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David Thompson
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September 05, 2012

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sackcloth and ashes

I would have been grateful not to have received an audial reminder of Madonna's execrable theme for 'Die Another Day'. But thanks otherwise, David.

Sam

"The palaces and boudoirs of espionage!"

That's my lunch hour sorted.

rjmadden

David,

'Beat Girl' (AKA 'Wild for Kicks') 1960

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnigsDtAW0g&feature=player_detailpage

David

I now feel thoroughly switched-on and groovy.

David Davis

Yes, actually a lot of us are Bond fans. It doesn't really matter who wrote what: they were all good and appropriate in a musicological sense, with the possible exception of "Die another Day" as already described by another writer here.

sackcloth and ashes

Aside obviously from the main theme, the music mattered a lot when it came to the Bond films. To take an example, 'Goldeneye' is the best of the Brosnan Bonds, but the score by Eric Serra is quite frankly piss poor. David Arnold did a lot better by trying to emulate the feel of the old John Barry soundtracks.

Monty Norman deserves the credit for the theme tune that practically everyone on the planet (outside North Korea) knows, but I also like the '007' theme that featured in all of the Connery films from 'From Russia With Love' to 'Diamonds Are Forever', and which briefly appeared in the otherwise execrable 'Moonraker'. A reminder is linked to below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46Zp3eBsJc4

To describe what Barry could do with a film is almost impossible. So the best way of illustrating it is by providing the necessary clips for the pre-title sequence and the opening credits for 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. Try and keep a chill from travelling down your spine when the Moog synthesise kicks in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1oE90l5C9c
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8XNBpIkQpU

David

It’s hard not to be impressed by the series’ longevity and capacity for renewal. As a child, the Bond films I remember being dragged to see were The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, both of which are pretty awful, and the Moore and Dalton films were ignored as much as possible. But I watched GoldenEye on TV and realised they’d improved quite a lot. The addition of Judi Dench seems a very good move and I keep feeling she ought to have a bigger role. Now I look forward to Bond films in a way I never did as a teenager.

Of course, not everyone approves.

sackcloth and ashes

Yes, David, I remember that eunuch Hobson's rant. The thing that strikes me about the entire series is how often the Bond girl is actually a key player and a crucial ally to 007, playing an active role in assisting him and often saving his life. Bond girls can be quick-witted, courageous and tough, whether they are fellow secret agents (Aki, Kissy Suzuki, Wai Lin, Jinx, Camila Montes), amateurs who rise to the occasion (Teresa di Vicenzo, Kara Milovy or Natalia Simonova), or baddies who change sides (Pussy Galore).

What's also striking about the novels is that Bond's actual attitude to women is less chauvinistic than his detractors claim. In 'Diamonds Are Forever' he has a crisis of conscience over his relationship with Tiffany Case, and wonders if it might harm her emotionally (Case is a far more complex character in the novel, whose misandry (originating with a gang-rape by mobsters) is overcome by her love for Bond). 007 might have announced Vesper Lynd's suicide in 'Casino Royale' (in the book as well as the film) with the words 'The bitch is dead', but he is clearly upset at her death (and Lynd herself is a nuanced character whose actions have mitigating circumstances). And then of course there's his breakdown after the murder of his wife at the end of 'OHMSS'.

And then of course there's John Le Carre's description of Bond as a 'neo-fascist gangster', who was morally indistinguishable from any KGB thug:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/jamesbond/7948363/James-Bond-was-a-neo-fascist-gangster-says-John-Le-Carre.html

But as any fule kno, Bond is like Omar from 'The Wire' in that he 'never puts his gun on a citizen'. In the books he hates SMERSH/KGB agents because they will kill innocent people in cold blood, and in 'The Man with the Golden Gun' he deliberately forgoes a chance to shoot Scaramanga in the back of the head because it was the kind of cheap trick a Gestapo or Soviet agent would do. In the films Bond takes on big business megalomaniacs who want to take over or destroy the world, an organisation of thugs, killers and terrorists (SPECTRE) and drug dealers. Maybe his critics think that this is morally on a par with murdering someone like Georgi Markov, but I beg to differ.

Interestingly enough, 'Quantum of Solace' almost read like a Guardian-readers wet dream, as the villains were a conglomerate of bent magnates co-operating with the CIA (boo hiss) to overthrow a leftist Latin American leader who believed that his country's resources belonged to his people. Maybe that's why the film wasn't all that good ...

David

Sackcloth,

“And then of course there’s John le Carré’s description of Bond as a ‘neo-fascist gangster’…”

Can’t say I see the “neo-fascist gangster” bit, though I’m not familiar with most of the books. I suppose le Carré might have been miffed that the Bond franchise pleases a much larger audience and makes a lot more money. He does have a point when he notes, or rather complains, that Bond is “a man entirely out of the political context. It’s of no interest to Bond who, for instance, is president of the United States.” But surely that’s part of the appeal and an explanation for the series’ longevity? Any politics in the Bond films is usually broad and incidental – a simple plot device or a pretext for urgency. And if Bond were more realistic – more like an actual spy – the films would be much, much duller.

It’s a bit like complaining that Bruce Wayne doesn’t behave like a real-world billionaire.

carbon based lifeform

Bond is more like a super-hero than a spy. He's Britain's Batman.

sackcloth and ashes

@ David

One of the points that le Carre missed (accepting that the interview was in 1966) was that in 'Moonraker' Bond ends up confronting a genuine neo-Nazi, Hugo Drax.

And the idea that 007 is 'a man entirely out of the political context' is utterly absurd. He is a Cold War character whose creator drew a counterpoint between the democratic West and the totalitarian Soviet bloc. Later novels also explicitly recognised both the realities of Britain's decline as a world power ('You Only Live Twice') and of decolonisation and independence ('The Man With the Golden Gun').

The films made SPECTRE a more prominent antagonist because of detente, and their content acknowledged the realities of the Sino-Soviet split and the dangers of a nuclear war. So Bond has 'a political context', even if it's not one that le Carre liked.

As for the contrasts between Fleming and le Carre, I enjoy both sets of novels (or rather, I enjoy the le Carre novels written before 'The Constant Gardener') accepting that they present completely different strands of spy fiction. If the crime fiction genre can incorporate Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, Henning Mankell and Lee Child then there's place in the spy thriller category for both Smiley and Bond to exist.

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