1. James Bond Vs. The Devil With Thick Spectacles

    By Guest writer on 2007-10-22

    Written by Craig Arthur

    James Bond was not the first fictional secret agent with a liking for martinis. W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden also drank them. “I move with the times,” Ashenden explains in Maugham’s story His Excellency. “To drink a glass of sherry when you can get a dry martini is like taking a stage-coach when you can travel by the Orient Express.”


    Ian Fleming’s own short story, Quantum of Solace in For Your Eyes Only owes a great deal to the tale of duty in His Excellency. Plus, of course, a similar preoccupation with modernity and materialism runs through both the James Bond books and Ashenden. As Fleming liked to claim, he and Maugham were the only two writers who wrote about “what people are really interested in: cards, money, gold and things like that.”

    Things like that. A thoroughly twentieth century fixation – things. And yet both authors also expressed ambivalence toward the rationalism of modernity.

    For all his eponymous spy’s interest in the modern trappings of existence, Somerset Maugham disliked the literary techniques of modernist fiction. Defending the embellishment of his own World War One espionage activities in Ashenden, Maugham complained that fact is a “poor story-teller”; “it has no sense of climax and whittles away its dramatic effects in irrelevance.” He was critical of modernist authors who considered that fiction should imitate life: “They do not give you a story, they give you the material on which you can invent your own.”

    Fleming similarly favoured traditional story-telling techniques, unashamedly creating a fantasy world where there was always a beginning, middle and end, with “heroes who are white, villains who are black and heroines who are a delicate shade of pink” [from the blurb for the 1956 World Books edition of Live and Let Die]. “In fiction, people used to have blood in their veins. Nowadays they have pond water. My books are just out of step. But then again so are all the people who read them . . . uninhibited adolescents of all ages, in trains, aeroplanes and beds.” [the blurb to the Jonathan Cape first edition of Thunderball.]

    Ian Fleming

    Ian Fleming

    Le Corbusier - the 'Devil with Thick Spectacles'

    Le Corbusier – the ‘Devil with Thick Spectacles’

    Fleming’s aesthetic enemy was the stark rationality of architects like Le Corbusier or Erno Goldfinger. Fleming appropriated Goldfinger’s surname for one of his best-known villains, but also in Thrilling Cities he recounts his dislike of Le Corbusier’s ideas: “Having taken a quick and shuddering look at Corbusier’s flattened human ants’ nest in Marseilles some years ago, and having visited his recent architectural exhibition in England, I had already decided that he and I did not see eye to eye in architectural matters, and I am glad to learn that the Berliners, however anxious to clamber out of their ruins into a new home, are inclined to agree with me. . . . They christened him the ‘Devil with Thick Spectacles’.”

    Ian Fleming's 'Goldfinger'

    Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger

    As an architect-friend has pointed out to me, Fleming’s position of despising Le Corbusier puts him in the same group as the Prince of Wales. The intention of architects such as Le Corbusier was to improve people’s quality of living, introducing fresh air and sunlight and setting space free for recreational parkland. It is problematic to link modernist architecture with Totalitarianism. While pushing the technological boundaries by building rockets and planes intended to kill more people than ever in history, the Nazis themselves disowned the Weissenburgsiedlung, with designs by Mies and Corbusier, as oriental Arabic architecture, and embraced instead folk themes and mythical Germanic motifs. The Italian Fascists on the other hand embraced modernism and constructed a large Government centre outside Rome, parts of which are indistinguishable from Le Corbusier’s UN Secretariat Building in New York.

    Peter O’Donnell obviously did not share Fleming’s misgivings about Le Corbusier. Modesty Blaise, O’Donnell’s wealthy female partial counterpart to Bond, lived in a luxurious London penthouse “designed by a disciple of Le Corbusier . . . a triumph of simple elegance.” Nevertheless, Fleming felt that the way Le Corbusier’s Modular System treated the human being as “a six-foot cube of flesh and breathing-space and fits him with exquisite economy into steel and concrete cells” was too stark and rational. It would be out of synch with Fleming’s own writing style for him to embrace Le Corbusier. We would be suspicious of a character like Bond if he lived in a Le Corbusier or Erno Goldfinger style tower-block. It would be too functional, too rational, for a double-O agent. The blubbery arms of the soft life would have him round the neck and be slowly strangling him, as Fleming puts in when describing Bond’s malaise in From Russia With Love.

    Len Deighton

    Len Deighton

    Indeed, Len Deighton uses such an incongruity to raise alarm bells about his character Steve Champion who occupies just such a flat in Deighton’s 1975 novel, Yesterday’s Spy. “It was a large gloomy apartment. The wallpaper and paintwork were in good condition and so was the cheap carpeting, but there were no pictures, no books, no ornaments, no personal touches. ‘A machine for living in,’ said Dawlish. ‘Le Corbusier at his purest,’ I said, anxious to show that I could recognize a cultural quote when I heard one.” We know immediately that Champion – a thinly-veiled carbon-copy of an aging Bond, yesterday’s spy adrift in the increasingly corporate world of 1970s’ espionage – would not be contented with an existence in such an urban environment; we suspect immediately that he has sold out to his nation’s enemies.

    Above all, what Fleming objected to in the case of Le Corbusier or Erno Goldfinger, was their “mono-maniacal attachment to their own vision of the world”, as journalist John Chester phrases it, describing the similarities between the fictional Auric Goldfinger and his real life namesake. Le Corbusier hated New York city. He intended the open expanse of ground surrounding the United Nations Secretariat and General Assembly buildings as a partial antidote to the congestion of Manhattan’s crowded grid of 12 avenues and 155 streets. Fleming himself also felt that post-war New York was losing its heart. But his complaint was that of a romantic, lamenting the passage of time: “Steel and concrete, aluminium and copper sheeting for the new buildings, have smothered the brownstone streets that had so much warmth in the old day.” [Thrilling Cities, chapter VII]. For Le Corbusier, however, New York was an affront to his modernist’s sense of order – neither modern nor orderly enough. With typical Bond villain-like megalomania, he famously desired to wipe Manhattan off the map, proposing to replace it with his stark, functional Ville Radieuse, the Radiant City (echoes of which can be found in Stromberg’s plan to wipe out civilisation, beginning with New York and Moscow, and create his own undersea equivalent of the Ville Radieuse in the movie The Spy Who Loved Me.)

    The plots of many of the Bond novels reflect Fleming’s paranoia about men with such grand designs. The plot of the novel Moonraker, for instance, reflected Fleming’s paranoia about German World War Two scientists using their knowledge to launch a nuclear rocket into the heart of London in the same way, in recent years, the American and British have feared Iran or North Korea possessing the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction or passing on the technology to terrorist factions. He shares this fear in the same chapter of Thrilling Cities where he expresses his dislike of Le Corbusier. “With a whine of thousands of horsepower, behind a mass of brilliant machinery (brain-children of Krupp, Siemens, Zeiss and all the others) the tip of a gigantic rocket emerges above the surrounding young green trees. . . . First there is a thin trickle of steam from the rocket exhausts and then a great belch of flame, and slowly, very slowly, the rocket climbs off its underground launching pad. And then it is on its way.”

    Fleming is extremely paranoid about the fallibility of technology in the wrong hands or the way irrational human actions interfere with the operation of rational technology. While the airliner James Bond is on board flies through a storm in the Caribbean, in Live and Let Die, Fleming writes: “You are linked to the ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to the weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on for the first and last time, as you are motoring home from some private sin.” Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, where the super-efficient HAL 9000 computer begins killing off the crew members of the Jupiter mission, would probably have appealed to Fleming. That famous scene in 2001 where Kubrick’s primordial ape hefts the bone into the air at the dawn of mankind and the film jump-cuts across the millennia to a shot of a spacecraft in orbit, reminds us – through the visual symmetry been the white spaceship and the bone – that such technologically advanced creations are still equivalent to primitive bone tools wielded by ape-like mammals and that space travel is a folly of man. 2001 and Moonraker and the other Ian Fleming novels offer a Daliesque conquest of the irrational, where paranoia about technological modernity is given a crutch of reality.

    As if revealing the workings of his imagination, Fleming compares the domed, concrete installation housing the rocket with which Hugo Drax plans to wipe London off the map in Moonraker to a Salvador Dali painting: “A Dali desert landscape on which three objets trouvés reposed at carefully calculated random.” Even though Fleming’s intention was to entertain while Dali’s was to shock, his fiction mirrors Dali’s surrealist art in that it involves paranoia and above all dreamlike fantasy, transforming Cold War espionage into an irrational fairy tale of glamour, sex and danger. James Bond’s world is as detached from real life espionage as New York is from the rationality of Ville Radieuse.

    Salvador Dali, unlike Le Corbusier, loved New York. Upon his arrival there in 1935, Dali was disconcerted to find that the supposedly modern, rational city of Manhattan skyscrapers was as surreal and irrational as any of his own artistic creations. (“New York: why, why did you create my statue long ago, long before I was born?”) Dali stepped into an elevator in a Manhattan skyscraper and was confronted by a copy of a painting by El Greco hung from heavily ornamented authentic, probably fifteenth century Spanish red velvets strips. Waking in his hotel room, he heard not the sounds of traffic and urban congestion but rather the roar of lions in Central Park Zoo, as if he was nowhere near the city, let alone one as bustling as New York. Contemplating skyscrapers on Park Avenue, he observed that a “fierce anti-modernism manifested itself in the most spectacular fashion, beginning with the very facade. A crew of workers armed with implements projecting black smoke that whistled like apocalyptic dragons was in the act of patining the outer walls of the building in order to ‘age’ this excessively new skyscraper by means of that blackish smoke characteristic of the old houses of Paris. In Paris, on the other hand, the modern architects a la Le Corbusier were racking their brains to find new and flashy, utterly anti-Parisian materials, so as to imitate the supposed ‘modern sparkle’ of New York. . . .”

    The L'Angelus painting by Francois Millet

    The L’Angelus painting by Francois Millet

    Dali compared those Manhattan skyscrapers to the two figures from Francois Millet’s painting L’Angelus: “Each evening the skyscrapers of New York assume the anthropomorphic shapes of multiple gigantic Millet’s L’Angeluses . . . motionless and ready to perform the sexual act. . . .” Rather like Domino inventing the life story of the sailor on a packet of Players cigarettes in Thunderball, a young Salvador Dali concocted a story about Millet’s painting. The picture depicts the banal scene of a man and woman standing in a barren field, saying a prayer of thanksgiving at sundown. Staring at a reproduction of the work from his school desk, Dali convinced himself that the painting disguised evidence of sexual desire between its two immobile figures. In later life he ultimately gave a crutch of reality to this conjecture by rearranging elements of L’Angelus in his own painting, to include the sexual content he imagined hidden or missing from Millet’s original and hence achieving a ‘conquest of the irrational.’

    Salvador Dali's rearrangement in his own painting--a 'conquest of the irrational'

    Salvador Dali’s rearrangement in his own painting–a ‘conquest of the irrational’

    Andre Breton, author of the surrealist manifesto, said that this conquest of the irrational proved the “omnipotence of desire . . . surrealism’s only act of faith.” Otherwise known as the paranoid-critical method, it is equivalent to Fleming’s villains, such as Hugo Drax or Auric Goldfinger, cheating at bridge and canasta when they were unhappy with the prospect of losing. It is the same thing as Brad Whitaker rewriting American Civil War history with his war-gaming soldiers in the movie version of The Living Daylights, or Drax’s cinematic incarnation reconstructing Louis XIV’s Palace at Versailles in the Californian desert in the movie version of Moonraker. These aspects of James Bond villains’ fictional activities correspond to the paranoid-critical method. More importantly, Fleming’s plots themselves achieve a Daliesque conquest of the irrational. They give his paranoia about modernity a crutch of reality.

    Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest operates in this same manner. The movie echoes the alienation Fleming felt when confronted by Le Corbusier’s rationalism. A tiny insignificant Cary Grant is glimpsed fleeing from the UN building in New York, dwarfed by an aerial shot of the towering, glass-sided slab of Le Corbusier’s Secretariat tower. For Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, the rational world has suddenly gone mad. Mistaken for a non-existent secret agent and on the run from a murder at the United Nations he did not commit, his plight is similar to that of Arthur Rowe, the central character in Graham Greene’s novel The Ministry of Fear. After stumbling into the world of espionage after innocently guessing both the true and false weight of a cake at a church fete, Rowe feels “directed, controlled, moulded, by some agency with a surrealist imagination.” In North By Northwest, nobody believes Thornhill. When he takes the police and his mother back to the Townsend mansion where he was taken after being kidnapped by spies the previous evening, every trace of evidence of his ordeal has been removed. (The same narrative device appears in two Bond movies, both directed by Lewis Gilbert. In You Only Live Twice the damage from the fight night before has been repaired and the body of the dead Sumo wrestler has been removed when Bond returns to the offices of Osato Chemicals the next day; in Moonraker when he takes M and the Minister of Defence, back to the nerve gas laboratory where he watched two scientists die of affixation, the whole laboratory is gone, the building decontaminated, and replaced by Drax’s opulent office). It is as if Don Quixote‘s Enchanter has been at work, directing, controlling, moulding with his surrealist imagination – turning armies into sheep.

    According to Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said that “we do not feel horror because we are threatened by a sphinx; we dream of a sphinx in order to explain the horror we feel.” Both Don Quixote‘s Enchanter and Ian Fleming’s villains perform this function, providing the crutch of reality for his paranoiac imagination. Ian Fleming’s imaginative ability to create larger-than-life and fantastical plots, turning a marsh buggy – a jeep fitted with enormous balloon tyres – from a Caribbean swamp holiday into Dr No‘s mechanical dragon or grafting Drax’s Moonraker installation onto the tranquil landscape of rural Kent, is the same mental process to Don Quixote‘s creation of giants from windmills.

    Salvador Dali

    Salvador Dali

    In the James Bond novels we feel the Enchanter-like omnipotence of Fleming’s villains trying to exert an influence over events, as they cheat at card games or golf and try to manipulate international geopolitics – to reshape reality according to their surrealist imaginations, via the paranoid-critical method. ‘If you fail at the large things it means you have not large ambitions. . . . Give me a fulcrum and I will move the world – but only if the desire to move the world is there,” Dr No proclaims. And Julius No even looks like Dali. “There was something Daliesque about the eyebrows, which were fine and black and sharply upswept as if they had been painted on as make-up for a conjurer.”

    But also, of course, Fleming himself is the Enchanter. He is the agency with a surrealist imagination, using narrative structure to direct, control and mould the reader. That narrative structure is deceptively simple. Fleming’s plotting is made to appear like an old-fashioned picaresque-style narrative, as employed by Cervantes, Defoe or Henry Fielding back when people [in fiction] used to have blood in their veins. Events in Fleming’s plots often occur via coincidence and chance meetings, giving the impression that we are dealing purely with story rather than a plot and hence drawing the reader into events in such a way that coincidences read like epiphanies and making the conquest of the irrational more palpable.

    The Bond movies take the Daliesque conquest of the irrational found in the novels to its logical extreme. There are hints of it early on in the movie version Dr No, when Bond knowingly gets into a car with the chauffeur, ‘Mr Jones’ when he knows the man is an impostor. The audience wants Bond to irrationally get into car and so for the sake of audience desire, Connery-Bond is complicit with them. Veteran film critic Alexander Walker defined this as a ‘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. 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.”

    'From Russia With Love'

    From Russia With Love

    In the movie version of From Russia With Love, SPECTRE manipulates the British to think they are part of a Russian plot (i.e. the plot of the Ian Fleming novel where the Russians were instigating the proceedings). SPECTRE is an agency with a surrealist imagination directing, controlling and moulding events like Don Quixote‘s Enchanter (rendered all the more phantasmal because we never see Blofeld’s face, just the obligatory white Persian cat). Their manipulation of the British and Russian’s parallels the manipulation of the audience’s perception of reality in the pre-credit sequence, where Robert Shaw stalks Connery-Bond around the Renaissance Garden at Pinewood Studios and apparently strangles him.

    Commenting on these opening scenes from From Russia With Love in his book James Bond in the Cinema, John Brosnan said, “One can’t help being impressed by this sequence. It is a nice blend of eeriness and surprise, but it doesn’t bear too close an inspection. For, when we think about it, it is obviously very illogical. What, after all, would be the point of training somebody to kill a specific person by having him practice on someone disguised as that person? Especially if the target was someone like James Bond. It would be as relevant as training to be a big game hunter by dressing your dog up in a lion’s skin.”

    Brosnan has a valid point. No real-life training mission would be carried out in this absurd manner. But as a piece of cinema, it not only offers audiences the ultimate conquest of the irrational and taboo – the apparent killing of 007 – it makes overt what is implicit in any training exercise (the need for a trainee to pretend that the exercise is practise for the real thing) in the same way that Dali made literal what he felt was implicit in L’Angelus.

    Structurally, From Russia With Love could function perfectly well without the pre-credit sequence. It exists purely to entertain the audience, to start the movie with a bang, kick-starting the slow plot build up that follows the credits and foreshadowing the climax of the movie. It exists because of audience desire, and ever since From Russia With Love audiences have expected a spectacular pre-credit sequence at the start of each Bond movie.

    Ian Fleming's 'From Russia With Love'

    Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love

    Compared to the movie version of From Russia With Love, the original Ian Fleming novel starts to seem like Millet’s L’Angelus without Salvador Dali’s embellishments. The film, however, revels in its own overt irrationality. The characters emphasise the absurdity of the plot they find themselves in: the way they will knowingly walk into a trap, the ridiculousness of the idea of a Russian cipher clerk in love with James Bond (as if he were a film star). When Grant apparently strangles Bond in the training exercise in the pre-credit sequence, it is as if the director has shouted cut and the filming of the sequence wraps: the SPECTRE training school building is actually the main building at Pinewood Studios, anyway, and the flood-lights come on just like studio Dino lamps (which they no doubt actually are) and Walter Gotell’s character removes the latex mask as if it is a make-up prop (which of course it is). When the speedboats, crewed by SPECTRE trainees, chase Bond’s boat at the end of the film, Walter Gotell shouts instructions to them as if he was the second unit director responsible for filming the scene (“You’re aiming to stop them, not to sink them”). And of course Connery always rounds-off an action sequence with a trademark one-liner. The movie reminds audience that it is a movie. It is all for fun, for their benefit. A conquest of the irrational.

    From Russia With Love set the tone for the rest of the series. SPECTRE became an agency manipulating events even more like Don Quixote‘s Enchanter than in the books, inevitably playing the Russians and the Americans against one another. When the SPECTRE rocket swallows the American Gemini capsule at the start of You Only Live Twice or when the laser-satellite begins to behave independent of Cape Canaveral in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience does not quite know what is taking place, just as they don’t ever know precisely what the spies who kidnap Roger Thornhill in North By Northwest are up to; all they know is that some agency with a surrealist imagination is manipulating what they see onscreen.

    'You Only Live Twice'

    You Only Live Twice

    There is no reason for the SPECTRE rocket in You Only Live Twice to capture the American and Russian space capsules when SPECTRE could achieve the same objective by shooting them down. Equally, there is no reason to show Bond being shot-dead in bed and then show the Hong Kong police going through the charade of arriving and pronouncing him dead. But then You Only Live Twice is operating in the same manner as the pre-credit sequence of From Russia With Love; the events occur onscreen purely to thrill the audience, to give them a conquest of the irrational. Every aspect of a Bond movie draws attention to itself for its own sake, to manipulate the audience in this manner. Watching a Bond film, you are aware of each element for its own sake – again like the smoke-blackening on the New York skyscrapers.

    Ken Adam’s set designs were the stuff of eye-popping fantasy. His villains’ lairs reflect audiences’ paranoia about the psychological mindset of Blofeld, Stromberg or Drax a crutch of expressionist reality. The cathedral of gold he created for the interior Fort Knox is the way we desire the gold-vault to look rather than the prosaic reality of the real location. John Barry’s scores were deliberately brassy and unsubtle; they screamed excitement. In the cutting-room, Peter Hunt and John Glen used editing as an aesthetic instrument, as opposed to simply assembling a collection of shots. In the movies they edited, you are aware of the violence of each cut, whereas conventional film-editing strived to create a seamless whole where the cuts weren’t noticeable. The self-mockery of the Bond movies, the tongue-in-cheek one-liners, remind audience that the violent events onscreen existed for the sake of giving them a thrill. Even when the films became more realistic in tone in On Her Majesty Secret Service, audiences were still reminded that the movie purely existed as fantasy, as a conquest of the irrational. Rather than try and disguise the fact that Connery had left the series, Peter Hunt had George Lazenby face the camera and remark, “This never happened to the other fella!”

    As in North By Northwest, the Bond films even manage to utilise Le Corbusier’s United Nations Building – that symbol of extreme rationality – for the purpose of irrational entertainment, as an icon backdrop for cinema violence when the gun-barrel opens at the beginning of Live And Let Die. One dream of Hitchcock’s was to film a scene in the UN General Assembly where one of the ambassadors is murdered during a session there. Ernest Lehman’s screenplay for North By Northwest was in part inspired by Hitchcock’s desire to see this idea realised. However, Lehman could not find a way to incorporate it into the narrative. But the Bond films found a way to steal it and add it into Live And Let Die‘s pre-credit sequence. It was perhaps easier for the Bond films to incorporate such a sequence into the fabric of the narrative. This is because of the way everything in them exists to fulfil audience desires rather than structural considerations.

    Or at least this was how the Bond movies operated back in the Roger Moore era.

    'Casino Royale'

    Casino Royale

    A lot of the outcry when Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced a change to a more serious and realistic style of Bond film in the 2006 version of Casino Royale and cast Daniel Craig as Bond, perhaps came from people who grew up with the Roger Moore films. (That said, I grew with the Roger Moore films and had no such complaints about the casting of Daniel Craig or the change in style). People feared the promise of a new more serious Bond the way Fleming or Dali feared the future, a la Le Corbusier.

    Appropriately enough, Casino Royale does not start like a typical Bond film. There are no white dots marching across the screen and no gun-barrel sequence with the pop art blood dripping down the screen (not yet at least). Instead we see a wintry black and white shot of Dryden’s Volvo pulling up outside Danube House, on the banks of Prague’s Vltava River. The caption onscreen reads, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC, even though the ultra-modern, extremely rational glass, steel and concrete of Danube House seems at odds with the postcard images of Prague’s historic architecture – as if Le Corbusier had at long last managed to achieve his goal, levelled a medieval European city and replaced it with the Ville Radieuse. The sense of paranoia is palpable as Dryden climbs out of the Volvo and looks over his shoulder (not unlike that pasty-faced SPECTRE agent with Connery’s face being stalked by Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love.) The low camera angles accentuate this paranoia, as does the noir-like black-and-white photography. We know that Dryden is going to his death and soon discover that Bond is waiting for him in the Universal Export offices. The tone is unlike anything we have seen in a Bond movie since the confrontation between Bond and Grant aboard the Orient Express in From Russia With Love or Bond shooting Professor Dent in the back in Dr No.

    By portraying Bond in this untypical manner, Casino Royale pulls off its sleight-of-hand, its variation on a conquest of the irrational. The audience is made to forget that this is a character they have already met in twenty previous adventures. They suspend disbelief and accept that they are meeting Bond for the first time. Or more precisely they are meeting the ‘real’ 007 for the first time, a darker and more brutal incarnation of Bond. Somebody you would not want to find opposed to you. John Barry incorporated aspects of Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’ into his 1962 arrangement of Monty Norman’s James Bond theme. But while this music has always captured the darkness and coldness of the character, we are far more aware of this context in Casino Royale. Especially when we finally hear the theme played in its entirety at the end of the film, when the scene goes dark – with Bond about to exact his retribution on Mr White.

    Like the pre-credit sequence of From Russia With Love, this coda sequence to Casino Royale where Bond confronts White is fundamentally extraneous to the narrative. Essentially the movie is over at the same point where the novel finishes – when Bond utters the line, “The bitch is dead”. But just as the From Russia With Love pre-credit exists to fulfil the omnipotence of audience desire, so do these last scenes of Casino Royale. Even though the story proper is over, we want to see White get his comeuppance. We want to see Bond recover from the death of Vesper and emerge as the character we know, acting in a manner we expect and delivering his famous introduction for the ‘first time’: “The name is Bond. James Bond.”

    The backdrop reflects this audience desire. The setting for the confrontation is the steps of the Villa La Gaeta, on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como. In contrast to the stark rationalism of Danube House where Bond confronted Dryden, the Villa La Gaeta is a product of an architect’s surreal imagination – a cross between Dr Shatterhand’s ancient Japanese castle in the novel
    You Only Live Twice and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So apart from implying White’s affluence and villainous nature, the setting reminds us that Casino Royale, despite appearing more rational and restrained than other Bond movies, is still complicit with its audience.

    The omnipotence of audience desire is also why Casino Royale performs an additional conquest of the irrational. It lifts Ian Fleming’s Cold War espionage tale – set in 1951 – and plonks it down in the post-9/11 era, rather like Drax removing the Versailles palace from France and rebuilding it brick by brick in California. Although the Bond character was created during the height of the Cold War, the raison d’être of the novels and films was contemporary paranoia rather than the standoff between the superpowers per sa. (In the Cold War era movies the Soviets were almost never the enemy anyway; either SPECTRE or rogue individuals were instead manipulating events).

    For this reason, Bond has survived the fall of the Iron Curtain and will survive long after the so-called War on Terror. When audiences go to a Bond film they expect to see their paranoia about the modern world given a crutch of reality. There would be little point setting a Bond movie back during the Cold War, when we have so many new modern threats to be paranoid about. Bond movies will continue to embellish reality and offer audiences new conquests of the irrational.

    To do any differently would be like travelling by stage-coach instead of the Orient Express, as Ashenden would say. Or drinking a glass of sherry when you could be drinking a medium-dry vodka martini with a twist of lemon peel – shaken not stirred.

    © Craig Arthur 2007