A SASY digression: The omnipresent spectre of James Bond

Bond, James Bond

Hi all, this is J. We’re going to be doing something a little unusual with a few posts over the coming days that dig into a series of films that are decidedly not on the Sight & Sound 250 Greatest Films of All Time list: the canon of James Bond. Although perhaps I shouldn’t have said “we” — this one is all me, because if Daniel Craig ain’t in it, S. ain’t watching it.

I’m guessing it was around 1990, although I can’t be certain on this. It would have not been long after we got cable television for the first time, and I was plunked in front of a television with a screen little bigger than that of the laptop upon which I am typing. Bouncing from channel to channel I landed upon a bizarre scene of two men stalking each other through a psychedelic funhouse while a little person sprung traps and pranks to liven an already deadly game. It was the opening scene to The Man with the Golden Gun, and 11-year-old me was in.

When writing about a piece of popular culture as enduring and (among many) beloved as the James Bond films I think it wise to let the reader know where you stand — what is your history with 007. Well, I never became a die hard fanatic or an apologist for the series’ less stellar efforts (or gender politics), but my first experience with the world of James Bond — my “Bond-mitzvah” to steal a Tom Lennon joke from the James Bonding podcast — definitely sent me on a quest to consume more and more Bond films. Between the endless marathons on TBS and the beat-up VHS tapes rented out of the back of the VarMax liquor store, my edge-of-adolescence self had access to all the Bond I could handle. This was the time of the great lacuna in Bond-dom, that six year gap between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan; so it could be said I never really had a Bond of my own. I gravitated initially toward the more light-hearted fare of Roger Moore, but the gonzo spectacle of You Only Live Twice eventually introduced me to the glory of the Sean Connery era.

still-of-roger-moore-in-the-man-with-the-golden-gun-1974-large-picture

This was all my 11-year-old eyes needed to see!

But like I said, I was never a super fan. My excitement for the Pierce Brosnan films faded quickly with Tomorrow Never Dies and turned to disgust with Die Another Day. There were a couple of Moore films I’d never seen all the way through — and that weird one, you know with Australian Bond — yeah, that one was supposed to be awful, right? (Actually, it’s frickin’ fantastic! But I didn’t know that until I finally saw it a couple of years ago)

But I couldn’t get Bond out of my system, and the revitalization of the series and the character with Casino Royale brought me back in a big way. It probably helped that on a lark I decided to read Ian Fleming’s original novel of Casino Royale and was blown away with how good it is (this is a movie blog, so I won’t get into it, but Fleming is a fabulous writer (I’ve now read all his Bond books); his prose is actually better than his plots). And Skyfall cemented it, getting me back into the character with an enthusiasm I probably hadn’t had since I was 13.

9207ebce_skyfall25

Bless you, Roger Deakins, bless you.

So with Spectre on the way and my anticipation through the roof, I decided to embark upon a mission of my own: I would watch all 24 official James Bond films (so no Woody Allen and no Never Say Never Again). And I would write something about them — but I didn’t know what. I feel like Bond is such well-covered ground — who is the best Bond (Craig — sorry but this is the correct answer); best Bond girl (Diana Rigg as Tracey, easily); are the movies too sexist (yes, yes they are); have they aged well (some totally, some not so much); who should be the next Bond (pass); etc., etc., etc.

I like to think we are a little more thoughtful here at Fan With a Movie Yammer so in upcoming posts I’d like to address a couple of things that I feel I haven’t read too much about and that can’t be summed up in a clever infographic. In revisiting all the Bond films I noted two things that I’d like to explore in greater depth:

  • Directing in a Bond film — Before Sam Mendes stepped behind the camera, Bond films were typically not known for being director’s pictures. Action-packed they may be, but most Bond films are not particularly nice to look at from an aesthetic standpoint. But there are notable exceptions. This post will speak to composition versus movement in the Bond universe.
  • The cruelty of James Bond — The Bond of Fleming’s novels is quite cold and ruthless, far more so than he is typically shown on screen. But cruelty has its place in the Bond movie universe and it is actually one of the character’s most interesting traits — when it is applied correctly.

But hey, this is me talking about having just watched 24 films, so you gotta rate ’em and rank ’em, right? Damn right! So if you want to see where I stand with the Bond films — and the various Bond actors — you can see below in my handy ranking table of every film. In addition to putting them in order of preference, I have rated each film on a scale from 001 to 007 — although one particular film *cough*invisible car*cough* made me so angry and incredulous that it rated below the actual scale.

Bond by the numbers

1.
From Russia With Love (1963)
007
13.
GoldenEye (1995)
005
2.
Skyfall (2012)
007
14.
The Living Daylights (1987)
005
3.
Goldfinger (1964)
007
15.
Octopussy (1983)
005
3.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
007
16.
Moonraker (1979)
005
5.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
007
17.
License to Kill (1989)
004
6.
Spectre (2015)
007
18.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
004
7.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
007
19.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
003
8.
Casino Royale (2006)
006
20.
Thunderball (1965)
002
9.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
006
21.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
002
10.
  Dr. No (1962)
006
22.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
002
11.
  Live and Let Die (1973)
005
23.
A View to a Kill (1985)
001
12.
  The World Is Not Enough    (1999)
005
24.
Die Another Day (2001)
000

I’m sure people will be shaken (and possible stirred) at some of these rankings and scores, so let me throw a few short explanations out there on the ones I can already see people getting huffy about:

  • Thunderball is tedious and slow, even with a charismatic (albeit super rapey) performance by Connery. Underwater Bond is always a bad idea (except in The Spy Who Loved Me).
  • Seriously, Quantum of Solace is better than you remember. Let go of your expectations and enjoy the artiest and most intense of the Bond films. Also, it helps to watch it right after Casino Royale.
  • Yes, yes, Casino Royale is fantastic — but it goes on too long. The last act in Venice is dull and unnecessary. In the book Vesper just kills herself. I’m not saying movies should stick faithfully to the source material, but that definitely would have been a much better ending than a super-contrived action sequence with henchmen we’d never seen before.
  • I understand that Denise Richards is terrible in The World Is Not Enough, but she’s barely in the movie and Robert Carlyle and Sophie Marceau are great!
  • Moonraker is beautifully shot — seriously.
  • Spectre is better than people think — I will fight you on this.

J. will return in “In Praise of Lewis Gilbert: Composition in James Bond” — or Rashomon, which ever we get to first 😛

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