Monday, 4 April 2011

The evolution of the James Bond poster

Imagine a British James Bond poster. You’ll probably bring to mind the central figure of James Bond, facing us or body turned to the side, with gun brought close to the face, as if preparing for a duel. No doubt a Bond girl is draped around him, and both figures are placed in front of a montage of action highlights. Bond’s rocket-firing car is in the background, and the head of a Bond villain looks menacingly on the proceedings. Throw in an explosion or two for good measure, and you have some of the more successful attributes or memes (or, rather, variations of the memes for the depiction of Bond, action montage, Bond girl and so on) that form the standard James Bond artwork. Successful, because they have been reused on several poster campaigns, and have also been replicated on posters of films other than Bond. There are other memes, and by identifying how they varied and which variants were favoured and reproduced, and which fell by the wayside and disappeared from view, we can trace the evolution of the Bond poster.

The UK poster of the first Bond film, Dr No (1962), showed Bond in casual repose with a cigarette in one hand and a gun in the other. Half the poster is taken up by Bond girls. Images of action and the villain are somewhat hidden from view by the title. The use of a central Bond figure, the Bond-girl emphasis, and discreetly-placed action/villain motifs survives in the posters for From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967), although with the last mentioned, there are other versions of the poster than give much more emphasis on action, one for instance showing Little Nellie, Bond’s autogyro. The poster for Goldfinger (1963) is different, though, and could be a still from the title sequence (both were designed by Robert Brownjohn). This style was not continued.

The action montage was brought more to the fore with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), while the depiction of Bond girls was restricted to the leading Bond girl, in this case Diana Rigg. This may have been a response to the introduction of a new Bond actor, George Lazenby. The emphasis on action may have been designed to reassure film-goers that this was a Bond film despite the absence of Sean Connery. In any case, the artwork set the pattern for the next nine films, from Diamonds Are Forever (1971) to The Living Daylights (1987). All feature strong actions montages, and central Bond figure with the leading Bond girl by his side (although the poster for Live and Let Die (1973) was reminiscent of the 1960s’ posters in terms of the relatively high number of women it showed).

In a return almost to the early posters, the action montage depicted in the poster for Licence to Kill (1989) was reduced in size and shifted to one end. Much of the poster, however, was taken up by the 007 device (rarely depicted before) with James Bond, this time shown running, placed in front. This was possibly meant to convey the idea of a Bond on his own and impatient for revenge. The use of the 007 device survived the six-year gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye (1995), and was prominent on the GoldenEye poster. Indeed, it was replicated in the posters for every subsequent film. We now see only the head and shoulders of Bond, although the figure is large and dominates the poster. The main Bond girls are shown behind him. These variants were selected for the Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) poster, and to some extent for the Die Another Day (2002) poster, although there Jinx, the leading Bond girl, mirrors the pose given to Bond to indicate an equal status. The poster for The World is not Enough (1999) is closer in style to the Bond posters of the 1970s, with the expression of the variants of prominent action montage and smaller full-figure Bond, clad in Bond girls.

Taking over from Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig brought a brutal and darker style to the Bond films, and the poster accompanying his films reflected this. The Bond of the Casino Royale (2006) poster was depicted with gun in hand and purposeful movement, echoing the poster of Licence to Kill, but also the memes expressed in the posters for the first Bourne film (The Bourne Identity). The action montage was restricted to a single scene central to the film – the casino. Vespa Lynd, the Bond girl, was prominent too, although some posters showed her in front of Bond, while in others she was behind, looming large in silhouette. The poster for Quantum of Solace (2008) replicated the structure of Casino Royale, with the hotel in the Atacama Desert seen in the climax of the film replacing the casino.

Examination of the Bond posters shows that none was designed in isolation. Generally, each poster replicated the memes expressed in the poster of the previous film, and sometimes, if the selection pressure was sufficiently strong, the artwork for films other than Bond. Some variants of the standard memes (background montage, Bond figure and so on) were more successful than others, and these were expressed sufficiently frequently to fix in artists’ and film-goers’ minds the concept of the archetypal Bond poster. And with each subsequent film, they became more dominant in the cultural environment and increased their chances of being selected for the next poster campaign.

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