Tuesday, November 07, 2006

James Bond Is a Relic

I am convinced the producers of James Bond films live in a time warp in which it is perpetually 1963, the Cold War is still on, the sexual revolution is in full momentum, smoking and drinking are cultural norms, the British Empire still plays a part in determining world affairs, and there is actually an audience willing to pay seven dollars to see a James Bond movie set in a world in which the above conditions no longer exist.

Mike Myers conclusively proved in the Austin Powers trilogy that James Bond is an anachronism in a post-1980s world. Every aspect of the 007 genre---misogyny, promiscuity, hedonism, substance abuse, unhealthy living, snobby tastes in food and drink, and a mistaken belief that judo chops to the shoulder can induce unconsciousness---is unintentionally funny to a politically correct 21st century.

James Bond was the product of specific historical circumstances---the emergence of the Cold War, the Kim Philby scandal, British envy of American supremacy, and an overoptimistic faith in technological innovations borne out of the American space program---that do not work when superimposed on a different set of historical circumstances.

007 purists assert that the series went downhill gradually when Sean Connery abandoned the role, then suddenly after Roger Moore departed. While I agree somewhat that the actors who followed Connery were unable to reproduce his success, I also believe that Connery's performances declined in successive movies, especially in Diamonds Are Forever (the first time I saw the film I could not stop laughing because Connery gained weight and used a hairpiece with a pompadour so that he looked like Alabama segregationist George Wallace).

I think the quality of the films had less to do with casting and more to do with the producers' desperate attempts to make the post-1960s Bond films relevant to contemporary events (Live and Let Die=black power movements, Moonraker=Skylab and Soyuz, Octopussy and A View to A Kill=detente, glasnost, and cooperation between the Communist World and Free World).

Ian Fleming's books are not as adaptable as William Shakespeare's plays. Bond's natural setting---London clubland, dalliances with married women in St. John's Wood and Mayfair, the pre-tourist-and-cruise-ship Caribbean islands---is infinitely more interesting than the high-technocracy of the twenty-first century, where men like "Q" have replaced 007 as the superstars of modern intelligence agencies.


Blogger Monkeesfan said...

While I agree somewhat with your analysis of the historical anachronism of the James Bond mythos, dependent as it is on a specific time period as its background, I still enjoy the Bond series and like the recent Die Another Day among my favorites in the series, despite the film's Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker plot (it works quite well in the Bond context, I'm just pointing out that it's hardly anything audiences hadn't seen before), Lee Tamahori's choppy direction and the unappealing nature of Halle Berry.

As much as I enjoy the Bond films, I agree that their plots were often dictated by straining to be relevent in the here and now. Yet they're still entertaining films because of the great skill and effort of all involved, from the cast through the now-famous production teams and designers such as Ken Adams, John Stears, Derek "Thunderbirds" Meddings, etc. on to John Barry's always-enjoyable scores. A film like Goldeneye brings back some of the old Bond vinegar in that the historical circumstance within the film (post-Soviet Russia) was a genuine international concern.

Far worse from a narrative standpoint for the Bond series was that it went out of its way to not portray Soviet Russia as the enemy in the Cold War. While Red China got no such consideration in such films as Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice the series could never ring up enough courage to portray Soviet Russia as the enemy - indeed, among the more sympathetic characters in the 1970s-80s era of Bond was General Gogol (Walter Gotell, who also appeared as SPECTRE agent Morzeny in From Russia With Love), who cooperates with HMSS in The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy.

Actually some of the anachronisms of the Bond series serve a purpose today - the politically correct 21st century needs its political correctness deflated, and the Bond series should help with that deflation.

10:25 PM  

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