Saturday, 17 February 2007

buck bonds with 007

Growing up with ...

Growing up in the seventies and eighties, it's inevitable that I grew up with Bond in some way. Bond sign-posted special occasions, such as Bank Holidays and Christmas. There was always a 007 to catch up on or remind yourself of, always heralded with "Bond. Is. Back." It was near enough a patriotic duty to watch the Bond... practically mandatory... and I guess it is still meant to be. I was a kid when I saw "The Spy Who Loved Me," "Moonraker" and "For Your Eyes Only" at the cinema (1977, '79' '81) What do I recall remembering about them? Richard Kiel as Jaws, an arachnid-like underwater base; "Star Wars" tendencies and a "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" security code gag; A parrot and some snow. When you're young, you're quite inoculated to the tackiness of these 007 outings, you go with the silliness and the puns - which I was used to from the "Carry On" films and Saturday night TV. I remember watching "Octopussy" ('83) when it came out, renting it on VHS of course, and watching it maybe two or three times in a week. Dear Lord, how weak and camp it actually turned out to be.

Of course, these weren't my only points of reference for Bond: I knew all the earlier stuff. "You Only Live Twice", for example. I was intrigued at the conundrum of the title, and knew I loved the sweeping strings of John Barry's music and the longing in the theme song. And I loved it equally when the Trash Can Sinatras did a heartbreaking cover of it. I remember thinking Roger Moore was the "funny" bond ... I didn't know what 'tongue-in-cheek' was, but I knew that "From Russia With Love" wasn't it. No, Bond number two related far more to my knowledge of steely, humourless Cold War-esque Seventies thrillers. I knew Bond was exotic, because he travelled and kick butt in countries that were only now being promised to us with the incredible opportunities of Concorde and and developing holiday industries. I knew Bond slept with any attractive woman onscreen and that they all had dirty names, not that I could quite work out why or how. I knew he wasn't part of the real world.

Apart from the mini Austin Martin car I possessed (pop-up bulletproof shield and ejector-seat! - the latter doomed to be lost...somewhere...), I also owned a book of Bond. Probably called "Book of Bond", I forget. It was a book without a wraparound jacket, so I was left with the serious black hardcover to contemplate. Inside, the book was packed with all the things you had to have or do or know to be a spy. I was young and impressionably and took much of this as rote and truth, and it panicked me that you had to have, do or know these things. It was threatening and anxiety-provoking because it seemed to be an analogy for all the adult things I would have to do, and couldn't, and was expected to succeed at. Masculine things.

And Bond is nothing if not an mythical machismo. Being British, of course, it is suave and viper-like. It cuts you down with a deadly karate move and a neat one-liner, set off with either a sadistic smirk or raised eyebrow. And in a suit. It's very British, that. You reserved and repressed yourself until the right moment, and then struck at just the correct point in a surge of precise violence. I'd seen "The Avengers" and I adored "The Prisoner", so I knew all this. Americans, however, were earthier men, in cowboy and soldier outfits, chomping cigars with shark-like teeth a'la James Coburn, James Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Or Magnum P.I. I like, and probably still like Bond best when he is silent, suited and deadly. Bond versus Oddjob... well, that was glorious. Lethal Englishness against the inscrutability of the East.

I also knew that "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was meant to be the crap one, because it had that other Bond who only appeared once. But that's a general fallacy, it seems, and I note a lot of reclamation of George Lazenby's outing in later criticism by more serious aficionados. Truth is, Lazenby does seem to be the perfect embodiment of the morphing from hallowed Connery to variable Moore. He looks and acts like he handle himself in a fight, and yet comes burdened with those puns that diffuse the horror of his murderous manner. "He branched off." Despite this, it was a film that, for all its silliness of brainwashed colour-coded national females stereotypes and so on, tried to have the sharper edge of the first Bonds. Oh yes, and tried to shade him in with an ill-fated wife. Diana Rigg makes the film, and when she turns up late in the adventure on the ice rink and smiles, you realise how sorely she's been missed for the middle chunk. The other fluff can't compete. And Lazenby was unfairly dismissed. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" still seemed to possess the Bond qualities that I liked most: good action; a certain edge of threat, rather than the TV-humour, tacky moments and excesses of, say, "Live and Let Die". Does the franchise's humour and campness increase as Bond's misogyny and sadism falls out of favour towards the Twenty-First Century? And yet Dalton was chastised for returning to the earlier seriousness... Brosnan settled a happy medium.

And now there is that new Bond... with added pain again. It seems this time, it's being embraced. Zero tolerance and no-nonsense retaliation is thoroughly in vogue. The difference is that I have long since stopped being mildly excited at the promise of a Bond. I might go see "Casino Royale", I'm not sure. Last year, I read an A-Z of "Goldfinger", full of details on the development and history of the film, and my curiosity was aroused again. I have decided at some point to add the first three 007s to my collection, but I think my interest proper now in the series ends with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Is Bond evergreen and seemingly endlessly remarkable because the legend and market tells us so? The brand is still strong, and the critics are saying "Casino Royale" 2006 is best one in a long time, and perhaps my curiosity is sparked again...

But really, I was always more of a Harry Palmer guy. Now, that Ipcress dilemma seemed closer to home and far more disturbing for it.

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