After the fuss about last 007th Minute’s headline (see here), I decided to just try the same trick a second time. It’s a good deed in a bad world and everyone will be happy about it.
Or maybe it’s a not-so-good deed in a less-than-fabulous world and nobody is going to notice it…
Anyway, here goes. CommanderBond.net’s resident ‘No Precious Oil for Bleak Water!’ expert examines the 007th minute of ‘Quantum of Solace’. Opinion aplenty, all of it Jacques Stewart’s very own – though you may share a slice of his – and none of it without the odd grain of irony.
Debate the veracity of his observations here
Revolution, evolution, resolution. Revelation.
The origin of the specious, Casino Royale misled some that what was to follow would be as previously begat. A mild dabble in black & white, realism (pfft) and moody mirrorstaring now out of Eon’s system, the Bonds would surely settle into comfy routine, the backstory done. Casino Royale wasn’t as startling as the demented fire & brimstone trollpreaching lead anyone simple enough to believe, to so believe. Bond was complete – must have been; said his name, earned his theme – so steering complacent passage beckoned. We’d seen it before.
We were the Bond-Knowers, a tremendous way to use up the only life one lives. To do anything else but give us “a Bond film” would be heretical and lead to purges or at least be anonymously commented on most tartly with brave spelling solutions and voluntary exposure of the quality of one’s education. If creating Bond was what Eon was now up to, we were entitled to see the creation come forth in the way oodles of films and umpteen books had taught us. If I’ve understood it correctly – questionable – creationism manifests itself in a variety of ways. The Word that is Bond was written by Fleming in the 1950s. The Word that is Bond was written by Fleming in the 1960s. The Word etc was the Connery films, or at least the ones where he’s not morbidly obese. If undereducated, the Word – word, bro – is something with the Pierce Brosnan gentleman. It appears that creationism is as susceptible to evolution as anything else. The Bond series not having been overburdened with originality since the 1960s, there was an understandable view that the first Craig having created the world, all would then come to pass as given and bode well in 00-heaven. Amen.
Until one encountered the Anti-Bond.
At which juncture, “persons” were upset, gnashing teeth, mashing keyboards, their heads spinning as they wrote in tongues, vomiting us a “view”, blaming the convulsions on trying to follow the editing. Expressing themselves in a way that witchburning used to satisfy, Quantum of Solace shook various clashing faiths in Bond, whichever version one considered gospel.
Some raged at the lack of explicit/explosive “closure” (ugh) of the Vesper “arc” (ugh ugh), others at the milky villainy or the inconclusive approach to Mr White and chums. For many, jiggycam confused (James Bond is in a chase and he wins; is this hard?) and for a select bunch, the undergraduate realpolitik didn’t appeal. The song’s apparently dreadful, the ‘plane fight crashlanded in from another film, Bond shoving Mathis in a skip epitomises what should happen to the film and what goes on, goes on too quickly to engage. And the gunbarrel’s all done wrong, inevitably. For a few hardy troglodytes, Mr Craig remained a problem, but most evolved people seemed to have pushed themselves up by their hairy knuckles and overcome this. Many told the world that it wasn’t could have been better (surely the fate of all Bonds once the glee erodes) but should have been better. Should of. Or longer (albeit plumped with what has never been satisfactorily fingered).
However, it seemed rare to dislike all these (and other) allegedly negative attributes, and the gnawing seemed not so much between those who liked it and those who didn’t, but between those who loathed it for X seeking dominance over those disliking Y. For the poor sods who admired it (hi), all one could do was watch. Not in (much) superiority but, for one’s own part, in bewilderment at how vicious it became, humanity and consideration of one human for another, gone. How apt.
Now easily (too easily) perceived as the go-between of two “bigger” Bond films, Quantum of Solace undoubtedly establishes that each unhappy Bond fan is unhappy in their own way.
As a (yikes) two-hundred-million-dollar exploration of grieving, granted it has more exploding eco-hotels than the works of Nanni Moretti but is Quantum of Solace, at heart, intended to make one happy? Did we think this was going to be fun? A direct sequel to a film in which Bond fails on every level other than working out how to dress himself and say hello, was it reasonable to expect better than “bleak”? Bond is not complete at the end of Casino Royale; all that’s been achieved is gathering of the crust of the external elements as he sailed its eighty-hour voyage. He’s no more than Vesper’s abandoned seashell (ooh). Nice suit, ghastly watch, cheeky quips, multiple Aston Martins coming out of his charming jug ears – unless one believes that’s all that there needs be for James Bond, in which case there are four Brosnans right up your passage, we had yet to see how Eon would meet the greater challenge of visually demonstrating internal trauma but still do Car Gun Bang Boat Grr Plane Fight Knives Boom Kissy-Wissy.
Accepting Bond as “done” at the end of Casino Royale, bereaved and bonkers of brain (the curt call with M ready evidence of a lack of “cope”), makes him Martin Riggs, who was interesting for half a film, as was his hair. Yuck. A more airpunchy, cathartic exercise with Bond laying waste to his foes in ever more violent ways might have met with more short-term favour but instead, Eon chose to demonstrate – both in the story and (I would aver) in its execution – that nothing one could do would suffice, life’s a devious business that cannot undo the illusions that mask joy and misery and the violent dramatics of Bond’s own life come to seem very hollow.
We know a short story about that.
We were warned. They named the atypical Bond 22 after an atypical Fleming. True, that didn’t bode a direct adaptation, rarely has, but nor does the (un?)finished film suggest the title was coincidence. An immorality tale, the short story demonstrates how beastly people are by dint of what they are, the decay of superficial love and onset of indifference inflicting more corrosive wounds than any grenade-lobbery could achieve. Write what you know. If I’d have been Anne Fleming, I would have smashed the raddled old blister round the noggin with one of the many bottles plucked from Goldeneye’s sticky floor, for that. I’ll give you Victor bleedin’ Ludorum, yer ratbag. Hiding (“poorly”) an acidic, humiliating message to the Mrs and broadcasting to the world in a short story you know many, many people will read because it has “James Bahnd!” in it produced an unsolicited biography the existence of which shows that – indeed – humans are ‘orrible. The nasty old sod unconscious, cramming his drooping, ulcered mouth with the morning’s hundred cigarette stubs would also have been a justifiable manoeuvre for Mrs F., because the story doubtless spiked her own revelatory celebrity book deal, “Boys of the West Indies”.
An engaging writer, but the Bonds come littered with evidence that Ian Fleming wasn’t pleasant at all. At all. Ghastly man, really. The upper-middle class, eh? Urr. Pooh-ee. Unacknowledged / ignored as the fatal weakness in the continuation novels, the writers who have inflicted themselves upon us haven’t been sufficiently vile to produce Proper Literary Bond, although Kingsley Amis came close and you can read into that what you like because he’s dead. For the next opportunity for our £18.99’s worth of underwhelmitude, IFP shouldn’t look at the Man Booker longlist, but the roll call at Broadmoor. Charlie Higson? Nah; Charlie Manson. C’mon, it’d sell. If the next gimmick – and gimmickry is what Literary Bond is descending into – is a female writer, which Rose will prove the more thorny – Tremain or West? What we need is IFP ‘fessing up that the search for the next writer is on but they’ll only welcome expressions of interest from Total Rudey Orifices.
Given that written Bond is produced under licence from Danjaq S.A., if soliciting ladyparts to tell us “Bond hit the foreign man. The foreign man fell down” for 320 pages becomes the business plan, accepting some persons’ reaction to James Bond Film Product #22 as gospel should lead them to the collective doorsteps of all involved in emitting Quantum of Solace. An adaptation of an arid, bitter short tale about the futility of what Bond does into an arid, bitter short film about the futility of what Bond could do (and thereby being close to Fleming in spirit if not in word/deed) produced something genuinely divisive and – insofar as the internet can record emotion beyond guilt at all the masturbating – either curious admiration or deep, deep hatred.
I’m not here to tell folks who don’t like Quantum of Solace that they’re mistaken, nor that they should not express such reaction with vigour. I’m sure they’re smashing. I do crave indulgence to suggest that a more credible place to find oneself reacting to something trying to entertain is not in being unhappy – there are many things about which to be unhappy; that one didn’t like a film is really not one of them, unless you’re odd – but in being unsettled by the things it does and says and its curious rhythms. That, I think, was its intention.
We aren’t used to being unsettled by Bond, unless Uncle Rog dresses as a Bad Clown or Mr Brosnan sniffs dead women, or speaks. The 1980s films rumble by on a time-passing, white noise basis but they’re creative flatlines of nostalgic comfort-stodge, playing out repeat beats in boringly-filmed places, a subtext of moribund complacency. That Quantum of Solace and Octopussy are part of the same series is jawdropping, but at least gives hope that “Bond” is so sufficiently malleable to embrace both “styles” that it will go on for years yet. I admire QoS for that, but more for the fact that finally we have a film about James Bond. The harbour chase stuff, the ‘plane shootout, the villain’s scheme, the leapery-aboutery – just garnish; cress. They just don’t matter. Fleming tells us. Eon tells us. Rather than succumbing to their previous (very wise) tendency to bury a vacuous “character” beneath stunts and watches and explosions and invisible cars, distracting your attention from worrying about 007 being a slab of nothingness, here the focus is Bond – who he is, what he does, what he becomes – and the rest of it, such as the villain’s deliberately underweight grand plan, is incidental (bringing one back to the short story. Fancy). As the lickle chap says: misdirection. Not bad direction.
For (very) many this did not come off; fine. Super. The expectations meant that there had to be action bolted on and for many those episodes don’t work, for a number of potentially justifiable reasons, although if one takes the adherence to Fleming’s tale to its conclusion, they weren’t meant to. That’s possibly stretching it, given the time, money, effort and risk involved in setting off explosions and driving like lunatics, but I’d suggest it’s not totally unsustainable as a thought.
As far as pushing into new crevices goes, is it more admirable to have tried and failed rather than not have bothered? The flawed execution is one thing, but surely some (grudging?) respect is due for setting themselves a challenge so many films, so many preconceptions and clichés, in? “It’s not like the Bond films of old”. No, but those were A View to a Kill, for frick’s sake, and as challenging as a discarded shoe upended in an stagnant puddle. For what it represents perhaps more than for what it is, was there ever a Bond film more misunderstood? Were we intimidated by the Bonds suddenly getting too clever for their own good? Our own good? Did they go too far?
The contemporary criticism often had those who liked the film doing it no favours by asserting – often expressly – that those who didn’t were thick and had missed the deeeeeep stuff about the elements and how eyegougingly profound it all was. I’m not sure its detractors didn’t get that: they saw those things and just didn’t like them. Fair enough: there are other Bonds to enjoy, that’s the beauty of it. Few of those others, though, gave such opportunity for misconceived intellectual posturing (such as, er, this), from either standpoint. Perhaps that was it; although disunity of specific reasons to dislike it, a common negative was that Eon was overstretching and getting ideas above its station. Threatening “our” Bond with unwelcome, unnecessary pretension, going “art-house”. It’s as art-house as Terrahawks, frankly, but the scent of the accusation is not wholly untenable.
That stuff about the elements; ever-so-precious, but that’s an example of misdirection; the film is actually about exploiting people, the human resource. The major characters all circle, using each other in some way, usually naughty. Bond’s not exempt, using Mathis as conscience just as Mathis uses Bond for redemption. There was a short story that was all about people using… oh, never mind. The fire / water stuff is just pictures , not meaning. Still, that subtext is up for discussion / abuse suggests, however, that in A Short Film About Not Killing, we are far from (say) TWINE, a film about… about two hours long.
The direction, then: grotesque attention-seeking. True, unlike (many) Bonds, the film-making is evident and shouts itself into view, rather than just setting up a camera and hoping for the best, might get it facing the right way, sod it, it’ll do. Maybe it is out of place to have look-at-me flourishes in Bond. Bond films, anyway – Fleming constantly mucked about with experimental structures and authorial voices, his wild imagination not limited to what he wrote, but extended into how he did it. Wildly underappreciated as a prose stylist, that Ian Fleming. Is QoS’s tinkering mirroring this? “Back to Fleming”, eh? As far as the films go, one wonders where the problem lies: that it is done only now, or rarely before? Nailing stylistic tics onto a series that has eschewed them in pursuit of cash probably was wasted effort; a shame. Was it that they were bad, or that we weren’t used to them?
The editing… the editing. I CANNOT SEE WHAT IS GOING ON!! Why is this vital – must you draw it from memory, or explain it frame-by-frame to an infirm imbecile? The editing starts shattered, shaky and agitated because Bond starts shattered, shaky and agitated, and steadily calms as Bond finds his solace, realises that rampant isn’t making anyone happy, and by the end it is still. Style and story as one: basic stuff, really. More annoying is that no-one objects to how they cut Tosca around. Says much about the audience, none of it flattering. “Yes, but they’re just copying Bourne”. Come now, what is Quantum of Solace other than pretending to be something one is not? Outwardly happy marriage, inwardly divided house. For Bourne, read Maugham. If Fleming can pastiche, why not Eon, and why not mimic something more critically lauded than you? Is there anyone who thinks the Bond films would have survived beyond 1969 – when they ran out of sufficiently varied and filmable Fleming narratives – without giving us Bond does Shafting, Bond does Kung Fu, Bond does… er… Bond, Bond does Star Wars, Bond does On Golden Pond (On Golden Bond? Arf), Bond does Superman, Bond does Lethal Weapon, Bond does Bond (again) Bond does Jackie Chan, Bond does Bond (again again), Bond does Jason Bourne? If they hadn’t done this, it would have closed down decades ago. Once one fad’s exhausted, another turns up to spin in a 007-y way, to take our money. Many saw The Dark Knight overtones in Skyfall; fair enough, as it’s equally overhyped and confused.
Ah, you say, in that monosyllabic way you have (bless; are you seeing someone for that, though?), but did it have to be so sour, dour and alienating? Yes. Yes, it did. It’s grippingly mean-spirited. To give us something where power motives shift beyond “this man is foreign, therefore bad, please kill, don’t flirt with Moneypenny and go and see Q, he’s hil-air-i-ous” where the only tenable resolution with such shaky foundations must be peace rather than war: one can well understand how it enraged. There is payoff of the Vesper story but it’s in recognising humanity rather than violence and I accept that this could be immensely frustrating if you’re about three. They probably won’t do it again, it shows other Bonds up as bloated balloons, but it’s a more rewarding experience than the twelve seconds it lasts would suggest. I may have used that line before, in another context.
Of course, all this might be rubbish and we were conned into watching an unfinished, short film that escaped rather than got itself released, on which $200 million was spent to questionable effect. I’m prepared to give it a pass, although that is an appalling amount of cash for the production of light entertainment about a fictional drought given that much less could ameliorate the effect of a real one. If the ideas and parallels I express are but wishful revisionism, at best the accidental product of rushing an underdeveloped film to an immovable unleashing date, I utterly accept that you don’t have to like it.
But you really don’t have to hate it, either.
Up to the 007th minute, we haven’t had one of those gunbarrel thingies, so that’s a bad start for some, and then things get jumpy, a worse start for more. Having been involved in a car accident in my time, I couldn’t work out much of what was going on either, and things seemed a bit “spinny”, so I’m happy enough with it albeit it tends to bring back counselled-away memories of treesmack interface braking solution F*** that hurt. The film’s out of control because Bond’s out of control etc etc and starting this way puts some distance between us and the film until it does calm down later – I’d also suggest that was deliberate. Bond in this state is not a man to admire nor emulate nor be the subject of wish-fulfilment. It becomes more engaging when he is. At the outset, he’s mad as hell, his girlfriend’s just dead and he has someone locked in his boot. Dear Slim, I wrote you but you still ain’t calling / I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom…
Only when he values consequence – to himself and others – does the solace come. Yum. It’s just the gift that never stops giving, innit?
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 Quantum of Solace
So, we’re about halfway through the dementedly blue / orange titles and it’s time to be told that “Another Way to Die” is performed (well, sorta) by Jack White and Alicia Keys, whoever they might be, and written and produced by Jack White. More than welcome to it. It is rough and discordant and I suppose that could be kindly interpreted as intentional, exhibiting further the idea that Bond is messed up too. A smoother, more melodious “classically Bond” effort would not suggest it as strongly. It is certainly splintery, jagged and grrrrrrr but neither artiste is someone whose other works I have hunted down in the giddy anticipation of jiving to their grooves. It’s a row, basically. Insofar as its nature is intended to fit the story’s ideas, it seems to serve the same purpose as RoboMadonna from a couple of films back and be at odds with the expected. It may as well have the lyric “This one’s going to be different” screeched at us; that would make more sense than describing James Bond as a “blinger”, which is very, very, very horrible. I can see why they went this sort of route, but whilst I embrace much in the film that suggests the same idea, this I just don’t like. But then I don’t have to like it to accept it, as the bigger boys used to say, usually salivating.
A gun tumbles away, hugely meaningfully in its tumbly way. I don’t know what type of gun it is, not being a cretin. “Shoot ‘em up: bang bang” “sings” the female person and one stares unseeing (and ideally, unhearing) at the screen, lost in fond memories of Don Black and his willy euphemisms. Now the gun’s made out of sand, which is doubtless telling us how transient and powerless all violence ultimately is, its gains mere grains. Might as well not bother with the film now, as that’s basically the plot. It’s in danger of taking itself just a bit too seriously, isn’t it? Still, thematically consistent; more so than this bloody song, anyway.
The executive producers, producing executively, were Anthony Waye and Callum McDougall and there’s not a vast amount I can say here other than I suspect they’re the ones who do a lot of the hard work although I’m still mystified about how, in so working, they could spend $200 million along the way. The film looks smart and the locations are varied and novel but – c’mon – two hundred million dollars? No wonder economies went pop in 2008 if folks are blowing this amount of cash on delivering a film: how much was being spent on stuff that mattered? Like, well, me? Almost as much, if I’m honest.
Bond drops down from the left. Some have it in their heads (and saw fit to then type it onto our screens) that this is indicative of the political leaning of the film, particularly in its attitude to the Western powers, the shape-shifting of MI6 and the CIA, their political compromises and their corrupt, cynical attitude to Greene’s scheme. James Bond as a concept, so the argument went, doesn’t (and doesn’t need) to deal in such stuff – it’s better to have a fantasy where good and evil are clearly marked out to entertain us; look at how successful it has been doing just that. There’s something in this view but a ) it rather blithely ignores much of what Fleming wrote, especially in Casino Royale (and, for that matter, Quantum of Solace) and b ) it completely blithely ignores the point of Mathis banging on about how heroes and villains get all mixed up (a direct lift of a line delivered by James Bond in the novel Casino Royale) which is how Bond reaches solace acceptable to him by this film’s end and c ) it ludicrously blithely ignores forty-five years of making Americans look brashly idiotic and the British secret service a bunch of bedentured old fools who keep mislaying their submarines. Apparently that’s better, somehow.
Doubtless trying to shake the awful row going on, Bond rolls around on the floor, grabs his gun and fires rather prettily in slow-motion. The square cufflinks are most questionable.
It was written by Paul Haggis and Neil Purvis & Robert Wade, and the director, and Daniel Craig, and loads of other people who weren’t on strike at the time and does come across as unpolished (although I would aver this as a strength; it hasn’t been smoothed away). Those insisting that Quantum of Solace is a hateful and hate-filled adaptation of one of Ralph Milliband’s works tend to point to this Haggis as the source of its leanings. Perhaps something in this, albeit P&W’s depiction of aggressively hawkish Americans in Die Another Day doesn’t suggest it was all his doing. Similarly, to propose that the British government is infected by Quantum and is prepared to do deals with unusual persons to keep the lights on seems wholly in accordance with where Sir Robert King and Gustav Graves (and for that matter, Sir Hugo Drax) were skipping along very merrily. Quite a few fingers, once shaved, are pointed at the Gregory Beam character and his motivations as unnecessarily criticising the UK and the USA’s Axis of Kindly Innocence. This tends to ignore what the writers have happen to Beam at the end of the film and the suggestion that “everything’s actually OK now that he’s gone, one bad apple” which is hootingly unrealistic and about as politically critical as twenty-odd films depicting the CIA as unmitigated twerps / MI6 as stunningly lazy and teeth-grindingly gullible / the hard-edged political reality of Sir Frederick Gray / having Bond apparently working for General Gogol all along. Unpleasant and shifty as the CIA and the politicians on show in Quantum of Solace may be, at least they’re competent and know what they want.
The depiction of M is interesting, though. Fallible; open to question. Misconstrues pretty much everything Bond does; his “You were right” at the end has an unspoken “about one thing” following it, Bond basically being right about everything else that happens save for that one big Vesper-shaped error. He needn’t give M that solace, albeit the Governor’s theorem applies as much to Bond’s relationship between himself and M., as to the one with Vesper and goes a long way to explaining his motivation in the next film. Again, the criticism would doubtless be that prior M.s – or at least prior to Dench – were rocksolid, resolute, certain, but then that’s also why they were only on screen for about three minutes because that gets really dull. Here, the seeds of Skyfall are sown. Just as Bond has a couple of films to get to an “end”, so does M, this one and the next, an overlap. Would it have convinced as much that this M. could have taken the coldhearted decisions about Silva – and Bond – in Skyfall without this film’s track-record of them? With the Bond/M. trilogy settled, Quantum of Solace is worth re-watching as a prequel and seeing what one can derive from it. It won’t take you very long and I think it genuinely holds up.
I accept that some of the M. characterisation arguably goes back to GoldenEye but that’s probably a different person, in as much as Jack Wade is a different person to Thingy Wassface, and Mr Wallace is a different person to Greek Priest is a different person to General Chandler is a different person to Man in Audience at Pyramids is a different person to Bloke Reading Newspaper in Grotsome Hotel. If the Brace of Denches is actually the same person, then I suppose one could say this fondness for having her agents chew cyanide was well on display in (P&W’s) Die Another Day. She could have passed it around, to spare us. Heartless bitch.
Sand speckles and all madly blue / orange again, here comes the bullet, an effect that might look groovy in 3D but then my judgment must be questioned as I’ve used the word “groovy”. Perhaps not quite as novel as Casino Royale’s titles, nor as ostensibly epic as Skyfall’s, these are still a decent effort and get over their idea of a world built on nothing more but constantly shifting sands, very soundly. And look! A little red gunbarrel, presumably to appease the mad.
As produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, I’d venture this is the most interesting (for good or ill) of the Craigs, although in writing that I am reminded that whenever my mother describes someone or something as “interesting”, she is usually only being politely devastating. It will probably be about as extreme as they will ever push things, given the reception, but wisely they did enough with Skyfall not to be expressly rejecting ideas from Quantum of Solace as spurned errors. It feels much more comfortably part of a whole now, easier to embrace as fitting into the picture rather than rejected as a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend. I’m not suggesting it still won’t stand out in the series because of the things it does and the way in which it does them, and the architecture takes some getting used to, but in due course we may become accustomed to its differences and not force it to skulk in the parlour with a bag on its head whilst its more handsome siblings go to the Ball and find themselves willing suitors.
A bullet bursts the sun and shrieky woman goes BANG BANG BANG BANG (it is reminiscent of a Eurovision entry firstly in that it appears to have been translated into English rather than written that way, and secondly because it is godawful). Directed by Marc Forster. If I recall it correctly, the revelation that he wasn’t wedded to the Bond series seemed to enrage those who were. Patently he must have seen The Spy Who Loved Me as that’s all over this film, in a number of amusing ways that don’t necessarily draw attention to themselves, a novelty given the fondess for suggesting that there’s a DB5 around every corner. This Mr Forster seems to regularly cop a lot of such blame as is smeared along Quantum of Solace. He didn’t know Bond! To some an error, but surely wisdom? Could one of the usual suspects have come up with something so outside the focus, so beyond the beat, of the fossilised routine? Why not allow them to try something different, escape the shackles of one’s fans having liked the last one so much they want to see it over and over, and over and over, and over, forever, and not let you free? Ah, the internet, where Annie Wilkes can live on, hobblings on cue. Those bits in World War Z where the rampant zombies pile on each other in braindead attack; who knows what could have inspired Mr Forster?
Ah, a public spectacle that you know will be disrupted in some way; it’s not so different a Bond film after all. The eventual parallel of the Bond/Mitchell chase and the thoroughbred stallions charging along is a bit of an obvious one and many were confused by how it was filmed; personally I became very distracted wondering how the hell Bond got a very big, wide car into Siena when the Palio’s on. The chase in the crowd does give us something chewy when it shows us the passer-by being tended to one shot. You don’t usually get that in a Bond. Consequences.
Ooh, bet that hurt, dumping Mr White in a chair. Gets to do very mad cackling soon, although this may be because he has landed on his bag. Big drip appears onscreen but I’m meant to be nice to Mr Craig, so let’s just say he’s looking very blue / orange. Very. Whatever’s about to happen – and it duddn’t look subtle, do it? – is going to happen in what looks very like General Gogol’s office from, yep, The Spy who Loved Me. Uncanny.
Judi Dench is behind bars! Meaningful and significant and goodie / baddie all mixed up and “art” and subtext and, ooh I dunno, stuff. Alternatively it’s overdue punishment for that Riddick film. There’s a big red light above Judi’s door – either this is a take on the classic M. office arrangement or is a very mischievous suggestion about her private life. If not literal, but liberal, this is definitely symbolic of how the intelligence communities whore themselves out. Definitely. It’s just so thematically rich, yeah? Just so deep.
Hello to Mitchell – Bond’s not particularly friendly or charming, is he? Probably the point. It’s about two days/two years since his woman drowned herself and he’s having such a rough time his shirt collar doesn’t know whether it’s inside or outside his jacket.
“The Americans are going to be none too pleased about this”. Just wait until they see the Gregory Beam character and his Wacky Moustache of Liberal Corruption of Bond. As we get to 0.07.00, Bond hitting the drink in a Fleming-y way, there’s direct sequelising with the referencing of Le Chiffre – does anyone not a Bond fan really remember? Or care? – and we’re about to have a little chat about Vesper, although notably Bond cannot actually bring himself to say her name until the very end of the film and THAT IS BASICALLY THE IDEA, YEAH?
Perhaps all that’s going too far but as my evenings are spent writing the offspring’s A-level English literature homework, that’s the sort of wide-eyed rubbish that deceives their “teachers”.
Whilst we’re on “teachers”, what lessons does Bond learn from Quantum of Solace (apart from, bearing in mind how poorly some regard it, “Don’t do it again”)? When M. bangs on about Bond having learned some sort of lesson by the end of Casino Royale, it’s unclear what that lesson was (Don’t trust women, least of all M?) and fails to recognise that it’s in this one that the educational opportunities actually arise. Evidently it was too early to promote him, insofar as he was patently unprepared for just how nasty the world was.
Development – and why Quantum of Solace is “necessary” – sees Bond become less of a random killing machine (Mitchell, Slate) and more of a personal statement (Greene, Yusuf). For the first half of the film he’s lashing out wildly and it brings no evident satisfaction and simply puts him on the back foot with his own people. Even when he’s calming down (a bit), becoming wiser about things, piecing clues together and being less hideously violent , round about the Tosca scene (a totally deliberate choice of opera, no doubt), a retained penchant for thuggery still causes the death of the Special Branch officer. Even though Bond is not directly responsible, it’s the consequence of his rashly throwing the chap off the roof. I’d suggest that as the major turning point. The results of his artless violence laid bare and the lowest point of his relationship with his own people. He has to change his approach, wholly. From this point on, all Bond’s kills – and “not kills” – are directed and pointed rather than just carving his way through supporting artistes and making him Feel All Bad And The Pain Still Ain’t Going to Go Away.
Which is the point of Camille, so engrossed in revenge Bond can see how encompassing it gets, to the point where, revenge obtained, she beckons death rather than continue on, consumed by fire rather than vengeance. Loose, lost, hollow and purposeless at the end of it. May as well dig those two graves Uncle Rog talked of. The dead don’t care about vengeance etc etc. Where Camille is left is absolutely spot on. Her story exposes that Bond’s little, little world of Vesper and MI6 and the horrible things that have happened within it happen everywhere and there’s really no way to stop it. Time to step onto the world stage, Jamie. The bigger picture is that the world’s a mess and you may as well walk along, smiling. Revenge has encompassed Camille to the point of weariness, such hopelessness exploited by Greene, rather than concentrating on stopping naughty men doing bad things with whatever it was, water or something. Revenge just isn’t worth it and will never make such an enormous pain heal, so why chase it down? Don’t become like Camille, move on, achieve as good a solace as you’re ever actually likely to get and will keep you sane, say her name one last time and throw the necklace in the snow. A hopeless game; play on, play on. Off Camille goes, all done, on a train, just as Vesper came in on one. Cyclical, That’s probably coincidental but I rather like it.
M’s assessment of Bond being out solely for revenge and blinded by it is amusingly placed just after a scene in which it’s bluntly spelled out that Bond observes that revenge isn’t worth the candle because it actually won’t stop anything. It’s not the Anti-Bond; it’s the Anti-Licence to Kill, for which we can be most grateful, give it a cuddle; maybe a bit of tongue.
Responsibility and consequences. Bond’s deadly charm, a neat inversion of what has frequently been used as an attribute, means death for poor little innocent, inoffensive Fields, drowned in oil in much the same way as Camille is drowned in orange paint. Although the seduction of Fields may look more of a “Bond” style encounter after the depth (pun!) of the Vesper relationship, it’s going too far the other way; he doesn’t even bother to find out her name until after the deed is done. Palpable guilt. No solace in such encounters. Why her? Possibly best to try to draw a balance in future, but still not get too caught up in events; leave the innocent out of it, seduce those already corrupted by events or (more darkly; Bond might be healed, never said he was “nice”) the girl with a wing down and therefore complicit in the risks and / or rushing headlong into danger. The sort of woman who hangs around floating casinos, that’ll do. Otherwise, you’d only be wasting good Scotch.
Could it have been (superficially) strengthened by a more powerful villain? I rather like Dominic Greene; shifty, spineless, a bit lazy, quite appalling teeth, offhand, dismissive, no physical power beyond a few choice barbs and lots and lots of money. He doesn’t seem all that bothered about his plan, either, just another scheme; very funny. Patently his murkiness is wrapped up in the idea of the ultimate hopelessness of Bond’s role in trying to fight such folks: the sands just shift, perspectives change, did you not watch the title sequence? As for Quantum, they don’t want to take over the world, because they already have. That’s the “point”; one of the funnier ideas within this depiction of “the aftermath” – here we have Bond fighting on after the world has already been conquered by the baddies. No point getting to het up about things; just smile and walk on. Some remain upset that there’s no evident resolution of Quantum but I hope there never is. I rather like the idea of it being part of the same government that sends Bond out to kill for it. The heroes and villains get all mixed up. Mathis expresses this and ends up being dropped into a bin by his pal for his trouble; some were surprised. Some saw the point. Some wondered why that Obi-Wan McGregor kept telling that Pinocchio lad that he would be the death of him. Could it all have been significant? Oh, do tell.
Other than implying the uncontrolled fate of the characters involved, however, I still don’t know why the freefalling bit’s there. Not everything has a meaning, surely? Sometimes it’s just “Bond film” whereas for the most part it’s a “James Bond film” and that’s not insignificant this time around..
Bearing all of this stuff in mind, the Yusuf encounter, on first viewing superficially underwhelming as a climax, plays out entirely appropriately; Bond can destroy a man without killing him. He can choose not to kill. For Bond there would be no satisfaction, lest he become as lost as Camille, and the wider responsibility to his duty means it is better to keep the man alive. Releasing Greene and Yusuf from the consequences of their actions by killing them is to give them satisfaction, but not Bond. Arguably, brutal violence is replaced by a peculiarly moral sadism, but you have to have been through it to come to this conclusion. Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled, or not pulled; it’s hard to know which, in your pyjamas.
James Bond, eh? He also makes quiche.
James Bond will return in the 007th minute of Skyfall. Jacques Stewart is a dirty money, heaven sent honey, turning on a dime. When Mrs Jim forgets to lock her make-up away, anyway.