Saturday 26 November 2011

Quantum of Solace: when 007 met Somerset Maugham

Kingsley Amis described 'Quantum of Solace' (the short story published in For Your Eyes Only in 1960) as 'Maughamish'. Henry Chancellor saw similarities between 'Quantum of Solace' and Somerset Maugham's short story, 'His Excellency', which appears in Ashenden (1928). There is little doubt that Ian Fleming wrote his story in homage to Maugham, as stylistically and structurally the stories are close. More generally, Fleming's cultural environment – the two authors knew each other socially, and Fleming avidly read Maugham's work – made Fleming susceptible to pick up 'Maughamisms' (or Maugham-memes). Let's explore some of the evidence.

'His Excellency' starts, like 'Quantum of Solace', with the main protagonist, Ashenden, reflecting on his invitation to a social meeting with the ambassador of an unnamed country (rather than Fleming's governor of Bermuda) and the prospect of a dull evening. The evening livens up a little when the conversation between Ashenden and the ambassador turns to the subject of Byring, a promising diplomat who is obliged to resign in view of his impending marriage to a woman – a former dancer – ostracised by polite society due to her reputation for a voracious appetite for men and expensive things. There is more than a nod to this in 'Quantum of Solace', which, in its tale of Philip Masters, contains similar themes of a society scandal and a diplomatic career ruined by the actions of a woman from a 'working' background.

The story of Philip Masters is told to Bond by the governor. This device recalls Maugham's story, in which the ambassador goes on to recount to Ashenden the story of another tragic affair of the heart. This story has little in common with that of Masters other than general aspects of love and misery and breaking convention with society. But both the ambassador and the governor draw lessons on life from their tales. The governor devises his law of the Quantum of Solace. When all humanity between a couple has gone, the quantum of solace (the amount of comfort) is at zero and the relationship cannot survive. The ambassador concludes that a relationship based on love is worth pursuing, even if it lasts only a few years, and is preferable to a lifetime of regret within a loveless marriage.

Fleming's short story mirrors Maugham's in one other curious way. As he listens to the ambassador's tale, Ashenden wishes he had moved to a sofa, rather than stay on a hard chair. Bond, on the other hand, is uncomfortable on the sofa, and takes the opportunity of a refill of his brandy glass to move to a hard, upright, chair.

Both stories may also have expressed something of their authors' own turmoils. The law of the quantum of solace could have applied to Fleming's turbulent relationship with his wife, Ann, while Maugham's story could have been a metaphor for his homosexual relationships (forbidden in society and law).

That Ian Fleming would be so familiar with Maugham's work, and therefore think highly enough of it to want to imitate it, is unsurprising, given that the two authors were friends. In a note concerning her travels through Europe, Ann, who spent much time at Somerset Maugham's villa (Villa Mauresque) in the Antibes, south of France, recalls that, in 1954, Ian joined her at the villa and delighted in Maugham's company. Ann thought the two were much alike, not just in their enjoyment of martinis and food, but through 'a basic sadness and a desperation about life.' What is more, Ann thought they both 'regarded women with mistrust'.

Andrew Lycett writes that Fleming and Maugham often played bridge together at the Portland Club in London, and Fleming's Sunday Times colleague, John Russell, thought Fleming had a 'schoolboy idolisation' of Maugham. At one stage, Fleming even offered to run delicate errands for Maugham and become his 'homme de confiance'.

A minor postscript: it occurred to me that, given his penchant for naming his characters after his friends and relations, Ian Fleming did not name the false identity (Mr Somerset) that Bond takes for the train journey in From Russia, With Love (chapter 20) after the English County, but his friend and idol, Somerset Maugham.


Amis, K, 1965 The James Bond dossier, Jonathan Cape
Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: the man and his world, John Murray
Lycett, A, 1996 Ian Fleming, Phoenix

Friday 18 November 2011

Drinking for England: analysis of 007's alcohol consumption

Back in 2009 I analysed the food and eating habits of the literary James Bond. I ignored drinks then, but there's no reason why Bond's drinking habits couldn't be examined using similar statistical methods. David Leigh's Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond provides a quick and comprehensive reference to all Bond's drinks, both in the films and books, and I've been able to turn the information into a useful database.

Let's start with some basic drinking facts. There are a total of 48 individual types of alcoholic drink; 39 of them a
re mentioned in the books, 22 appear in the films. Bond drinks on 147 occasions: 89 type of drinks are consumed in the books, while 58 drinks are taken in the films (not including repetition of the same drink in a single film). The most popular drink in the books is whisky (appearing in 12 books); in the films, the most popular drink is (yes, you've guessed it) vodka martini (12 films), closely followed by Bollinger (11 films, although champagne as a whole is drunk in 19 films). If we include gin martinis and vespers, martinis as a class are consumed in 13 books and 17 films.

The literary Bond takes a more varied range of drinks than the cinematic Bond. An average of 6.8 types of drinks are consumed in the books, compared with 2.6 types of drink per film. This does not necessarily mean that the book Bond is a heavier drinker; the film Bond could simply be drinking the same type of drink on more than one occasion in the same film. Arranging the books in publication sequence, the trend in terms of drinks-per-book is upwards. In Casino Royale (1953), Bond takes 7 types of drink, in From Russia with Love (1957) he takes 9 drinks, and in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), he has 12 types of drink. The number falls back for You Only Live Twice (1964) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1965), at 3 and 2 drinks respectively. The profi
le for the film series is generally flatter. The rate starts low with 2 drink types in Dr No (1962), increasing to 4 drinks in You Only Live Twice (1967). Most films between 1974 and 1999 have one or two types of drink only, but the number jumps to 5 in Casino Royale (2006).

Sometimes there is a run of the same drink in a sequence of novels or films. For instance, the vodka martini appears first in Live and Let Die (1954) and is mentioned in the next five books. Whisky has an unbroken run in the first four novels, then appears intermittently thereafter. There is a short run of whisky in the film series. Dom Perignon has a good film run from Dr No (1962) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) (with three gaps), but is replaced by Bollinger, which has an unbroken run from A View to a Kill (1985) to Quantum of Solace (2008). Presumably thi
s reflects product-placement deals. As noted above, the vodka martini does not feature in every film. However, it appears in every film from GoldenEye (1995) to Casino Royale. For its appearance in GoldenEye, it may have been used to reassert the Bond character after a gap of six years, and it's possible that the martini was used to the same effect in The Spy Who Loved Me. The drink hadn't appeared since Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and the film was released after a three-year gap in Bond films.

Looking at broader drinks categories (beer, champagne, cocktails, spirits (including fortified wine) and wine), cocktails take the highest share of drinks both in the books and films. Thirty-five per cent of drinks consumed in the books are cocktails, compared with 36% in the films. Champagne is the next highest in the films (33% of drinks), but accounts only for 13% in the books. Spirits make a larger contribution to the books (31%), but a relatively small one in the films (19%). Some 15% of drinks consumed in the books is wine, which takes a 9% share in the films. The proportion of beer is small in both the books and films (6% and 3% respectively).

These differences between the books and films are evident when we analyse these data using correspondence analysis. The end product of analysis is the scattergram. Films or books that are similar in terms of the drinks that they contain will occupy more or less the
same space on the plot. Those that are different with regard to their composition tend to be set apart from the others.

On that basis, most of the films are in the top right quadrant of the plot and are strongly associated with champagne and cocktails (mainly martinis). Most of the books are on the left-hand side of the plot and have a much stronger association with wine and spirits than do the films. There are exceptions; a number of films, notably Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, have a similar composition to books in terms of drinks represented and, matching the profile of the literary Bond most closely, are grouped with the books We can also note a group of books and films in the bottom right quadrant that are more strongly associated with beer, compared with other books and films.

What the correspondence analysis shows is that the film Bond and book Bond have separated in terms of their drinking identity. With the use of the vodka martini and champagne, the film Bond's drinking habits clearly derive from the books, but the dominance of cocktails and champagne, at the expense of spirits and wines (which have a stronger emphasis in the books), shows that those drinking habits have diverged from the habits of the literary Bond. And with each film, which nearly always inherits the martini and champagne memes from the previous film, this identity becomes increasingly deeper rooted, fixing these drinks associations firmly into popular culture.

Mind you, the exceptions are interesting too. The classes of drinks represented in the films Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service very closely match the drinks represented in the films' literary counterparts (as shown on the scattergram). It's probably no coincidence that for both films, the film-makers deliberately returned to the novels to bring the films back to Fleming basics. From the evidence of the alcoholic beverages, they succeeded.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Skyfall: would Ian Fleming have approved?

The title of the 23rd EON-produced Bond film was revealed on Thursday 3rd November at the official press-conference. As producer Michael G Wilson observed, the title was the worst kept secret in London, as fan sites and the media were already buzzing with the rumour that Skyfall was the name of the film. And so it was. With little of the plot details revealed, Skyfall has induced an amount of head-scratching among commentators about its meaning, but on the face of it seems Bondian enough. The name is not taken from a Fleming work, but would Ian Fleming have approved of it nonetheless?

Skyfall is the first one-word title since GoldenEye (1995). Does this and the other one-word titles give us a clue about Skyfall's meaning? Skyfall could be a villain's name in the manner of Goldfinger, or perhaps it's the name of a secret service operation, like Thunderball. Or SkyFall could be a McGuffin, a piece of technology, say, like GoldenEye and Moonraker that drives the plot.

I wonder, though, whether we'd be better thinking about literary allusions for an insight into the title's meaning. I was reminded, for instance, of Stuart Little. Today the story has been made familiar through the 2005 Disney animation, but the original is older than that, appearing in print as a fable in the 19th century. The character of Chicken Little, or Henny Penny, is a variant of the boy who cried wolf. His frequent cries of 'The sky is falling!' warn of a imminent disasters without justification.

Then there's the reputed belief of the ancient Gauls that the sky may fall on their heads, heralding the end of the world. The origin of this story is uncertain (Julius Caesar doesn't mention it in his Gallic Wars, while the Gaulish sky-god Taranis seems to have been a relatively minor deity, judging by literary sources and inscriptions). But whatever its origin and however old it is, the meme is now well-established and familiar to us (chiefly through the Asterix books).

Of course, the name Skyfall may have a more recent origin. Falling Skies is the name of a Spielberg-produced sci-fi series broadcast in 2011 on TNT. Following an alien invasion, the drama charts the fortunes of a band of survivors as they attempt to fight back. The possibility that the Bond screenwriters were inspired by the series' name, though, is perhaps less likely given that an earlier reported title was Red Sky at Night, from which Skyfall could well have derived.

What connects all 'sky falling' stories is the theme of impending doom and the world as we know it collapsing. And the few plot details we have of Skyfall – Barbara Broccoli spoke about the title having some emotional context, and we know that 'Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her' – do seem to suggest an earth-shattering revelation that turns Bond's world upside down. For James Bond, who, in Fleming's novels, idolises M and views M as a parental figure (or indeed a spouse), the sky has fallen in.

I think Ian Fleming would have liked the title, certainly when seen in the context of dramatic twists (rather like the explosive beginning of The Man with the Golden Gun, when a brainwashed Bond attempts to assassinate M). I have to admit, I was ambivalent about the title when I first heard it, but Skyfall is growing on me.