Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bond... Sir James Bond

The 24th “official” James Bond film, Spectre, is to be released theatrically later this year (two other Bond films – one of which starred Sean Connery himself – were produced other than by the Broccoli family). 

Completely gratuitouis.

Francois Truffaut, the late French film director (who is probably best known in the English-speaking world for his role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), expressed his derision at the Bond series.  A few years before he died in 1984, Truffaut claimed that up to the very first Bond film in 1962, "...the role of the cinema had been by and large to tell a story in the hope the audience would believe it... For the first time throughout the world mass audiences were exposed to what amounts as a degradation of the art of cinema, a type of cinema which relates neither to life nor the romantic tradition but only to other films and always by sending them up."

However, the character of James Bond is a “spy” or “secret agent” in name only. The role he actually played was that of a lancer, a modern knight-errant. 

That is to say, the Bond stories are not based on the actions of the real mounted warriors of the Middle Ages. 

James Bond instead takes its real inspiration from the medieval romances that came to be written about real knights.

(Interestingly, the word "knight" itself comes from a Germanic term meaning "servant").  

Bond is sent on missions for Her Majesty’s Secret Service — exotic outlands in search of villains who, due to sci-fi technology, have the powers of a dragon or some mythical creature from medieval legend. 

Bond in his travels encounters myriad henchmen and, inevitably, falls captive to one or more of them, in order to be delivered to the Dark Knight in his lair. 

Knightsh of the Roundtable.

These sequences have been often lampooned in popular culture: instead of dispatching the spy-errant quickly and cleanly with a bullet to the head, the chief villain always chooses to murder James Bond with the longest, most drawn-out method possible.  
However, this method of execution also gives Bond the opportunity to escape death again and again. What sense does it thus make? In the real world, none. 

But these scenes are a throwback to the torturous ways of execution used by medieval authorities, which were always threatened against the hero in the old Romances, and from which the latter always managed to escape. 

Wikipedia notes, “The climax of most Bond films is the final confrontation with the supervillain and his henchmen, sometimes an entire army of cohorts, often in his hard to reach lair. While the novels typically climax with a terrible ordeal for Bond — usually a heinous torture, which he survives to then confront the villain for the last time, the films have tended to tone down the violence/sadism of the last act, preserving the inventively gruesome fate for the villain and leaving Bond conspicuously intact.” 

James Bond — agent 007 — has a “licence to kill.” But remarkably, in spite of the character’s reliance on high-tech gadgets and weaponry, there is one weapon that Bond rarely makes use of: firearms. 

This is in spite of the fact that each and every James Bond film has been introduced with the “gun barrel sequence”, when, as described by Wikipedia, the character “is viewed by the audience through the barrel of a gun trained on him by an unknown assailant. Bond wheels around and shoots directly at the gun/viewer, followed by the assassin's blood spilling down the barrel/screen.” 

In some of the movies in the Bond series, it may be the only time that the main character is witnessed firing a gun of any kind. Usually, struggles between himself and the villain’s henchmen are fought hand-to-hand, or even (tellingly) with edge weapons: knifes, swords, and so on. 

Such fight sequences harken back to the medieval Romances, as well, as does another inevitable facet of the Bond story — his wooing and bedding of the various ladies-in-waiting he encounters in his travels. 

The black lord’s lair may be a compound on a deserted island (as in the first film, Dr. No, and in fact, in a later film, too, the Man With the Golden Gun, from 1974), or indeed underwater (as in the Spy Who Loved Me, from 1977), or even outer space (Moonraker, two years after that), but it is always just the substitute for a castle-fortress. 

Even the sci-fi aspect of the Bond series, harkens back medieval-Romantic themes. The master-technician (code-named “Q”), is presented as a grizzled old Merlin, always ready to demonstrate the magical powers of the latest hardware to a bemused 007. 

No doubt, Ian Fleming, the ex-spy who wrote the original Bond novels, along with the Bond filmmakers were unaware of their use of medieval-romantic tropes in this fashion. 

The first Bond film premiered in the second year of the Kennedy presidency. Although the term “Camelot” was never used before the assassination, John and Jacqueline Kennedy were always regarded in blue-blood terms: the president’s Secret-Service code-name was Lancer, for example. 

Although Kennedy was scarcely the athletic paragon of his public image, he seemed a man quite like James Bond; he is probably the only president that anyone could imagine as a secret agent. Of course, his assassination has been subject to conspiracy narrative of a kind very like that found in spy novels. 

The next 007?  Well why not?

The Bond series itself is now in its second-generation: the current actor, Daniel Craig, is the first of seven to have been born following the premiere of the first Bond film. It has evolved from a “spoof” into something like a drama-adventure. Craig’s portrayal is, as well, “straight”, without the smirks and winks of the Roger Moore years. 

This was the trend as well even with the previous actor to play Bond, Irishman Pierce Brosnan. From the first film, the opening credits of Bond movies have consisted of a fantasy sequence, usually related in some way to the theme of the picture. 

Invariably, too, this would include naked or very scantily-clad women in silhouette, who are (for example) pointing, firing or being fired from the barrels of guns (as in Man with the Golden Gun), or swimming amongst octopuses, which are also in silhouette (as in Octopussy), or floating through outer space on a star background (Moonraker), and so on. 

Again, these opening sequences are always preceded by a short intro, during which James Bond would find himself in deadly peril, only to undertake some miraculous escape, to finish off or elude his opponent in turn. 

In one of the Brosnan pictures though, James Bond finds himself confronted by enemies as usual in the intro, a situation from which he does not escape. 

The opening credits then show a naked and shackled Bond being tortured and mistreated by his captors, the Communist Chinese, employing the same sorts of effects that were used in the silhouette go-go dancer sequences of past Bond adventures. But at the same time, this Bond film featured Brosnan sneaking up to the black knight’s fortress by means of an invisible car.

It seemed that, with the ascension of Craig to the role, the Bond franchise was leaving behind its medieval roots.  But increasingly with each entry, the Craig Bond is going back to the source. 

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