Sunday, 17 September 2017

How James Bond appears in reviews of Logan Lucky

The actors who play or have played James Bond are so firmly identified with the role that their appearances in other films, especially those at odds with the adventures of the master-spy, provoke interest and excitement, particularly in the media. Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky is no exception, and many media reviews inevitably mention Bond in some way.


In the film directed by Steven Soderbergh, two brothers – Jimmy and Clyde Logan – attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race with the help of an incarcerated explosives expert called Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig.
 

A trawl through the reviews in the UK newspapers and other media outlets has revealed several references to Bond. Simran Hans focuses on the strangeness of Daniel Craig’s appearance, writing in The Observer that it is ‘bizarre to see Bond with a bleached buzz cut (not to mention a tiny tattoo of a star adorning his left cheekbone)’. Meanwhile, Geoffrey McNab in The Independent highlights Daniel Craig’s Southern accent, remarking that Craig’s ‘drawling accent that reminds you of Sheriff JW Pepper in Live And Let Die’. 
 

Apart from mentioning Daniel Craig’s famous blue eyes, Andrew Lowry writing for Empire magazine suggests that Daniel Craig’s years as Bond have not allowed Craig to demonstrate his fine acting skills: ‘Those blue eyes of his — so cold as Bond — are here bulging with lunacy. He’s hilarious and totally convincing as someone far from the officer-class stylings of his day job; it’s a pleasure to be reminded of what a good character actor Craig can be.’
 

The write-up in the Express takes a similar view: ‘That dinner jacket is such a perfect fit, I’d almost forgotten about Daniel Craig the actor.’ 
 

Other reviewers have detected a certain glee in Craig’s performance in Logan Lucky, which has given him a chance to cut loose from his measured turns as Bond. Rebecca Lewis writes in The Metro that Craig’s casting as Bang flips ‘his most famous role as the cold British spy James Bond on its head’. Charlotte O’Sullivan of the Evening Standard remarks that ‘when in Bond mode he keeps the weirdness under wraps, but for this hillbilly heist comedy he lets it all hang out’. Beyond the UK, Anthony Lane writing in The New Yorker states: ‘so liberated does Craig appear, on a hollering vacation from his stern-visaged duties as James Bond, that his mood exalts the whole enterprise.’
 

It’s not the first time that reviewers have claimed that, away from the Bond films, actors have been able to flex acting muscles that they rarely have the opportunity to exercise as Bond, as if Bond’s tuxedo is more of a straitjacket than dinner-jacket. What’s more, this comes with a sense of liberation in their performances. For instance, in his review of The Tailor of Panama (2001) in The Guardian, Philip French thought that ‘the cleverest trick… is the casting of Pierce Brosnan, who's never been so good’. Ian Nathan reviewing The Matador (2005) for Empire magazine wrote that ‘we’ve never seen Pierce Brosnan so liberated — he’s a man reborn’. (Mind you, Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as Bond had ceased by this point, so possibly there had been something extra in his performance, just to show the Bond producers if nothing else.)
 

While Logan Lucky doesn’t appear to have set the box-office alight, the film has generally been very well received critically. Judging by some of the reviews, it has been difficult for the critics to watch Daniel Craig’s performance without having his most famous role in mind. There is a hint in some of the reviews too that by comparison James Bond is something of a lesser role. This seems a little unfair. After all, Daniel Craig’s Bond films have been critically acclaimed and award-winning, as well as box-office smashes, thanks in part to his abilities as an actor.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Bond - James Bond: a phrase less ordinary

Which is the best-known three-word phrase in the James Bond films? Licence to kill? Shaken, not stirred? Or Bond, James Bond? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. All three are so engrained in the popular imagination, they’re probably as well known as each other. What I can be more certain about is that while all three phrases were introduced by Ian Fleming, it was the film series that gave them prominence and cultural weight.
 

In an earlier post, I discussed the claim that Berkely Mather, one of the screenwriters of Dr No (1962), was responsible for the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’. Given that the phrase appears in various forms in the Bond novels, starting with Casino Royale (1953), the claim is absurd. However, there’s no denying that its use in Dr No was special. After all, it’s delivered by the impossibly cool Sean Connery and is triggered by the James Bond theme.
 
'Bond, James Bond' (Dr No, 1962)
Together, these elements give the phrase value, turning what was an ordinary phrase into something memorable and worth repeating, not just in subsequent films, but more widely in the cultural environment.
 

For Ian Fleming, the phrase ‘Bond – James Bond’ was never intended to be loaded with significance. We can point to two pieces of evidence for this. The first is the Bond books themselves. James Bond uses this form of introduction several times during the course of his adventures. There’s a ‘Bond – James Bond’, or close variant, in, among others, Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Dr No, The Spy who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although this last example is interesting, as Fleming appears to have been influenced by the nascent film series as he wrote it; possibly he thought differently about the phrase by this time).
 

But the surname-first name-surname formula is also used in relation to other characters. In Goldfinger, Mr Du Pont introduces himself with the words, ‘My name is Du Pont. Junius Du Pont’. In Diamonds are Forever, Bond’s told of a cab-driver ‘by the name of Cureo, Ernie Cureo’. In the same book, Bond hears about a hoodlum called ‘Budd, “Rosy” Budd’. I’m sure there are other examples.
 

The second piece of evidence is that the formula is used fairly frequently in other fiction. It’s not often that I don’t have a classic spy novel or thriller (some of which would have been very familiar to Fleming) on the go, and as I read them, it’s not long before I come across another example of the formula.
 

In Hushed Up! A Mystery of London (1911) by William Le Queux, the hero, when asked his name, replies, ‘Biddulph… Owen Biddulph’. (I was, incidentally, rather thrilled that the novel featured a main character who shared my unusual surname.) There are various examples in the works of E Philips Oppenheim. In The Great Impersonation (1920), we have from the main character a ‘My name is Dominey – Everard Dominey’ (twice, in fact). In the John Buchan novel The Three Hostages (1924), Richard Hannay is told by a friend who is assuming a name that ‘my name’s Thomson – Alexander Thomson’.
 

It’s a small point, but the obvious conclusion is that the surname-first name-surname form of introduction was a standard one, certainly in some of the older literature. It seems likely that Fleming applied it to Bond – and other characters – simply as a form of everyday speech with no additional significance. Today, with everyone instantly on first name terms, the formula seems somewhat formal and old-fashioned. In a way, too, the phrase is a victim of its own success. Having become so closely associated with James Bond thanks to the films, it can’t be used seriously anywhere else!

Monday, 4 September 2017

When James Bond met Bridget Jones

You won’t often find me curled up on the sofa reading the latest chick lit, but when a quotation from a review on the back of a novel by Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones’s Diary, claimed that the book was ‘a Bond-style romp,’ I was intrigued enough to acquire the book and start reading.


Olivia Joules in Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (Picador, 2003) is a freelance journalist who writes for beauty magazines and the newspaper style supplements, but aspires to be a foreign reporter. When Olivia is sent to Miami for a face-cream launch, she meets a charming and mysterious man who claims to be a movie producer, but whom Olivia suspects to be an international terrorist. Despite the doubts of her colleagues, as well as her own, Olivia follows a trail that takes her to Los Angeles, Honduras, and Sudan, risking her life, as well as her career.
 

Inevitably, the book contains several nods and references to James Bond. In her hotel room in LA, Olivia dusts the numbers on the combination lock of the safe. ‘Like James Bond,’ she reflects, though ‘James Bond probably wouldn’t have actually given the numbers a silken, light reflecting sheen.’ (Olivia uses Angel Dust face-powder, rather than talcum powder, which Bond uses to dust the locks of his attaché case in From Russia With Love.)
 

Later, when realising that her room’s been bugged, Olivia makes a call to get the details of the Spy Shop on Sunset Boulevard (‘You know, spies? James Bond? Kiefer Sutherland?’), and eventually is kitted up with the latest gadgets, among them a bug detector, an invisible-ink pen, a tiny digital camera, and a ring with a mirror that allows Olivia to see behind her.
 

Back in London, Olivia is met by MI6 officers, and is taken seriously enough by MI6 to be taken on as an agent. On a boat on the Thames on her way to a safe house, Olivia’s heart was ‘leaping with excitement, the James Bond theme playing in her mind. She was a spy! She formed her fingers into a gun shape and whispered, “Kpow! Kpow!”.’ At the safe house, Olivia is introduced to Professor Widgett, a veteran spymaster and Arabist described by Scotland Yard’s liaison as ‘the James Bond of his day’.
 

While there is no Q-inspired character, Olivia is nevertheless equipped with some handy gadgets, cunningly sewn into clothing (the buttons on her shirt, for instance, are replaced by miniature circular saws) or disguised as the typical accoutrements of a handbag (such as a lipsalve that emits a powerful blinding flash). Interestingly, Olivia is also given a belt fashioned from gold coins ‘for buying her way out a mess’, recalling the straps of gold sovereigns hidden in Bond’s attaché case. 
 

Apart from these obvious references to Bond, there are other aspects that are redolent of elements of Bond books, even if the similarities are coincidental. Olivia Joules is working for the Sunday Times, which is the paper for which Ian Fleming worked. There are shades of Vivienne Michel’s story from The Spy who Loved Me in Olivia’s own backstory. Fed up after a series of bad relationships while in her teens, she vows: ‘I’m not going to give a s*** about anything any more. I’m going to be a top journalist or an explorer and do something that matters.’ And like James Bond, Olivia is an orphan, her parents having died in a road accident when she was fourteen.
 

More generally, the book is as globe-trotting as any James Bond film, and, like Bond, Olivia is a keen and proficient scuba-diver. (And yes, there are sharks.)
 

I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Spotting the Bond references are fun, of course, but the book is also an entertaining page-turner. Gadgets, resourceful spies, witty one-liners, narrow escapes, urbane villains, cocktails and romantic entanglements – it's got the lot.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Bond meets Goth - a non-Bondian use of the phrase 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'

The phrase ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, long associated with James Bond, has proved successful enough in the cultural environment to have a life beyond Bond. Ian Fleming used the phrase, or, rather, a version of it, in a letter to fellow author Raymond Chandler in 1956. Fleming suggested that while Chandler's novels were 'sociological studies', his were 'pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety'. Whether Fleming coined the term is uncertain, but it’s possible that the phrase existed in some form before then.

In any case, the phrase became inextricably linked with James Bond during the height of Bondomania in 1964/5. James Bond was known as Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Italian fans (or Japanese fans or the press depending on the account one reads), which inspired John Barry to write a song entitled ‘Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ for Thunderball (1965). 


A variant of the phrase appeared in 2005, though away from the world of James Bond – as the title of Shane Black’s comedy thriller, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. Coincidentally, given the origin of the phrase, the titles of Raymond Chandler’s novels and stories are used as chapter headings through the film.
 

David Leigh, who runs the excellent website, ‘The James Bond Dossier’, recently alerted me to another use of the phrase. Back in the early 1980s, Specimen, a goth band (or what has been described as a glam horror post-punk band – think of The Cure dressed as extras from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), owned and ran the goth club, The Batcave, in London. They played there, too, and one of their songs was called ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’.
 

As with the Shane Black film, this ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ had nothing to do with Bond, although there are hints of the Bond theme in the baseline and a chord progression. This may be coincidence, but then again, possibly not. Have a look at the video and make up your own mind. The song’s not terrible either.
 

 

David has noticed another connection between the Batcave and Bond. Morten Harket, the lead singer of A-ha, who of course wrote the title song for The Living Daylights (1987), can be seen in another video shot at the venue, dancing in glam-goth-inspired attire. Look out for him 5 minutes 35 seconds into the video.
 

 

Many thanks to David Leigh for the information.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

On location: Altaussee, Austria; or a visit to Mr White's house

A summer holiday to Salzburg in Austria allowed me to visit one of the locations used in the last James Bond film, Spectre. The edge of Lake Altaussee, by the alpine village of Altaussee and about one and a half hour’s drive from Salzburg, was the setting for the scene in which Bond visits Mr White. Werner Fischer, one of Eon’s local contacts during the filming of the sequence, was offering ‘In the footsteps of James Bond’ boat tours of the lake, and naturally I booked myself a place on one of them.


My fellow passengers and I had our first treat even before the boat left the jetty. Beside us, moored to another landing stage, was the thin wooden boat that Daniel Craig’s James Bond uses to motor across the lake to Mr White’s cabin.The boat is based on a traditional Austrian craft known as a Zille or Plätte.

Bond's boat in Spectre
As we pulled away from the shore and started to make our way across the lake, we heard some facts and figures about Altaussee. Unfortunately, my German was too poor to understand much, but I got the gist, and in any case, I didn’t need any translation to realise that we were heading towards a wooden building on the far side of the lake that looked rather familiar. In fact, we were following Bond’s course to Mr White’s house.
 
The view towards Mr White's house on the tour (top) and on screen
After a while, the boat pulled up to the jetty beside the building that normally serves as a bar and restaurant. This is presumably closed during the winter, allowing it to double as Mr White’s cabin in Spectre.

 
Mr White's house now (top) and as shown in Spectre
We wasted no time in disembarking and literally walking in James Bond’s footsteps towards the house. Apart from some superficial differences, the outside of the wooden building seemed little changed from its appearance on the big screen. Indeed, traces of the production still remain. The stone footings of the veranda are made of fibreglass and were fitted especially for the scene, and if I understood aright, the chimney was added too.

 
The veranda with the fake stone footings
Entering the building, I saw that the staircase seen in the film is a feature of the property (annoyingly, I didn’t take a photograph).

 
The staircase as shown in Spectre
And there is a further sign that the production crew had been there in the form of two displays of photographs and newspaper cuttings.

 
The displays inside the house
Just before Bond enters the house, we have a view back towards the lake. This shot shows the actual edge of the lake in front of the building.


The view from the house to the lake (not sure where the tree went)
Eventually, we all boarded the boat and returned across the lake back towards the village. As we approached the end of the tour, our guide let us into a secret. Bond alumnus Klaus Maria Brandauer has a house (and boathouse) here. We weren’t told whether he was there during filming, but it’s intriguing to imagine Bond’s reaction if he had bumped into Maximilian Largo, his old sparring partner in Never Say Never Again
 

The boat tour, organised by Altaussee-Schifffahrt, was excellent, although it would have been helpful to have some information at least in English. Nevertheless, if you happen to be in the area, the tour is essential.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

James Bond films referenced in latest VW commercial

The latest Volkswagen TV advert for the Golf GTE looks to two classic James Bond films for inspiration. The ‘Button’ advert, created by adam&eveDDB, promotes the vehicle’s hybrid technology, which allows drivers to combine electric and petrol engines at the push of a button. The advert features a series of archetypal movie villains with their fingers poised over big red button ready to wreak destruction. We then see the car – and its all-important button – in action before the advert ends with the tagline, ‘a more responsible use of power’.

Viewers are treated to a pantheon of villains. There’s sci-fi supervillain on a spaceship who presses the button to fire a laser that blows up a planet, which is an obvious nod to Star Wars. We also see a mad professor straight out of a 1930/40s’ black-and-white horror film, who presses the button to animate his own Frankenstein’s monster. Then there are villains from a 1970s’ blaxploitation-type film, a Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop film, and a Indiana Jones-like adventure. 

Naturally, the film series that defined many of the standard tropes or memes of the movie villain is not forgotten. A man strapped to a near-vertical table is looking at the wrong end of a large laser weapon. A woman in a military uniform is at the control panel and laughs maniacally as she presses the button to fire the laser.

What’s interesting is that the scene draws on two Bond films. The laser and the set clearly derives from Goldfinger (1964). There are shades of Ken Adam’s designs, as the set in the advert replicates the little office, complete with employees and a small set of steps, at the back of the laser room in Goldfinger, the golden-brown colour scheme, and the angular walls and metal supports. The laser weapons are also similar in design, albeit that one has green elements, the other blue.

 
The laser rooms in the VW ad (top) and Goldfinger

The villain is modelled on Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love (1963). She wears a Russian-style military jacket with gold buttons, a light brown or khaki shirt and a brown tie similar to the uniform that Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, wears in the Bond film. Their hair is different, but it’s sufficiently close to reinforce the link.
 
A Rosa Klebb-style villain in the VW ad (top) and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb

VW’s ‘The Button’ ad is the latest in a long line of commercials that reference the James Bond films, despite the products having no connection to them. Back in the 1980s, PG Tips advertised its tea bags with the help of a chimpanzee spy called Bond, Brooke Bond. More recently, Sky Sports enlisted David Beckham to advertise its services in a Bond-style advert, and Jaguar evoked Spectre in its advert for the Jaguar XE. Coincidentally, the Sky and Jaguar campaigns, like that for VW, also focused on the villain, demonstrating that the Bond villain is every bit as enduring in popular culture as Bond himself, and is especially appealing to advert writers.

Friday, 4 August 2017

James Bond and railway station restaurants

We know from Goldfinger and the short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ that James Bond is rather partial to the hotels and restaurants of French railway stations.
 

In Goldfinger, while driving through Orleans in pursuit of the eponymous villain, Bond decides to stop at the Hotel de la Gare and eat at the station buffet. Bond tends to choose the station hotels, we’re told. They were adequate, and ‘it was better than even chances that the Buffet de la Gare would be excellent.’ Just as Bond expects, he finds his room cheap and comfortable, and he is able to eat one of his favourite meals – oeufs cocotte à la crème and sole meunière – in the restaurant.
 

Even in Paris, Bond opts for the station hotel. In ‘From a View to a Kill’, Bond stays at the Terminus Nord opposite the Gare du Nord, which we’re told is the least pretentious and most anonymous of the station hotels in the city, although on this occasion, he decides to eat out.
 
Bond's hotel in 'From a View to a Kill'
James Bond would find a kindred spirit in Walter Hillyard, a character in the 1961 espionage novel, The Arena, by William Haggard. While waiting at Paris’s Gare de Lyon to board a sleeper train destined for Milan, Hillyard visits the station restaurant and orders ‘the set dinner unhesitatingly.’ He reflects that ‘you could eat much better at the Gare de Lyon than at many more famous restaurants,’ adding that there was less fuss in the service too. We’re not told what Hillyard eats, but he orders a bottle of Beaujolais, ‘confident that here at least the label wouldn’t be lying.’
 

Such views are probably all that Bond and Hillyard have in common. Hillyard is a City banker, and is unaware that there is a plot to murder him on the train. There is, however, more of a Bond figure in Major Mortimer, a British secret service agent who’s been keeping an eye on the situation and might just be able to save the day.
 

Is it still the case that station restaurants in France are the best? Was it ever the case? Of course, I can’t comment on all stations, but I can certainly vouch for the restaurant attached to the Gare d’Agen in southwest France, where I once had a superb meal of foie gras mi-cuit and steak tartare. You wouldn’t get that in the chain restaurants and sticky-carpeted pubs typically found in English railway stations. As Walter Hillyard says, ‘nobody in their senses would eat at an English terminus at all.’