Review: James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films are Not Enough
For some time now, the multi-verse of 007 has been acceptable fodder for academic conferences, scholarly critiques, and in-depth discussions on every aspect of film making and literature imaginable on the net and in print. Judging from the citations in the new James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films Are Not Enough (hereafter JBWPC), some sources have become seminal milestones in Bond studies. Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott’s Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (1987), Jeremy Black’s The Politics of Bond: from Fleming’s Novels to the Big Screen (2001), and the various essays in The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader (2003) seem to command widespread respect. Again, judging from how often he’s invoked in JBWPC, the predominant authority on James Bond’s role in popular culture must be James Chapman, author of the 1999 Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films.
JBWPC seeks to join this august catalogue with forty new essays by a diverse cast of authors—including Chapman who gets the literal last word in the final piece, “Reflections in a Double Bourbon”. Naturally, such a wide net of writers drawing from an interdisciplinary well of approaches results in a mixed bag of perspectives. Some offer fresh insights, some update and revise previous studies, some deal with the ephemera and distantly related media cousins to Ian Fleming and his main character. On one hand, we get excellent literary reviews as in Finn Pollard’s exploration of how John Gardner and Raymond Benson tried to keep a Cold Warrior topical and relevant; on the other, we get plot synopses of James Bond Jr. comic books and a simple directory of Bond books available in audio formats. As a result, JBWPC should appeal to an equally diverse readership—those looking for high-brow critical analyses, readers looking for information not widely available elsewhere, but mostly Bond fans wanting to match their own perspectives against this cast of critics. After all, there are as many James Bonds as there are movie goers who’ve watched a 007 film, readers who’ve enjoyed the books, or players who know Bond best from video games named after him.
The anthology is organized into six sections. “Part I: Experiencing the World of Bond” doesn’t deal with Bond essentials, but rather posters, dances in the title sequences, architecture, designer clothes, and two overviews of Bond videogames. Part Two (which includes this reviewer’s own essay) covers Bond music from four perspectives. Then, seven essays look at gender, feminism, and the Bond girls. (Note: Why is it Judi Dench as M is frequently worth discussion as a significant female authority figure but never Lotte Lenya as Col. Klebb or Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt?)
The original novels don’t take center stage until “Part IV: The World of Ian Fleming” where various writers discuss Fleming’s connections to Allen Dulles and debunk myths regarding Aleister Crowley, Sidney Reilly, and Basil Zaharoff. Two writers look at Fleming’s fictional role in books using him as a character including the very odd “The Fleming Chronicles: The Amazing (Fictional) Exploits of James Bond’s Creator” in which Brad Frank traces, year by year, what different novelists had Fleming do in a variety of unrelated books.
Matters get more serious, briefly, in “Part V: Colonialism, ‘Britishness’ and the Bond Identity” which includes the role of an English secret agent in a changing socio-political environment. Then, Peter Sellers parodying Bond in Casino Royale is examined before the aforementioned overview of James Bond Jr. comic books. The final essays, “Part VI: Rounding Out the World of Bond” were apparently gathered together to finish off the collection, but why wouldn’t “The Gay Bond” or ‘Bond Goes Camping’” by Rob Faunce and “The James Bond/Woody Allen Dialectic” by Andrea Siegel fit better in the section on sexuality and gender? Well, most of the essays in this section could easily have qualified for earlier areas of the book—perhaps it was a matter of balancing things out proportionally.
Readers who explore the volume as a whole and not just select portions will discover how much all these essays mirror, supplement, augment, and occasionally contradict each other. When these critics look at the world in which 007 operates, three novels get in-depth treatment—Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and From Russia With Love. When they focus on Bond as a character, Casino Royale and Moonraker earn considerable discussion. Goldfinger, OHMSS, and You Only Live Twice get their due, but there’s scant mention of the novels Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, or The Man With the Golden Gun. The short stories receive only passing mentions, as do the continuation novels of Kingsley Amis and even Sebastian Faulks. One essay spends pages positing that Ian Fleming was inspired to create 007 due to his disgust over the Cambridge Spy Ring and the treachery of Edward VIII; a later study points out these notions have been made and elaborated on before. The essays on John Barry each provide observations that are stronger when put together as information from one author is often not presented by the other three. Likewise, the essays on gender are best served as a group as they explore sexuality from a wide spectrum of perspectives making for an interesting “round-table” discussion.
One matter likely to distract some readers is the proofreading. The blame for this clearly rests with the publisher and not the editors or authors—this writer can attest that his submission, at least, did not contain the errors now memorialized in print. Considering the scope of this endeavor, the labor to seek out these pieces and assemble them, should give this volume credibility enough to override such quibbles becoming more common in today’s publishing climate.
So how does JBWPC fit into the continuum of James Bond studies? Because of the range of the contributions, it’s difficult to see how it won’t be considered indispensible reading from 2010 on. No library shelf on Bond, or film or espionage studies for that matter, will be complete without it. For serious Bond fans, it’s a book that’s a must have despite it’s rather hefty price tag. More importantly, as with The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader, this new anthology should serve as a milestone of what place James Bond holds in international popular culture in the Twenty-First Century. When A Critical Reader came out in 2003, Daniel Craig had not yet debuted in Casino Royale, so the changes to the 007 mythos to come could not have been synthesized into critical overviews of the films. With no new movies planned for the immediate future, now seems a perfect time to take stock of where 007 fits into our collective consciousness. James Bond in World and Popular Culture now serves as the most recent yardstick by which future collections will be measured.
James Bond in World and Popular Culture:
The Films are Not Enough
Editor: Robert G. Weiner, B. Lynn Whitfield and Jack Becker
Date Of Publication: Sep 2010
Price Uk Gbp: 54.99
Price Us Usd: 82.99
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James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films are Not Enough
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James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films are Not Enough