Friday, 20 March 2015

The Day of the Dead and other festivals in the Bond films

This week the Spectre production crew moved to Mexico to start filming more key scenes, including part of the film's opening sequence, which, as revealed by an official tweet, will recreate Mexico's famous Day of the Dead festival. 
The Bond films have developed something of a tradition of incorporating celebrations and festivals from around the world. Let's look at some examples.

Junkanoo (Thunderball)
The Junkanoo is a street parade of highly decorated floats, percussion-based music and exuberant dancing seen in the Bahamas each year on Boxing Day. James Bond gatecrashes the celebrations in Thunderball when he attempts to lose Fiona and Largo's henchmen, who are in pursuit, in the crowds. Bond is shot in the leg and trails blood, which leads Fiona to the Kiss Kiss Club where Bond is hiding. The tense sequence terminates with one of Bond's best lines in the film series: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead.” It is said that some of the participants in the Junkanoo decorated their floats with Bond-inspired designs, and Bond's code, 007, can apparently been seen. If so, I have not spotted it yet.

The origins of the festival lies in the late 16th and early 17th century, when plantation owners in Jamaica and the Bahamas gave their slave-workers three days off at Christmas. Festivities developed, and may have included the wearing of costumes and masks and stilt-walking. The Junkanoo eventually died out in Jamaica after the abolition of slavery, but continued in the Bahamas.

The modern festival is celebrated throughout the island, but the biggest celebrations are conducted through the streets of Nassau. The main element of the Junkanoo is a parade, which is populated by thousands of participants organised into 'crews', who compete for cash prizes for best float, costume and mask. The parade, dancing and (goombay) music continue through the night and ends at dawn.

Rio Carnival (Moonraker)The carnival backdrop and its samba soundtrack helps raise the suspense in the scene in Rio de Janeiro where Jaws, clad in an outlandish carnival costume, makes his way down a narrow street towards Manuela, who is transfixed by fear at the approaching threat. As Jaws reaches her and is about to give her the 'kiss of death', revellers tumble out of a bar and sweep Jaws up in their dancing, thus rescuing Manuela.

The Rio Carnival takes place over the five days in February or March before Shrove Tuesday. It has its origins in the 17th century-tradition of estrudos, when the inhabitants of the city would run riot through the streets pelting passers-by with foul substances. These festivities were eventually banned, but not before the wealthier inhabitants had begun to organise masked balls and float parades. Meanwhile, samba schools emerged in the working-class areas of the city and these played an increasingly significant role in the evolution of the pre-Lent festivities.

The modern carnival parade, characterised by extravagant costumes, thousands of dancers, and pulsating rhythms, developed as a competition between the Grupo Especial, or elite samba schools, but carnival-goers can also enjoy street music provided by blocos and bandas, and balls held in hotels and other indoor venues.

Palio di Siena (Quantum of Solace)
James Bond finds himself among the crowds enjoying the horse racing of the palio di Siena as he pursues Mitchell, M's bodyguard who is revealed as working for Quantum. A shot is fired and someone in the crowd is hit, but Bond does not hang around as he continues to give chase with chaos developing around him.

The palio di Siena is held twice a year in July (Palio di Provensano) and August (Palio dell'Assunta), and combines white-knuckle horse racing with religious observation and festivities. It began in the 14th century with horse races around Siena's squares organised by the city's wards or contrade. In the 18th century, the numerous contrade were reduced to seventeen, and it was also decreed that no more than ten contrade could participate in palio. Today, the races are still restricted to ten contrade, whose colours are worn by the bareback riders.

The Day of the Dead (Spectre)
Day of the Dead, Coyoacan (Photo: Christine Zapata Perez)
Mexico's Day of the Dead is a two-day festival held on 1st and 2nd November. It is said to combine Aztec beliefs that the dead returned to visit their loved ones at the end of the harvest season with the Christian (and ultimately pagan) traditions of Halloween and All Souls' Day on 31st October and 1st November, which reached Mexico with the Spanish Conquistadors.

Today's festival is celebrated both in the home as food and drink and prayers are offered to deceased family members and ancestors on make-shift altars, and outside. People's front doors and paths around homes are painted and heavily laden with flowers and food, including Pan de Muerto, the bread of the dead; markets stalls sell edible skulls and ghoulish decorations, and streets are lined with marigold petals, which lead inhabitants to cemeteries, where families hold all-night vigils – and, effectively, picnics of tortillas and other treats – at the graveside. Throughout, there is a street-party atmosphere, characterised by music and much tequila-drinking.

How might the Day of the Dead be seen in Spectre? We will certainly see lots of papier-mâché skeletons (do these inspire the name of the organisation which gives the film its title?), which have become a symbol of the festival. The action may take us to a cemetery, or through bedecked streets and markets. In any case, the Day of the Dead will give the film a macabre backdrop that will be highly redolent of the Voodoo aspects of Live and Let Die, a film which director Sam Mendes has repeatedly referenced.

The use of traditional celebrations and festivals in the Bond films (we could also include, among others, the jazz funerals of New Orleans seen in Live and Let Die, or the bull-fighting shown in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) serve to enhance the spectacle and exoticism of the films, increase the tension and suspense of the scene with the juxtaposition of the celebration and the threat, and at the same time help ground the films in a degree of reality. While EON's tweet revealed something of a spoiler, I cannot wait to see how the events of the opening sequence will show the Day of the Dead.

World Party: The Rough Guide to the World's Best Festivals, London (2007)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

BOND: An Unauthorised Parody, by Gavin Robertson - a review

Recently Gavin Robertson's one-man play, BOND: An Unauthorised Parody, came to Holton village hall in Oxfordshire. Being fairly local, I was able to join the audience and see what was a clever, amusing and affectionate pastiche of the Bond films.

The performance began inevitably with the gun barrel. Dark-suited Gavin Robertson assumed the classic pose, turned towards the audience at the sound of a gun firing, and stepped through a minimalist set of three six-foot rectangular frames to launch into a sequence of dancing women and leaping Bonds so familiar from Maurice Binder's titles, all brilliantly suggested by Robertson's physicality.

The plot concerns a threat to the lives of British agents posed by a silky-voiced, cat-stroking villain. Remind you of anyone? Yes, I thought that too, but things aren't always what they seem. An aged,  out-of-shape Bond – a standard trope in Bond parodies – is summoned, rather reluctantly, by his chief (clearly M, though never identified as such) and tasked with stopping the villain. As Bond nears his goal –  on the way racing to locate and defuse a bomb planted by the villain's henchman, Le Chiffon – he discovers the villain's true identity, and learns that his life is, and always has been, in the villain's hands.

Gavin Robertson pokes fun at many of the standard memes of the Bond films: Bond's flirtatious relationship with his chief's secretary, Bond's suggestively named female companion (Honeydew Melons), Q's workshop, a trick cigarette, Oddjob's hat, the villain's lair, the random appearance of Felix Leiter, the over-elaborate attempt to kill Bond. The Bond references come thick and fast, but there is also room for nods to other film series, among them Mission: Impossible, Rocky and Back to the Future.

If there was a flaw, it's that the play was so fast-moving and the plotting so intricate – Robertson's use of the three frames to create different scenes was ingenious – that the audience had to work hard to keep up. There weren't many guffaws or chortles, but audience members were probably concentrating too hard to laugh. The play was funny, but like any comedy, the laughs would no doubt come with repeated viewings.

The characterisation was very impressive. Gavin Robertson effortlessly switched from character to character and succeeded in making each character as individual as if they had been played by different actors, except in one case, and even then it's part of a joke.

If BOND: An Unauthorised Parody is coming to a venue near you, I suggest you see it, ideally more than once. If you can't see it, then fortunately the script is available to buy from Amazon.

Per Fine Ounce, by Peter Vollmer - a review

What could have been the first continuation James Bond novel - Per Fine Ounce, by Geoffrey Jenkins - has almost mythic status among Bond fans, owing largely to the fact that the manuscript, which was rejected by Glidrose Productions in 1967, is said to contain ideas by Ian Fleming and that no trace of the book, long since lost apart from four pages, has come to light.

While the search for the missing book goes on, South African writer Peter Vollmer has taken up the challenge of writing a thriller inspired by Per Fine Ounce. Unlike the original, however, this version is a continuation novel of Geoffrey Jenkins' own literary hero, Geoffrey Peace.

Is the book any good? Click here to read my review on the Artistic Licence Renewed website, where there's also a very informative interview with author Peter Vollmer.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: from film to book

I popped into a charity shop (thrift store) the other week and saw an audio book version of Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I can't remember the last time I listened to an audio cassette, but I had to buy it, as I couldn't leave a Fleming-related object forlorn on the shelf. Interestingly, the audio book was read by Lionel Jeffries, who played Grandpa in the 1968 film version. Another point of interest was the inlay card, which showed a drawing of the magical car. The drawing was clearly inspired, not by John Burningham's illustrations that accompanied the original publication of the children's book, but by the car that appeared in the film.

That Lionel Jeffries narrates the audio book (published in 1982) is curious given that his character in the film, Grandpa Potts, doesn't appear in Fleming's story. Indeed, if Roald Dahl, who wrote the screenplay, had stuck more closely to his first draft, then Lionel Jeffries might not have appeared in the film at all; Roald Dahl wrote the character of Grandpa into the second draft.

As for the image on the inlay card, the illustration doesn't precisely copy the film car (designed by Ken Adam), but the essential traits or memes of that car are there: the passenger section that re-uses a wooden boat, the long silver cylindrical (or slightly cone-shaped) bonnet secured with a leather strap, the gold-rimmed radiator grille and gold headlamps, and the red-and-yellow-striped wings. The Potts family (actually, the Pott family in the book) in the car looks towards the viewer in a similar arrangement to that shown on the film posters and other publicity material, the only difference being that the family on the inlay card isn't waving. In other respects, however, the families are identical, even down to the clothes.
Covers from the audio book (left) and the 1968 novelisation
It's a similar case with other editions of the novel. In 1968, Collins published a young readers' edition of the book in its 'Beginner Books' series (which includes some Dr Seuss classics). The story was Fleming's, but the car was that of the film. This is not particularly surprising; the film had just been released and Cubby Broccoli's Warfield Productions, which made the film, co-owned the copyright to the edition.
Chitty as shown in Collins' Beginner Books edition
More recently, the illustrations of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang accompanying an edition published by Galaxy in 2002 looked to the film, giving the car a cone-shaped bonnet, the same wing arrangement as Ken Adam's design, and a boat-derived passenger section.
Chitty in the 2002 Galaxy edition
The boat-derived passenger section is also seen on the Chitty that appears on the front cover of a 2005 edition published in the US by Yearling.
Chitty,Yearling edition (2005)
Think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and chances are that the car designed for the 1968 film will spring rapidly to mind. It seems that artists illustrating editions of Ian Fleming's story have been no less susceptible to the influence of the film car, whose attributes have repeatedly found expression in subsequent artwork. However, as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang finds new readers with Frank Cottrell Boyce's sequels to Fleming's original book, it will be interesting to see whether Joe Berger's illustrations, which owe more to Burningham than Broccoli, change people's perceptions of the magical car.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spectre or SPECTRE?

How should we write the name of the 24th James Bond film? That's easy, surely: SPECTRE (that is, entirely upper case letters). That's how the name was revealed at the official launch of the film in December last year and expressed on the teaser poster. And yet, read any report about the production of the film in the printed or online media and you will invariably see the name given as Spectre. Which is correct? Is there a distinction to be made? Does it matter how the name is written? Let's consider the evidence.

Dealing with the obvious point first, SPECTRE is an acronym, standing, of course, for 'The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion'. This is the precise form given in the first edition of Thunderball (1961)), and throughout the book, SPECTRE is capitalised.

Perhaps being used to seeing the name shown in this form after reading and re-reading the Bond books countless times, I have also tended to capitalise the acronym in my blog posts and tweets, and in that I'm in good company. The official James Bond 007 website gives the name in capitals, as do leading websites devoted to James Bond films, among them MI6: The Home of James Bond 007, The James Bond Dossier,, The James Bond International Fan Club, and The Spy Command.

In contrast, the name of film is often shown in the UK press and other media outlets with only the initial letter capitalised. Empire Magazine gives the title as Spectre in its special feature on the film in its current issue, and this was the form given in last week's features on Monica Bellucci in the 'Style' section of The Sunday Times and the 'Event' section of The Mail on Sunday. The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Guardian and the BBC news website also use this form. The Metro printed the title as 'The Spectre' on 19th February, but given the definite article in the acronym's expansion in Thunderball, I'm not sure whether the editors of that paper were not technically correct!

So who's right? Is it Spectre or SPECTRE? Well, it depends. From a grammatical point of view, the former tends to be preferred. According to Oxford University Press (publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary), “acronyms which are pronounced like words...tend to behave like words,” being entirely or partially lower case (eg Unesco, radar, Aids, Nato, Nasa). The BBC style guide offers the same advice, and probably other media organisations take a similar view. On that basis, we should be writing the name of the 24th Bond film as Spectre.

But go to the official websites of Unesco, Nato and Nasa and you will find that the acronyms are fully capitalised. From a corporate perspective, then, we should opt for SPECTRE. (Not being members of SPECTRE, we perhaps needn't worry about this, but a legal statement by LEGO advising people of the proper use of the word LEGO – Legos is discouraged – shows how sensitive corporations and organisations are to brand consistency and protection.)

Empire magazine makes an interesting distinction. In its feature, the name of the film is Spectre, but the organisation is SPECTRE. This approach seems a little fussy, and considering the arguments, I'm minded to adopt the Oxford and BBC style. On the other hand, people tend to be influenced by the behaviours of those around them, and no doubt I'm just as susceptible to this phenomenon (that is after all how aspects of culture – memes – are passed on and spread). My frequent visits to Bond-related sites or reading of Bond-related publications suggest that I am likely to stick with SPECTRE. But this could change if a wider consensus for Spectre emerges!

It seems, then, that there is no right or wrong. So long as the film is being talked and written about, creating interest and a buzz, it surely doesn't matter whether the name is Spectre or SPECTRE.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bond, Brooke Bond: when James Bond sold tea

A recent article on the MI6 - The Home of James Bond 007 website about the James Bond-influenced Milk Tray television adverts in the UK reminded me about another highly successful campaign that looked to the Bond films for inspiration. Between 1956 and 2002, tea manufacturer Brooke Bond ran a series of adverts for its PG Tips brand featuring chimpanzees in anthropomorphic roles. The adverts would show the chimpanzees wearing clothes and performing human actions, usually in humorous everyday domestic or work situations. Inevitably, given the name of the manufacturer and the ever-increasing popularity of James Bond, some of the adverts parodied the Bond films.


Three adverts spoofing Bond were produced in the 1980s. One was in the form of a film trailer. “And now, the films you've been waiting for,” announces the voice-over to scenes of henchmen skating in a winter landscape and an explosion at a villain's mountain lair. “From the files of the British Secret Tea Service,” the voice-over continues before viewers are introduced to a dinner-suited “Bond, Brooke Bond,” and “Bond's boss, Tee.”

Bond's mission is to safeguard the secret of the 'big bag' – bigger tea bags mean more room for the tea to impart its flavour in the teapot – and to help him there a lab-coated character (presumably based on Q), who supplies Brooke Bond with a gadget-converted tea urn. We also see Brooke Bond pursue henchmen in the icy landscape and a naval admiral in Tee's office. The advert ends with a quip from Brooke Bond.

Another advert is set on a smoke-filled railway platform at night; a sign indicates that the station is Istanbul. Brooke Bond is about to board the 'Leyton Orient Express' and approaches a station porter. “We were expecting you,” the porter tells Bond. Suddenly, the porter pulls out a gun and demands the secret from Bond, who disarms him by placing his hat over the gun. “That porter chappie got ideas above his station,” Brooke Bond quips.

A third advert places Brooke Bond in China. Bond is in an interrogation room and is threatened by the villain with being cast into a shark-filled pool unless he reveals the 'big bag' secret.

The three adverts have distinct settings, yet all are recognisably Bondian as they took various aspects of the Bond film series. The first appears to have been inspired by films with notable mountain-set action sequences, particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The admiral may have derived from The Spy Who Loved Me too, perhaps being based on Admiral Hargreaves or Captain Benson. Then there are more general memes, such as the Q character, the dinner jacket, the witticisms, and, of course, the 'Bond, James Bond' expression.

The rail station-set advert is clearly inspired by From Russia With Love (1963), although the “we were expecting you” line has a later introduction in the film series, not being uttered by the villain until Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

The third advert draws largely on SPECTRE-based memes – the shark pool from Thunderball (1965), the mountain lair of You Only Live Twice (1967) and the interrogation room of Dr No (1962); that is, the sparsely furnished ante-room with the circular grille in which Professor Dent 'warns' Dr No of Bond's presence.

Brooke Bond's set of Bond-influenced adverts demonstrate the diversity of the Bond series and significance of key films, among them From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Memes expressed in those films gained and retained their cultural currency by being replicated and adapted well beyond cinematic release, and indeed continue to have cultural resonance

Friday, 13 February 2015

From Thunderbird to Thunderball to Bond: what Ann called Ian

Classic 1956 advertisement for the Thunderbird
In an article published in the Spectator in April 1958, Ian Fleming revealed to readers that he was in love with his car. A Ford Thunderbird, to be precise. Fleming bought the car some two years earlier (for the sum of £3000), and could not get enough of its reliability, acceleration, economy, and streamlined looks.

His wife Ann was not so enamoured about the vehicle or Ian's enthusiasm for it, however, and complained that riding in the passenger seat gave her neck ache. Ian was so preoccupied with the Thunderbird that Ann began to refer to Ian as Thunderbird in her letters to her close friend, Evelyn Waugh. For example, she signed a letter dated May 1959 as Mrs Thunderbird, and wrote in another, dated July 1960, that “Thunderbird thundered into an ice-cream van.” Occasionally Ann abbreviated Thunderbird to T-B or Thunderb., but generally continued to use the name until Ian's death in 1964.

This was not Ann's only pet name for Ian Fleming. Inevitably, Ann's names began to reflect Ian's burgeoning success with James Bond. During her stay at Goldeneye early in 1961, Ann mentioned in a letter to Evelyn Waugh that she “found a giant octopus” and “fetched Thunderball expecting him to collect it.” Curiously, a month earlier in letter to Waugh, Ann wrote, “I shall refuse to be moss on a thunderball,” evidently playing on the expression 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

It is little wonder that the title of Ian's ninth Bond novel had been on her mind; at the time Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh, she had been living with Thunderball well over a year. In early 1960, Ian wrote his first draft of the novel, which was based on film scripts written in 1959. The novel was to be published in March 1961.

With Ian Fleming's increasing success and fame, particularly following President Kennedy's inclusion of From Russia, With Love in his top ten books in 1961 and the cinematic release of Dr No in 1962, came another pet name. In a letter to Evelyn Waugh dated February 1964, Ann wrote, “At least I have persuaded Bond to give his public a rest,” and later that month, wrote again to Waugh to say that, “The Gleaner newspaper gave a luncheon party for Beatle Bond.” The names reflected the view, expressed by Ian Fleming himself as well as others, that there was much of Fleming in Bond, while Beatle Bond acknowledged the coincidence of two cultural phenomena – Beatlemania and Bondmania.

Meant as private jokes between close friends, Ann Fleming's pet names for Ian Fleming chart changing preoccupations and cultural events and offer a fascinating insight into Ann's attitude towards Ian's interests and the rise of the James Bond phenomenon.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Fleming, I, 1958 Automobilia, The Spectator April 1958