Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What should we do with this "Bond" guy?

He's a bit of rough trade, is Daniel Craig. A lot different than Pierce Brosnan—who I liked more and more, but who was fatally undermined by his too-convincing turn as the foppish Remington Steele. Timothy Dalton was peevish—the sort of Bond who'd look at his watch and exhale noisily: A good actor, but no generosity of spirit. Roger Moore was probably closest to Ian Fleming's Bond, but he had no edge—and after Connery, no edge meant no sexual threat. And as Moore got older and fatter and looked less and less like his stunt double, he became the drag-show Bond--pure camp.

David Edelstein heralds the (yet-to-be offically announced) new James Bond, and neatly sums up the deficiencies of the last three, here.

It seems to me the "other" David (Denby) proclaimed that each generation took to the Bond it was first exposed to. I'm not entirely sure that is indeed the case. The first Bond I was exposed to, albeit vicariously, was Roger Moore. When I was a wide-eyed sprat, I listened as an older cousin regaled me with the closing details of The Man With The Golden Gun -- I was particularly impressed, as was my cousin, with the image of a statue slowly turning toward the villain, then drilling him with a single shot.

I didn't see a Bond movie until several years later, when my parents agreed to let me watch From Russia With Love, broadcast at prime time during a Thursday night (whenever I received approval to see something of dubious morality, my mother inevitably set up her sewing machine and got to work. Every time that blasted machine chugged away on a hem or a seam, it effectively operated as censor by running electrical interference with our little b&w TV's rabbit ears. Catching illicit thrills has never been more nerve-wracking). After all the Roger Moore photos in Time and billings in the local newspaper's "movie" section, I was non-plussed to see a somewhat "irregular"-looking Bond, as played by Connery.

This was not the only disconnect I experienced. Thanks to schoolyard hearsay, I was by now very familiar with Bond gadgetry -- wristwatches with circular saws, cars with ejection seats, helicopters that came in a suitcase, etc. This movie offered only a briefcase with a knife and a gun. I'd been told Bond was a seducer of women. This Bond was suspicious and mean, and didn't mind giving poor Tatyana, the gorgeous Russian dupe (and the sexiest of the Bond girls, for my money), what Ian Fleming would call "a smart cuff to the mouth", making do with such slight satisfactions until he could deal fatal harm to the movie's real villainess Rosa Kleb. Even with my mother's sewing machine censoring out the worst of the movie, I hardly knew what to make of this Bond. I wanted to like him, but he came across as a smarmy, bullying pussy-hound -- more or less a horrid combination of Clinton and W's worst personality flaws.

I didn't see Bond on the silver screen until I was in my early teens: Moonraker -- at that time the lamest of the Bond offerings. My friends seemed to think the previous movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, was the best of them all, and that the franchise was unlikely to ever repeat such a coup of thrills. When I finally saw it, I found my patience tested: I could buy into a high-performance car inexplicably rigged to double as a submarine, but what was an electro-magnet doing in a shark tank? Even Roadrunner cartoons had greater consistency (and entertainment value).

Still, I kept watching the Bond films, new and old, because the more I saw, the more I really, really wanted to like them. For Your Eyes Only probably came closest to my ideal, with a Bond who was still lean and had the capacity to be cruel, and who actually proved himself capable of charm and seduction. There were gadgets (sharks with homing devices!) and thrills. And yet the experience felt strangely flat.

I finally went back to the movie that got me all geared up on Bond: The Man With The Golden Gun. That flick is just plain weird. The narrative has no logical flow whatsoever. Kung-fu challenges, cosmetic third nipples, solar power that threatens to undo the world, a chaw-gulping redneck in Japan, an AMC dealership in Japan(!!) -- by the time you tally up all the absurdities, throwing in Brit Eckland and Herve Vallechez is almost like adding water to the broth. Still, in its very bizarreness it manages to highlight what makes James Bond appealing to a prepubescent kid. The adult world is freaky and deranged, making little intuitive sense, particularly where sex is concerned. There's danger everywhere, and anywhere you have rules, you have people defying the rules and gaining entire kingdoms in the process. So an amoral agent is introduced, to wreak customized havoc and bring a shard of resolution and safety to a cosmic experiment that threatens to spin out into entropy. It's so crazy, it just might work!

I doubt it matters who the next Bond is. Right now the movies feel dated and square the second they hit the screen. I think the only tactic that could inject new life into the franchise is, ironically, a return to its origins: the 1960s, when global nuclear war seemed both unthinkable and unavoidable, so we had to come up with something even crazier, called SMERSH or SPECTRE. Return to the skinny black ties, the dark suits with narrow lapels, the women with industrial coiffs. Make a commitment to nostalgia, and veer neither to the left nor right, because somewhere in that emotional quagmire is the James Bond who can once again charm, sicken and thrill a movie-going audience.


Cowtown Pattie said...

A return to yester year's bond - I quite agree.

Nobody does it better than Mr. Connery, in my hormonal opinion. SC remains the sexiest man in my fantasies.

And, I neither shake nor stir him...

DarkoV said...

Funny timing. A little bit in today's NYT about the 21st Bond film, "Casino Royale" discusses possible new Bonds. I'd heard that Hugh Jackman (too much of a nut-job), Jude Law (too beautiful; can't see him getting punched), and Clive Owen (Hmmmm, sounds great, but he has some Hugh Jackman in him!?) were considered. But another name came up. Goran Visnjic of Croatia and of "ER" and of the films "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "The Deep End". Yeah, there would not be the authentic British accent. But I notice the wife and many of her friends pause with the clicker when he's on screen. Dark and smoldering, they say. And he's got that killer smile. So, I'll cast my vote for a fellow Croatian. It'd be interesting to have the ultimate British film hero played by a non-Briton.

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - I was trying to find some rhetorical route back to how I still see Connery as the James Bond, and how I think he's the standard to be judged by, but I just couldn't manage it. I'll let your hormones get the last word on that issue.

DV - After watching Croupier and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead I was silently hoping for Clive Owen, myself, but a Croatian? Why not!? The franchise has already had a Scotsman, an Aussie and and Irishman On Her Majesty's Secret Service - why not step entirely outside the Commonwealth for the next one? That would indeed be fresh blood.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Ahh, yes, DarkoV, the hunky Goran! Perfect!

My hormones quite agree...

Whisky Prajer said...

This is as good a time as any to comment on what a terrific little thriller The Deep End is. The final scene between Tilda Swinton and Visnjic is so tragic and so erotically charged, I was caught off-guard as to just how high my own hormones were raging! A wonderful Friday night flick, that.

lindsey said...

Why is Hugh Jackman too much of a nut-job?

DarkoV said...

Hugh Jackman is certainly a major talent. Why do I call him a nut-job? Believe it or not, I wasn't being derogatory. Just looking at some of his films:
X-Men: as Wolverine, he was quite effective as the average paranoid, angry, young man, well except he had a finger nail clipping problem. He was convincing as a jsut-to -the-edge madman; he could have played for both sides.
Van Helsing: Another good costume piece where he could play thing over the top. Quite amusing, although that cape-swinging became a bit tedious.
Kate & Leopold: His hardest role, I think, becasue he was playing so out of type. He had to control himself; his rambunctiousness and his fire. Which is pretty tough when you're playing opposite Meg Ryan. I thought this film would have been the best film to make a judgement as to whether he could do James Bond.

Boy From Oz: On Broadway, as Peter Allen, Hugh Jackman was able to really let loose. As an example, from ( )

"In 2004, Hugh Jackman played the flamboyantly gay Peter Allen on Broadway. He was a huge hit with the women in New Jersey...
"This woman, in the middle of the show, yells out, 'I want to bite your ass!' So I - you know, calling their bluff usually just silences them. Well, this woman - I said, 'Let's get the light on this woman!' Well, in no time, she's down in the front, ready to go [teeth chomping]. So I just hung my butt out over the edge of the orchestra - and she just bit away!"

"One day in 2004, Dominic Dunne attended the final matinee performance of The Boy From Oz on Broadway, starring Hugh Jackman as the flamboyantly gay Peter Allen.
"At one point," Dunne recalled, "he charmed a reluctant Barbara Walters to come onto the stage with him, in spite of her protests. He also summoned Matt Damon, who, though he waved his hands wildly in the spotlight turned on him in order to indicate that he didn't want to go up on the stage, eventually did. Then the two men started to do a lap dance on Barbara Walters, and both of Jackman's guest celebrities, pros that they are, really got into it. It was a high moment. Nobody wanted the show to end, and the curtain calls went on forever. People were crying and hugging the person next to them. It was a fabulous afternoon."

Hardly the behaviour one would associate with Agent 007. Would I go see Jackman in a movie or play? Absolutely. You don't know what he'll come up with. In some ways, he's a more contained Robin Williams, the purest of nut-jobs.

Oh, and one more story, combining "Oz" and "Van Helsing", from ( )
While shooting Van Helsing in Prague, Hugh Jackman (cast as Dracula's nemesis in the heroic title role) was also preparing for his upcoming spot as the flamboyantly gay Peter Allen on Broadway.
"I hadn't done any tap dancing in my life so I had to learn how to tap," Jackman recalled. "I had, in my trailer, this wooden slab. And I was in Van Helsing costume with tap shoes on, tapping away between scenes... I felt this presence behind me and there's Steve [director Stephen Sommers] peering his head in the door, going, 'Do not tell a soul about this - nobody!'"

I know the new 007 has been chosen. What I would have loved to see was for the James Bond thing to go the route of a Guy Ritchie directed version, complete with Vinnie Jones ( ) as Mr. Bond. Or, if not Mr Ritchie, how about Jean Reno ( ). He was fabulous in Ronin, Leon (The Professional), and Les Visiteurs. Wait...he was way over the top there, so Mr. Reno is a nut-job as well.

So, let me do a 180. Maybe a nut-job is what the new Bond should be. Perhaps, Mr. Jackman should be re-considered. And if not for Mr. Bond, perhaps the nefarious nut-job criminal that Aget 007 always has to go up against.

Whisky Prajer said...

I never took Jackman seriously as a "brooder", and now I know why - it seems he doesn't have it in him to brood. Now, Reno as a Bond villain would be tres cool, I would think (provided, of course, he was spared the nasty Bond business of monologing. He'd have to be a man of few words, pretty much like he was in Leon The Professional. That'd be worth the eight bucks, or whatever theatre admission is these days.

lindsey said...

Reno's not handsome enough imo to be Bond, and he's French. Yecch. A French Bond? Abomination. I think there's a difference between Hugh Jackman performer and Hugh Jackman regular person walking down the street. I don't think Jackman being willing to act like an idiot to entertain people makes him a nutjob.

My two rather unorthodox choices are Billy Zane (no, really) and Benicio del Toro. You'd have to clean Benicio up, but he does clean up well.