Monday, 18 July 2011

Bondscapes: setting the scene for James Bond

In June 2011, the Bilderberg Group, a conference of up to 150 of the world's leading politicians and business people, met at the ski resort of St Moritz, Switzerland. An article on the BBC news website suggested that the meeting was 'in the manner of a James Bond plot'. There seem to be two aspects or memes alluded to here. Firstly, in the secretive nature of the meeting, comprising delegates with the power to influence events on a global scale, there is something a little SPECTRE-like about it. We almost expect the conference to be chaired by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Second, the location is straight out of a Bond film. There are some landscapes that are so strongly linked with Bond that the producers of the films return to them often, and audiences recognise them as part of the Bondian universe. Snow is one of these 'Bondscapes'; underwater is another.

A snow- (or ice-) covered landscape is used as a major location in seven films (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, The World is not Enough, and Day Another Day). The first film to show Bond on the slopes was On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). In the film, Bond pursues (and is pursued by) Blofeld, whose dastardly plot to spread disease through crops and livestock is masterminded in his Alpine laboratory. The film closely follows the novel, and it is evident that the snowy landscape derives from the pages of Ian Fleming.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was Fleming’s only snow-set novel (although the short story 'Octopussy' takes the reader to the Austrian mountains), but Fleming knew his subject well. Fleming, aged 21, learnt to ski to competitive standard during a year in Kitzb├╝hel. He skied rarely in subsequent years, but summers were often spent walking in the Alps. He drew on his knowledge of the region to write On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and it is possible that he was also inspired by an Austrian-set spy novel, The Lifeline, written in 1946 by Phyllis Bottome. She had been Fleming's tutor in Kitzb├╝hel and had encouraged Fleming to write.

Underwater scenes are as important as snow scenes in the film series, finding a place in the plots of six films (Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, Licence to Kill, and Tomorrow Never Dies). The first film to take Bond underwater was Thunderball, released in 1965, although there is a foretaste of the importance of the sea in Dr No (1962) with the eponymous villain’s submerged lair. As with the introduction of snow and skiing, the use of the seascape in Thunderball is direct from Fleming’s narrative.

The novel was not the first time that Bond had taken to the water. In Live and Let Die (1954), Bond swims underwater among the barracudas to reach Mr Big's hideout, and in the short story 'The Hildebrand Rarity', Bond snorkels in the waters off the Seychelles. The appearance of the sea reflects Fleming’s interests. He spent much of his time in Jamaica during the winter months exploring the waters around his home at Goldeneye, becoming something of an expert in sea life. He took part in a shark hunt, which he found immensely thrilling, and joined the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau on a survey of the ocean floor.

We can see, then, how the snow-set and underwater scenes in the Bond films have a lineage that goes back to Ian Fleming's writing, and beyond to his experiences and interests. Each appearance of snow or water in a film increases the chance of these Bondscapes appearing again in a subsequent film, further strengthening their association with James Bond. And the producers of the films certainly know what makes those scenes so memorable: exciting ski chases, bizarre deaths, strange landscapes, sharks, and more sharks.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner Publishing

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