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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. The 007th Chapter: Diamonds Are Forever – Shady Tree

    A literary meditation by Jaques Stewart

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    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
  4. The 007th Chapter: Moonraker – The Quickness of the Hand

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    In an act of stool-loosening snobbery, in 1957 Ian Fleming wrote a financial-suicide note to CBS.

     

    “In hard covers my books are written for and appeal principally to an “A” readership, but they have all been reprinted in paperbacks, both in England and in America and it appears that the “B” and “C” classes find them equally readable, although one might have thought that the sophistication of the background and detail would be outside their experience and in part incomprehensible.”

    A modest missive, amusingly provocative in using the letters ABC when writing to a competitor, and a curious proposition when “the background and detail” of Live and Let Die I would suggest is beyond anyone’s experience, unless they’ve eaten too much cheese before beddy-bye. Slightly thick – a.k.a. “C” – letter to write to a maker of television, that most plebian of media, even if hindsight rewards him with Eon Productions hoving into view. It’s unclear why he considered Bs and Cs incapable of tackling hardback books, unless he feared their using them as trays from which to eat their gristleslop whilst… watching television.

     

    Perhaps I’m being literal rather than literary. Insofar as the 007th chapters so far have slipped us this Class A drug, it’s been roulette, fancy drinks, very wild gambling, very mild spycraft, intensity of sensual experience, nice blond American lads, telepathic lovelies and exaggeration heaped on exaggeration, so even using those as a rough shapshot of what he asserts, his claim has potential.

     

    The 007th chapter of Moonraker renders it unarguably true.

     

    I’ve never played Bridge. Nor have I looked up how to. No, tell a lie; in shoving this rot together I browsed Wikipedia’s explanation but couldn’t grasp the rules, much like Rugby Union or An Argument with Mrs Jim. Like those, it is “in part, incomprehensible”. Must be getting C-nile.  This absence of experience isn’t “not wanting” to know; it’s not needing to. Trepidation, though, when it dawned on me that the game of Bridge against Sir Hugo Drax would feature in this experiment in modelling an exemplar Bond novel. Not in the nature of what occurs:  Bond bests the villain at his own crooked game, and as this happens in several others – Goldfinger, Zero Minus Ten, Devil May Care to name a few – it establishes itself as an ingredient as habitual as those suggested by the previous two 007th chapters.  It’s just that I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on. Accordingly, this piece could bear witness to the stultifyingly under-informed (hello) commenting upon a matter about which they’re shamelessly inarticulate. Perhaps no change there, then (ooh, you bitch), but with particular reference to my relationship with Bridge, think Fox News and European politics, Piers Morgan and American politics, or internet message boards and both. It appears to involve carrrddds. Well, turbo-Yay with double cream, I s’pose.

     

    Without suggesting it of everyone, I suspect I’m not alone, either at the time or now, in feeling shut out by the Bridge game. It’s something of a dilemma: do I want Ian Fleming to explain every detail to me, to indulge my All C-ing Eye, in the same way as – say – Mr Benson’s High Time to Kill explains the very, very (very)basics of golf? Or am I happy enough to accept that Fleming is writing for those in the know and, for the rest of us grubby saps, he renders whatever-the-Hell-it-is terribly exciting, pounding along to an ending  one may or may not understand.  You there, you Bs and Cs, stand straight when I’m addressing you; just do try to keep up, yes? You run along at Fleming’s pace, understood?

     

    Contemplating the quote at the head of this nonsense once more, perhaps there is more humility than first appears. The reason the Bs and Cs buy your stuff, Ian old freckle, is because you convey it with such impact. He’ll write it with efficient momentum so you don’t drop off, a terribly underrated skill of his given that one reaches the end of the chapter excited but without knowing why, but he’s not going to pander to your baser lives by stopping to explain it as if you were a child, or a woman. The pains taken to explain Baccarat in Casino Royale is through the narrative device of Vesper Lynd not knowing the game; all the players in the Moonraker situation are familiar with how to play, so it would be artificial to pause and narrate the rule-book. You just get sadistic teases of comprehension now and again but suddenly, it’s gone, once more out of your brain’s yearning grasp, leaving you chasing the words, chasing the game until, your senses captured, you reach the climax, exhausted, a bit sweaty and cross-eyed and gleeful. [Dubious sexual metaphor – here]. Aspiration by alienation, colossal snobbery against his reader.

     

    Alternatively, what Bond does might be technically impossible so Fleming hasn’t given the full detail because there isn’t any and he was too bored to make it work. I prefer the first theory, largely because it feeds the next one.

     

    Which is: the chapter is not about Bridge. It’s is a gaudy display of humungous snobbery in “club”land, the sort of ferocious clubbing requiring a blunt instrument (guess who). The whisky and soda drops when the ugly, buck-toothed truth dawns: there is no credible evidence whatsoever of Drax’s cheating. I know he admits it later when ranting himself into ridicule as the world’s first openly Communist Nazi, but blinded by hindsight, or absence of foresight not to read that bit lest it undermine my point, the evidence present at the time of the game itself is lissomely thin. Bond swallows it because M instructs him Drax is a cheat; his blessed club is “suspicious” – woo-hoo – and, since Bond isn’t the freest of thinkers, he’s primed as a weapon by these scions of society to simply look for the worst in Drax. Bond, telling M precisely what M wants to hear, is rarely more manipulated by his masters, than here. The silver cigarette-case is suspicious, but it’s circumstantial not conclusive: there’s still no direct evidence, and the key prosecution witness is a corrupted man primed to believe the worst, a loaded gun with a history of substance abuse who then proceeds to get off his noddle on Benzedrine and non-vintage champagne. It doesn’t promise watertight reliability or safety of the conviction. Particularly the non-vintage champagne bit.

     

    The protracted preparation for tearing Drax apart satisfies two of the frequent criticisms of Fleming’s work: snobbery and sadism. The third, sex, is absent, unless the “Hugger” stuff is leading somewhere. The ruthless old bastards of Blades have decided they don’t like Drax – he may have amused at first, but now they’re tired of the noisy oaf who is not one of their own but happens to be better than them, the rampage of New Money right through their ostensible standards; he had the temerity to approach The Queen, damn the man – and they are going to unleash their pet yobbo to destroy him. Excusing the carrrddds pun, these are trumped-up charges. Devil May Care comes in for criticism for having M inflict Bond on Dr Gorner on flimsy grounds; this is not markedly different. Mr Faulks may have been writing more “as” Ian Fleming than one immediately thought.

     

    Bond is simply (blunt) instrumental in the takedown.  They don’t sully their own hands; unleash the prole. You there, Shouty Ginge, we’re going to get you. You and your little Jewish chum, Meyer. All of this, this is our game sunshine, our world, and we’re not going to allow you in. We’re going to Grand Slam the door behind Drax, sending him straight back to “the Liverpool docks, or wherever he came from”. If I were treated like this, I’d be tempted to plunge a nuke right down their wobbly gullets, too. It’s a shame that Drax does turn out to be just another loony Russian/Nazi/wha’evah. He’s much more interesting as a victim of class snobbery and the school and social bullying meted out by the “good guys”. Is Fleming deftly slipping us this card, whilst on the surface giving us all a jolly good laugh at the demento-Kraut? I do wonder how much of Drax’s revelatory tirade against the English isn’t echt Fleming-Think (the sentiments have to come from somewhere), forcing his hand into making the villain completely mad by the end lest the author’s mockery of his milieu be too easily spotted, resulting in his lovely clubbing chums never letting him back in, either. Vivid though the eventual wartime backstory is, would Drax have been any less colourful a villain if there wasn’t any of the madness about his personality change, he was indeed an Englishman after all and it had been purely the lifetime of snooty bullying that had driven him to it, class war rather than a cold one? If not persuaded, can’t I tempt you into evaluating this argument by dangling that we’d have been spared Die Another Day, that way?

     

    The irony of Drax’s observations about requiring the “façade” of a gentleman is punched home in this 007th chapter: for all of them, it’s façade. There’s no such thing as a gentleman. Avoiding public exposure of suspected cheating is not to protect Drax, about whom they care not one damn, but to protect their own reputations. They cover up the abhorrent villainy at the end, too, for the same reason. Bond is the dispensable hired help for both. These are not nice persons. The gentility of the surroundings masks utter cruelty, a quiet brutality. It’s time to scrape the pooh from the shoe, and we’ve got just the right pliant stooge to do it for us. No, he’s not a member.  Lord, no. Should it go wrong we can deny him, just as we would were he caught by a foreign government.

     

    “Useless, idle, decadent fools, hiding beneath your bloody white cliffs while other people fight your battles”. Ian Fleming Sir Hugo Drax.

     

    No-one appears to complain that the people and the rituals of the society on show here look as inherently savage or as open to ridicule as anything written of the” Negro” world in Live and Let Die. This may be because Fleming’s motives are different, I’ve read far too much into it and he isn’t seeking to expose in the manner suggested above. However, so blunt and punchy does the writing get towards the end of this 007th chapter, plain evidence of an intention to depict this ostensibly genteel game as having the violent impact of a gunfought duel, the quickness of the hand in drawing the weapons – it’s only a short hop from that to contemplating the merciless conspiracy against Drax, however many chandeliers and lamb cutlets one flings about. The later business with the rocket etc., this lot just bring upon themselves. They really are their own worst enemy. Well, apart from the whacked-out loon with the moustache fetish, “obv”.

     

    And if you think I’m doing a “Bond made this rubber (fnarr) too hot to handle (ho-ho!)” joke, you’re better off ignoring this sentence.

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Moonraker: The Quickness of the Hand

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-03-24
  5. The 007th Chapter: Live and Let Die – Mister Big

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

    LALDWC600

     

    Sense of adventure. (My emphasis).

    I’m fibbing – can’t take the credit. Not my emphasis at all. The very first sentence of the Bond “thing” directly appeals to sense or, more precisely, the scents. Wiser minds than mine write of a Fleming Sweep; I prefer a Feel, and that’s not an invitation. Oh, put it away.

     

    Even just over one book in, one can unimaginatively deduce that Ian Fleming is a sensual writer, and not so much in the commonly adopted sexualised understanding of “sensual”, despite this 007th chapter of Live and Let Die concluding with a 20-stone Negro, having leatherstrapped a man to a chair (an act described at excitable length), proceeding to whip a witch with an ivory riding-crop whilst a voodoo scarecrow leers on. Might have been yer average Tuesday round Goldeneye way but is an unusual domestic encounter for most, I’d wager, and would doubtless justify police intervention. I mean – ivory. Tsk!

     

    A swift hand of bridge it is not. That’s in the next one.

     

    Usually at its strongest when he’s neglecting the tedium of “plot”, look at where the detail frequently – if not, admittedly, universally – lies, in engaging the base senses. How often Fleming lets his descriptions fly towards (say) food and drink – the enjoyment of both the descriptions of the menus and the experiences of the tastes – and elsewhere, be it places or people or flowers, birds and weapons: the smell, the touch, the sound. The sickly zoo smell of Oddjob. Recognising countless perfumes and soaps. The sight of Honeychile Ryder emerging naked from the sea. Cars are not a means of getting to destinations but a sensual destination in themselves, an immersion in a highly tactile experience; there are very few passages of Bond driving when he’s not totally engaged in the sweat, the smoke, the blast of wind in the face, the supercharged sound of it. The “touch” of a carpet beater.  Guns and engines don’t fire; they roar. That the sex never goes – never needs to go – beyond the first erotic touches. All five senses engaged in a midnight wander through Blofeld’s Garden of Death. As atmosphere, it’s thermosphere, so heightened is the delivery.

     

    Sensational.

     

    Literally.

     

    Then, the trick emerges, and the trap is set for those unwise enough to follow. The easy perception is that Fleming does “detail”; ooh, lots of “detail” in Fleming, there is. The failing is not acknowledging that he knew when to let it go, only wanting to describe those things that interested him. Once he has you by the senses, once you are immersed by his drowning you in the sights and the scent and smoke and sweat of wherever he’s placed you – Northern France, Japan, Istanbul, Jamaica, matters not – he can step back and leave you to wallow, enblissed floating. There’s a key example of this in the 007th chapter of Live and Let Die. He’s led us, whirling, through a turbo-fictionalised Harlem for a couple of chapters, soaking in its juices, and here, so drenched are we, we’ll just imbibe without question that Mr Big has a pistol masked by a drawer keyhole. We have been prepared for the ludicrous.

     

    “Again, there was nothing absurd about this gun. Rather painstaking, perhaps, but, he had to admit, technically sound.”

     

    Come off it, no it’s NOT. And yet, we gulp it down. It’s only later do we question what we’ve been spiked with. That is trust. Perhaps a trust abused, but you take it at the time, giggling slightly. There is no explanation of how this gun works. There doesn’t need to be. Your Clancys, your Lee Childs, closer to home your Gardners and Bensons, would tell us that the protagonist takes only an atosecond to work out – if not an atosecond to describe, unfortunately – how it was a Sillitoe-Bumpluck point 660 with a Horace flange and dingadong buttress and forty leveret hosiery and some such boring, boring unnecessariness. The skill is that one needs to know when not to describe, when to stop fact getting in the way of a good story. So convinced are these others that you would doubt what they say, they clobber you over the head with neanderthal factual detail to nail misguided veracity onto a patently farcical enterprise, thereby ironically undermining its allure, its success, rather than promoting it. Desensitising is counterproductive as a seduction technique: ask any lorry driver. It’s possible that Fleming was too idle to describe it “properly”; equally so that he rightly considered anyone actually interested in guns as a wee bit mental. Still, the evidence suggests that Bond is not about relentless description of every frickin’ thing. It’s about knowing when the trigger doesn’t need to be pulled. Probably because it patently wouldn’t work.

     

    Damn damn damn damn.

     

    Once you’ve been seduced, once he’s touched you, you can only give in and just snort it all up. Otherwise you’d realise that this is a tale in which one man threatens to shoot another with his desk.

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Live and Let Die: Mister Big

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-03-15
  6. The 007th Chapter: Casino Royale – Rouge et Noir

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart
     CRWC600
    Jacques Stewart was born in 1973 and educated at Eton. After a brief period at Top Man at Guildford he went abroad to waste his education. In 1994, having failed to be crowned Emperor of the Cress, he joined a Fiat Punto to a tree and amputated his left foot. During both Gulf Wars, he watched them on the telly. His wartime experiences provided him with first-hand knowledge of his expanding waistline.After the wars he continued as a self-employed menace with a private income. He bought his house, House, in Oxfordshire and there at the age of forty he wrote The 007th Minute, a meretricious e-book slagging of the films featuring Commander James Bond. By the time of his death in 2744, seven people had downloaded it and one had even finished it, disappointed. Dr No, the first film featuring James Bond and starring Sean Connery, was released in 1962 and is one he actually quite likes and the Bond films continue to be huge international successes despite what he or any other anonymous human dust on the internet types about them. He is also the author of the magical children’s book You Were A Mistake.The opinions of Jacques Stewart were immediately recognised as total pus by his contemporaries 007izkewl, iluvpiersbrosmam and downloadtransformersfourherehotbabes. With the invention of James Bond, Ian Fleming created the greatest British fictional icon of the late twentieth century.
    That, you already knew.This is not a serious experiment.

    It resolves nothing, and proves less. In seeking to establish what the 007th chapters of the Bond books tell us of the core ingredients of such enterprises, do not come expecting truth or revelation. The only fact that can be asserted of these brainbursts is that they are my opinions, but I might be lying about that, to tell the truth (or not). Nor are these pieces intended as a guide for aspiring writers of Bond – be they “official” or fan fiction. The latter category may glean nothing from this exercise; the Bond novels tend to have right good spelling and grammar. Plots. Characters. Big words. As far as those charged with filling remainder shops with licensed literary Bond go, they might just get depressed.

    However, if you’re familiar with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 (it’s a page-turner: the car chase is fab), you’ll be aware that copyright in literary works persists until 31 December of the seventieth year after the author’s death. Accordingly, in principle anyway, on 1 January 2035, it’s open season on Ian Fleming’s works. In principle. It may be quite tricky – you’re welcome to try, if you’re still around and fancy litigation as a retirement plan. There’s the small matter of the continuation novels and short stories, evidently created to better the cultural life of the planet and not just preserve rights (God forbid you’d think that: tchoh!) and the equally splendid situation that the books now come with the deathly warning that James Bond and 007 are registered trademarks of Danjaq LLC, used under licence by IFP (kind of them). Trademark protection only lasts ten years, but critically it’s renewable (whereas, in so many ways, Ian Fleming is not, however many grave-based revolutions folks assert he performs on hearing (despite being heavily death) of a blond Bond or an invisible car). Given the happy-go-lucky good-natured attitude to their intellectual property that Danjaq have often demonstrated to this website, one suspects they’re unlikely to forget to send the form in on time.

    I suppose that doesn’t technically stop someone from using the text of (say) Thunderball and changing the name and number – seemed to be the heart of the McClory argument, that – but one would doubt both the sanity and the point. I’m in no position to judge either, though, as will rapidly emerge.

    Insfoar as there’s any structure to the venture, let’s play Goldfinger:

    Volume 1: Happenstance will concentrate on the Flemings;

    Volume 2: Coincidence on the Gardners and Bensons; and

    Volume 3: Enemy Action, Although It’s Actually Extremely Damaging Friendly Fire, What the Bloody Hell Are IFP Thinking? on the likes of Higson, Faulks, Deaver and Boyd.

    Knowing full well that I have been amiss on Amis and ungood on Wood and [something para-rhyming with Pearson (nothing para- rhymes with Pearson)] on Pearson, my views on their efforts will have to wait until this emerges as an e-book although if you’re that desperate to know, you can make a pretty accurate guess.As a clue, the overall structure may follow the classic dramatic arc of a first bit where everything’s sunshiney and delicious; middle part, all dark and horrible and nasty and stuff goes very wrong; third act, heroically back to form. Not too confident about that last one, frankly, but let’s get going.

    For the 007th chapter, I’m concentrating on the actual chapter itself as a snapshot of the written Bond. Whilst, as with the films, I could digress into laboured reviews of the remainder of the (de)merits of the product, that would necessitate having to read them all, and I have neither the time nor the patience nor (when it comes to more than a handful of the non-Fleming output) the absence of dignity.

    All “quotes” from texts are, unless otherwise stated, copyright Ian Fleming Publications Limited.

     

    The 007th Chapter – Casino Royale: Rouge et Noir

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2014-02-24
  7. Worth another shot… in March

    Image 'Icegun vs. Woodbazooka' by 'Aurelian Breeden' (c)

    Image ‘Icegun vs. Woodbazooka’ by ‘Aurelian Breeden’ (c)

    Hush!

    Do you hear that? No?

    Be quiet. Very quiet.

    Quieter! Stop breathing, for a while…

    Do you hear it now?

    Very faintly, far in the distance?

    Somewhere out there there is an almost inaudible sound, a tiny ticking, like a very expensive lady’s wristwatch.

    That is the sound of Ian Fleming Publications preparing for their 2013 Grand Slam, the brand-new James Bond novel by William Boyd.

    Surprisingly it sounds very much like – nothing. In fact some of our well-known eavesdroppers insist that – according to their readings – there is no such noise to be heard at all. They claim I must be suffering from ‘auditory hallucinations’ as they put it.

    What do the Ferrets know. I know better. I can hear the works of IFP ticking away thin slices of time until September. The lady may have just changed her timepiece to a digital, that won’t help her.

    I can still hear it ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…

    Do you listen, IFP? I can still hear you! Night and day, night and day! Night and …

     

    March over already? Phew, that was the worst March since…well, since February. Which was bad enough for a February, let alone a March. What have we missed? Tons of things, evidently. But only few of a cursory Bond connection.

    Still, some things went – almost – unnoticed.

    Such as the activities of the University of Illinois’ Rare Book and Manuscript Library to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication of ‘Casino Royale’.  An exhibition of the University’s Fleming treasures (“The Birth of Bond: Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’ at 60” , April 12th – July 1st), a lecture (“Casino Royale and Beyond: 60 years of Ian Fleming’s literary Bond” Opening Event) by Michael VanBlaricum, President of the Ian Fleming Foundation, on the exhibition’s opening day (April 12th, free admission ) and a second exhibition concerning itself with “Unconventional Bond: The Strange Life of Casino Royale on Film” (April 16th – June 16th, Spurlock Museum) aim to entertain and inform both seasoned fans and newcomers to the literary 007 alike.

    From the University’s own pages:

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” That’s the opening line of “Casino Royale,” the novel that introduced secret agent James Bond to the world, launching a franchise of books and blockbuster movies that continues to this day. April 13 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of “Casino Royale,” and the University of Illinois will recognize the event with a collaborative celebration hosted by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Spurlock Museum, and the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.

     

    Titled “The Birth of Bond: Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’ at 60,” the event will feature a collection of first editions, manuscripts and Fleming ephemera at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library; a film festival and display of Bond movie costumes and props at the Spurlock Museum; a collection of audio recordings, photographs and sheet music (including the original 2006 “Casino Royale” score) at the Sousa Archives; and a performance of music from the Bond movies and books by the U. of I. Concert Jazz Band. A full schedule of events is online.

     

    Much of the material featured in “The Birth of Bond” comes from the collection of Michael L. VanBlaricum, the president of the Ian Fleming Foundation and a U. of I. alumnus who is loaning pieces of his personal collection of Fleming first editions, manuscripts, letters, recordings, sheet music and movie props to the three campus sites.

     

    VanBlaricum will give a one-hour talk on Fleming and Bond at 3 p.m. on April 12 (Friday), in the library auditorium (Room 66), followed by a reception in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Room 346). The jazz concert, on April 13 (Saturday), will begin at 7 p.m. in the Knight Auditorium at Spurlock Museum, and will include a piano medley of Bond themes performed by Raymond Benson, one of the continuation authors hired by the Fleming family to carry on the James Bond novels after Ian Fleming’s death, as well as themes from the Bond movies and music mentioned in Fleming’s books.

    Grateful thanks to CBner ‘Major Tallon’ and Ms Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities News Editor at the University of Illinois, for pointing us to this and providing assistance.

     

    What else?

    Well, of course the new Bond book was published. In February even. Nobody seemed to notice, strange. Oh, I’m not talking about that William Boyd thingy, that one is ticking away somewhere behind IFP’s iron curtains backstage, rather loudly I might add (‘Sir? Would you mind? Ticking a little bit less prominently? There’s people trying to write a column here, you know. Ta muchly!’).

    No, what was published in February by the University of Alberta Press was Kimmy Beach’s ‘The Last Temptation of Bond’. The first – as far as I am aware – epic Bond poem ever. Or ‘evah’, whichever you prefer. Kimmy Beach is the author of – amongst others – ‘Nice Day for Murder – Poems for James Cagney’ and ‘Alarum Within: Theatre Poems’ so I guess it’s safe to assume she is a seasoned poet. According to her blog she also is a dedicated Bond fan. Both passions had to collide somewhere along the road and the fruit of this is now available at Amazon and supposedly other places, too.

    I cannot claim even the faintest kind of authority in the realm of poetry, so I better skip any pretensions of erudite appraisal. Beach herself calls the book her take on Nikos Kazantzakis’ ‘Last Temptation of Christ’ with a Bond theme, the ageing 007 coming to terms with his own mortality and accordingly having to deal with the many women in his life. It sounds like a fun idea and I will check it out one of these days.

    My thanks go to Double 0 Section for digging it out, and to The Book Bond for bringing it to our attention.

     

    Losses: We’ve sadly lost Richard Griffiths. R.I.P.

     

    And that already was this month’s shot.

    Worth another shot will return once this ear-shattering ticking noise stops…

     

    Helmut Schierer @ 2013-04-10
  8. Worth another shot… in February

    Oscar one and a half, image by James Salmond Furniture, used with kind permission

     

    As everybody can plainly see with a glance at the image that comes with this shot, February was clearly dedicated to the Academy Awards, the James Bond tribute at said sad event, and of course the spectacular congregation of all six Bond actors on stage! That even more spectacularly – after repeatedly being debunked by various parties – really didn’t happen then. Scandalous!

     

    Which is why we won’t waste further words on this event.

     

    CBners’ new fan shirt creation, supposedly comes with Bond’s private number

    What we will mention in this shot is the brand-new, all British-Racing-Green CBn fan t-shirt, designed by CBners themselves and up for grabs for the next six days. Provided the goal of 25 orders is met by then. Shouldn’t really be a problem, the rumour mill suggests this t-shirt comes with the number of Bond’s direct line at SIS HQ and the number of his secure home line. In code of course (something to do with the number of threads used, divided by the square root of the moon phases). The shirt asks for a mere $ 15.00, hardly too much for Bond’s phone number, even if you shouldn’t be able to decipher it.

     

    In other news: CBn started a side-career in the building industry! Our first project is Build BOND 24, a multiple choice poll game in – currently – five brand new threads in the CBn Forum Games section. Starting with the basics (Bond, girl, villain),   going to locations, the must-haves (conventions, bling and signature lore),  a story and a ride, and finally some kind of noise to go with the whole experience, you can choose amongst a wealth of carefully worded suggestions as well as add your very own personal scintillations. Be sure to leave a contact address and don’t move too far from your phone, just in case you get a call by a certain production company.

     

    And now for something completely different…

    Matt Helm – somewhat of a ‘colleague’ of Bond from the other side of the Atlantic – is finally coming back! Starting this February Titan Books reprints the popular tough-as-nails secret agent series by Donald Hamilton. The first two – DEATH OF A CITIZEN and THE WRECKING CREW – are already out; April, August and October will see further reprints. That’s not news, you say? So you already knew about the prequel MATT HELM: THE WAR YEARS, too? Well, for those that don’t, it’s a brand new Matt Helm story by Keith Wease, a long-time Matt Helm fan whose work, according to Donald Hamilton’s son, captures the voice of his father quite successfully. Currently MATT HELM: THE WAR YEARS is available on Kindle.

     

    Worth another shot will return, once we’ve upgraded our deciphering hardware. Until then keep calm and…

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Helmut Schierer @ 2013-03-11
  9. Worth another shot… in January

    ‘Chinese cleaver’ by ‘panduh’ (c)

    January has been a surprisingly quiet month for us fans. Quiet not in absolute terms – just take a look at the wildly exciting speculation about all six Bond actors possibly showing up at the Oscar ceremony, the guessing game around this event’s Bond tribute and the five nominations for the Academy Awards – but quiet in a post-coital sort of way; a deeply satisfied, warm, lush and drowsy dampness after a major climax in the eventful history of Her Majesty’s favourite parachute escort. It borders on melancholy and one would like to turn back time and live through it all again.

    Not that everybody was downright ecstatic about ‘Skyfall’. Yet it’s hardly overstated to claim the film has met with an overall very favourable reception by audience and critics alike.

    As often is the case with this kind of ‘event’ productions numerous public figures seized the opportunity to delve into the – for most of them – foreign realm of film criticism and give their own opinion, often with entertaining results. One of the more illustrious figures to weigh in was none other than Sebastian Faulks himself, a favourite with British literary critics and ennobled by a fate which chose him to pen 2008’s ‘Devil May Care’, a Bond continuation novel tasked with commemorating the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, written “as” Ian Fleming and, in so doing, giving us Bond playing tennis, a Bond girl masquerading as a sex-slave heroin addict, death by administration of paddlesteamer and M doing yoga.

    Mr Faulks delivered his opinion on ‘Skyfall’ together with his up-to-then-missing verdict upon ‘Quantum of Solace’, and for good measure provided readers with his professional insights into Ian Fleming’s literary character; all in a day’s work. A buy-one/get-three sort of deal; we are sure you can acquire ‘Devil May Care’ in such an arrangement, should the fancy take you. The resulting critique embraced such a revealing nature that it went a long way towards explaining – perhaps unwittingly – some fundamental misconceptions about both film and book Bond; though on whose side, one comments not.

    However, Mr Faulks succeeded in making it into the headlines of The Telegraph and – never miss a good rehash; I know what I’m talking about – the Daily Mail. Further January headlines concerned themselves with the case of brutal butchering ‘Skyfall’ underwent at the hands of Chinese censors in order to gain access to Chinese theatres. The chopped version omits a few tiny details that weren’t deemed worthy of amusing the audiences under protection of the PRC. We were so very not-amused about this revelation.

    Though on closer inspection the mutual outcry indeed seems a bit hard to understand. ‘Skyfall’ shares its fate with the likes of ‘MIB3’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and countless other productions I can’t be bothered to list here. It would have been much more of a sensation had the film made it to China’s cinemas without any cuts and changes.

    A different sort of ‘Skyfall’ review was provided by cartoon artist, writer and illustrator Josh Edelglass, creator of the film parody web comic MotionPicturesComics.com. In January he finished a six-week run covering ‘Skyfall’. Premise of his web-comic series are a boy and his robot jumping into various films and commenting on the spectacle in tongue-in-cheek manner reminiscent of movie parodies in MAD magazine tradition . His take on ‘Skyfall’ can be found here.

    Finally Jason Whiton’s fanblog Spyvibe rediscovered a piece of surviving Fleming trivia on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs website. The programme featured prominent figures in interviews with host Roy Plomley, discussing the show’s premise of  which records to have with you on a desert island. Fleming was Plomley’s guest for an August 1963 broadcast, of which just short of 10 minutes can be heard. Intriguing stuff indeed.

    Worth another shot will return… in March.

    Helmut Schierer @ 2013-02-06
  10. Worth another shot… in December

    ‘Confetti Street’ by ‘Antoaneta’ (c)

    So, the old year has been kicked out in style while the new one met with the traditional optimism – sometimes against better knowledge and rightful scepticism. And look, this brand new 2013 already shows the first traces of those comfortable wrinkles and creases we tossed the old one out for. Must keep an eye on that.

    Now that the empty bottles and the torn gift wrap has been swept into the usual dark corners, what remains of 2012, that Big James Bond Anniversary ™? I mean, what remains that hasn’t been  said – rather written – here already?

    Well, there have been some things I can think of. 2012 provided fans with more than just Eon’s official – and incredibly extensive – historiography in The James Bond Archives. We also have to thank for a number of publications that shed light on Bond’s history from within, yet from a different and unofficial perspective. We already talked about Charles Helfenstein’s ‘The Making of The Living Daylights‘ here – though, can one really talk too much about this tome? Currently it’s in stock at Barnes & Noble (where our link leads you) but will soon be in stock again at Amazon. It seems B&N just have the better connections to the publisher.

    From a completely unexpected direction came another most interesting book. Unexpected because it’s the Bond memoirs of the one actress who’s been involved with the series more than any other except Lois Maxwell. Yet most people – even seasoned Bond fans – didn’t know about her connection with 007: Nikki van der Zyl. She is the voice we hear when Ursula Andress first appeared on the beach of Crab Key in ‘Dr No’. Since then Mrs van der Zyl has re-voiced numerous other female parts in the series until ‘Moonraker’. In addition to that she also coached German actor Gerd Froebe for his dialogue in ‘Goldfinger’. ‘For Your Ears Only‘ recounts the moving story of her life and her career at the heart of the British film industry, from the sidelines of many famous productions her contributions were crucial for, yet seldom adequately acknowledged. A fascinating read.

    Another pleasant surprise gift for Bond fans came from an old and trusted friend of Bond’s exploits, Len Deighton. After long years of silence from this legend of the modern thriller we finally get ‘James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father‘, and not a day too early. It’s sadly “just” a short article, partly retelling the background of his meeting with Ian Fleming as noted in the – long since out of print – compilation ‘For Bond Lovers Only’, partly extending his foreword to Robert Sellers’s ‘The Battle For Bond’. But it’s a nifty piece of excellent writing, full of anecdotes and adventures Deighton experienced with Harry Saltzman and Kevin McClory, at a time when his input shaped part of Bond’s early steps on the big screen, and later when he became a contributor to the early stages of McClory’s ‘Warhead’ project. For friends of Deighton’s prose and those interested in a glimpse into the early years not to be missed. Currently it’s only available as Kindle-download.

    Further news were provided by the always eager eye of John Cox and his very own The Book Bond. He was the first to report that both Ian Fleming’s ‘The Diamond Smugglers‘ and ‘Thrilling Cities‘ are going to get brand new print runs with the distinctive Amazon Vintage cover art. But that’s not all, he spotted a tiny sentence in the Radio Times, suggesting William Boyd already delivered his manuscript for his untitled Bond novel due for October 2013. And he already traced down the first Amazon listing for the book, which incidentally announces an impressive page count, too. Something to look forward to in 2013!

    For Bond fans like me 2012 has been a marvellous year in every respect, absolutely fantastic. In time for the anniversary CommanderBond.net too did revive many fine traditions – both on the main page and the forums – that have been missed in recent years. Naturally the past year saw our focus to some extent on the cinematic part of James Bond. In 2013 now Bond will actually see his sixtieth anniversary as Ian Fleming’s character and arguably literature’s most celebrated spy. CBn is going to celebrate this event throughout the year with a number of activities centred on the literary heritage of 007. Without losing sight of the film phenomenon that introduced most current fans to the world of James Bond.

    2013 is going to be a busy year.

    Worth another shot will return in February.

     

    Helmut Schierer @ 2013-01-08
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