CommanderBond.net
  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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…”

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-09-16
  6. 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
  7. 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

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

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

    DNWC600

     

     

    “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 

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-07-07
  9. Happy 106th birthday, Mr Fleming!

    Fleming

    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
  10. The 007th Chapter: From Russia With Love – The Wizard of Ice

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

    FRWLWC600

     

    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

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-05-06
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