather than after killing a maniac, impregnating a film star, unwittingly faking one’s own death and trying to kill the boss. Frankly, that lifestyle sounds titillating and a place one escapes to rather than from (possibly its original point) but perhaps even its view palls, in time.

     

    Given the opportunity, what would I do differently? “Rabat 2001”, definitely. Ectually name one of the offspring “Remnant”. Avoid that encounter with [not telling], although it’s now a divinely grubby anecdote since his conviction, so I’d think carefully before dropping it completely. Would drink better wine and get that ptarmigan tattoo I promised meself. A life still too short to learn Welsh, or to contemplate using public transport. Using the public as transport… wholly different matter.

     

    Not much else.

     

    Especially if this reboot requires electrocution by my chums (I have three; possibly four if Torquil returns my pinking shears). Call me selfish, call me a coward, call me Bwana (eccentric, but so tremendously sweet of you) but the prospect of twenty-four zaps at my brain over the course of thirty days doesn’t thrill. Telling me about it would pass quickly, though. Bond’s reconditioning in The Man with the Golden Gun, his own side microwaving his mind and cynically taking a gift of an open-goal to re-educate him, telling him he’s been brainwashed and to Kill! Russians! but markedly not reminding him about the dead wife or that his real name’s David Webb, lasts less than a page before he’s Bourne again and let loose to disrupt the scheme of a… a naughty hotelier.

     

    In both, one recognises the common perception of this novel as unfinished. What of Bond’s rehabilitation? Where is the villain’s outrageous apocalypse? Where are Bond’s reawakening memories of his marriage and realisation that his own side have done him more damage than Colonel Boris ever did? Why is it about an away-day board meeting / team-building exercise for conned investors? Where’s all the digression about shrubbery, for frick’s sake? However, Weir of Hermiston this is not. It is finished. There’s an ending – clue.  What it is, is unpolished. Arguable evidence of “unfinished”, in that Fleming had yet to apply louche but increasingly ill-disciplined extravagances before his days were rendered unprolonged. Raises contemplation: this is Bond in raw form, uncluttered with “views”, light of diversions into the author’s medical history or whatever he had read, liked and then pinched. Terser, harder, quicker. Just as juvenile – the sexually foggy villain has three nipples and a big gold gun – but blunter overall.

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-03-01
  2. The 007th Chapter: You Only Live Twice -

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Previously, on James Bahnd…

     

    Bezants! Syphilis! Girls! Chickens! Christmas! Microbes! Earlobes! Bobsleighs! Wedding! Bang!

     

    Exhausting.

     

    Chap’d need a holiday after that. Touch of sightseeing, a wander around an exotic garden, visit a castle, perhaps a mud-bath or a swim-swim. Pick up local customs, pick up a local, enrage them by behaving as a Brit abroad, complain about the food, have a fight, throttle someone, go crazed in blood lust and, when it’s time to go home, forget it all and defect. Have had similar city-breaks (ah, Paris) except for the last bit. James Bond has to go that one stage further, doesn’t he? Show-off.

     

    Mr Grumpy goes to Tokyo, then. I accept he has reason to be miz. However appealing a short-term solution to impeded freedom to do whatever and whomever one wants, losing one’s spouse cannot be fun. In vowing to be true until death does you part, one’s not expecting that to happen within an hour, before the weak buffet and witnessing an elderly relative get whammed and claim they invented the lemon. Won’t have even have had time for photographs of hair and faces both questionable when viewed a decade on; I mean, who the F*** is that bloke, there, next to your ferociously slutty fat friend with the tattoo of Harvey Keitel on her pockmarked whalethigh? What do you mean, how do I know about that? Look, there, atop those veined legs reminiscent of cheap Stilton. Agreed, it could be some cake, but it looks like Harvey Keitel. So does she.

     

    That said, Bond didn’t so much lose Tracy as have her removed from him, and only shortly after they’d met. Given that she was practically a stranger, is it more the traumatic manner of the separation (bound to tend to upset) rather than the loss itself? If so, arguably Bond could be happier: he had yet to observe the way she ate eggs, or cut her toenails whilst watching television, or [continues in this vein for umpteen tedious paragraphs of trivial domestic irritations] or the annual one-day interest in “sorting out the garden” despite patently not knowing a weed from a banana. All these things James Bond is blissfully denied and then he gets a knock on the head and forgets about his marriage anyway. I’m struggling to see the downside.

     

    So’s M. Not the most sympathetic of reactions, referring to Bond as a “lame-brain” and being “under the weather”, the brutal old blister. Bond’s more than that. The desperate, death-dripped recounting of a sweaty, out-of-condition James Bond shuffling around Harley Street practitioners trying half-heartedly to get well but trapped in the countdown to his next drink, resonates bleakly with what one knows of Fleming’s imminent fate. Possibly the saddest piece of writing in all the books, the loneliness in a crowd of a dying man and, more than that, a man who knows the game’s up but cracks a forced smile to try to convince others, and himself, to the contrary: heartbreaking. Possibly literally. Wasting one’s days in trying to prolong them, despite death addiction. All that work Fleming has been doing to undermine Bond’s appeal and I feel sorry for him now. Looking death in the face with a pointlessly brave one of his own; might be a second life, but it’s not much of one. The medical history Fleming ascribes to 007 one suspects is voluntary disclosure of his own records, embellished.  The autobiography turns bitter. Just not up to it any longer and the demands of the job increasingly beyond him. A couple of Bond’s recent missions have failed; stretching it perhaps but authorial reflection here on the trouble surrounding Thunderball and the reception for The Spy Who Loved Me? The expectations – the demands – of others have turned it sour and unappealing.

     

    What is required of Bond is required of Fleming: a supreme call on his talents in the face of an impossible job. You Only Live Twice tackles this need for energy by appearing to turn in the drowsiest novel of the run. That’s a disguise, and better than the one Bond adopts. Admittedly, the atmosphere is so dense one could dig into it with a spoon, but everything’s here, deceptively muted by oppressive melancholy and a pace that for two-thirds of the book might frustrate those seeking “thrills”. Fleming always was one for structural whimsy, was he not? Look carefully: what he’s ectually doing, skin tinted much darker but palpably there, is taking familiar tricks by the hand and skipping merrily over the top with them. A final wild fling for the old ways. The path may lead towards rebirth but before one emerges there washed of brain and identity, before one sloughs the old skin, all the characteristics of your first life get an outlandish, bacchanalian wake. For example –

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-02-21
  3. The 007th Chapter: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – The Hairy Heel of Achilles

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Hard to come up with a shock ending these days, not simply because “internet” blabs spoilers as loosely as that bewildering  Snowden tick, but also because twists now seems such a staple of popular culture that it’s disappointing when there isn’t one. Case in point: Die Another Day doesn’t end with a humiliating apology, mass refunds, emergency product recall and everyone culpable for its spewing flayed with cheesegraters and their dingle-dangles fed to Dobermans. Major missed opportunity but, from one perspective, a massive reversal in that it didn’t happen. I wasexpecting it.

     

    I’m entitled to it.

     

    I won’t be providing a twist. Otherwise I would have been merciful, ending this nonsense here and you’d have to distract yourself from the bleak reality of whatever you are by other means of supply. Try psilocybin, or licking an entertaining toad. Either method guarantees more coherent entertainment, I cheerfully admit.

     

    I suppose many would point to this anticipation of twist in low-level, mass-appeal “culture” to emanate from the hopeless deus ex machina when that gobby carpenter with ego issues rose from the dead. Yeah, right: utter cop-out, although it’s easier to jump a shark when you can already walk on water. Alternatively, “Darth” Vader telling the boring lad that he was his dad; claiming he was his mum would have been more engaging, and likely. Sherlock Holmes (ostensibly) dying, Norman Bates as the world’s fourth most vicious drag-act, Superman emerging as a neck-snapping balsawood psycho, a New York populated by apes (tempted to ask whether that is a twist, but won’t) and much involving Messrs. Norton and / or Spacey; all such matters spring to mind. Some might point to the conclusion of this book and its shotgun wedding as another sound example.

     

    However, is the end of OHMSS ectually a surprise? Ian Fleming was a regular exponent of the sting in the tale, surely? Casino Royale ends on a grim downer, Moonraker has a lower-key shock, but still punchy, From Russia With Love nearly kills 007 and, in Goldfinger, Bond administers a cure for gay. Quantum of Solace is one long build to a twist, You Only Live Twice has a demented conclusion (arguably no shock at all since the rest of it is really weird), The Living Daylights an embittered end, 007 in New York a comedy one and Devil May Care, “as” Ian Fleming, has nonsensical surprises that are indeed truly shocking.  In practically all the other Fleming novels, Bond ends up in hospital / recuperation but, on balance, there’s a good chance on picking up one of his books that something will happen at closing time that’ll leave you the one that’s bruised.

     

    Granted: going loop-the-loop as the last giddy thrill of the rollercoaster isn’t limited to the original series. Ignoring the projectile traitors that pebbledash his Bonds, irritating more than they entertain, Mr Gardner doled out a vicious downbeating in a fistful of his. If I recall correctly (look away now to avoid spoilers) Role of Honour, Scorpius, Never Send Flowers and Seafire (I think) have concluding twists, and there may be others, such as the duplicate shock of a ) Felix Leiter pimping out his daughter and b ) his having dabbled with unprecedented heterosexuality at some point. Possibly just a phase he was going through. Mr Benson (look away now if… no, just look away) did it at least a couple of times, pretty effectively too, and Mr Deaver’s effort is constructed entirely of twist and little else, rendering a second read impossible (as well as unwise) because once you know the “surprises”, there’s bugger all else to “enjoy”.

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-02-09
  4. The 007th Chapter: The Spy Who Loved Me – Come Into My Parlour

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    I found what follows knifed into my cranium one morning. As you will see, it appears to be the first person story of a young woman (it’s in the interests of keeping a consistent number of testicles to write “young”), evidently beautiful (and in the interests of my lovely, lovely face) and not unskilled in the arts of love (and of the joint account). According to her story, she appears to have been involved, both perilously and romantically (but mostly perilously), with the same Jacques Stewart whose pointless exploits I myself have written from time to time. With the manuscript was a note signed (in my blood) ‘Mrs Jeem’, assuring me that what she had written was ‘purest truth and from the depths of her heart; take out the bins and deworm the dog’. I was interested in this view of Ian Flemeeeeng, through the wrong end of the telescope so to speak, and after obtaining clearance for certain minor infringements of domestic bliss, I have much pleasure in sponsoring its publication, otherwise she’ll make me sleep in the boathouse once again and its roof leaks.

     

    Send help.

     

    JS.

     

     

     

    ‘Allo. 

     

    Fnarr! Ten-line sentences! Ees what ma ‘usband does, ees eet not? Believe eet, talking to ‘eem is worse. I theenk ‘e breathes through ‘is plump skeen, jibber-jabber-jibber-jabber-bluh-bluh-bluh in that dialect of ‘is. Shaddap you face! Pigliainculo! We of Napoli can talk, but ‘e takes – as ‘e would say –  the sheety biscuit. Not that ‘e is allowed biscuits, the fat ‘ippo; ‘e ‘as to lose twenny pound, figlio di puttana. I know, I know, ‘e would say the easy way to do that is to give me money for shoes. Is “man” (!) who theenks shoes cost twenny pound. 

     

    Stronzo!

     

    What does ‘e mean, “wrong end of the telescope”? I’ve seen ‘is telescope. Need telescope to see eet. Piccolo. ‘E likes James Bond. Is bambino, ‘asn’t grown up. Is path-et-eeec, no? Thees James Bond, ‘e marry a di Vicenza, no? She mad, she die, ees good: northern slurt. 

     

    [Mrs Jim interjects: Ectually, although Italian by birth, I (was) moved to England at three years of age and raised in East Sussex. I have no discernable accent affecting my pronunciation and certainly nothing like the preposterous depiction here. If anything, my English accent corrupts my Italian.  My professional letterhead doesn’t read “screeching blowsy fishwife psychopath cliché” but rather “consultant surgical oncologist”. I appreciate, however, that this nonsense is about an Ian Fleming novel, so cohering with the style I must adopt heightened characteristics and a farcically impenetrable, offensive manner of speaking so that the reader appreciates that I am “foreign”. I am fond of shoes, though. And swearing. As for persons of the Veneto: no strong feelings. If they stay out of my way, I stay out of theirs.]

     

    So, I do review-a. Thees Vivienne Michel – mignotta. End. Fine. Ciao!

     

    ‘As to be longer? Perche? Ma ‘usband makes ees longer? Is eet to compensate? 

     

    Part One: Mi

     

    “I was running away”. Along with creetics, leetle-boy Bond fans and readers wan’ing good time (testa di cazzo! Not that-a sort-a good time). I don’t theenk woman, she writes eet. I theenk eet ees Ian Flemeeeeng in slurt’s dress and whore’s shoes (twenny pound). Ees man who pretends to be woman, like ma ‘usband does when ‘e theenks I’m no in ‘ouse. What is thees – Silence of Lamb? Non mi rompere il coglioni! Man should be man. Was ‘e at Eeeeeeeton? Ah! Explains eet. Mamma knew. Mamma said. If it wasn’t for the keeeds…

     

    What-a can I tell you about-a my life? I was born in Napoli brothel to meeeeserable whore with ‘eart of lead and Latvian – how you say eet? – stevadore with an ‘ump. We were poor, but we weren’t ‘appy. I ‘ad to eat fish’eads until I was eight-a and then we shot-a the dog. I was urchina bella, stealing kerchiefs and inexplicably breaking into song and dance routines despite rickets and diurnal cholera outbreaks. Dio mio! And then wicked theatre producer, ‘e found me and put me in ees girlie show and [insert-a Tiffany Case life story…’ere. When done, insert-a Vivienne Michel life story where you goddamn-a like; I no judge you]. And now I am ‘ere, bird with a weeng down, feeeedled-with in cinema non-paradiso by thees Derek feelth and rejected by Aryan ‘omophobe and ridin’ my Vespa all a-carefree and leathered-up and alone which eeesn’t very wise for a veeectim of abuse at the rough ‘ands of men, save as moist sleaze fantasy by thees Ian Flemeeeeng. ‘As she not seen Psycho? 

     

    [A consultant surgical oncologist writes: Me accent’s slipping. Manchester? Liverpool? (Where?) No: ‘Ove. Sorry, darling – Hhhhhhove. Horrible Hairy Hove Hhhhhhaberdashhhhery. None of the above is true. My parents were doctors. I have never owned a Vespa. Like motorbikes, their only benefit is as a guarantee of imminent organ donation. I drive a Maserati. No, I aim a Masterati.  It weeds out the weaker cars. I don’t believe I know a Derek – one doesn’t mix with the teaching classes – but you’d be surprised at the number of Aryan ‘omophobes one encounters in Hhhhhenley-on-Thames. Usually trying to get my vote]

     

    Part Two: Them

     

    When all thees ‘appens, eet ees Friday 13th. Ees no subtle, no? Ees like pulp gangster tale. Ees not very good pulp gangster tale. She gonna be raped! She just victeeeem. She a-knows she ees victeeeem. She prisoner of dirty old-a man in ‘er ‘ead. Thees Flemeeeeng, ees bad-toothed stinkeeng alcoholic middle-aged “man” tryin’ to get into body of young woman. Ees peeg! If he write eet today, bad man pretend to be young woman on eenternet and ‘e get-a locked up with other bad men and become rottinculo. This a-Flemeeeeng, he just a-drool, old-a cazzone. Bastardo!

     

    Ees a gum-shoe novel, but in bad-a shoes. 

     

    Knock-a knock-a. 

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-01-27
  5. The 007th Chapter: Thunderball – Fasten Your Lap-Strap

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Based on an original screen treatment by Jacques Stewart and two strapping young chaps he met in the pub. Several pints of wine later, he can’t recall who suggested what, officer, but once you’ve struggled to the end, you’ll know they won’t sue for credit. Defamation, perhaps.

     

    Datedly jiggerscreeched at the outset of many a DVD:

     

    You wouldn’t steal a car. Correct. That’s not “couldn’t”, so presumably it’s not a challenge. I wouldn’t steal two nuclear bombs either (he writes, attempting to discipline this drivel). As for “couldn’t”, that’s for me to know and for you to find out.  Top tip: stock up on tinned food before 29 August 1997. No, that hasn’t been and gone; you were told that by The Man and chose to believe it because “they” fed you distracting consumerist pleasures. If the views dripsneered onto message boards establish a date by spot-testing social mores of the age, it’s currently June 1959.

     

    You wouldn’t steal a handbag. True again! Oh, how you know me. You complete me. I love you.

     

    You wouldn’t steal a television. Spooky now.

     

    You wouldn’t steal a movie. Well, not so much steal as sorta borrow it. Don’t worry, nobody really minds. Trust to luck that the same nobody notices.

     

    Unfortunately, despite clever hiding of it in the next hugely anticipated adventure of the singlemost culturally significant fictional character of the twentieth century, “notice” is what they did. “Mind”, too. James Bond did not believe in luck, we are told. Ian Fleming patently didn’t believe in good judgment, save for the one handed down that accelerated his demise. Did he learn his lesson? The Spy Who Loved Me suggests not: he pinched that from a “Vivienne Michel”, although she wisely kept quiet and chose instead to pursue a more rewarding career as a motel nymph.

     

    Hindsight rendering the question a fat lot of use, but it’s questionable whether the Thunderball litigation was interested in preserving the sanctity of contribution per se or rather the incredible opportunity that presented itself to secure rights to the tale as a springboard for the ancillary cash graspable in selling toys and “lifestyle” tat; worth suing for. “Exploitation of intellectual property” rarely had a rawer example. It’s difficult to regard Never Say Never Again as bettering the cultural stock of the human experience, ars gratia artis and all that, but squeezing the golden thunderballs at our expense made someone rich and kept shareholders and pension funds all smiles. Doubtless – and indeed, legally – those promulgating the case were entitled to do so, just as I’m legally entitled to unblock a toilet with my bare hands, although exercising such entitlement seems grubby.

     

    This is in obvious contrast to the altruistic fluffiness of Danjaq, a charitable enterprise of greater benevolence than a rest home for insufficiently wounded kittens.

     

    It’ll be on the litigious side of unwise to comment – even within a facetious piece – about who did what to whom because a ) there’s probably still someone kicking around with a stake in the outcome of the Thunderball trial and b ) rich people squabbling about who gets to relieve us of yet more money is unedifying. The case’s legacy is mixed: the brace of films it spawned are peerless, at differing ends of that scale, although it seems that Blofeld could now appear in future Eon films. Given their previous loon-based depiction of him, and multiple parodies since, it’s moot why the Broccoli factory would want to reintroduce his roundly-mocked persona to disrupt the current balance of begloomed despair, peevish insubordination, a half-naked  drunk and a M named Gareth. Possible that the implausibility of The Cackling Wig O’Skyfall buttered us up for insertion of Ernst.  It wouldn’t be our first time, either, although it strikes me that making Silva an information exploiter shoots Blofeld’s bolt, unless there’s opportunity to pick up the Skyfall plot thread of the leaking of British agents’ names, mysteriously abandoned half way through in favour of Grab a Granny.

     

    The spavined whining about recent Bond ripping off Bourne forgets that Bond’s most successful film, pre-rebooting, was itself spawned of a rip-off. Perhaps that’s what the film-makers mean when they umpteenthly claim they’re “going back to Fleming”. “Perhaps”. Choppy waters, and dangerous to stay in too long: the sharks, they circle. Query whether Thunderball should even come into an exercise of finding the core of a Fleming Bond, if it’s not all his own work. It might be a diversion to try to work out what’s plainly him and what’s more doubtful. Whilst the idea of (say) SPECTRE could be the result of collaborative work (don’t know and don’t care, in equal measure), the articulation of the ideas one assumes is his alone otherwise Blofeld sharing Fleming’s birthdate and his antipathy towards Germans is one mother of a coincidence.

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-01-20
  6. Anthony Horowitz to write new James Bond novel

    Anthony-HorowitzIn an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, bestselling author Anthony Horowitz stated that he’d love to write an adult James Bond novel. Looks like his wish came true, as IFP today announced him as exactly that: the author of the new adult James Bond novel. A worldwide release date has been fixed for September 8th 2015, and it’ll be based on “previously unseen material written by Ian Fleming” – an unused screen treatment for an episode of Ian Flemings planned James Bond TV series named “Murder on Wheels”.

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    Heiko Baumann @ 2014-10-01
  7. The 007th Paragraph: For Your Eyes Only

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

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    What’s on television? You might be wondering the same. Touch harsh considering you’ve only read a dozen words. C’mon, Babycakes, make an effort and stick it out. You’ll make an old man very happy.

     

    What’s not on telly is James Bond; at least, not in an original capacity. Ah me, my salad days, those dappled sprigs of youth long-mildewed at the back of the ‘fridge alongside the quince jelly and the postman’s head, a time when a Bond film on tv was a gleesome treat, a highlight of a week already brimful with the underappreciated sunshines of First-World childhood freedom and parental love. Even in one’s teenage years, a Bank Holiday or – especially thrilling – a past-bedtime school night Bond would dissolve my truculent rebellion and pretence of liking poor garb, hair worn below the collar and horrid music.

     

    Progress may have benefits – I now tolerate the wheel, and my loom-smashing days have ceased – but I can’t help feeling that direct access to Bond films via multitudes of electrical thingy (and corresponding immediate opportunity to bitch about them anonymously) has eroded the pleasure of seeing how ITV had butchered a film, lest it corrupt impressionable minds into hollowing out a local volcano, cultivating an additional nipple or flying jetpacks without a helmet. My offspring can up / down / sideload the things immediately (along with stuff I’d prefer not to know about) and the special scarcity of Bond – and equivalent scarcity of good behaviour on my part allowing me to watch it – evaporates. Instantly available, there’s nothing of the (harmlessly) illicit about them any more, presumably why ITV has the temerity to show Licence to Kill at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, an extraordinarily irresponsible act given that there might be people watching. For that “film”, no butchering’s enough. Mid-afternoon schedule fillers, because we can get them by so many other means, the lustre dwindles. A direct consequence of giving votes to women and ‘sex equality’.

     

    What could have been on television are these stories, although Quantum of Solace needs energising to render it watchable; I’d suggest shaking the camera about. Apparently unwavering in a belief that 007 was fit for tv despite the Card Sense Jimmy Bond shambles, and doubtless associated with the marvellously snobby letter to CBS about Bond’s appeal to poorly-educated Bs and Cs, 1958’s aborted thirteen-episode Bond series finds itself novelised two years on. The clever / lazy trick of adapting abandoned projects Fleming would pull again with Thunderball, albeit “quite a” poor decision with a corrosive legacy.  Whilst it would have been a shame to have some of these tales lie abandoned in first-draft screenplays, the practice suggests increasing frustration in replenishing ideas and authorial interest the more vocal the demand for annualised Bond became.

     

    More benevolently, the short-story format trims the outré excess that dragged Goldfinger down, the brevity emphasising the duality of high living and low killing without pausing for wheezy deliverance of tart opinion. To an extent this succeeds: From a View to a Kill and The Hildebrand Rarity are contained, terse yet characterful admixtures of business and pleasure, with only occasional hiccoughs of pastoral digression, sexual unrealpolitik and dodgy racial observation. For Your Eyes Only sprawls slightly (not totally convinced why it shifts to Canada other than giving Ivar Bryce’s farmhouse a role, presumably jealous that a thinly-disguised Goldeneye kept appearing) but is blessed with a terrific conclusion. Risico is as loose as Ms. Baum herself but again delivers a stirring set-piece with the Lido minefield chase, something missing from the 1981 film (along with pace) although it would have required Uncle Roger to run and, given its aura of “underage”, would have been a different minefield to traverse; one littered with yewtrees.

     

    Quantum of Solace is anomalous, and I’d guess it wasn’t one of the telemovies, although it gives Eon Productions Ian Fleming opportunity to do other (better?) than the restrictive regime of “James Bond” and send a love letter to W. Somerset Maugham and quite the opposite to Mrs F. at the same time. I admire most of what he produced but Fleming himself could be a toxic measle. Writing that can’t have impressed the wife, nor could From Russia with Love’s fixing of 12th August as a day on which Bond finds himself thoroughly bored by the prospect of what it brings, utterly coincidentally Caspar Fleming’s birthday. Gee, thanks Dad. That it turned out to be Fleming’s deathdate, when the blubbery arms of the soft life caught up with him, is probably karma, along with being very weird. I’m not averring that one has to be a vindictive old chisel to write Bond “properly”, although Messrs. Benson and Deaver (inter alia) appear to be splendid, kindly chaps but their contributions… hmm…

     

    Mid-period Bond – 1959 to 1962 – delivers four odd books, each offering different things to varying degrees of success, searching for settled identity, striving to establish where Bond goes, the cash cow’s milk at risk of turning sour if Goldfinger’s tone were to demonstrate a trend.  The sequence has a parallel. Starts with a story delivering crowd-pleasing tics, an Aston Martin and unworkable economic meltdown devised by a British citizen of Eastern European heritage in league with Russians; an adventure that has, on reflection, dated pretty badly. This is followed by an episodic affair in which Bond rides a motorcycle, provokes marital jealousy and spends time in Paris. Next one has 007 starting off unfit for service, something something something about stolen nukes and a conclusion justifying a submarine. Finally, in a wild but wisdomless last gasp, going utterly, utterly mad and unleashing Madonna and an invisible car a female narrator, Bond a bit-part-player in his own life story and secondary to curious artistic decisions. All existing to satisfy the obligation to produce James Bond material, but swerving wildly in the pursuit of a consistent approach. A whiff of going through the motions before roaring back with three tales in which Bond falls in love and is bereaved, goes a bit odd (personally and structurally) in the pursuit of revenge and then, having been missing presumed dead, is sent on an impossible mission against a potentially homosexual foe. So – Fleming’s patchy run of Goldfinger to The Spy who Loved Me inclusive = the Brosnans? OK, so this is wretchedly strained, but that’s in keeping with the Bonds at this juncture, treading water and – whilst not unentertaining and sporadically magical – muddled in moving forward coherently. James Bond’s there, lovely to see him, but hazy what he’s there for.

     

    An alternative view is that these books’ variations, rather than bored attempts to realign, show confidence by an author whose stuff sells regardless, adventurously upholding his underappreciated penchant for experimenting, and the For Your Eyes Only collection is a microcosm of his seriously underestimated breadth, capable of demonstrating five differing characteristics of written 007. Insofar as establishing ingredients of a Bond through spot-testing the seventh chapters was the excuse for this smug prolix dross, there’s a bijou problemette here. For Your Eyes Only has no chapters. If the experiment is worth inflicting, a solution lies in channel-surfing the episodes. Let’s go with paragraphs 1 to 7 of From a View to a Kill; 8 to 14 of For Your Eyes Only; 15 to 21 of Quantum of Solace, with 22 to 28 and 29 to 35 of Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity respectively, to polish us off. This might not work, being too short a selection to demonstrate “range”, or five manifestations of it but, with another portmanteau to come, even this approach might leave insufficient prose to carve into for the likes of the extremely / mercifully brief 007 in New York. That might prove headachey but I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. Sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth.

     

    You’ll definitely make an old man very happy, doing that.

     

    The First 007th Paragraphs – From a View to a Kill: “The eyes behind the wide black rubber goggles were cold as flint…”

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-09-16
  8. Today 50 Years ago: exit Ian Fleming

    ian_flemingOn this day, 12th August 2014, it is 50 years since Ian Lancaster Fleming finally fell victim to a heart attack. With him the world lost a unique writer whose influence on modern pop culture only unfolded its full impact after his death. Fleming himself would have been surprised about the success and longevity of his work. Even half a century after his death one would have to travel to the remotest corners of our globe to find a person not familiar with “James Bond 007″; telling in a time where fame lasts a full five minutes until the next big thing enters the stage and where fashions and fads chase each other around the clock.

    Despite various efforts and contenders the genre of the suspense thriller, literally Fleming’s own, never found an adequate successor for him.

    Ian Fleming remains in a class of his own. He is sorely missed.

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-08-12
  9. The 007th Chapter: Goldfinger – Thoughts in a DBIII

     

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

    GFWC600

     

     

     

     

    Why write?

     

    To make money? Presumably. Not all do. Fewer should. Colossal drivel out there. In here, too, although you get this for free. Like roadkill, or the ‘flu.

     

    To influence? Goldfinger was my first exposure to anything Bond. Made me the creature I am today. I blame Ian Fleming rather than take any individual responsibility.

     

    To better the world with the outflow of their creativity and express the innermostest innermost of their tortured, yearning souls? Arguable, albeit pretentiously.

     

    To annoy, and have a right old go at people they don’t like so narrative credibility can go boil its bum in Bovril? On the evidence of this novel, undeniable. Insofar as applying to these pieces too, see “influence”, above.

     

    The 007th Chapter of the 007th book. If one believes weirdo Black Magic demented claptrap, this “lucky number seven” stuff promises good fortune. It’s no more weird, blackly magical nor demented as claptrap than the belief that spits diametrically opposed propositions about a man marrying another man (a heinous obscenity) and a man marrying his own rib (obviously totally unmental and the basis of a secure family unit). Should you choose to be offended by that, you’ve probably come to the right place, and definitely so if you:

     

    • are Korean and/or
    • smell of “zoo” and/or
    • drive slowly, be it in either/both the motoring or golfing context and/or
    • are Mexican and/or
    • are teetotal and/or
    • are a pansified Italian and/or
    • are around five foot tall and/or
    • are euphemistically probably Jewish despite unconvincing protestations to the contrary and/or
    • are fat and/or
    • are Chinese and/or
    • are wealthy and/or
    • [… is there anyone interesting left? If you’ve been playing along with “and” rather than “or”, we definitely need to meet; you sound scrumptious]

     

    That’s only the first few chapters, and before we’re dipped in chocolate and thrown to the lesbians. On and on this (relatively) long novel goes, with practically everyone who ever lived getting a kick in the Penfolds. Few escape without (at least) a sideways barb, Fleming injecting into the book all the bitterness of his colossally difficult struggle, that “wealthy layabout elitist journalist drinks his private income and exploits well-connected wife’s literary contacts so he can afford to pretend that all he’s interested in is tropical fish rather than the vulgarity of being seen to try” specie of colossally difficult struggle. Long, stony road from underprivilege, that. With, let’s be kind, rampagingly feeble plotting and extensive pastoral interludes extolling the latest enthusiasm, be it bullion-smuggling, golf, curable lesbians or exuberant xenophobia, it’s the grumpiest of the books, in many ways unappealing misanthropy, and needing a good shave. I know I bang on unedited, but, y’know, influence.

     

    In much the same way as (say) Die Another Day might be a good “James Bond film” because it contains the usual things but is a disastrous “film” when stacked up against anything outside the series, with its slothful pace, threadbare non-plot and appalling attitudes, Goldfinger is a ghastly novel when compared beyond its own kind, in which company it arguably polishes up reasonably well. It definitely has all the requisites exemplified in the 007th Chapters so far, and a few more that go towards building a Fleming Bond archetype:

     

    • Attitudes promulgated to provoke
    • High-living (with associated disdain), rich food (with associated disgust)and carrrdds (with associated… um… excitement, possibly, I dunno)
    • Foreigner-baiting, “exaggeration of an attitude that couldn’t possibly be held and is therefore a joke” beginning to wane as an excuse for unrepentant, attention-seeking racism
    • British Establishment snobbery (not wholly disconnected from the above)
    • Fewer bursts than one might expect of savage action interrupting lengthy digressions on “stuff”
    • A none-too-disciplined attitude towards having it convince; just rumbling towards the bits that interested the writer, and glossing over the rest with a practised aloofness
    • A nice drawing
    • Women! Know your place. Basically, a victim of childhood abuse who ends up dead, submissive or cured, or a combination of these
    • Ridiculous female names. Vesper. Solitaire. Gala. Tiffany Case. Romanova (given its context, it seems absurd). Pussy Galore. Jill.
    • Physical freaks roundly sneerbullied by a schoolboy athlete
    • American gangster clichés
    • The prospect of 007’s genitals accruing significant damage
    • Bond’s contemplation of his job, his income and disillusion with both
    • Hey everyone! It’s they United States! They have food
    • Slightly half-hearted, at-a-distance-and-can’t-really-be-bothered dipping of the toe into the waters of tradecraft, in this instance with the Identicraft and the Homer, in comparison to ages spent eating crabs, being lectured to about gold and roughly forty pages setting up and playing golf
    • Nihilistic fatalism – the first chapter with its conclusion that everyone dies anyway is tremendously bleak
    • Structure games – the Happenstance etc… is funny, and Bond being held captive for so long is a departure from an adventure norm, where the hero fights his way out within seconds
    • Product-placement. Relentless product placement
    • Gentleman’s sports described at length, at which the cheat is himself cheated
    • Name-checking one’s acquaintances, in this case the likes of Blackwell, Blackwell’s cousin’s husband Mr Goldfinger, Raymond Chandler and Alfred Blacking/Whiting. How droll
    • Bond relying on total fluke such as hiding the message in the ‘plane’s loo and Goldfinger’s baffling decision not to butcher him into cutlets but instead recruit him as a P.A following a distinctly homoerotic interview process requiring an oiled-up half-naked mute bodybuilder masseur and buzzsaw-up-the-fudgegun. Fifty Shades of Gold
    • James Bond being passive and clumsy. Fancy getting yourself caught like that
    • Returning characters (Du Pont, the Spangled Mob and a questionable Felix Leiter cameo seemingly for the hell of it)
    • The savagery of the animal kingdom; the patently subhuman zoological specimen of Oddjob being fed a cat being a “highlight”
    • Substantial sexual deviancy, in multiple manifestations
    • Ham sandwiches with plenty of mustard (not wholly disconnected from the above, if in the right mood)
    • Knocking around Kent and the posh bits of London
    • The pesky Russians exploiting a hangover from World War II
    • Bond investigating X – Major Tallon’s murder, Strangways’ murder, gold smuggling – turning into exposing a lunatic masterplan with dubious scientific veracity but probably terribly exciting nonetheless
    • ‘Planes, trains and automobiles, the latter driven thuggishly.

     

    I’m happy to assert this list as keystone Fleming Bond, despite risking meaning the 007th Chapter exercise is done. Oh, cheer not: there may yet be attributes to ascertain, but that run-through brings all the previous books into this one whole. On the one hand, that makes Goldfinger a dream Bond book – it’s got everything. Trouble is, that renders it as bloated as its eponymous villain. If written by someone else, it would be lampoon, tipping the individual ridiculous attributes into excess. Emanating from the original author, it’s hard to avoid the smell and smoke and sweat of indulged self-parody, one that was bound to sell and no-one had the guts – or the financial desire – to tell him to simmer it down a nadge. This is as far as it could go and the strain shows, I fear, particularly in narrative credibility. The traditional legerdemain of papering over lacunae with extensive description of peripheral incident (e.g. golf) now looks diversionary and idle rather than daffy and charming.

     

    Whilst books and short stories yet to come may take one or more of these elements further, I’m pretty confident nothing left to come includes them all to the extent that this does. Just as with GoldenEye and Die Another Day it’s a Greatest Hits package to keep the fans immediately sated but once the superficial thrill of first encounter dissipates, we’re left wondering whether it hasn’t cheated us by emitting little that was fresh. Fortunately, the remaining Flemings don’t go down this route but, despite the books from 1960 to the end containing much of interest and novelty, a fondness for short stories and borrowing other people’s work may suggest that the excess and overkill of Goldfinger exhausted (or bored) him. The film version is readily – if lazily – seen as the Bond archetype, a model for the films that followed (for good or ill); the book, conversely, exemplifies written Bond of the 1950s but query whether it was too rich a feast of the stale.

     

    If, as happened to me, this was the first one you read, eminently possible due to a famous title, you might – as also happened to me, initially – consider other Flemings lesser because they didn’t include all “the stuff”. A similar phenomenon is observable with folks for whom their first Bond film was that merciless slog of reheated guff GoldenEye, when required to contemplate (say) The Living Daylights or Quantum of Solace. Without wanting to provoke an argument about the films, insofar as the books went I was mistaken. Because it has everything, Goldfinger is the weaker for it, leaking at the seals. Appealing characters, some (albeit not much) suspense but a directionless, complacent amble through overblown crowd-pleasing. When that happens with the films, people demand “they now need to make a For Your Eyes Only”.

     

    Good idea.

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Goldfinger: Thoughts in a DB III

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-08-07
  10. The 007th Chapter: Dr No – Night Passage

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

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    “Well, everybody needs a hobby.”
                    “So what’s yours?”
                    “Resurrection.”
                    “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘erection’? Oh, you I like. Bip.” [Gurns a very silly face]
    Deleted scene: Skyfall (2012)

     
    Back to life; back to reality. Or not. An altered state, anyway. Having tumbled /crumbled, a medically incapable and psychologically semi-detached James Bond’s fitness is openly criticised, so an underimpressed M banishes him to Shanghai Jamaica to redeem himself against a villain with a terrible reputation telegraphed far in advance of meeting him. So far, so The Man with Golden Gun Dr No. Patterns emerge, which is a kindly way of suggesting that there’s a finite amount of originality that “James Bond” can sustain. 

     

     

    What makes you think it’s his first time?

     

     

    Resurrected from a near-death experience, 007 emerges changed. At least, there’s a marked shift in the attitude towards him, not least from folks one would expect to be on his side.  Including his biographer. Those who criticise Skyfall as having shoved the formative Bond of the first two Craigs too far forward, depicting him in decrepitude, ignore that barely six stories in Fleming is much harder on his creation than post-2006 Eon Productions is yet to be. Arguably, the current run of films are close enough to the spirit (if not the letter) of what was written that the equally clapped-out cliché of going “back to Fleming” might be justifiable. Fleming Bond is a burnt-out case early on, too. Pieces himself together to win the day but, from hereon in, invariably at a corrosively permanent physical and / or psychological cost. To an extent this is evident in the run of five films scripted by Messrs. Purvis and Wade, so it’s not just the “Craig era”; the last three films, however, have made it manifestly critical to what’s going on, rather than nailgunning the idea artlessly onto an unforgiving grimslick of exhausted “characters”, grotty puns and relentless explosions happening regardless.

     
    Albeit with mild erosion of the Casino Royale paragon – his impetuousness in Diamonds are Forever, his accidental brute force and luck succeeding in From Russia with or without Comma – the Bond of the first five novels is prima facie a competent man whom we are invited / required to admire, lest the fallacy of the wish-fulfilment enterprise collapse. Not without flaws, certainly, but tending towards the classically “heroic”. The man introduced in 1953 is a tank-tough archetype with habits and pleasures intended to engender post-War envy; despite a jaundiced view of his trade, a success. The character flourishes of the third, fourth and fifth books are not presented as egotistical faults nor manifestations of defective reason. To an extent, the end of FRWL shows the fluke finally expiring and an invitation to the reader to reflect on how precarious – and unlikely – his previous successes were; how long can luck (believed in or not) continue, before shaming Skyfall downfall? How close to failure has he always been? I’d argue that such contemplation only arises after reading this book: the reason From Russia with Love’s ending is a “shock” is because up to then, we’re not expecting Bond to fail. Now, we can’t be quite so confident of his success. The series pivoted and crashed down, too.  Put the same ending on (say) Thunderball and it’d be no surprise at all.

     

     

    Bond’s aptitude – neither previously seriously doubted – is regularly questioned throughout the second batch of books. Still an author fan-fictionalising himself, but moving from a frustrated writer idealising an impregnable, perfect version, towards an avatar itself struggling to overcome enfeebling human affliction, the real enemy however many cat-masticating Koreans and loony pseudo-Counts check in. It’s no longer the case that “these things simply do not affect Bond”; now it’s “they do, they hurt, and he just about gets by”. Bond’s capacity for failure, his vulnerability (physical and mental) and likelihood of dwindling, are the single consistent defining character points for the remainder of Fleming’s novels. This book and Thunderball start with him as a wreck, a grand old ship being hauled away ignominiously (…etc), the moral of The Spy who Loved Me (other than Don’t do that again) is that he’s not a man to admire, and the shotgun marriage towards the end of this period tips him over the edge. Even Goldfinger, which might be perceived (reasonably) as bucking the trend as a parody anomaly with its impossible scheme, insanely unlikely actions by the villain and “non-religious lesbian curing”, starts with Bond contemplating himself and the filth of his profession, with the remainder an exercise in exposing it to ridicule. Fleming has turned the critical eye developed in his first five books, inward. His habit of lashing out at freaks remains, but he’s not afraid to give Mr Shiny Wonderful a Brooklyn stomping too. Wonder if he actually liked anyone, other than his mates Jim, Jack and Johnnie – Beam, Daniels and Walker – and that smelly trio Chester Fields, Benson Andhedges and (with many apologies in advance) Luke E. Strike.

     

     

    It’s a popular complaint amongst the denizens of internet shoutholes that we were served a tadge too much M through the medium of Dench, at best a hyper-critical headmistress, at worst a meddlesome old ratbag who got what she deserved. Fair enough, in the first five Flemings, M is peripheral, sending Kal-El out to do good, and although he gets more than his usual half-dozen lines in Moonraker (and we learn his first name), it’s only because a Non-U plebhead like Bond couldn’t have slipped past the Blades doorman without him. However, from Dr No onwards, there’s a notable increase in M’s presence and whilst, granted, there was no buddy-trip to Bond’s boyhood bivouac, at one point 007 does spend Christmas day with the old stinker. Most notably, M’s attitude towards Bond is increasingly underwhelmed and, starting with Dr No, a fair old slab of any interaction he has with 007 is “being cruel to be kind”. Relentlessly picking away, one half expects Bond to lamp him one but doubtless this new, frayed, Bond would foul it up and collapse in a heap, weighed down by a cirrhotic liver and just so many problems. Do we think this “Gareth” person is going to be different? He was nass-Ty to Bond even before conspiring evilly to get himself more pow-ah.

     

     

    Starting with Dr No and up to and including the first fistful of chapters of The Man with the Golden Gun, this second life is not the world of the first five books. Hidden within a ludicrous sci-fi dragon-slaying princess-saving fable garnished with birdy pooh-pooh, rocket-toppling, miffed squid, lashings of hot tarantulas, undereducated nature-girl sea-nymphs and hook-handed sinoworms with their hearts firmly in the wrong place, Fleming takes the opportunity to both de- and re-construct his main character, and hasn’t finished by the book’s end. The remaining novels of the period – and several of the short stories – continue to cast doubt, breaking Bond down until he suffers the mother of all breakdowns and has to be re-rebooted, starting all over again all over again in The Man with the Golden Gun, an exploitable zombie lobotomised back into competence by his own side.

     

     

    This second phase of the Bond universe starts with a lead character who is incompetent, in disgrace, a failure, and continues to chip away at him until he must fall once more, albeit that time from a weather balloon. Literally, a fallen idol. A pivoty one, anyway. Not to assert Bonds 1-5 are without their reflective moments, but these tend to be carpetbeaten away so Bond can heroically save the Empire and bash the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. Whilst there are still superficial heroics going on in v2.0, the greater interest comes in having these performed by an increasingly fragile man. One could speculate fruitlessly (so I will) about this change of heart in characterising the lead, shifting from a cold, hard man who is so superhuman his bollocks can withstand a relentless mashing, to someone frailer with the constant potential to cock things up badly. How much tension can be created if all one gets is Superman? How boring must that be to watch write? Having introduced us to the hero’s capacity to bodge, the ingrained possibility going forwards of Bond failing provides additional tension. If his writer can leave him as good as dead, all bets are off. Subsequent villains’ threats are exacerbated by our increased awareness of Bond’s intrinsic weaknesses (and solid undermining by his own side). An invulnerable hero can only interest so many times, and all the invisible cars in the world can’t camouflage it forever. Amusing though it is that the film of Dr No jettisons the allegations of incompetence in favour of establishing a Teflon iconography, at least Fleming had the good grace/sense to realise the wipe-clean superhero couldn’t be of sustainable interest after only four years, rather than persisting with forty increasingly tedious ones. The crease-free non-stick Bond remains imprisoned by Halle Berry on a Welsh clifftop dead on a French hotel carpet, and a more troubled one has taken his place.

     

     

    Anyway, matters not; it’s only a codename.

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Dr No: Night Passage 

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-07-07
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