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  1. 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. 

     

    Part Three: ‘Eem

     

    Bond-a turns up! He dressed-a like gangster! Is no subtle. “All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken”. No they don’t-a. What ees thees rubbish my ‘usband reads? Ian Flemeeeeng? Ian Flemeeeeng? You ‘ear me? Li mortacchi tua! You leetle boys all pretendin’ to be-a James Bond with your dreenking and seely watches and priddy cars, and thees is the sort of theeng you like! Merda! ‘E jus’ doin’ ‘eet to shock, like bambina when she excreta everywhere and seets there, all smiles. Ees disturbed child writin’ for stupeed children. What ees thees? ‘E theenks that because ‘e write as woman, ees okay to say eet? Sheet-weet. 

     

    [A consultant surgical oncologist writes: The sentiment is possibly criminal. Why have I allowed this revoltingly poor book into the house? There’s no ambiguity in what is expressed. It may be a inciting influence on the weak-minded i.e. the sort of people at whom it is aimed. I would say I thought better of my husband but on reflection realise I don’t and that this is well down to his usual standard. I shall have words with Jacques. I shall win]

     

    The policeman, he-a called “Stonor”. Like-a Stonor ‘Ouse. Ees close to us. You weeel know eeet not for eets park and ‘istory but (I weep-a for you, you crumbs-a of livin’) because eet was in “Bond feelm”, a seely cartoon, one of the ones with ‘eem ‘oo look meees’rable, like he ‘ad rough end of cello up ‘is lady rose. 

     

    ‘Ees all a nice-a chat thees Stonor ‘as with ‘er but it all comes to one theeng – she ees rough slurt, and she gonna end-a up in ditch. 

     

    I ‘ave ‘ad enough of thees. Thees book, ees feelth. Ees thrown in been. I shall ‘ave to ‘and back to Jeem to write rest of eet. You might not notice difference but I’ve trouble keeping eet up. As ma ‘usband would say, annoyeengly, fnarr. 

     

    What does eet mean? 

     

    [Sound of shackles being unlocked, bag removed from head, an overweight body being dumped in a chair and hasty removal of first edition of a misguided book from the “been”]

     

    Thank you, scrumblenumpkin. Didn’t even have to say the safe word. Ooh, sore wrists.

     

    [A consultant surgical oncologist writes: Indicative of girth of telescope that it’s only the wrists rather than the entire arms. My tragedy]

     

    Enough with folie a deux. Time for folie a Fleming. What is this? The Spy Who Loved Me; the life of Vivienne Michel, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying..?

     

    …confidence?

     

    …complacency?

     

    …underestimation?

     

    …exhaustion?

     

    …conflict?

     

    …concern?

     

    …guilt?

     

    Perhaps all, but never convincingly settling on one as predominant.

     

    Must have been “unexpected” upon receipt at Jonathan Cape, causing alarm that flicking through pages of Bond as if they were banknotes might end due to baffling authorial self-indulgence. Queries, too, about what was in the cigarettes Fleming devoured as ravenously as they devoured him. As with its namesake film, to unleash this in the teeth of litigation and when James Bond’s future might have been doubted, displays bravado. This tenth book is yet bolder than that tenth film which, gloriously, is a remix played at maximum volume, but mistakes confidence for excessive invulnerable boasting. Fleming had already done that with Goldfinger. This first person narrative, Jane Eyre meets Midwood Books meets critical outrage, teeters along the high, thin wire between bravery and stupidity. As conflicting motives tumble with it, I can’t decide which side it falls. Fall, however, it does.

     

    Not dissimilar to the film, there’s self-awareness (that the films would not shake for decades), something that often accompanies outward swagger. Unlike the Eon series’  grisly backslapping knowingness of its own demerits, this book arguably backstabs. What is Fleming saying? This is all James Bond is; my tragedy is that this is what I have ectually achieved. Doused in champagne, caviar and scrambled eggs but understand, please – clear even for Bs and Cs – that it’s no better than equivalent sleazetrash in  racks in the lobbies of motels and read by persons frequenting them. Ah, my legacy. This is all I can do, this is all I’ve been doing, and I am defeated by it. You simply thought it was better because there was Bridge.

     

    Alternatively, is Fleming mockingly taking on US pulp and, finessing it through Bond norms, beating that lot at their own game? Is it just a piss-take? Of whom, though? If it’s of the reader, this is an act of brutal complacency, a writer overconfident that he could write rubbish and people would still buy it. However, such a charge is easier to sustain were this a more regular affair. Evidently some thought went into it, unlike Goldfinger’s easy cruise-control. Exhausted, then? The spy may have loved me, but has the author fallen out of love with the spy? Turning against his creation just at the point when others will take 007 and let him run completely out of hand? Like its heroine, psychologically it’s all over the place, hard to read, and that’s not a million miles from suggesting some of it is unreadable. Some distaste at its contents aside (albeit understandable), the benefit of The Spy Who Loved Me and its justified place in the series is that it’s a horrifyingly raw exposure of an author losing control of his creation. Possibly his mind, with it.

     

    Several sources assert that Fleming was aghast at being read by juveniles. Given that he freely unleashed excessive! exclamation! marks!, Lower-Sixth common-room opinions, “Pussy Galore”, demented ex-Nazis hurling rockets at Her Maj, “homages” of books he enjoyed and a fascinated terror of women, one wonders what he reasonably expected. Perhaps, Ian old lollipop, you could have made them less juvenile in the first place? Ignoring that argument in favour of the income stream, he chose to deliver a cautionary tale about the lack of difference between James Bond and other two-bit rapey gangsters and how the superficial allure of that world is no place for nice young persons. Is it, accordingly… a children’s book – or at least one aimed at them? If so, it’s the second most salacious Young Adult fiction imaginable (after John Wayne Gacy’s Boy’s Bumper Book of Clowns). Not too surprising, given the decidedly mixedmessages of “James Bond and the Adventure of the Dirty Lady in the Motel” that he needed another go at junior storytime with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Spy Who Loved Me has plenty bang bang; as for chitty, depends how cleft one’s palate is. If you need help, Mrs Jim is handy with a scalpel.

     

    Cramming this parable with the most explicit sex of his work – the “Me” part of the book is a wantonly grimy Hot Sleaze Shocker – with a heroine expressly depicted as loose and an exciting gunfought chase around burning buildings, suggests confusion, or hypocrisy, in the attempt to steer impressionable youthery away from Bond. For his next trick, Mr Fleming will magically eat a cake and yet still have it. Gangsters, girls and guns are real turn-offs for the adolescent, aren’t they? Like the end of a moralising cartoon, the child-catching violence sunk by an epilogued “message”, admittedly more commonly “to conquer Castle Greyskull, learn to work together as a team [buy our toys]” rather than “wanton sluts who have had an abortion only narrowly avoid a fiery hell”, but Fox doubtless has that in development. Strange to try to dissuade those seeking shocks by increasing the more shocking elements to overload. Bit like my father’s idea that, in finding one’s offspring (hi) taking a nip o’ booze, making the little swine finish the bottle to teach me a lesson; the lesson being that alcohol is smashing, and I’ve never looked back. Possibly counterproductive. Fleming should have just unleashed a 200 page version of Quantum of Solace and bored the little sods to death. The sensation is that of a tabloid berating television for shocking acts of Ban-This-Sick-Filth-Now-ness and proving its point by printing close-up stills over many moistly-worded, drooling pages.

     

    The irony of the title – the spy doesn’t love her, he buggers off before a nice eggy breakfast, ordering her to change her soap, indicating she’s a skank (with just cause) – could suggest that Vivienne is an unreliable narrator. Put Bond in a (marginally) more normal scenario than Dr No and how does he behave, particularly to a young lady we have come to “know”? As reprehensibly as ever, even more so given that Vivienne is “real”, which I suspect is the point. And how does this woman, verderbt, verdammt, verraten, react? Does she loathe him, like a sensible person? No; it’s hero worship and another jumbling of what the message might be striving to be. Are we meant to sympathise with her, or think her daft? I don’t read empowerment – nor empathy, nor sympathy – in articulating the tale through this female voice, so “daft” it must be. Although that undermines the (possible) message, it does open up the idea that she represents a fabulously embittered critique of an unblinking hero worship of 007 (and puts the “semi-rape” stuff into the mouth of a cretin, the only place that can harbour it). Given that she’s the only one who ever slept with him, she’s Bond fan number one. Look at her. Just look at her. Learning nothing, off she will scoot and probably end up murdered. Bond fans. Too stupid to accept the truth, all a-gurgle at this terrible, terrible man. Biting the hand that feeds him, is Fleming, in between mouthfuls of that everlasting cake. Whether one is meant to tut at her struggle, or lick one’s lips precisely because of it, is hard to decide. The book might be a good idea, but query whether this was the right conveyance for it. A morality tale, but one that leers. What does Vivienne learn by all this? Sod all. An uncritical Dr Watson in motorcycle leathers, and now I’ve an image of Nigel Bruce that’s going to take some shaking out of me.

     

    In having Bond seen through the eyes of another major character, the opportunity for finger-wagging presents itself handsomely, although given the content of the book, you just don’t know where that finger has been. Urr. On reflection, it had to be “the girl”; a villain’s (or more amusingly, a minor villain’s) perspective (as with From Russia with Love) would inevitably be skewed towards the “Well, they would say that about Bond, wouldn’t they?” but the impression of Vivienne is that she’s a bit thick to be deceived so easily by the obvious trap at the motel and her lovers: Derek, an old Etonian, and Kurt, whose views aren’t radically different from those Bond has himself expressed, and then 007 who encapsulates several aspects of both – and of Horror and Sluggsy – but is in some mysterious way “better”. The ongoing themes from chapter 20 of Casino Royale – which now looks like a manifesto for the series itself – that the heroes and villains get all mixed up… made as explicit as it ever will be.

     

    In hindsight, fascinating timing. At the end of its publication year, we received the Eon-ised Dr No and – Professor Dent and swamp guard aside – the films would not (until recently) share the qualms of an author coming to terms with what he has done. Look at that merchandising, all those toy DB5s sold on the back of Goldfinger, in which a woman is taken to a barn and raped – or semi-raped (because she appears to like it) – or the model space shuttles that naturally emanate from a defenceless girl being ripped apart by Dobermans, or the opportunity to buy a watch whilst your misguided peamind prays that others will think you are James Bond as a result, a man who destroys homes in downtown St Petersburg with a tank, the git. Admittedly, Fleming expresses discomfort ten books in, money in the bank, a Presidential-endorsement made and multiple films on the horizon, which isn’t medal-level bravery but could be mentioned in dispatches for attempted gallantry, similar to J.K. Rowling bravely outing Dumbledore once all the enriching wizardry was done.

     

    Just like Vivienne Michel, we didn’t want to listen. Faced with this borderline-rapist clumsy thug snob, what did we do? We embraced the monster and instilled him into Western culture to such an extent it would be hard to imagine it without him. We were “warned”, albeit by the very person who was as culpable of romanticising 007 just as much as Vivienne Michel.

     

    The films doubtless boosted awareness of Fleming, but their jackbooting of what Bond “is”, appealing to the undemanding, easily deceived and product-placers offering budget if their baubles are shown in a benevolent arc-light, might not “get” what Fleming was saying with The Spy Who Loved Me (even if its execution doesn’t say it well). This is not a man to be liked, says Fleming, trying to wean us off any admiration we had, lest we be considered as gullible as Vivienne. Yet Eon turned him into the greatest hero-icon commodity of the century. The legacy of the (mostly) formulaic films haunts “James Bond” and whilst the Fleming estate doubtless benefits by association with the series, this book – others, true, but this one especially – demonstrates that Ian Fleming is underestimated by any parallel preconception that he is a writer as formulaic as the committee-minds that puked up Octopussy or GoldenEye. The Spy Who Loved Me may not be a successful departure, but as a day-release respite from the prison of “James Bond”, it has appeal.

     

    Then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like “semi-rape” and, stunned, one argues that it should be locked up forever and the key not just thrown away but melted down.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-01-27
  2. 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.

     

    The dangers of collaboration laid bare, not just in Thunderball’s genesis but also in its story. Tickled fitfully in waspish references to the inadequacies of SHAPE in From a View to a Kill, here Fleming prods further with a warning about the loopholes created by bringing together nations of differing temperament – such as the British and, y’know, Italians - in preservation not of individual nationalistic goals, just been through a war where that was the villain’s “journey”, but pursuing instead the abstract, conflicted, exploitable ideological nonsense of “peace”, each partner nation having its own definition. The advantage of teamwork is that no individual is responsible for errors; a problem shared is a problem blamed. That absence of responsibility is also its disadvantage, also a tendency to be infiltrated, a notion that Mr Gardner ran with many (many, many) times.  Loopholes through which private enterprise without an ideology other than wealth can skip freely, causing merry hell.

     

    Collaboration allows a pantomime Italian – a wartime enemy – onto the Vindicator, leading to disaster. It’s not an Englishman who steals the bombs, is it? The mutually suspicious and fractured cabal that defends Britain is in contrast to the (…erm) union of crooks – a U.N. of crime, a largely European union at that – headed with fierce purpose by a Greek Pole connected to the Abwehr (inevitably). Bond, knackered instrument of a weakened state, undergoes a futile rebooting at Shrublands, starkly juxtaposed with the introduction of the ruthless SPECTRE, itself a collaborative entity but one with energy, one with a point. How can an exhausted and unfit Britain Bond cope?

     

    In this atmosphere of fractious marriage, where stands the purpose of a James Bond? 007 is no team-mate; the sports he favours are single-player mode. After a distressing episode with a yoghurt, he recaptures his single-minded, booze-and-eggs fuelled identity and saves the day. Come on Britain! Don’t let your identity be subsumed! This is what we need! Ish. The book leaves me with a question: under which flag does Bond sail? The threat here is to an American interest and 007 seems integrated into and comfortable with the culture: the amused, detached observer of the USA in Live and Let Die and Diamonds are Forever is gone, as has the paternalistic riding to the rescue of Dr No. He’s a fuzzier World citizen who happens to be British, something the films cling onto when they can’t justify (beyond bolstering the opening weekend’s grosses) why 007 should (say) stop Max Zorrrrr’n giving California a much-needed bath. There are neither Americans nor British in (the book version of) SPECTRE. Special Relationship takes on the Special Executive? I suppose that’s what the concluding battle represents, that Britain and the US depend on each other and it’s a relationship best consummated. In Felix Leiter’s dreams, anyway,

     

    Identity is eroded, be it Bond a (momentarily) changed man via the Shrublands digression, or Britain’s capacity to determine and defend itself by itself withered by the political expediency of NATO. Too many cooks spoiling an undecided broth and SPECTRE – pragmatic and determined, unburdened by any political belief that can be turned against it – strolls by and nicks its nukes. One way of preventing war is, through eroding the psychological frontiers of statehood, diminishing the egregious nationalism that often allies itself with it. Accidentally on purpose, that allows private enterprise to thrive. There are no nations; just companies. No populace; just shareholders. The only boundary is the amount of disposable income one has. That it’s revealed that SIS has bought information from SPECTRE in the past, and now it’s SPECTRE giving them the run-around, only emphasises how ineffectual, how wheezily behind the pace of the game, post-war nationhood is.

     

    Whilst it’s stretching things to suggest Thunderball is a communist tract, there is a small-p political edge, SPECTRE as an exaggerated extraction of post-war consumerist and corporate opportunism and building a infrastructure of a “state” unlimited by physical frontiers, the commoditisation of violence that doesn’t even have an ostensible excuse in religious fanaticism or flag-waving simple-headedness, making it difficult to infiltrate and undermine.  You knew where you were with SMERSH; behind it there was a belief that could be analysed, turned. It’s not the case when the only purpose is money. The Russians are now out of the game and when they return in The Man with the Golden Gun, they’re also in it for the cash. With national culture confused, co-dependent and cross-fertilised, the lacuna in power is filled by private enterprise out to make a fast buck. Look at all the millionaires who stand for election without any evident policies, f’rexample.

     

    A politically-associated multinational corporation provoking international incidents to bloat the income stream? As if.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-01-20
  3. 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”.

    continue reading…

    Heiko Baumann @ 2014-10-01
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. The 007th Chapter: Goldfinger – Thoughts in a DBIII

     

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

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    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
  7. 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
  8. Happy 106th birthday, Mr Fleming!

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    If he was still alive today, May 28th, Ian Fleming would celebrate his 106th birthday. In all likelihood with a glass of appropriately noble and exquisite bubbly to emphasize the occasion’s unique character. Team and members of CommanderBond.net from around the world raise their proverbial glasses in honour of this date and hereby salute you, Mr Fleming. Here’s to many more decades you and your work shall be remembered!

    Incidentally – no, not entirely – today is also the day title and cover of the new Young Bond novel by Steve Cole are going to be revealed, as John Cox/The Book Bond informs us. Charlie Higson will officially hand over the mantle of the Yound Bond continuation author to Steve Cole at the Hay Festival, today at midday. The event is going to be captured on film and the video will be available on John Cox’s The Book Bond. We warmly recommend his fine work. Not for the first time, but his site cannot be recommended often enough. Cheers, John!

     

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-05-28
  9. The 007th Chapter: From Russia With Love – The Wizard of Ice

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Not that it matters, but a great deal of the background to this piffle is inaccurate.

     

    Where would we be without James Bond? Before you bother me with “You do know he’s fictional, don’t you? We’d be exactly where we are, you meretricious clown”, I’m happy – no, overjoyed – to put on record that I am aware of it. Thank you. Well done on “meretricious”, by the way. Such a scrumptious word.

     

    Never interrupt me again.

     

    If From Russia with Love has a purpose beyond entertaining us with underdressed women all a-grapple, together with gleefully-grasped opportunities for Ian Fleming to be fabulously rude about ugly people, it is in pointedly inviting us to consider our dilemma, were James Bond forever face-down in the carpet of the Paris Ritz.

     

    I suspect the answer to be extrapolated is “a Soviet colony, if you don’t buck your ideas up”.

     

    Perhaps the most common observation about this book – apart from Phwoaaar! Lezzas and gypsies, which is undeniably very common (sorry) – is about its structure. In particular, the risk of encouraging boredom / bafflement in the impatient B / C reader with all the foreignistan-speak and by not immediately introducing our favourite overfastidious psychotic bigot.  Y*b**nna mat!, you might say (if fluent in asterisk), what’s Peter Fleming’s little brother – Alan? – doing now? First he said an avocado was pudding, when everyone knows it’s a badger’s egg, then he taught one to speak like a (cover the dog’s ears, dear) Negroid – try that in Derry & Toms and see how far you get – and latterly he thought we’d indulge his turning it American, as appealing as their reprehensible remake of football or the abuse they mete out to innocent words like “aluminium”, “pants”, “pussy” and “fanny”. Now he’s not even put James Bond in it at all! l I won’t stand for it, it’s… ooh, a neuter porcine murderess in pink satin knickers. ‘Scuse me a minute; feeling a sudden urge to be non-kulturny.

     

    Spend half the time banging on about a threat, build and build and build and then introduce said menace halfway through and gawp in horror at how – through immense luck and contrivance – he gets close to winning but at the last minute he is stabbed and crashes down. Still, he was being beastly to little Judi Dench, wasn’t he? Depending on whose side you take, From Russia with Love demonstrates a similar structure to one seen in (say) Dr No: we get to know the goodies first and they spend ages talking about how rotten the villain is and how he must be destroyed. Then the bad guy stumbles in, leaving us in thrall to how he nearly wins, so much so that everything comes down to a desperate conclusion in which he is finally vanquished and drowns in guano / headlong hits the wine-red floor. All we have here is a comedy reversal of an adventure norm. The mission briefing, the loveable cast of colourful scamps and the loonbag ladykiller with his odd little ways just happen to be Russian/Irish rather than British. I suggested in an earlier one of these that Fleming wasn’t an amusing writer. This, however, is one of his better jokes.

     

    History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts, etc.

     

    The structure is critical if what (I believe) Fleming intends to work, can. He’s scaring us. He needs us to swallow that the Russians are this determined, this meticulous, this horrid. Admittedly, with some (very) minor balancing sentiments from minor characters aside, the conspirators are invariably unpleasant and not the decent, well-meaning snobs of the British Establishment. Arguably, these Russians are more honest about what a grubby little trade it is in which they find themselves, rather than the chandeliers-and-Bridge crowd kicking around Blades, all dressed up as “gentlemen”, as if that’ll prevent the bomb from dropping. This crowd of beastly Commies have – need – no such pretence. A blemished mirror is being held up, and although one can read it as how much more decent “we” are at this spying malarkey, I tend to take it as intentional criticism. When Bond mucks up, he gets a mild rebuke from M, and then an invitation to dinner; when this lot fail, they’re shot.  That’s how ruthless the Russians are, how devious, how they treat their own people never mind us, and they’re only a few hours away. They might already be here, if you let that bastard Gaitskell in. Don’t park your tanks on my lawn, Hugh, nor anything else in my wife for that matter.

     

    Having told us in the preface that there are real officials who meet for purposes similar to the ones written about, Fleming demonstrates that the best the British can do to resist these true-to-life machinations emanating from number 13 Sretenka Ulitsa is unleash a fictional, none-too-bright drunkard who, even though he’s super, still can’t get through it unscathed. If you didn’t have my James Bond, you lot, yes you, sitting there all high-and-mighty and sniffy about what I’ve been trying to tell you, and you had to use a real person against the likes of General G. and Kronsteen, you’re doomed. All you have is Commander Crabb, not Commander Bond and even my superman nearly dies. Wake up; to arms! The Russians are coming, and this is what they’re like. It’s spectacularly paranoid to imagine them not just under the bed but in them as well, and few will come with a black velvet ribbon around the neck. Piano wire round yours, perhaps. When they do arrive from Russia, it won’t be with love. That’s why I’ve heroically run off to Jamaica and taken your pal Rothermere’s wife with me, so stick that up your marrowbone and good luck to you all.

     

    Ultimately, it’s a propaganda piece lightly dusted with blistering lovelies and sexual deviancy, much like the first draft of The Communist Party Manifesto before the jokes were removed and Engels had a change of heart about all those car chases. A shift from having Drax lay into the British – well, he would say those things, wouldn’t he? – much of the dialogue between Bond and Kerim Bey is overtly barbed about a ) how much of a threat the Russians actually are and b ) how unprepared the British are for them, really and c ) how the Soviets have weapons of mass destruction capable of being launched in 45 minutes.

     

    The first two, anyway. This is not the blinkered Union Flag-waving of many Eon films, although Skyfall comes close: a surface-level jolly adventure with the Bond saving the day that is quietly, but determinedly, prodding the open wound about how ready the country really is to cope with live threats, getting by (barely) on making it up as one goes along and trusting to dumb luck. Savagely exposing how exposed the nation is, exploited by its pretensions towards eccentricity by the willingness to walk into an colossally obvious trap because it’ll be an adventure, Britain’s weaknesses are capable of being horribly turned against it if it’s not very, very careful. In due course, Burgess and Maclean get a mention in this book and it’s none too subtle a reference when it happens. A lot of the opening is an exercise in picking Britain apart, far more brutally than any sentiment expressed about the Dark Races in Live and Let Die, and those ideas have come from somewhere in the author’s mind. It’s not an anti-British piece, though; these are the scared sentiments of a patriot who wants us equally fearful and needing to toughen up to meet the threat, to stand tall and face it all, together. Albeit a patriot who buggered off to the West Indies and left us to it.

     

    Dark thoughts rise about why this book was so revered by President Kennedy, according to that famous list of his favourite reads. On the one hand, if he ever read it, he enjoyed it as lighthearted fiction, on which level the book is grubbily satisfying adolescent amusement, and putting it on the list give a pal of his a sales boost, which isn’t remotely corrupt. Alternatively, with its claims of veracity in depicting the ruthlessness of the Russians, it helps exaggerate one’s foe in the minds of the populace now encouraged to read the book, which is important for keeping them docile and in check and the opportunity to spend, without too much objection,  their tax money on whizzbangs from your family’s arms dealing pals rather than repairing the potholes in the roads or putting half-a-dozen more Customs Officers on duty (****ing immigration queue: apologies to those practising their conversational asterisk). I wonder if he thought there was any truth in it? The Scarlet and the Black aside (rouge et noir… tingalings a bell…) the other books on that list were factual or (auto-) biography, and the Stendahl is intentional social commentary. Whilst John Buchan appears twice, they’re non-fiction rather than anything Hannay. Other than not wanting the President to appear worthy and dull – I mean, The Emergence of Lincoln doesn’t have many scorching gypsy women and bloodthirsty lesbians, Mrs Lincoln aside – From Russia with Love’s inclusion on the list seems readily explicable, if for slightly disturbing, manipulative and sinister reasons.  With all the books expounding a political philosophy, it fits. Although if you think I’m only having a go at JFK because the administration at the airhovel now bearing his name is rampagingly inadequate, I couldn’t immediately contradict you. Anyway, he can’t sue; he’s dead (I think).

     

    As a spy story, it’s one of the few in the Fleming series. As an adventure with persons exotic both of appearance and character to titillate us in scenes of overseasoned description, balanced with bothering with a plot this time, it’s probably the strongest. As a horror story offering us no redemptive solace at all by appearing to kill off the one man who can stop it, it’s bloody terrifying. Next time, Ian my lovely honeysuckle, how about taking us well away from it, perhaps a nice holiday in your favourite part of the world, and give us a medically impossible loony, space rockets, venomous centipedes, a nudey nature child and a truculent mutant cephalopod?

     

    Ta.

    The 007th Chapter – From Russia with Love: The Wizard of Ice

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-05-06
  10. The 007th Chapter: Diamonds Are Forever – Shady Tree

    A literary meditation by Jaques Stewart

    DAFWC600

     

    Travel, it is claimed, broadens the mind.

     

    Certainly thins the wallet, even in these days of budget airlines that oblige one to sit next to corpulent scutters who would otherwise be ape-crouched in their cobbled streets, lower jaws overflowing with greasy, pie-flecked drool and jabbing fat C fingers skywards in awe at t’Magic Silver Demon Bird. Evidently travel hasn’t broadened my mind however emaciated my purse, and it’s even more expensive if you try it in the style of James Bond when living in an age of austerity. We’re all in it together. Apart from him.  There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent, etc. As a hard-pressed British tax avoider, there’s something objectionable about it.

     

    The first really continent-trotting adventure, Bond shuttling about all over the place, at every turn diamonds and sassy broads and snap-brim Americana and car chases and Stratocruisers and dangling out of portholes and blowing people out of an African sky, Diamonds are Forever is a hymn to good-to-wild living wordliness in a bay of plenty. A rub-your-nose-in-it exercise for a time when the British reader could only gape a-dazzled at the sybaritic spectacle, the book would be a welcome distraction from the drizzle, the stench of carbolic and the scrabbling around the rubble, fighting off spavined wolves for the last sliver of corned beef. Published only a couple of years after the end of food rationing, it is timed beautifully – teasingly – for eyes and bellies hungry for sating. Even now, reading out loud this book’s provocative, leeringly juicy descriptions of what Bond masticates to the local Food Bank queue, you’d start a riot, or drown in the tsunami of saliva.

     

    Travel, then, broadens the gut.

     

    What larks this supercharged vision of a British ideal has, observing the manners (such as exist) and mannerisms of the Zoo.S.A., stealing the Americans’ women, our fictional hero taking on their gangsters and cowboys – which is, of course, all these jumpstarts actually are – and soundly thrashing them at their own games. Can’t have these trumped-up colonial sorts pinching the diamonds from Sierra Leone, bladdy outrage, when  we were going to invest those in education, healthcare and transport infrastructure for its people (honest we were). Time to give these Yanks a bladdy good hiding, put them in their bladdy place. And eat their lovely, lovely food. The Empire strikes back.

     

    James Bond takes on the Mob and wins. He’s not really such a wonderful spy, but winning lots of money and a gal, he’s a fabulous guy. Bursting with excess of thought and deed, outrageous and idiosyncratic characters, violent spats of incident at various points around the world with characterful moments of observation and reflection, this could well have been the epitome of all that had come before and the core set-text of the Bond novel. Except it doesn’t seem to come with that reputation. Of the initial quintet of varied approaches to writing James Bond “spy” stories – five distinctly different books – before being killed off and resurrected as a super-adventurer for Dr No to OHMSS, this one appears popularly considered to be the least of them. A spy story without a spy, more of a tough-talking, episodic police procedural, absent any momentum. Despite an arresting high concept – James Bond vs. The Mafia – the argument runs that it feels forced and dragged out, unfocused and nowhere near as entertaining as the material that preceded it. A perception of never catching fire; an uncut gem, if you will/really must.

     

    There seem to be two widely-held views why. Firstly, that too much of not very much happens. There’s a hell of a lot of incident here, action and settings described to within an inch of their lives, much more going on than (say) Casino Royale, but little glue bringing them together. The first and third books have limited locations and more time to wallow in them. Whilst Live and Let Die moves from New York to Florida to Jamaica, this is because of sustained cat-and-rat pursuit; conversely, in this one, there’s no explicit danger beyond an atmosphere of generalised menace requiring Bond to suddenly shift from location to location (and on occasion it is Bond himself who brings on the danger by acting recklessly). It’s hard to say where Diamonds are Forever finds Bond “based”. Whilst it may be Las Vegas, as much of interest (and written duration) happens on the Queen Elizabeth; equally so New York. A series of vignettes either violent or descriptive or romantic, or all three at once, impactful themselves individually, lose something when it comes to sticking them together: it lacks a clear centre of gravity.  007 in New York could easily be dropped into the middle of it and not disrupt the tale too much. This is difficult to deny, but query whether it really is a thematic weakness. The movement is constant, a pipeline, the flow of people as much as of the diamonds themselves.

     

    The second perception of the frailties of the novel is not wholly unconnected to the first; the villains. More precisely, the lack of a grand scheme for Bond to foil. Bond smuggles himself into The Spangled Mob’s daily affairs and proves a relatively minor inconvenience but it’s one of few occasions when James Bond arriving on their scene doesn’t incredibly fortuitously also coincide with the villain(s) launching some fantastic plan, devised to relieve themselves of the tedium and lack of challenge of their ordinary, daily mischief. The Spangs just don’t seem interested in Bond, which undermines our reliant interest in them compared to – say – Drax or Le Chiffre. Whereas Bond’s interference would launch crazed autobiographical monologues in others, the Spangs just want him dead. Where’s a Death Laser from Space when you need one?

     

    It is amazing how often Bond turns up uninvited when something huge is about to occur. How uncanny. On such occasions, killing off the big boss foils the single grand project and one is left to assume that the minor villainy originally investigated somehow crumbles too. On reflection, Mr Big’s network would obviously be taken over (I do hope it was by McThing), cheating at Blades will not have stopped and Crab Key would need someone to shift all that bird pooh. Here, the villains just regroup and, with their brief cameo in Goldfinger making The Spangled Mob the first “return” bad guys in the series, tend to amplify that James Bond has absolutely no impact. Standing out amongst the early books, this is one where he arguably fails. Perhaps “lack of overall success” is closer, but it’s hard to call it a complete “win”. That’s quite bold, and more worldly-wise than stopping the lunatic shouting Nazi or giving the supernatural Negroids a jolly good smack. Bond is good at stopping ludicrous over-ambition, but he’s a Big Time Charlie, a luxury player for the great occasion but not bringing much to the game otherwise. The crimes of the Mob do not – cannot – end with the death of any one particular “big” man, whereas the three previous schemes, and those to come, fall when their megavillain does. Here there’s more of a fatalistic sense that so long as diamonds are forever, so are the crimes related to them. No one evil individual is in control: it’s the diamonds that run things, shoving people around like (golf) balls.

     

    Following this argument through, what we have here is the author dropping Bond into a more (um… relatively) realistic environment than one populated by whacked-out commie Jeermans and their V2 “Plus”, or High Voodoo Priests of the Undead, or a little bubble of overstated significance around the Baccarat table. Not to suggest Fleming isn’t pushing things – Wint and Kidd, the mudboiling, Tiffany Case’s OTT-misery lifestory, Bond crawling about on the outside of an ocean liner – but it’s a reduction in fantasy of atmosphere, the Bond novels dipping a toe into a real (ish) situation that would later find itself non-fictionalised. It’s just as experimental as the other four novels in this first run – James Bond intervenes in “real crime”, rather than inherently implausible ones. There’s an immediate counter-argument that one doesn’t want Bond involved in such things, one does crave voodoo demons and missile-toppling and hypnotising dolly birds about chickens, and what it may succeed in demonstrating by its ostensible failure is that such a heightened character as Bond just doesn’t fit a more realistic situation. Bring on the Giant Squid and the Garden of Death. However, I’m prepared to give it a pass for at least trying.

     

    I put all that no higher than “arguable”. However, where I think Diamonds are Forever genuinely succeeds is with Tiffany Case, Fleming’s first substantial female lead and the first time he tries to establish something approaching a relationship. There’s not much to Gala Brand other than requiring someone to rescue; Vesper Lynd is a plot device exemplar in misogyny and Solitaire is – despite huge promise – wafer-theen and, dare I say it, dull, which is an unusual attribute for a telepathic witch. Whilst the Tiffany Case-history is all over the park, ridiculous in several respects, she’s by far the most diverting of Fleming’s women to date, or at all, and whilst one may not completely admire Fleming’s attitudes around her, there is at least a character on show, allowing James Bond to be more developed in response/reaction. Peculiarly, her changeable nature is not a million miles from that of the similarly crazy mixed-up kid that Bond ends up marrying, both burrdds with a wing down and backstories of tragedy and abuse. Is Tracy simply a doomed and rather pathetic attempt to recapture what he had with this earlier version? You might not buy this infliction of continuity, but I’m happy to as it helps reconcile OHMSSBond’s baffling attraction to an otherwise exceptionally irritating brat.

     

    Perhaps better in individual moments, observations and characters than as a sustained narrative, I think Diamonds are Forever is unfairly maligned (and believe me, there’s some very unfair maligning of my own to do in 007th chapters to come). Insofar as broadly exemplifying anything about the Bond series, it plainly demonstrates one trend: after Moonraker, one must come back down to Earth with an episodic, patchy adventure and a villain without a masterplan.

     

    That seems to happen a lot.

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Diamonds are Forever: ‘Shady’ Tree continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-04-21
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