CBn caught the bullet – and reviews it
Having people everywhere is a lot of fun, especially when it entails getting one’s hands on stuff ordinary mortals will only be able to read on Monday. Just ask Jim, who was tasked with reviewing Mark O’Connell’s ‘Catching Bullets’ and evidently encountered a fully operative time machine…
Q: What does A View to a Kill mean?
A: Well, it’s just Goldfinger wrapped in a neon snood, yeah?
It is 1984.
Actually, stuff that and it’s 2012. One gapes at the ongoing massdebate about the design and packaging of the latest boxsetting attempt to resell us 22 films we all already own with a shakenheadedness betraying either a ) early onset of dementia or b ) and hopefully far more likely, the experience of a Wacadayed generation who would have never have dreamt of such sybaritic foolishness during their efforts to videorecord ITV’s latest butchered Bank Holiday offering of The Man with the Golden Gun, their crosslegged manual finger-tense timing of the pauses to miss adverts boasting the capabilities of the Austin Montego 1.6L interrupted by the regretfully whacked-back earslobber of a dying Labrador and aunts being vaguely cakey and talking over the beyond-one’s-comprehension-darkness of the really-quite-troubling Maud Adams lost-and-despairing-soul-Eurotrash-sex-slavery bits.
No. It IS 1984, and I can state that boldly, for Mark O’Connell’s seismic CATCHING BULLETS, a roaringly fine memoir of A. Bond. Fan. (we must all come out on this one, it’s OK, it’ll be fine, it gets better) has encrumbed me with Madeleine biscuits as if shot from one of those tennis ball machinerators manhandled by a particularly epileptic octopus. The book now completed before me, I lie here crying on my past and unsure whether it is in joy or sadness or in realisation that the two feed off each other, a bit like, well, A View to a Kill and Goldfinger. Actually, it’s probably because my children will never know what it was to be A. Bond. Fan, willing the next Bank Holiday along – nothing between August and December? Christ on a bike, did Nelson die in vain? – for our only conceivable Bond fix, bolting our Christmas dinners to ensure not one second, not one ounce of Roger Moore checking in at a Pinewood hotel bepersoned by a Leon Lovely was out of our floorjawed, unblinked, utterly uncritical and grateful gaze. To be able to put a DVD or Blu-Ray in on a whim only demonstrates that the convenience of doing so means that the exotic exclusivity and rare treatiness of it all has gone, forever. This extraordinary book, however, leaves one celebrating, rather than in grief.
Q: What does A View to a Kill mean?
A: Well, it’s just the fourteenth attempt by the Broccolis to get our money out of us, and is really all a bit unnecessary and tired and crap.
Oh, come on. Woven through this magnificent, soulful, touching and immensely pleasurable book is the tale of Mark’s grandfather Jimmy, chauffeur to Albert R. Broccoli and – and this is what makes the book tangible and personal and lovely – never exploiting this (although one sits in jealous awe of the opportunity to see each Bond slightly before release). Alongside this is an unspoken and beautiful realisation that the Broccolis understand perfectly what their films mean particularly to a specific generation of the British, that what they were doing, and what they still do, is an event, not just “some film” to be boxsetted up alongside season three of some awful cop nothingness that will do well to be honoured with being utterly forgotten. These are jewels, not commodities. We have abused them and it’s a book such as this that reminds us not to be so cruel, to embrace them and the memories they generate. A website such as this, fun though it is, is merciless in its scrutiny of each potential flaw in each film; administered only once every eight weeks or so every fifth year and one forgave those flaws in the knowledge that what one would see would be utterly [censored]ing amazing. And they were. Scraping together the nuggets of Bond-to-be from (admittedly ghastly) copies of Flicks and scrag-end columns of the Daily Express was an art-form, a secret knowledge of Bond that would prevent one from being playgrinded into that bully’s friend, asphalt; now any gap-toothed barely literate spud-headed mongrel can shove out there illegally-ripped bits of the script or the first pirated demo of the Bond song and… it’s not the same, is it, as abandoning an unbeloved cub jamboree and searching for the TV Times in a TV Times-less Winchester suburb, simply because it has For Your Eyes Only on the cover? The challenge, the magnificence, the fondness for it all. We grew up, but we never grew out.
I remember, probably about 1987 this, ducking out of a second XI cricket match because I went round to the housemaster’s son’s room to watch Goldfinger. This is Goldfinger and, yes, to the jaded lank-haired slouchy anonycritics born after about, let’s say 1990, Goldfinger’s available on demand downloaded into one’s pebblebrain on a 42 hour a day basis for one’s immediate slack-jawed criticism about it being dull and [censored] and things but back then it was – God look at this – it’s [censored]ing (not that I knew that word then) Goldfinger. Goldfinger. Amazed now that it worked as an excuse, but the master in charge of the second XI knew. He knew, he had shared, he had seen, he felt (not in that way). He understood completely. He told me this during my month of detention. These films were – are, I hopefully believe – a bonding moment, no pun intended. I’m proud to have been watching Moonraker on the same Christmas Day as Mark did. One weeps.
The Broccolis: they know what it means. They know. They know we only saw these things on rare occasions – and by God they were an event, a treat – and they made them the best to live up to that. They knew it would play for a week and then turn up five years later pan-and-scanned with adverts and they made something upon which we can map our adolescence. Celebrating that admirable approach, this book lives that vision. They knew, as with Mark’s launch from Octopussy to A View to a Kill, that the thrill was as much the witnessing of this one as the waiting for the next. James Bond Will Return. That promise was more than just ejecting the one disc and shoving in another. It was the wait. It was the flecks of information, spotdazzled into our expectant hearts, the fewer the bits of information the less likely we were to be disappointed. This is why those who would tell us all about the next one because they have just posted up a call-sheet have largely missed the point. These Bond things are not just films; these are entites, speciality events, rarities, beauties, beings: these are our pride and we are lucky to have them. These are to be treasured, celebrated; this book knows.
And if you’re not an enthusiast of January 1990-premiered A View to a Kill (dutifully recorded, rewatched until it all went a bit speckly and at about the same point that I’d worked out it was slightly odd), fret not, it’s only the kicking-off point into an enviably beautiful recollection of the Bond films, presented in the order of viewing (rather than the order of production). Indulge the book on this; there are those of us who doubtless have seen them all in the cinema since the start but one suspects the more common experience is joining in somewhere down the line, be it the cinema or the tv, and that’s the art of these films; one can check in (in a Bond Arriving manner) any time you like, but you can never leave. This is why continuity can just poo off; these films are for all, whatever age, what point of embarkation. On occasion, as Mark notes, there are dated technological references but, on a broad approach, it’s all ageless. This is exemplified in the final chapter, a fist-in-the-mouth-to-prevent-self-from-bawling-hot-tears recollection of a recent screening of that tumult of exuberant insanity that is Dr No.
And anyway, those books that just run through them all from Dr No to whatever the next one is just want to tell us the same rancidly reheated facts over and over again, like how many baboons were molested during the making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that The Actor Pears Brosmagen is probably made of fleas. Dull. The making of a film holds as much interest as the making of a supermarket value-brand lasagne: the impact of a film, as it burns into one’s August Bank-Holidayed brain and makes the return to school that little less squirtytumturning – that’s the point. One’s early life marked out by Bond. Easter Monday? Bond. Christmas Day? Bond. Something to do with Jesus as well but, y’know, he didn’t have Valerie Leon doing bug-eyed lustsmut and selections of tracksuit piping. Missed trick, there, Jessie.
For those who think the film itself insignificant, dwell on this, bitch: early June 2012, Grace Jones – that would be 64-year-old Grace Jones – hula-hooping in front of Buckingham Palace with legs halfway up to her ears and a Jubileed nation stunned. It’s May Day, it’s unbelievable and it’s not quite what Paul McCartney was thinking when he was banging on about When I’m 64. Would that have happened without A View to a Kill? Not a chance. Image of the year. Image of any year.
Q: What does A View to a Kill mean?
A: It’s a gritty expose of the manipulation of the aged and decadent British Secret Service by the loyal General Gogol who plants a faked Zorin-stamped microchip in a Siberian plant, encourages a British agent to steal it, encourages another British agent to recover it and then claim it can take over one’s toaster (the last one was about Faberge eggs; this one is about toasters, God almighty the world’s gone a bit less glam but, fair’s fair, it looks like these wizened pricks need their toast, a carb-heavy diet evident) and sets out, primed with that entirely falsified information, to destroy now-embarrassing Comrade Zorin by dropping him off a bridge and then, just to rub their noses in it, award him the Order of Lenin when the Americans, despite saving about a million American lives, give him nothing; come over to the East, “Double” 0 Seven, your work is done, hand over your mantle to a Welsh-faced wolf.
OK, the politics. Patently – expressly – the memoir of a young gay man, it’s absent anything that would worry or scandalise those of you not of the joyful persuasion. There’s a statutory reference to Clause 28, the ostensible ban on “teaching” schoolchildren homosexuality but, given that as a parent I can confidently state that most teachers seem to be incapable of teaching rudimentary punctuation, mathematics, physics and French, this was always a bit of a mystery and one would suspect that educating young and impressionable but actually quite rockhard souls the finer points of homosexuality would be utterly beyond their meagre aptitude even if required to do it. So don’t worry and – look – there’s Maud Adams! Fret not my honeydumplings; by reading this your chances of being made gay are as high as your watching some James Bond films and/or your owning of a gun are of making you James Bond, i.e. spectacularly nil.
Of more prominence is the platform to use the book as a review mechanism for the 22 Bond films and in so doing, Mark hotsplays amusingnesses: that in Diamonds are Forever, we Bank Holiday Brits are basically shown how unfeasibly grotty and last-gristly-drink-before-dawn-sleazy the USA is, an Ortonesque campgrind of a hollow fantasy neglected (by this viewer at the very least) into belief that it’s all a bit rubbish; to view it as a savage attack by seasonally ex-pat tax-pat Americans on their homeland exposes it to another viewing; that From Russia with Love is musically the beedom kneedom; that Licence to Kill is misunderstood (it’ll take me years to sympathise with this) and that Tomorrow Never Dies is tiptoperoonie (obviously). Fora such as this very CBn come in for a good and well-deserved (but well-meant and well-overdue) slap and it all ends happily. Albeit I was crying. I think that was happiness too. There will be stuff you don’t agree with here – Thunderball is insanely underappreciated, given its undeniable status amongst man’s endeavours, up there with the Moon landing, the domestication of lovely floppy old Golden Retrievers and pineapple jam on chips – but the general tenor is not to gripe, but to celebrate. Quite rightly so; we have lived in an age when these things are presented unto us. We should smile, with fondness. This book will make you.
Q: What does A View to a Kill mean?
A: What it means is that although these films may not be hugely meaningful in themselves, they mean a vast amount to us.
There’s a communality in the shared experience. Bond is for everyone. I have many immediately tangible shared moments of growing-up alongside the author (although, as far as I am aware, never meeting despite being perhaps no more than fifteen miles apart throughout most of this); by and large we reacted in the same broad way to Bond, and that lickable promise of “the next one”. Puns about the common Bond undermine the purpose of the book; likewise anything cheap about a young man’s passage. This is a defining Bond work, and it will stand testament to what we have witnessed and what this series means to us, what excitement it is capable of producing, not purely in its content but in its happening at all. One walks away from the book slightly wounded by the twisted daggers of the past but glorying, agape, at the impact that Bond had, has and will continue to have, and I can’t wait for my next bit of it. Ten past three, Christmas Day it is. Except of course, it won’t be and I could just put one into the DVDer this minute. That’s a sadness. Not as great a sadness as the loss of Jimmy O’Connell, evidenced by the beautifully written piece about his later years and the ongoing benevolence of the Broccoli family towards him, obviously it’s not a sadness comparable to the fact that Mark does not have his Grandfather with him any more; but a sadness nonetheless. A la recherche de Bond perdu.
Buy this. It’s more rewarding (and, for that matter, cheaper) than another box set and it will remind you why. Why you watch them. Why you come here. Why you’re a Bond fan. Why you’ll stare at the wall for a good half hour after finishing it wondering if this young man has been watching you as avidly as we watched that man, that James Bond, that fifty years of utter captivation. It reminds you that you do like this, you do, really. And you should. Because it’s all bloody brilliant.
Discuss Mark O’Connell’s book in this thread