CommanderBond.net
  1. LOOK UP! – Jacques Stewart’s 007th Minute in ‘Thunderball’

    Image ‘Staines Wargamers THUNDERBALL’ by Kaptain Kobold (c)

    Look down!

     

    Look out!

     

    For opinion and highly subjective content in this here now fourth entry, Jacques Stewart’s 007th minute of ‘Thunderball’.

     

     

     

    Please feel free to have thoughts on this. Meet other interesting people having thoughts on this here. Share your thoughts and take your chance to spend Christmas in the company of likewise-minded people.

     

    007th minute observed by Jacques Stewart. Italics-piffle as usual added by me.

     

     

     

     

     

    “Hi”.

     

     

    The idea behind all this unnecessariness is “explained” in the Dr No one, and there’s a couple more on From Russia with Love and Goldfinger to subject yourself to as well, if you actually feel you must and don’t have something more fulfilling and pleasurable to do, like drinking the contents of a radiator or molesting ham.

     

    So, Thunderball it is. Before I launch into petty abuse and ill-thought-through sexual metaphor that would be doing well to achieve the status of “gratuitous”, let me put on record this one inalienable fact: I love Thunderball. I think it is the definitive James Bond film, exemplifying all the others’ strengths (many) and weaknesses (many) in one ninety-four hour long extravaganza of blueishness and harpoonydom and Conneryality and fish. I accept – I don’t have to like, but I accept – that this is not the chosen opinion of others and that their choices and opinions are valid, like the choice to use public transport, the choice to wear unpleasant hipsters and the choice to look in the mirror in the morning and yet still carry on.

     

    We’ve gone all wide in this one, wide and (bm-bm) deep. The previous three had quite a lot of standing or sitting, interior-bound snarling or fighting or rudey bits: this one largely keeps its mouth shut to the absolute bare minimum of plottidom, it’s the most basic of the stories so far, and gets out into the open air, as if the Bond series has had a bit of a frowny conversation with its wee-scrutinising GP about unplugging itself from the sofa and going for a nice brisk walk. Look at all the blue and sunshine and widescreen splendour of it; it gives us a show. They wanted us to see some extraordinary things with a bit of a plot stapled on. Patently this would get way out of hand with the next one but here, Barryhorns blasting over clear blue water, the biggest film star in history gliding through it and the production’s tangible air of total confidence in its task (never expressly tipping into the self-reverential smugness that would come to haunt the series later), this is the paradigm. Visually, it remains a big watery blur of old lovely and is a great watch after three pints of Rioja to just sit there in front of it and let the general (and I would maintain, deliberate) relaxedness wash over one as one slumbers into dreams of Claudine Auger licking plum jam from one’s moobs.

     

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2012-09-23
  2. Jacques Stewart’s 007th Minute in ‘Goldfinger’

    You know the drill by now; it’s opinion, and as such subjective – highly so even – and of course nobody is required to agree. If you are able to point out the significance of the image coming with this 7th Minute please do so in this thread.

     

    007th Minute watched and commented by Jacques Stewart.

     

     

     

    image Alexander Fleming House by Ed Osborn (c)

    Unburdened by dibbly dibbly do there’s a Dr No one here that explains this increasingly talked-into-a-corner “concept” and one about From Russia with Love right here and it’s on the From Russia with Love one that I realise that I have been totally misguided.

     

     

    There I was thinking its seventh minute was the vital and diverting tale of two middle-aged men playing chess, with the action high-spot being one of them drinking a glass of water in an odd way, largely to douse the cigarillo he’s just swallowed.

     

     

    Well, that’s just what “they” wanted us to think it was, isn’t it? I’ve had another ponder about it and – Clement Freud, analyse this – it’s not really about that at all, is it? Dr No’s seventh minute was, and I stand by this, pretty definitive a statement of what was going to happen for the next fifty years. Bad poo administered by “the foreign” happens to the British in some bit of the world they used to own or at least once put a test-the-water offer in on. The immediate reaction is “oh well, let’s keep trying” swiftly followed by a dawning realisation that this is never going to be anywhere good enough so better call M, because he or she is full of good ideas and expendable faceless alcoholic “bit rapey” psychopaths who do things we’re better off not even thinking about when mowing the lawn. This is then followed by the introduction of the hero, and subverting the early-sixties audience’s hero-perceptions, no it’s not the nicely side-parted ramrod -backed all very monochrome Michael Redgraveish Perigrine Carruthers with the unfortunate green coat, the old “school” tie and an accent so razorsharp the dockworkers he entertains of an evening would do well not to stick anything in his mouth, no, it’s someone altogether more cool and slick and sleazy and outside the perceived heroic idiom of the time who picks up scarlet half-naked women who do carrrds.

     

     

    In comparison, two blokes playing chess does seem a bit, y’know, like filler.

     

     

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2012-09-17
  3. Jacques Stewart’s 007th Minute in: ‘From Russia With Love’

    Image The Queen Turned Red by desrie.govender (c)

     

     

    Opinion it is…

    And Science-fact…

    Text by Jacques Stewart

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Hello

     

    Unburdened blahdy blah the Dr No one for an explanation of what’s going on here.

     

    So

     

    0.06.00 to 0.07.00 From Russia with Love

     

    Previously on 007. James Bond, languid Scot who does murdering for a transient political elite but doesn’t let that bother him in any way because LOOK AT THE TAILORING AND THE MUSCLES, went off to Jamaica and ate a tarantula or something and beat up a man with no hands – at the edge of cruel, that – and hung around with a Swedish Honey who was largely dubbed but it wasn’t as if he was listening to her when he stared at her, agape. Did some singing, slightly unwisely, had his shoes fetched in an act of oppression and obviously deliberately vile racism but also did a lot of murdering so that’s all OK and the one balances out the other. Was cured of radiation sickness with a nice hot shower, blew some stuff up, played carrrds, managed to park the squirty chipolata three times and was rude to his dinner host. He’s great.

     

    The following events happen in real time. Well, within the seventh minute of From Russia with Love, anyway.

     

    So far as this one’s gone, Daniel Craig Robert Shaw has throttled a very red-lipped Sean Connery in the Pinewood Garden (sadly not a euphemism, and a bit of a missed opportunity, frankly). Only it wasn’t Sean Connery after all, it was Clement Attlee, so that’s cool.

     

    We’ve had thumping bits of music including “some” James Bond theme, just in case we were slightly uncertain what it was we were witnessing, some splendid belly dancing and the rather notorious mis-spelling that reads “Martin Beswick” when of course it should read “Martin Balsam”. Oh c’mon, admit it, Martin Balsam jigglin’ away and having a ritual cat-fight whilst resplendently underdressed is the motherlode of popular entertainment and you know it. Certainly betters that other film he was in, that one with the evidently psychopathic man dressing up as a woman, committing bad deeds and also starring a piece of vacuous flyblown driftwood that later got itself cast as James Bond. Mrs Doubtfire, that’s the one.

     

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2012-09-11
  4. The 007th Minute: ‘Dr No’

    Image Big Ben at 7pm by Martin Cleary (c)

    You see, CommanderBond.net simply cannot let this year go by without presenting you with a decent retrospective of the main purpose of our existence. But as all the pressure is on to be cost-effective and do something against the recession we had to concentrate on the essential bits of our favourite spy and his exploits on screen. So here now is – without further ado – The 007th Minute – a real-time retrospective in 23 parts by Jacques Stewart. Meaning reading it takes you as long as it takes you, nothing else. 

     

    Update: All incidents are fictitious and any resemblance to a proper opinion that could reasonably be taken seriously is entirely coincidental.

     

    Well, what else…?

     

     

     

     

     

    Unburdened with any desire to rewatch all of the Bond films in the run up to the 50th anniversary, genuinely cannot be bothered with all that effort, I thought it would be churlish not to at least recognise it all in some way so plumped on just watching a minute of each one, the 00-seventh minute of each (do you see what I did there? Of course you did. You read it).

     

    Fearing that watching the clock on the DVDmophone tick over between 0.06.00 to 0.07.00 would prove in some cases more engaging than the content onscreen, I steeled myself to my brave endeavour (watching 22 minutes of film – I want a medal) and what you get in this brief and violent series of reviews / petty abuse and juvenile sexual idiom is what I done thought of what I done saw.

     

    Some of the below may be outrageous lies but following the lead of the great green vegetable himself, I can cover that up by asserting that this isn’t science fiction, it’s science fact. Additionally, I have a very old DVD player and doubtless the timings might be off on far more sophisticated technology than mine but now you’re reading the typing of someone who really doesn’t care.

     

    Anyway

     

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2012-09-09
  5. The Finer Details: Gardner vs. Benson

    CommanderBond.net is pleased to announce a new line of original content. The header ‘The Finer Details’ from now on will feature a selection of Bond themed articles by CBn-crew and guest writers. Expect new material of a 00-nature in this place monthly – if not more.

    We begin this series with an article by Luke Freeman.

     

    GARDNER VS. BENSON: RE-INTRODUCING JAMES BOND

     

     

    The merits of the James Bond novels written after the death of creator Ian Fleming, the “Continuation novels”, in particular those of the two long-running continuation authors, John Gardner (who wrote 14 original Bond novels between 1981 and 1997), and Raymond Benson (who succeeded Gardner, writing 6 original novels from 1997 to 2002) have been discussed and debated with each successive new entry to the canon. But to compare and contrast the different takes on the Bond character and differing approaches to Bond story-telling employed by Gardner and later Benson, indeed, to even define them, to surmise their respective intents and their overall strengths and weaknesses, we perhaps need look no further than the way they each introduced the character right back in their respective debut Bond novels, Gardner’s ‘Licence Renewed’, and Benson’s ‘Zero Minus Ten’.

     

     

    Greetings fellow Bond fans,
    It’s admittedly hardly surprising that the new authors would have used the very first entrance of the Bond character in their respective canons to outline their mission statement for Bond and what it was that they would be attempting to do with him, but it perhaps is a surprise, when we look at what it was they were attempting, and the merits of their approaches, just how much these introductions would reveal about what each would go on to give us as James Bond continuation authors.

     

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2012-08-12
  6. Spywise.net's A Decade in Review featuring James Bond and more

    Spywise.net is delighted to announce the publication of four new articles, the first of our “Decade In Review” features discussing the best espionage-oriented projects released since 2000.

    'Casino Royale's' Vesper Lynd and James Bond

    Casino Royale‘s Vesper Lynd and James Bond

    Without question, the Crown Jewels of this series can be found in our “Spies on Film” files:

    A Decade in Review: The Best Spy Films, Part I (2000-2004)

    A Decade in Review: The Best Spy Films, Part II (2004-2009)

    The over 50 pages of insights, opinions, and analysis were written by an international cast of experts from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and Japan. Craig Arthur, Wesley Britton, David E. Foster, Anders Frejdh, Amanda Ohlke, and Paul Rowlands each discuss movies you’d expect—the Bourne trilogy, Casino Royale—movies you likely never heard of, and likely some controversial choices.

    Then, in the “Spies in History and Literature” files, you’ll find:

    A Decade in Review: The Best Spy Literature, 2001-2009

    A slightly different team, Craig Arthur, Wesley Britton, Mark T. Hooker, Amanda Ohlke, and Bill Raetz suggest the best spy books of this decade, both novels and non-fiction histories and biographies. Compare your choices with theirs and see if you have some catch-up to do! (Or perhaps some ideas about what we missed . . .)

    Finally—for now—the last new article is in the “Spies on Television and Radio” files:

    A Decade in Review: What We Brits Saw And What We Didn’t (2000-2009) by Ian Dickerson

    This very lively and personable essay is very different from the other overviews. Here, the longtime Honorary Secretary of “The Saint Club” shares his observations on what U.K. “telly” watchers got to see and why they missed some of the better shows we got in the states.

    Coming soon: Wes Britton, Craig Arthur, and David Foster will present the “Top 10” TV programs we’ve seen since 2000. In addition, Armstrong Sabien is preparing his overview of the best spy comics and graphic novels of the decade. In the meantime, the film overviews alone should keep you busy—and hopefully find you matching your own perspectives with fellow fans and experts from around the globe. Let us know what you think—the articles are ready for you as PDF files at www.Spywise.net.

    As always, keep turning to the CommanderBond.net main page and our Discussion Forums for all the latest news from the world of James Bond.

    Visit CommanderBond.net on…
    Twitter | Facebook | MySpace

    Devin Zydel @ 2010-01-12
  7. Search is on for best Bond girl inspired martini

    Contest: Relais & Châteaux Searches for Best Bond Girl Inspired Martini

    Relais & Châteaux is searching for the best Bond Girl Inspired martini. Female mixologists invited to mix a martini Bond Girls might sip and that is worthy of being served by select Relais & Châteaux members. Contest starts Oct. 8, ends Nov. 4.

    Martini

    Everyone knows that James Bond loves his martinis – shaken, not stirred. But what kind of martini would a Bond Girl drink?

    Relais & Châteaux, a collection of 480 celebrated boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants worldwide, wants to know. They’re holding a contest to find female mixologists to shake things up with style and sophistication and create a fabulous martini inspired by the Bond Girls.

    “Relais & Châteaux and the Bond films have a lot in common,” said Jaume Tápies, international president of the Association. “Both use sophistication, a sense of mystery, gorgeous natural surroundings and the element of surprise to create memorable experiences and a celebration of the senses, so I think we have the expertise to judge the best Bond Girl inspired martini.”

    To enter, send a link to video, 2 to 3 minutes in length, of yourself preparing the martini (Bond Girl attire optional) and explaining why your martini is one that Bond Girls like Honey Rider, Solitaire, Octopussy, Vesper Lind and Melina Havelock would imbibe. Like the Bond Girls, your martini recipe and video should be smooth, cool, and sophisticated.

    Five finalists will be selected based on originality, showmanship, and your explanation of why your recipe is the best Bond Girl-inspired martini that deserves to be served at Relais & Châteaux properties. Finalists must be available to participate in a final round of judging at a cocktail event to be held at the Relais & Châteaux Maison in Manhattan on November 30. Bond Girl Carole Bouquet, who portrayed Melina Havelock in For Your Eyes Only, will attend the event.

    The contest winner will receive a two-night stay for two at one of the fabulous properties to be selected as new U.S. members of Relais & Châteaux for 2010. In addition, the winner’s video and recipe will be featured on the new Relais & Châteaux Facebook page, and the cocktail will be served at select Relais & Châteaux resorts.

    The November 30 black-tie event will feature a display of authentic, one-of-a-kind props from the major James Bond movies, including gadget props from 1962-2008, wardrobe from Casino Royale, the “golden gun” from The Man With the Golden Gun and assorted props from For Your Eyes Only, from David Zaritsky’s collection. Zaritsky is one of the foremost collectors of Bond memorabilia in North America.

    The contest will run from Thursday, October 8, through midnight EST Wednesday, November 4. For information about contest rules and how to enter, please go to http://www.marstonpr.com/relaischateaux/contest.html.

    About Relais & Châteaux

    Relais & Châteaux is an exclusive collection of 480 of the finest hotels and gourmet restaurants in 56 countries. Established in France in 1954, the Association’s mission is to spread its unique art de vivre across the globe by selecting outstanding properties with a truly unique character. Relais & Châteaux is a family of hoteliers and Grands Chefs from all over the world who share a passion for, and a personal commitment to, ensuring their guests experience moments of exceptional harmony. For more information, go to www.relaischateaux.com.

    Be sure to keep checking the CommanderBond.net main page and our Discussion Forums for all the latest news from the world of James Bond.

    Devin Zydel @ 2009-10-09
  8. James Bond Prefers Brunettes

    Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but according to a newly released academic study, that isn’t quite the case for James Bond.

    'Casino Royale's' Vesper Lynd and James Bond

    Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and James Bond (Daniel Craig)

    According to the Telegraph, a group of researchers have found that the famous secret agent in fact prefers brunettes overall—specifically, those with long hair, an American accent and who carry weapons.

    This decidedly odd research information resulted from a group of academics who assessed the physical traits of 195 female characters in the first 20 official James Bond movies, then contrasted the characteristics of the 98 who had ‘sexual contact’ with Bond with those of the 97 who did not.

    Their findings have been published in the journal Sex Roles and are meant to examine how Bond girls have changed over the years as well as exploring what kind of women end up with 007.

    Unsurprisingly, those classified as Bond’s sexual partners tended to be younger, slimmer and more attractive than the women he does not bed. They are also less likely to wear glasses. Examples included Moonraker‘s Lois Chiles as Dr Holly Goodhead and Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever.

    Olga Kurylenko

    Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko)

    The average age of the women was estimated at 26. Overall, 46 were deemed to have had ‘strong’ sexual contact with Bond, while a further 52 were classified as having ‘mild’ contact (such as kissing).

    27% were blonde, while 40% had black hair, 19% brown and 9% red. For whatever reason, Bond more often ended up getting intimate with the dark-haired Bond girls. Furthermore, 18% of women with long hair were more likely to end up in a sexual situation with 007 than the 22% who had short hair.

    Bond girls with an American accent accounted for one-fourth of the total, but but those that did were more likely to have some form of sexual contact with Bond than the 43% who had a European accent of some kind.

    Gemma Arterton

    Agent Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton)

    ‘A majority of female characters engaged in some sexual activity, particularly those in major roles. And the great majority of sexual behaviours involved Bond himself,’ says the research team, led by Kimberly Neuendorf, professor of communication at Cleveland State University, Ohio.

    ‘Every Bond film has multiple female characters who variously tempt, distract, and assist James in his latest mission. At least one ‘Bond girl’ is particularly striking—a woman with an adventurous nature, cunning attributes, strong potential for romantic entanglement with Bond, and a sense of self-assurance, whose name—Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, or Holly Goodhead, for example—is as provocative as the character she portrays.’

    On a negative note, the study also found that one in five female characters were dead by the end of the movie, including many who had had sexual contact with Bond.

    Caterina Murino

    Solange (Caterina Murino)

    On a bizarre note, Bond was more likely to have sexual contact with a woman if she used a weapon than if she did not. Two women attempted to kill 007 before sexual contact, two tried during sex, and a further 10 tried afterwards.

    ‘The women of Bond are eternally attractive,’ the report stated. ‘Their typically slender body type … is unchanged over time. The women of Bond continue to be portrayed in a rather limited and sex-stereotyped manner. The ultimate penalty for a woman in a Bond film—death—seems to accrue from promiscuity and daring to threaten the ultimate iconic masculine hero, James Bond.’

    ‘This study provides further evidence of the continued sexualisation, marginalisation, and disposability of women within Bond films. The Bond films glorify the sometimes chauvinistic persona of Bond.’

    ‘Bond single-handedly takes on any ‘bad guy’, saves the world and always gets the girl. Bond accomplishes these feats by the power of his wit and more importantly through violence.’

    Keep your browsers locked on the CommanderBond.net main page—and our brand new Twitter feed—for all the latest news from the world of James Bond.

    Devin Zydel @ 2009-06-07
  9. The James Bond da Vinci Code

    Written by Craig Arthur

    In a 1936 review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, Graham Greene complained that Hitchcock’s films “consist of a series of small ‘amusing’ melodramatic situations. . . . Very perfunctorily he builds up these tricky situations (paying no attention on the way to inconsistencies, loose ends, psychological absurdities) and then drops them: they mean nothing: they lead to nothing.”

    'North By Northwest'

    North By Northwest

    The same accusation has often been made against the Bond movies. And defending Hitchcock against such claims in his classic 1965 study, Hitchcock’s Films, Robin Wood condemns Goldfinger in comparison to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. Observing that North By Northwest “corresponds most nearly to the conventional estimate of [Hitchcock] as a polished light entertainer”, Wood wanted to show that “a light entertainment can have depth, subtlety, finesse, it can embody mature moral values; indeed, it seems to me that it must. If I fail to be entertained by Goldfinger, it is because there is nothing to engage or retain the attention; the result is a nonentity, consequently tedious. The essential triviality of the James Bond films, in fact, sets off perfectly, by contrast, the depth, the charm, the integrity of Hitchcock’s film. A film, whether light entertainment or not, is either a work of art or it is nothing. And the basic essential of a work of art is that it be thematically organic. Goldfinger is a collection of bits, carefully calculated with both eyes on the box office, put end to end with no deeper necessity for what happens next than mere plot; nothing except plot develops in the course of it, and, obviously, the essence of organic construction is development.”

    There is no denying that North By Northwest‘s premise — a New York advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, is mistaken for George Kaplan, a secret agent who does not exist — is no mere light entertainment. It is a much deeper analysis of the construct of masculinity than it first appears. Deeper even than Robin Wood would suggest. The key to this movie is line Thornhill (Cary Grant) casually utters in the movie’s opening scene, when lying to a woman about to get into taxi ahead of him. “In the world of advertising, there is no such thing as a lie. There’s only ‘expedient exaggeration’.” This smug attitude comes back to haunt Thornhill when he is mistaken for the non-existent Kaplan and must eventually pretend to be him instead of protesting his innocence. Nowhere in either real life or the plotline of North By Northwest, does the Bond-like Kaplan exist, except as a fantasy figure in our imaginations. And yet Kaplan is an expedient exaggeration of Thornhill’s personality traits, of his Cary Grant image.

    'North By Northwest'

    Thornhill’s ‘impersonation’ of Kaplan in North By Northwest‘s final act offers an insight into the appeal of James Bond. When audiences watch Bond movies, they know they are watching a fantasy. From the beginning, the movies themselves acknowledged this in the self-conscious artificiality of the Connery/Bond persona, the self-depreciating humour and the paradoxical treatment of a secret agent as a glamorous infallible hero more akin to a film star or jet set playboy than a secret agent. The ruse on the part of SPECTRE in From Russia With Love is that Russian cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova supposedly falls for Bond’s file photo in the same way that she might fall in love with a film star. And Bond later signs Romanova’s photo for Moneypenny in the same way that a star might autograph it for a fan. We are aware that Connery is playing this non-existent fantasy figure and yet somehow becoming him in the same way that Thornhill becomes Kaplan. When George Lazenby took over the role, he delivered his famous “this never happened to the other fella” quip. When Connery returned to the role in Diamonds Are Forever, not only was his absence alluded to (“You’ve been on holiday, I believe,” Sir Donald Munger remarks and M later tells him, “We do function in your absence, Commander.”) but Bond is regarded as something of a celebrity. “My god, you’ve just killed James Bond!” Tiffany Case (Jill St John) exclaims after finding Bond’s wallet on the body of the smuggler Peter Franks. And in a variation on the same joke in 1985’s A View to a Kill Roger Moore tells the San Francisco policeman, “Well, actually, the name is Bond, James Bond”, and the policeman replies, “And I’m Dick Tracy and you are still under arrest.”

    'Goldfinger'

    We are watching a construct. The Bond movies remind us of this and deliver the fantasy according to the expected formula. Audiences know what to expect in terms of narrative and character iconography before they buy a ticket. Critic Alexander Walker referred to this as their ‘submerged complicity’ with the audience. “Most thrillers worked with the screen; Bond was the first film series at the time to work with an audience,” Walker explains. “In a way, it was a return to those Saturday afternoon serials. People who went to see the Bond films henceforth knew the game and anticipated playing it and even working at it as the filmmakers fed them the clues.”

    But does this mean that Bond movies are indeed just a collection of bits, as Robin Wood suggests, carefully calculated with both eyes on the box office, put end to end?

    According to the standard definition of the operation and function of classical realist narrative given by Wood in Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, the revised 1989 version of his 1965 book, the fundamental principles include “symmetry (especially of the beginning and end — ‘the end answers the beginning’) and closure (the resolution of all the narrative threads and moral issues, the restoration of order . . .).”

    'Goldfinger'

    Goldfinger

    At first glance, it often appears that the Bond movies do not entirely adhere to these both principles. Closure, yes; symmetry, no. Often the pre-title sequences appear to be superfluous action sequences with no relevance to the movie that follows the main titles. In terms of narrative, there is no structural justification for the presentation of Bond’s assignment in Mexico in the pre-title sequence of Goldfinger. The original Ian Fleming novel begins with Bond waiting in the final departure lounge at Miami International Airport on the way back to London from the assignment in Mexico. While drowning his sorrows in a double bourbon, brooding over the fact he had no choice but to kill a Mexican thug in self-defence after completing the assignment, he has a chance meeting with a character from his past, Junius Dupont from the baccarat high table in Casino Royale. This leads to Bond’s first meeting with Auric Goldfinger, after Dupont engages him to find out how Goldfinger is cheating him at canasta each day at Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel.

    Virtually every structural justification for Ian Fleming’s inclusion of the references to the Mexican assignment in the novel has vanished in Goldfinger‘s transition to the cinema screen. There is no longer a scene where Bond is brooding over his last assignment at Miami airport. The pre-title sequence in Mexico has no connection to the events in Miami, except that it depicts an episode that took place immediately prior to his departure for Miami. Mr Ramirez’s use of “heroin-flavoured bananas to finance revolutions”, as Bond puts it, lacks any plot connection to Goldfinger’s smuggling operation or his plan to irradiate the gold reserves inside Fort Knox. And there was no necessity to ape Ian Fleming’s device of beginning the narrative before the story’s real beginning; the sequence offers no structural device to pull off Fleming’s sleight-of-hand, presenting a dull canasta game in an exciting manner. Nor is there a sense of the winds of circumstance blowing Bond off course after his Mexican assignment, into a chance meeting with an old acquaintance and his first encounter with Auric Goldfinger. The film-makers could simply have begun the movie with Bond’s meeting with Felix Leiter at the Hotel Fontainebleau and used the first encounter with Goldfinger — when Bond interrupts his cheating at canasta — as the pre-title sequence, ending with the ‘hook’ of Bond finding Jill Masterson dead, covered from head to toe in gold paint.

    And yet Goldfinger‘s pre-title sequence does provide the movie with symmetry. It is simply a matter of knowing where to look.

    'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes'

    The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

    Like a Bond movie, Billy Wilder’s 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes begins with a sequence unrelated to the main plot, apart from the fact that both it and the main plot explore contrasting examples of Sherlock Holmes’s involvement with the opposite sex that show a different side to his character to that depicted in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The movie opens with a comic episode where Holmes (Robert Stephens) fends off the sexual advances of a Russian ballerina, unrelated to the main story about how he falls for a German spy, Gabrielle Valladon (Genevieve Page), who dupes him into helping her discover a secret British submarine being developed at Loch Ness. Although there is no link to the Russian ballerina, Holmes draws a parallel between her performance of Swan Lake and the mysterious events at Loch Ness: “We have come across this situation before . . . at the ballet. There’s a lake and there’s a castle and there’s a swan that isn’t really a swan. Or in this case a monster that is not really a monster.”

    In Goldfinger, also, we have seen the events of the climax at Fort Knox before. In the pre-title sequence Bond places a bomb in a guarded vault, strips off his waterproof suit to reveal his dinner jacket, a woman switches allegiances to betray him and he kills an adversary by electrocuting him in the bathtub. And in the climax of the movie, Goldfinger plants an atomic bomb inside the gold vault at Fort Knox, strips off his outer garments to reveal a military uniform, is betrayed by Pussy Galore who warned the CIA about the dawn raid on Fort Knox, and Bond electrocutes Odd Job.

    Commenting on his use of recurring visual motifs in the Three Colour Trilogy, in the DVD extras for Three Colours: Red, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski explains that, “In Red particularly, we wanted the viewer to think backwards, to make associations with things he had already seen without noticing. . . we tried to build up these signs, particularly in Red, so the viewer would realise that what he sees here he has already seen and would register that in some part of his subconscious. Many of these signs will not get through to him, but we let them build up so that at least some do, so that he understands the principle.” This same technique applies to movies as diverse as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Goldfinger.

    'Goldfinger'

    In 2001, the phallic, white Discovery One spaceship bound for Jupiter is a visual echo of the bone hefted into the air by the primordial ape-man in the movies lengthy prologue from the dawn of man. As with the earlier visual association via the famous match cut from the bone to a satellite in orbit, the viewer thinks back to the ape wielding the bone and on a subconscious level links the humans who built the Discovery One and the HAL 9000 computer to primordial apes. We are hence aware of the folly of man, when the ultra-rational HAL deems the Jupiter Mission “too important” for the Discovery crew to potentially jeopardise when they begin to question ‘his; reliability and secretly plot to disconnect ‘him’ should the AE-35 unit not fail as he predicted. The ensuing conflict between Dave and HAL, when HAL severs Frank’s oxygen hose during his space-walk and then deactivates the life support system of the astronauts in cryogenic hibernation seems inevitable and inexorable as a result. And in Goldfinger the subconscious link for the audience between the bomb Bond places in Ramirez drug laboratory and the atomic bomb in Fort Knox helps build the tension. The Bond movie formula dictates that the denouement must be an anticlimax. Goldfinger’s plan will not reach fruition. He will not succeed in killing Bond and detonating the bomb inside the gold vault. However, just as in Three Colours: Red, the viewer will think backwards to the pre-title sequence without noticing and on a subconscious level they will register that they have already seen a bomb placed in a vault explode, which heightens the suspense despite the inevitable denouement.

    Strictly speaking this tradition began with the pre-title sequence in From Russia With Love, with Grant stalking and strangling “James Bond”. In the climax aboard the Orient Express, the viewer thinks backward to the pre-title sequence when Grant kills “Bond”; the end answers the beginning. But, following on from From Russia With Love, the Goldfinger pre-title sequence became the blueprint for all subsequent Bond films. As Barbara Broccoli has pointed out, “No Bond film would be complete without a pre-credit sequence. We always look back at the one from Goldfinger as being perfect, and as being the ultimate one to emulate.” All the pre-title sequences provide symmetry with what will take place in the climax of the movie and generally they deliver this symmetry by depicting the end of Bond’s previous assignment in such a way that the events parallel the main plot.

    Kamal Khan

    The closer any Bond movie is to a literal remake of Goldfinger, the greater the similarity to Goldfinger‘s pre-credit sequence. By a literal remake, I don’t mean A View to a Kill‘s use of the Goldfinger plot where Max Zorin is attempting to control the world’s silicon chip industry by wiping out Silicon Valley in the same way that Auric Goldfinger sought to dominate the gold market by irradiating the bullion reserves in Fort Knox; I would consider that a ‘loose’ remake. By literal remake, I mean in the sense that The Spy Who Loved Me is a literal remake of You Only Live Twice, where the narrative structure of one movie can be mapped against the other as a series of co-ordinates, plot device to plot device, (as opposed to Tomorrow Never Dies which is, again, another loose remake of both these movies). Octopussy is a literal remake of Goldfinger. To compete with, Never Say Never Again, a literal remake of Thunderball in 1983, EON fell back on remaking Goldfinger. The two stories are identical. A smuggler (Goldfinger/Kamal Khan) with a vintage Rolls Royce for transportation and a solidly built Asiatic henchman (Odd Job/Gobinda), with the help of an exotically named independent woman (Pussy Galore/Octopussy) and her all female circus (Pussy Galore’s ‘flying circus’/Octopussy’s actual circus troop), conceives a plot with a rogue general from a Communist superpower (Mr Ling/General Orlov) to explode a nuclear bomb in a strategic target in the West (Fort Knox/a US Air Force Base in West Germany). The plot is thwarted when Pussy Galore/Octopussy changes sides and the final showdown with Goldfinger/Khan occurs aboard a plane. During the course of the story, Bond taunts both villains by producing either the gold ingot or the Fabergé egg during a game of golf/backgammon in which the villain is cheating. Both games end with Bond turning the tables and winning and the henchman (Oddjob/Gobinda) crushing the gold ball/loaded dice that decided the match with their bare hands. Bond tracks the villain’s movements with the add of a homing device supplied by Q branch and once at the heart of the villain’s smuggling empire, partly overhears a conversation between the villain and the representative of the foreign super-power, hinting at their big scheme. The deck is shuffled slightly in places. In both movies there is a subordinate Bond girl (Jill Masterson/Madga) in the villain’s employ. In both movies Bond sleeps with her and then is knocked unconscious by the villain’s henchman. But in Octopussy Madga remains loyal to Khan until much later in the plot and she is not killed. When Bond is knocked unconscious, he is captured so when he overhears the conversation between Khan and General Orlov, he has already been captured and escaped from the villain’s clutches, whereas in Goldfinger he has yet to be captured and does not regain his liberty. So, not surprisingly, the pre-title sequence of Octopussy is also very close to that of Goldfinger. In an assignment in Latin America, with no connection to the main plot of the movie, apart from the fact it mirrors the plot to explode a bomb in an air force base, Bond must blow up a hanger on a Cuban air force base. He is caught attempting to plant his bomb but after some aerial acrobatics in a miniature jet plane chased by a heat-seeking missile, he succeeds in blowing up the air force hanger in a spectacular fashion. This plants the idea in audiences’ subconscious minds that the villain’s plot to blow up the West German air base could succeed. The death of Colonel Toro does not mirror the death of either Khan or Gobinda in the same way that the electrocution of the Mexican mirrors the electrocution of Oddjob, but the Octopussy pre-title sequence does introduce the motif of the double. Bond attempts to infiltrate the air base by disguising himself as Colonel Toro, knife-throwing twins Mischka and Grischka are important minor villains, Khan and Orlov switch the boxcar containing the circus cannon on the Octopussy’s Circus train for an identical boxcar containing the nuclear bomb instead of the Russian jewellery, and Bond (disguised as a clown) is able to give the security men at the air base the slip inside the circus big top when they apprehend a clown dressed in an identical outfit.

    Other Bond movies, even if they don’t copy the Goldfinger plot formula, still incorporate the formula of the Goldfinger pre-title sequence. For instance, the plot of For Your Eyes Only — which more closely parallels with From Russia With Love — involves both Bond’s efforts to recover the missing ATAC submarine communicator (a Hitchcockian MacGuffin like the Lektor decoder in From Russia With Love) before it falls into the wrong hands and Melina Havelock’s determination to avenge the death of her parents. In the pre-title sequence, which again has no overt connection to Bond’s mission or the main plot of the movie, we again see a parallel version of the main plot. Blofeld takes over the Universal Exports helicopter which collects Bond when he is visiting his wife’s grave by remote control, just as the ATAC would allow the Soviets to gain control of Britain’s nuclear arsenal and subsequently, after Bond has regained control of the helicopter after some daring mountaineering — a precursor to the actual mountaineering when Bond scales the rock cliff to reach the abandoned monastery where Kristatos waits to deliver the ATAC to the Russians — Bond gets his revenge on Blofeld for Tracy’s death, 12 years earlier, just as Melina intends to get her revenge on Kristatos.

    Sean Connery is James Bond

    The pre-title sequences do not always show us a mirror image of the movie’s main plot. Sometimes they simply point the way ahead to the main showdown between Bond and the villain. The pre-title sequence of Thunderball, for example, does not reflect the SPECTRE hijacking of two atomic bombs. Instead, in the same way that the electrocution of the Mexican in the bathtub in Goldfinger parallels the outcome of the fight with Oddjob inside Fort Knox, the highly kinetic chateau fight parallels the kinetic fight aboard the Disco Volante in the film’s climax (furniture is thrown and shelves topple as if the static chateau interior is a tilting deck; the carpet is pulled from under Boitier’s feet and the camera is tilted to simulate the loss of equilibrium). Also, Bond’s strategy of watching Jacques Boitier’s ‘widow’ at Boitier’s funeral and then punching her at the chateau, is mirrored in his efforts to track NATO pilot Derval’s sister, Domino, in Nassau after seeing Derval dead at Shrublands before eventually ‘socking her’ one with the revelation that Largo had him killed. So once again the viewer has already seen these events transpire in the pre-title sequence and registered it on a subconscious level. In this particular instance, it is important that the unmasking of Boitier’s widow in the Thunderball pre-title sequence parallels Bond’s efforts to get to Largo via Domino. The symmetry between the two creates a balance and it does not seem like an enormous plot digression when so much of the action in Nassau focuses on Domino, while the stolen atomic bombs recede into the background.

    Since A View to a Kill, the producers of the Bond movies have made a determined effort to link the events depicted in the pre-title sequences directly to the main plot. Really this began with The Spy Who Loved Me, where Bond kills Anya Amasova’s lover, Sergei Borzov, during the ski chase, but in Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy they reverted to Goldfinger‘s depiction of an unrelated previous assignment immediately prior to the movie’s main plot. These pre-title sequences in The Spy Who Loved Me, A View to a Kill, and the subsequent Bond movies do not foreshadow the climax of the movie as deeply as the pre-title sequences of Goldfinger or Thunderball, but they do introduce and emphasise a key element of the main plot that will be pivotal in the climax of the movie, in much the same way that Kubrick introduces the monolith during the opening ‘Dawn of Man’ segment of 2001. In The Spy Who Loved Me, it is the close-up of slain Borzov’s face. In A View to A Kill it is the microchip that Bond recovers from the body of 003 in Siberia, linking to the importance of microchips in the main plot; in The Living Daylights, the note reading, “smert shpionam” that the killer attaches to 004’s climbing rope, introducing Koskov’s attempt to play MI6 and KGB against one another against one another; in Tomorrow Never Dies, the GPS encoder that Carver will later use to send China and Britain to the brink of war. In a way, these pre-title sequences were a return to the formula used in You Only Live Twice and the two subsequent Bond movies directed by Lewis Gilbert where the immediate glimpse of the threat — the SPECTRE rocket in You Only Live Twice, the capture of the British nuclear submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me and the space shuttle in Moonraker — prefigures the climax of the movie rather than any direct correspondence between the climax and the ‘assassination’ of Bond, the ski chase or the skydiving in these opening sequences. However, some other element from the pre-title sequence is usually still mirrored in the climax of the movie, as well. The Icelandic glaciers doubling for the Siberian setting in A View to a Kill‘s pre-title sequences are a visual reminder of the kind of extreme geological forces Zorin seeks to harness to destroy Silicon Valley in an earthquake. Even the much maligned use of the Beach Boys’ ‘Californian Girls’ in the score prefigures the Californian setting and the exploding flare inside the cockpit of the helicopter mirrors the later explosion when the dropped dynamite explodes inside the airship after Bond cuts the mooring, atop the Golden Gate Bridge (both scenes an allusion to the grenade exploding in the helicopter cockpit in From Russia With Love). The Living Daylights begins with Bond and the two other 00 agents skydiving from an RAF Hercules aircraft and the climactic fight between Bond and Necros aboard a similar Hercules in midair, with a bomb hidden in one of the sacks of raw opium ticking down (similarly during the pre-title sequence Bond grapples with 004’s killer inside a plummeting Land Rover in midair with the boxes of dynamite in the back about to explode). GoldenEye begins with 006 and 007 planting limpet explosives on chemical weapons tanks in a 1980s Soviet base and when Bond confronts Trevelyan in his Cuban lair nine years later, he places identical explosive devices on the nitrogen cooling tanks for the computer mainframe. In the Tomorrow Never Dies pre-title sequence the British Navy strike the terrorist arms bazaar with a surface to air missile, oblivious to the fact that they risk setting off two nuclear torpedoes; in the climax of the movie Carver hopes to trigger World War Three by launching an identical British surface-to-air missile into the centre of Beijing. In the pre-title sequence of Casino Royale (2006), Bond is sent to kill the traitor Dryden and his contact in order to gain his licence to kill. He confronts Dryden in his Universal Exports office in Prague’s Danube House and in the climax of the movie he will confront another traitor, Vesper, in a derelict Venetian building. Also, the water overflowing from the broken fixtures in the cricket pavilion bathroom in the flashbacks to the struggle with Dryden’s contact in the pre-title sequence prefigures the water flooding the sinking building in Venice. (During Casino Royale, the bathroom shower in which Vesper is in shock after helping Bond kill the African on the hotel stairs is a reminder of the messy struggle with Dryden’s contact too).

    The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

    Even in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, where the pre-title sequences merely introduce the plot, they still prefigure the movie’s climax. The pre-title sequence of Live And Let Die ends where the climax of the movie will take place, at a voodoo ceremony in the Caribbean. As does the pre-title sequence of The Man With the Golden Gun, with a game of cat-and-mouse in the same funhouse on Scaramanga’s island, where Bond’s showdown with Scaramanga will take place. In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, compositional elements in Leonardo Da Vinci’s fresco depicting the Last Supper supposedly reveal that Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and she was his chosen successor. Similarly, the pre-title sequence of every Bond movie since From Russia With Love contains a code, a frame of reference that dictates what will happen in the movie’s climax, or where the climax will take place, creating a symmetry between the beginning and the end of the narrative even if there is no clear link in terms of plot. As a result, although the movies never use Ian Fleming’s technique of beginning the narrative in medias res and then backtracking, their pre-title sequences fulfil the same function as the cold opens of movies such as Pulp Fiction or Mission: Impossible III (or Casino Royale (1967)), where the brief pre-title teaser gives audiences a glimpse of events that take place at the climax and then backtrack to the beginning of the narrative following the main titles.

    The Bond movies did not invent this device of an opening sequence which is unrelated to the main plot but which pre-figures the climax. Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), the first British film with sound, shows that the idea is as old as the ‘talkies’ themselves. Blackmail begins with Scotland Yard’s relentless pursuit and arrest of a wanted man in a London slum. There is no connection to the main plot, except that the pursuit and arrest delays Frank Webber (John Longden) from meeting his girlfriend, Alice (Anny Ondra) and she later gets back at him by going back to the artist’ studio: the man she ends up killing in self-defence when he tries to rape her. (So not surprisingly then that Graham Greene would complain about Hitchcock’s films consisting of a series of small ‘amusing’ melodramatic situations leading to nothing, just as later critics like Wood would complain about Bond movies) And yet in Blackmail‘s climax, the relentless pursuit from opening sequence is repeated, including the same close-up of the speeding wheel of the police van.

    The climax of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief also involves the repetition of a ruse from the movie’s opening. In the opening sequence, the French police chase after John Robie (Cary Grant) only to discover that his housekeeper was driving the car, while Robie escaped by hiding on the rooftop of his villa and then casually boarded a bus; at the masquerade ball where the real cat burglar is finally unmasked, Hughson (John Williams), the Lloyds insurance agent dons Robie’s costume to distract the police while Robie keeps a rooftop vigil, waiting for the ‘Cat’. But Blackmail is the Hitchcock film providing the key to fully understanding Bond movies.

    North By Northwest

    In Blackmail, the audience watches the opening pursuit of the suspect with detachment. The entire sequence is silent and we do not know his crime or whether he is guilty or innocent. We simply watch the relentlessness of the pursuit through a working-class neighbourhood and the subsequent arrest and charging of the man, in a documentary like manner. In contrast, our sympathies to the hunted blackmailer Tracy (Donald Calthrop) in Blackmail‘s climax are complex and ambiguous. We do not want to see him give Alice away, but we also know that he is innocent of the crime for which he is being pursued. Given Webber’s efforts to frame Tracy, our attitude to the relentless police chase is far less detached. We respond toward the situation in the same way we respond toward tragedy, with a mixture of pity and fear. In contrast to the working-class tenements of the movie’s earlier pursuit, Hitchcock set the climactic chase in the British Museum. As Robin Wood points out, “the symmetry/opposition confers political connotations upon it: an oppressed and hostile proletariat ‘answered’ at the film’s close by the grandeur of a national institution with strong imperialist overtones.” Wood links this museum sequence to the climax atop Mount Rushmore later in Hitchcock’s career in North By Northwest. Citing the observations of another Hitchcock scholar, Andrew Britton, Wood explains that the stone presidential heads (“guardians of order,” he calls them) “impede” the escape of Thornhill and Eve (Eva Maria Saint): “they are not the solution to the hero’s problems but the final obstacle he must overcome.” Similarly in Blackmail, the colossal head of an Egyptian god dwarfs the figure of Tracy as he slides down a rope, fleeing from the police. “Its cold impassivity remotely echoes the mirror reflection of the police detectives in the opening segment,” Wood explains. It gives us a sense of the fugitive’s desperation we lacked in the opening sequence, an empathy with a man up against forces of godlike indifference.

    Sean Connery is James Bond

    Goldfinger has a similar structure. The characters are presented in the pre-title sequence in a very detached, one dimensional fashion. Why does the tarantella dancer betray Bond? What is her connection to Ramirez and the thug Bond eventually electrocutes in her bathtub? We don’t care. And Bond is unflappable. He moves effortlessly through this Mexican operation like Webber and the other police operation in the London slum, protecting wealthier nations against Ramirez’s threat to capitalist economies. Bond is as imperturbable as Roger Thornhill, the smug advertising man mistaken for the non-existent secret agent George Kaplan in North By Northwest. But by Goldfinger‘s Fort Knox climax we have seen Bond’s infallibility become a trap for him. Because Felix Leiter glimpses Bond being his usual imperturbable self at Auric Stud, after the ‘homer’ planted on Mr Solo goes dead, they presume that everything is normal (as Van Damm’s men in North By Northwest assume by Thornhill’s actions and nonchalant demeanour that he must be Kaplan). The CIA are oblivious to Bond’s hidden desperation to warn them about Goldfinger‘s plot to attack Fort Knox. Fort Knox is a literal monument to America’s economic and political power, a literal guardian of order as the presidential heads of the Mount Rushmore monument are its symbolic guardians. Also, the atomic bomb is a monument to the military might of the super powers but Bond is hand-cuffed to the bomb and trapped inside Fort Knox’s secure, impenetrable gold vault, trapped by its monument to order as Tracy is trapped inside the British Museum and Thornhill and Eve are trapped atop Mount Rushmore. Circumstances have stripped Bond of all his resources. His plan to warn the CIA, the same strategy by which he undermined Goldfinger’s scheme in the novel has failed, and even after managing to electrocute Oddjob, he is still unable to defuse the bomb. The complacent, self-assured of the Bond who stripped off his waterproof suit to reveal the white tuxedo underneath scarcely exists in this sequence; we are trapped by the symbols of Western capitalistic might that we did not even question when Bond was sent to destroy Ramirez’s operation in the movie’s pre-title sequence. As in the climax of Blackmail or North By Northwest, we no longer watch the action with the same detached amusement. The bomb that was a solution to a political and economic threat in Mexico becomes a challenge buried inside the obstacle of Fort Knox’s impenetrable gold vault. A monument to the capitalist order Bond was sent to Mexico to protect. We are reminded of the symmetry between the tense climax of every Bond movie and the more light-hearted pre-title sequence and our subconscious registers that they are polar opposites. The denouement, when the bomb disposal expert reaches across and switches off the bomb and the counter reads ‘007’ becomes a veritable epiphany as a result; Bond is forced to confront the implications and consequences of his own role as ‘blunt instrument’ in the hands of Western political and economic power.

    The ending always answers the beginning.

    © Craig Arthur 2008

    Guest writer @ 2008-08-30
  10. No Armour Left: 007 In The Post 9/11 Era

    Written by Craig Arthur

    'Casino Royale's' Vesper Lynd and James Bond

    In James Bond movies, any elevator or lift has the potential to become a death-trap. The lift in Stromberg’s ‘Atlantis’ in The Spy Who Loved Me has a trapdoor leading to the shark-tank; A View to a Kill demonstrates what happens if you take the lift instead of the stairs in a burning building. And in Casino Royale Vesper Lynd, the love of the new James Bond’s life, dies inside the wrought-iron lift-cage of an historic Venetian building which collapses and sinks into the Canal, trapping her underwater.

    In these examples the Bond films are manipulating the audience’s sense of what Alfred Hitchcock called ‘frightmares’, where nightmares that manifest themselves in our waking lives, where everyday places become death-traps. “Fear isn’t so difficult to understand,” Hitchcock explains to Charlotte Chandler in her book It’s Only a Movie. “What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. . . . The fear complex is rooted in every individual.”

    Between the late 15th century when Venice was the hub of Europe’s maritime power until 1857 when Elisha Graves Otis designed and installed the first passenger lifts in America, building a structure higher than the one depicted in Casino Royale was not considered economically viable. Who would want to walk up more than five storeys? Otis’s invention overcame this problem, heralding the era of the skyscraper. But first he needed to prove the safety of his invention. To do so, he took advantage of the fears rooted in the human imagination when unveiling his lift design to the crowds at the 1853 New York World’s Fair, in much the same way that Hitchcock does in his movies.

    Elisha Graves Otis unveiling his lift design at the 1853 New York World's Fair

    Elisha Graves Otis unveiling his lift design at the 1853 New York World’s Fair

    Inside a vast exhibition hall modelled on England’s Crystal Palace, Otis wowed the spectators by riding the lift platform to the top of a specially constructed gantry. He would then instruct his assistant to slice through the cable supporting the gantry. “It’s what your mind doesn’t see that frightens you, what your mind fills in,” Hitchcock used to say and, true to this maxim, the spectators watching Otis would gasp, expecting to see him plummet to his death. Instead, miraculously, Otis remained safely in place, thanks to the system of ratchets he devised, to prevent the platform from falling should the main cables break.

    Architectural theorist Rem Koolhaas refers to the outcome of Otis’s World’s Fair stunt as an ‘anticlimax as denouement.’ A term which could equally apply to the resolution of the plot in virtually every Bond movie since Goldfinger. The plots always play upon an audience’s real world fears, most often manipulating our terror of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. They take this terror and use cinema to give it a crutch of reality in the same way that Salvador Dali took paranoid conjecture and gave it a fabricated reality in his paintings. We see an imaginary enemy achieve what we fear but then the movie will exorcise that fear, in an identical way to Elisha Otis’s assistant cutting the lift cable.

    The most literal parallel is in Octopussy where, as well as the audience in the cinema, there is an on-screen audience inside the circus Big Top gathered there like the spectators at the 1854 New York World’s Fair. Bond desperately tries to alert the authorities to the presence of the nuclear bomb hidden in the circus cannon, set to explode in ninety seconds time. The fact that there is a countdown to Armageddon extends the moment when the cable is cut, so-to-speak, as though the audience is watching Elisha Otis perform his stunt in slow-motion. But the circus audience gasp as Octopussy shoots off the lock revealing the ticking bomb inside the cannon, just as the spectators would gasp as Otis’s assistant cuts the support cable. After a few seconds of tense silence, Bond defuses the bomb and then Francisco the Fearless, the Human Cannonball, raises his head from the cannon, confused why he hasn’t been shot out. “Now?” he asks, incredulous, and the members of the circus audience laugh at the apparent bathos (as the cinema audience did too each time I saw the film on the big screen). Anticlimax as denouement.

    Alfred Hitcock

    Alfred Hitchcock

    The ticking bomb plots – and the numerous variations on ticking bombs such as the deadly satellites in Diamonds Are Forever, GoldenEye and Die Another Day – used in the Bond movies are, also, a literal use of Hitchcock’s explanation of how suspense operates. There is a bomb placed beneath a table. The characters seated at the table are unaware the bomb is there but the audience watching them know. They know when it is due to go off. The suspense comes from the gap between what the audience knows and the characters do not. When the ticking bomb plot is used in a Bond movie, both Bond and the audience are privy to the villain’s plans but the intended victims – like the characters seated at the table in Hitchcock’s analogy – have no idea, just as the victims of the terror attacks of 9/11 or the Bali and London Underground bombings had none. In a Bond film, of course, there has to be an anticlimax as denouement (something Hitchcock stipulated in his ticking bomb analogy, too) but the point is, the tourists on the Bosporus cruise at the end of The World is Not Enough, for instance, who think Bond and Christmas Jones are merely waving at them, have no clue how close they came to nuclear annihilation minutes earlier. In this manner, the films deliver the fantasy that security forces are at work to prevent terrorist attacks of which we remain blissfully unaware (just as Otis’s ratchet system is invisibly present to save us should the support cables perish and snap while we’re in an lift).

    So Bond films, on the one hand, show us our frightmares made ‘critical’, but on the other deliver a hero figure who can vanquish the threat. As such, like Otis performing his stunt at the World’s Fair, they create a feeling of invulnerability – insulating audiences from reality. (I remember when, as a child, I emerged from Sunday night double-feature screenings of the Bond movies, the only people on the streets at that hour would be people who had been at the same screening; they would drive like maniacs, projecting the illusion of invulnerability from the movies into real life).

    New York's Coney Island

    New York’s Coney Island

    Manhattan’s skyscrapers are similarly statements of apparent invulnerability, like the vicarious fantasy world of Bond. Their flamboyance was borrowed from the legendary early 20th century amusement parks on New York’s Coney Island, where visiting merry-makers could visit replicas of exotic locations, such as Venice’s canals and refrigerated mock-ups of the Swiss Alps, and enjoy countless thrill rides – an early equivalent of things audiences would flock to see, in Bond movies, decades later. As such, Manhattan skyscrapers have allowed their tenants to exist in an unreal comfort and safety, immune from the violence and hardships that have plagued most of the planets’ population, today and throughout history. Immune, most of all, from reality itself.

    The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater amusement park in Vienna

    The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater amusement park in Vienna

    Vienna’s equivalent of Coney Island was the Prater amusement park with its famed Ferris wheel. As every Bond fan knows, it featured in The Living Daylights. When Bond and Kara’s gondola reaches the top of the wheel, it shudders and stops like a broken lift. As this is a Bond film, we expect trouble (shades of the Sugar Loaf cable car ride in Moonraker). But the movie is manipulating audience expectations, as Otis manipulated the expectations of the World’s Fair spectators. Nothing happens: another anticlimax as denouement. It turns out Bond has arranged for the wheel to stop, for his own amorous purposes. Instead of danger, the gondola offers a brief escape from reality, from the murder and distrust which lies ahead in the narrative, on the ground below. When that very same Prater wheel featured in Carol Reed’s The Third Man – during the famous sequence where Joseph Cotton’s Holly Martins confronts his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) – Lime asks Martins to glance down at the people on the ground beneath the Ferris wheel. “Look down there,” he instructs. “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?” Similarly, in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, we see Cary Grant – first mistaken for a secret agent and now photographed holding a murder weapon – fleeing across the from the UN building in New York, running across the lawn outside the UN building, a mere dot dwarfed beneath the mighty skyscraper. The scene then shifts to a Washington office where indifferent spymasters discuss his fate and consign him to oblivion. The elevation of a New York skyscraper, like that of the Ferris wheel equates with a detachment from responsibility, from reality and consequences.

    As does two hours spent watching a Bond movie.

    The violence in a Bond movie is purely for either plot requirements or pictorial affect – like the stylised pop-art blood that drips down the screen during the opening gun-barrel sequence at the beginning of each movie, Jill Masterson’s gold-painted corpse in Goldfinger, or for that matter the electrocution of the Mexican thug in the bath-tub.

    Bond is, after all, an assassin. A difficulty the early Connery films faced was distracting audiences from the violence of the films. They did so by emphasising black humour – giving Connery’s Bond trademark one-liners to round off an action sequence. Through such means the film-makers create a sense of self-parody, distancing the audience from the implications of the killing, as if turning Bond’s victims into simple dots on the ground. “Victims,” Harry Lime remarks in The Third Man, trying to distance himself from the effects of his black-market operations, “you’re being so melodramatic.” But Lime could be a Bond movie producer trying to deflect criticism of the movies (Albert Broccoli even bore a striking physical resemblance to Orson Welles, circa The Third Man era).

    'GoldenEye'

    Consider all the Russian soldiers Bond shoots in GoldenEye. They represent dots that stop moving forever. The plethora of violent action in the four Brosnan James Bond films exists as little more than an amusement park ride, with explosions and bullet-hits to best exploit the wonders of Dolby digital surround-sound. While Pierce Brosnan is capable of conveying a wide range of emotions from tender vulnerability to the hardness of a paid assassin but his boyish elegance always puts a stamp on the action because it distances him from the unpleasant and violent actions depicted, turning the carnage into a mere aesthetic, the victims just dots. But the post-9/11 era has stripped away our sense of invulnerability, making the violence of Brosnan’s movies look too detached, too far removed from reality.

    Viewed with hindsight, the most striking characteristic of the Brosnan Bond films (including Die Another Day, despite being made after 9/11) is the invulnerability of the world they depict. The Timothy Dalton films dispensed with the traditional anti-climax as denouement, in keeping with Dalton’s more low key, serious style. (Although there is a ticking bomb threat in The Living Daylights, the bomb is small; it threatens only Bond and Kara aboard the commandeered Russian Cargo plane, rather civilisation itself). But because the Dalton’s two outings as Bond did rather poorly at the box-office, the Pierce Brosnan films reverted to variations on the ticking-bomb formula. However, because the Cold War was over, the film-makers could no longer use the nuclear brinkmanship between the Superpowers to evoke the threat of Armageddon.

    Tomorrow Never Dies uses the same plot as You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, where a third party tries to start World War Three between two rival Superpowers. But not only are the attacks on British battleships and Chinese fighter-plans far less spectacular than the capturing of American and Russian space-capsules in You Only Live Twice and nuclear submarines in The Spy Who Loved Me, but the conflict between Britain and China, should it occur, seems less threatening than a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union in the earlier films. Similarly the GoldenEye satellite, the threatened nuclear irradiation of Istanbul in The World is not Enough and Colonel Moon’s satellite targeting the Korean demilitarised zone in Die Another Day seem rather toothless compared to the plot ‘McGuffins’ of Connery’s era or Moore’s.

    'Die Another Day'

    Such is the invulnerability of the west after the fall of the Soviet Union, the biggest threats in Brosnan Bond’s universe come from within (as with a myriad of imitators in the wake of GoldenEye – most notably Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise, Broken Arrow and Sean Connery’s The Rock). Alex Trevelyan in GoldenEye is a former Double-O agent. Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies is a western media mogul, supposedly reporting the ‘truth’. In The World is not Enough the heroine, Elektra King turns out to be the villainess and in Die Another Day Mi6 agent Miranda Frost turns out to be the person who betrayed Bond in North Korea, leading to 007’s lengthy incarceration in a North Korean prison. Simultaneously, unlike Timothy Dalton’s Bond, Brosnan’s Bond rarely questions his orders. If anything, the closest person to Dalton-Bond in the Brosnan-Bond universe is Alex Trevelyan. “Did you ever ask, why?” Trevelyan asks Brosnan-Bond, in a confrontation reminiscent of The Third Man, using words that could have easily come from the mouth of Dalton, “why we toppled all those dictators, undermined all those regimes, only to come home: ‘well done, good show but sorry old boy, everything you risked you life and limb for has changed’ . . .” “It was the job we were chosen for,” Brosnan-Bond responds, never for once questioning authority in the same way Dalton’s 007 did.

    In the era of the Iraq War, this is too simple a view. Plus, of course, 9/11 has stripped our sense of invulnerability. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s Bond says to Vesper, “I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me.” He is talking about Vesper Lynd’s grip on his heartstrings but he could be talking about the effect of world events upon both the character and, indeed, contemporary consciousness. Indeed during the movie’s trailer, the line delivered in voice-over while on-screen, the image cuts from Bond’s startled look, discovering Vesper cowering in the shower to the shot of the Venetian building collapsing from later in the film.

    'Casino Royale'

    The action sequences in Casino Royale still resemble a Coney Island thrill ride. Sequences such as the spectacular chase in Madagascar, the terrorist attempt to destroy the prototype airliner on the runway at Miami Airport, and the final act in Venice. (Incidentally, like the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios, the blank white exterior of Coney Island’s Dreamland contained a replica of Venetian buildings and a Venetian Canal and, again like the 007 Stage, Dreamland burned to the ground). But the way in which the action in Casino Royale differs from, say, the tank chase in GoldenEye is that there is more at stake for Bond personally. Not simply in the illusion of physical danger – though that too – but emotionally.

    If anything, Daniel Craig portrays Bond in a colder light than his predecessors. This 007 is a blunt instrument, truer to Ian Fleming’s initial conception. “It doesn’t bother you, killing those people?” Vesper Lynd asks him. “Well,” he responds, laconically sipping the trademark Martini, “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.” In other words it wouldn’t worry him if one of those dots beneath the Prater wheel stopped moving, so long as the end justified the means: if, say, it is M demanding that he snuff out a life in the name of national security. But Casino Royale is above all a tragic love story. By establishing Bond’s cold indifference to killing, the film-makers are setting up the tragic effect; his coldness, his armour is of no help when it comes to Vesper. There is far more at stake for Bond once he falls for Vesper. The tank chase in GoldenEye, with all its collateral damage on the streets of St Petersburg, is purely for spectacle. It doesn’t matter what Bond crashes the tank into, even if he destroys famous statues and demolishes buildings in the process, it’s all just for fun. Whereas, in Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd is tied up and placed in the path of the speeding Aston Martin DBS. If he doesn’t swerve and roll the Aston Martin she will be killed.

    Venice, Italy

    Venice, Italy

    The necessity for Bond to swerve and crash serves as a metaphor for Vesper’s affect on his so-called ‘cold heart’. And the doomed romanticism of Venice, slowly sinking into the lagoon, whilst not featured in Ian Fleming’s original novel, is an inspired choice for the setting Casino Royale‘s final act, emphasising that Bond’s love is also doomed. There is little hope of the anticlimax as denouement found in the traditional Bond plot structure. Audiences will respond to this movie’s narrative in the same way they watch Othello or Hamlet. With a mixture of pity and fear.

    It would be difficult to imagine such a Bond movie made prior to 9/11, when people felt less vulnerable, just as, for instance, the final act of The Bourne Supremacy where Jason Bourne goes to explain to the young woman that he killed her parents would have seemed very out of place in a 1990s’ action movie. Such a narrative device reflects the fact that world events impact on civilian lives far more than before 9/11. So, to a degree, we all resemble the orphaned girl Bourne confronts or Cary Grant’s tiny insignificant figure fleeing from the UN Building or clinging to the stony faces of the American presidents on Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest.

    Pierce Brosnan was an excellent Bond and his performances in such movies as The Tailor of Panama and The Matador demonstrate that he is more than capable of portraying a darker, colder version of Bond but the stumbling-block would be that audiences would identify him with the preceding four movies. For Bond to venture into unknown territory in Casino Royale they needed a new Bond. We have seen Bond on screen before and so know who he will become. We know the icons of the character – the Aston Martin, the tuxedo, the martini, the theme music – but something needs to be different about Bond in Casino Royale, to reshuffle the deck and allow the audience to willingly suspend disbelief and pretend that the action takes place in a parallel universe where they have not met this character before. The hair was the obvious choice (that said, Roger Moore’s hair wasn’t much darker).

    Daniel Craig is James Bond

    Daniel Craig is James Bond

    Daniel Craig’s detractors waited to see him fall flat on his face – waiting like the people Ian Fleming describes in Miami airport in the opening chapter of Goldfinger, standing up as the DC7 hurtles down the runway, hoping to see it crash, or the crowds at the first New York World’s Fair watching for Elisha Otis to plummet to his death.

    As with Otis’s demonstration, the denouement was an anticlimax. Daniel Craig, like Otis, prevailed. As he will prevail again in Bond 22.

    We live in precarious times. Daniel Craig is the best actor to portray Bond in such times.

    © Craig Arthur 2006, 2007

    Guest writer @ 2008-01-11
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