Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Film Fave #7: From Russia With Love

Shortly before we moved the b&w TV set to the kitchen, we had it next to my mother's sewing table. A local TV station was broadcasting a week's worth of James Bond movies, and since I was an adolescent and peer discussion was important to me, I asked my parents if I could watch this night's 007 offering. I don't know if my father smirked and gave my mother a broad wink, but he might as well have. "Sure," he said. "Why not?"

My mother's sewing machine was busy that night. I crept closer to the TV, hoping to catch the scurrilous bits between the barrage of electronic interference she threw my way. You would think my quest was a futile business, but no. Somewhere between the zig-zags I caught: a woman in a bikini cuddled next to the titular hero; two gypsy belly-dancers, scratching it out for our hero's affections; a girl in the buff rushing to a hotel bed and slipping between the sheets; our hero with the girl on a train, playing at being husband and wife; our hero, delivering a vicious slap to the girl's jaw ... I dunno. There was some fighting and somesuch in there, too.

It's 30 years later, and I can't get over From Russia With Love. To my mind, this is the Bond movie by which the others are measured, and nearly all of them slip well below the standard -- which is curious, because the movie wears its flaws as if they were badges of honour. The special effects are dodgy (you can spot the string holding up the exploding helicopter), the hero couldn't possibly be more sexist (well ... the early Goldfinger scene in which he gives a massage-girl named "Dink" a swat on the fanny is a bit of a topper), the gypsies come straight from central casting (and do a lousy job of fighting). The knife-in-the-shoe is pretty cool, though, and gets a lot of dramatic mileage.

Connery is called the "dangerous" Bond, and in the early films there's no doubt about it. His character straddles a line between irresistable charm and genuine repugnance. He's like a character from a James Salter story: the cad who crashes the party drunk, helps himself to the cognac, and gives the hostess a pinch. He's appalling, but the hostess can't stop thinking about him. Of course the villains are cold and ruthless; worse still, they have impeccable manners.

Bond struts around these stiffs, the embodiment of loose-limbed, hands-in-the-pockets insouciance. And he flips from adolescent id to parental condescension -- usually after there's been a nasty, protracted fight with a Bond Girl's safety at stake. It's irredeemably bad behaviour, with not a trace of reality to be found.

Enlightened men shouldn't enjoy this stuff -- but some of us do. Consider it our Pretty Woman.

Film Fave #6


DarkoV said...

I still wait for one scene wehre the train pulls into a station.
Zagreb is on the station sign. Most kids were looking for the deep breathing and sighing, the wisps of clothing deemed haute couture, the quick glimpse of pale skin, and that Connery smirk/wink. They all knew that his pistol and his bullets were, well, symbloic of his manly load.
Me, I was into signage and glimpses of a country none of my friends believed existed.

Phil said...

You know, when I tried to watch TV with the sewing machine in use, it caused the picture to go all frizzy. I hated that sewing machine.

I once shocked my parents by plumping for Goldfinger over some awful BBC adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid. My dad shouldn't talk. He's the one who got me into these terribly misogynous, reactionary, violent, lovable movies in the first place.

Scott said...

"Enlightened men shouldn't enjoy this stuff..."

Oh, I know. I feel the guilt every time I crack open one of the 15 or so DVD cases I own with a Bond movie in it. He represents the unabashed celebration of heterosexual white male privilege, with the movies often uncomfortably racist (Live and Let Die), homophobic (Diamonds are Forever) and sexist (pick one!) yet I love them precisely because of all their contradictions.

Despite Matt Damon being ridiculously young for the part, I really liked the Bourne movies for featuring a spy character more complicated, humane and angsty than Bond but ultimately, they come up short because, despite every flaw in the Bond movies (and often because of them), they're just more fun! No one really warmed to Timothy Dalton as Bond because he played the character straight and no one wants reality in a James Bond movie -- we want explosions and guns and sexy girls and ludicrous villians and island bases. If we couldn't get it from Bond, we turned to Austin Powers, who did his best to satisfy, baby!

I was annoyed that the Bond producers sacked Pierce Brosnan because, in Die Another Day, he'd finally found his footing -- aging into the part with a wry, weatherbeaten-yet-glamourous charm while leaping from one campy danger scenario to another (too bad about the wretched third act or the movie would've been brilliant!). I hope the new guy works out -- the producers keep promising a 'darker' Bond, which has me both intrigued and wary. As long as the villian plans to take over the world, rather than the Florida drug trade, I'll be happy.

And that's way too much. Enlightened men shouldn't write massive essays on James Bond but I'm glad you did!