Saturday 25 February 2012

Thoughts on the evolution of the 007 gun logo

I thought Jasper Hartog's article on his blog on the evolution of the 007 gun symbol or logo ('De evolutie van het 007-logo') was fascinating. He identifies the different designs of the symbol in UK and US posters and charts how the symbol subtly changed over the years. There is little I can add to the article, and in this piece I won't repeat his film-by-film history of the symbol. However, Jasper's article raised in my mind a few points that are worth addressing from an evolutionary perspective.
The use of the 007 number in the iconography of Bond posters and branding can be broadly accommodated within five phases. The first phase, lasting from Dr No (1962) to, and including, You Only Live Twice (1967), is characterised by symbols competing to be established. The symbols – that is, the UK and US versions – weren't just competing against each other, but against a range of other forms of branding. The UK version, which features a gun superimposed on the 007 figure, was also adapted for use on the Pan paperbacks. The US version introduced the combination of the gunbarrel and the back of the seven of 007. In a way, both had emerged independently within two different cultural environments. But given that there was only one Bond series, this duplication was unlikely to last, and the US version won out. It is not difficult to see what gave the US version its survival value. It is neat, fun, memorable, easy to draw, and adaptable.

The absence of any gun symbol in the UK poster of Goldfinger (1964), and from the US and UK posters of Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice suggests that at that time neither symbol was deemed an essential part of the Bond iconography. The symbols had not established themselves firmly enough in cultural space to be certain to survive from one film to the next. Jump to 2012 and the symbol will certainly appear on Skyfall posters; it is now an extremely successful meme, having been replicated in the previous seventeen films, and is firmly implanted in the minds of millions via the films, posters and other media.

The second phase, spanning On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) to The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), is therefore characterised by the extinction of the UK symbol and reasonably consistent use and design of the US (now universal) symbol. Its use continued from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to A View to a Kill (1985), but the design was more variable, this variability representing the third phase. None of the symbols had a chance to become successful in its own right, because none survived into the next film. We could regard the use of the 007 symbol for The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) as a short fourth phase, as its design is similar for both films and harks back to its design in the 1960s and early 70s.

A prolonged gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye (1995), and the introduction of a new Bond actor, allowed the design of the 007 gun symbol to be changed relatively drastically: the seven was now angular compared with its more rounded antecedents. It is possible that this variant emerged because the time gap and the new Bond created a cultural gap or a degree of isolation that permitted the symbol to evolve without being pulled back so strongly to the earlier designs. It has since become a successful variant, surviving for all films after GoldenEye. This fifth phase demonstrates that the design and use of the symbol generally follows that of the film that preceded it, except where there is a degree of cultural isolation, in which case the symbol can evolve more radically.

We can see this again with Die Another Day (2002). Although the 007 symbol is ostensibly the same as that used for The World is not Enough (1999), as Jasper Hartog noted, there is a slight bulge at the left-hand side of the horizontal bar of the seven, which was not present before. Whether this was introduced as a copying-error is uncertain, but it survived into the next film, Casino Royale (2006), showing that the symbol of Die Another Day, and not, say, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), was used for Casino Royale.

There is one other useful rule. The gradual, and sometimes not so gradual, evolution of the 007 gun symbol, has created a relative chronology. In other words, we can roughly date the symbol simply by its design – in archaeological terms a form of relative or typological dating.

I'm very grateful to Jasper Hartog in suggesting the evolution of the 007 symbol as a topic for my blog, and for sharing his ideas. He also provided the images of the symbol.

Saturday 18 February 2012

More experiences and inspirations that shaped the background to the James Bond books

The ideas that inspired the themes and details depicted in the James Bond books occasionally become apparent after researching material such as Ian Fleming's Sunday Times articles, the books that he placed in Bond's library, or copies of interviews with Fleming. Sometimes, however, Fleming is pretty clear himself on the background to his books.

The Lilly Library of Indiana University holds all the original manuscripts of the James Bond novels, except Thunderball, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Octopussy and the Living Daylights. The manuscripts include Fleming's copious annotations, added not only during his usual period of revision in the months after completing his first drafts, but sometimes years after publication. These provide much information on Fleming's sources and inspirations.

On the manuscript for Casino Royale, Fleming wrote that some of the incidents were based in fact. These included the botched attempt on Bond's life using the trick camera, which was based on similar events committed by Russian agents in Ankara, Turkey. Fleming noted on the manuscript of Live and Let Die that the settings that featured and the details about fishing were based on his own experiences. He had also consulted the New York Police Department and the US Navy Department for information.

Fleming drew much of the background to the Dover scenes in Moonraker from personal experience too, as he had a home at nearby St Margaret's Bay. Fleming wrote on the draft of From Russia, with Love that he drew on information from the Soviet refugee and spy, Tokaev, for the Russian background, and claimed that fights between gipsy women can be arranged for a small fee.

Much of the background described in You Only Live Twice was based on personal experience, but he was also helped by Richard Hughes, the Sunday Times far eastern representative, and the editor of the annual, This is Japan. Fleming also referred to four books: Meeting with Japan and The Diving Girls' Island, both by Fosco Maraini, The Heart of Japan by Alexander Campbell, and The Horned Islands by James Kirkup.

Short of visiting the Lilly Library and examining the manuscripts, a visit to the library's website is the next best thing. If you haven't already seen its online catalogue of the Fleming collection, I urge you to do so, as it provides much insight into the background to the Bond books.

Saturday 11 February 2012

The evolution of the gunbarrel sequence in Bond films

The gunbarrel sequence that introduces each James Bond film is as much a part of the James Bond culture as the Aston Martin, the exotic titles sequence and the dinner suit. Like a hypnotist inducing a response from a subject with a word or click of the fingers, the sequence instantly transports us into Bond's world with the use of its (almost) fanfare-type music and mesmerising white dot that skates across the screen.

The gunbarrel has appeared in every one of the 22 Bond films, and hopes are high that it will feature prominently in the next film, Skyfall. The gunbarrel is not, however, an unchanging entity, and over the years it has subtly evolved to the extent that recent sequences are noticeably different from the earlier versions. Let's examine some of those changes.

The stance that Bond takes as he turns to face his opponent and squeezes the trigger is one of the variables. There are essentially four variants. In Sean Connery's films up to and including Goldfinger (1964), Bond (played by Bob Simmons in the early gunbarrel sequences) finishes his movement in a half-crouch, bending his knees a little to drop his height. In Connery's remaining films, the half-crouch has become a full-crouch; the knees are bent to the extent that Bond only just avoids kneeling. George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service takes the full-crouch to its conclusion and adopts the kneeling position. Roger Moore returns to the half-crouch, but his body is more upright than that of Connery and Simmons and does not drop so much in height. Roger Moore also introduces a two-handed grip on his gun. Timothy Dalton continues the half-crouch position, but prefers the one-handed grip favoured by Connery and Lazenby. Pierce Brosnan stands upright, his body and legs are ramrod straight as he turns and shoots (also one-handed). Daniel Craig's two gunbarrel scenes are different in many ways from the others, but he nevertheless turns and shoots in a reasonably conventional manner, and to do it he stands as Brosnan does, but with his legs slightly apart.

Another aspect or meme that changes over time is the clothes. When we think of the gunbarrel sequence today, we probably think of Bond dressed in a dinner suit. And indeed, when the gunbarrel has formed the basis of branding or a trade mark, Bond is depicted in his dinner suit 'uniform'. But Bond in fact wears a lounge or business suit in all films from Dr No (1962) to The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). The three-year gap between Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) permitted a change, though, and perhaps in celebration of the Bond brand (a celebration that resulted in the theme song title, 'Nobody does it better' and the Union Flag parachute), the gunbarrel sequence sees Bond in a dinner suit. Subsequent films have replicated this, and only in Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) does Bond return to the business suit. Remarkably, the hat which Bond wears in the Dr No gunbarrel sequence survives up to Diamonds Are Forever (1971), despite the fact that Bond wears a hat very infrequently in the films (although the hat would continue to appear as late as Octopussy (1983) in scenes in Moneypenny's office.)

Not all developments appear to have been the result of conscious decisions on the part of the producers, directors or actors. In terms of the duration of the sequence, the longest sequence, lasting 28 seconds, is Dr No's. The shortest is that for Quantum of Solace, which lasts just 10 seconds. Excluding both as outliers, the gunbarrel sequences of the earlier films remain longer than those of the later films. Sean Connery films average 21.2 seconds; Roger Moore's average 20.7 seconds, while Pierce Brosnan's average 17 seconds. The trend is for a gradual reduction of length over time. But the difference between the length of From Russia With Love (22 seconds) and Die Another Day (17 seconds) is just five seconds, which represents a very gradual, and probably unnoticeable and unplanned, average reduction of 0.25 seconds with each successive film.

In evolutionary terms, the length of the gunbarrel sequence is responding to a selection pressure for shorter sequences, perhaps in keeping with increasingly faster-paced films and an eagerness to move rapidly to the exciting pre-titles sequence. We can see from the level of continuity from one gunbarrel sequence to the next, evident in the survival of the stance and clothing, that the design of the gunbarrel sequence generally replicates the one that immediately preceded it, not those of older films (so a Roger Moore sequence expresses the elements or memes of the previous Roger Moore sequence, not those from Connery-era sequences). At the same time, every sequence has inherited traits shown in the first gunbarrel sequence, that of Dr No.

To return to the length of the sequence, the sequences are generally becoming shorter not only because of any selection pressure acting on them, but because the sequences that are replicated are themselves shorter than the ones that preceded them. The sequences are unlikely to return to a length around 22 seconds, because sequences this long have ceased to be imitated. And on this basis, Skyfall's gunbarrel sequence will be around 15 to 16 seconds long. Remember, you read it here first.

Click here to read a post-Skyfall update.

Sunday 5 February 2012

I've been expecting you, Mr Bond

The February 2nd edition of Metro, London's free newspaper, published an officially-released image from Skyfall under the heading, 'We've been waiting for you, Mr Bond...'. This is obviously a variant of the phrase, 'I've been expecting you, Mr Bond', which has been used in one form or another in James Bond films, but has been taken up more widely in popular culture. Typically, the phrase is used to conjure up an image of a Blofeld-style villain, or more generally allude to a villainous character who is aware of, or even controlling, counter actions, and views his criminal activities as part of a game.

The phrase is itself a variant, and joins 'Play it again, Sam' as a phrase attributed to a film or series, but not actually used in that exact form. In Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Bond drops into Willard Whyte's penthouse suite and, having been observed by Blofeld, is greeted by Willard Whyte (actually Blofeld with a disguised voice) with the words, 'Howdy. Welcome, son. We've been expecting you'. Then, in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Bond arrives at Atlantis, villain Stromberg's sea-based lair, in order to rescue Anya Amasova before Atlantis is blown up. Again, Bond's entrance is noticed. 'Good evening, Mr Bond', says Stromberg, 'I've been expecting you.'

Phrase variants appear in two other Bond films, though are not used by the villains. In Octopussy (1983), Bond introduces himself at the reception of an Indian hotel and is told, 'We've been expecting you'. While the phrase has no sinister overtones – indeed it is a perfectly reasonable phrase at the hotel, since Bond made a reservation – it is possible that it serves as a knowing wink to the audience in reference to its general association with Bond films.

This cannot be said of the use of the phrase in Dr No (1962), since the film is the first in the series and so establishes Bond convention and structure, rather than replicates it. Bond, Quarrel and Honey Ryder dive behind a dune on the beach of Crab Key as a boat crewed by Dr No's henchmen motors round the bay. One of the men shouts out, 'Come on out. We know you're there. We've been expecting you'. In this case the phrase is unlikely to carry the connotation that it does in later films, as it is an adaptation of Fleming's writing. In the book, the henchman says, 'Come on out and you won't get hurt... We've seen where you came ashore. We've spotted the boat under the driftwood' (Chapter 9). The 'we've been expecting you' phrase is simply a more economical way of conveying what Fleming wrote.

The phrase does appear in the Bond novels, but not in the sense meant by its use in, say, The Spy Who Loved Me. In Chapter 7 of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), Sable Basilisk of the College of Arms greets Bond with, 'Commander Bond... I'd been expecting you'. In Moonraker, Drax's 'Ah, my dear fellow... So we meet again' (Chapter 11) is certainly of the same tradition as the filmic 'I've been expecting you', but is a separate meme and has a currency of its own.

The phrase or its variants have spread into wider popular culture, and appear from time to time in newspapers and films, especially in connection with reviews of new Bond novels or films. For instance, a review for Raymond Benson's novels by the Independent on Sunday included the words, 'Welcome back, Mr Bond. We've been waiting for you'.