Tuesday 28 August 2012

Dating Bond-related objects from the 007 gun symbol

Back in February, I published a piece on the evolution of the gun symbol or logo. Towards the end of the piece, I suggested that the gradual evolution of the symbol, with each design being fixed to a certain period of the Bond series or linked to a particular run of films, gives us a relative chronology, and allows us to date objects carrying the symbol with reasonable accuracy. Should the symbol be the only piece of writing surviving on a toy car, dvd case or any other Bondian artefact unearthed by future archaeologists, then so long as the archaeologists have the typology of gun symbols to hand, they should be able to date the object to within a few years by the symbol alone.

As an archaeologist, I can't resist applying methods of typological dating that use everyday when I date ancient Roman pottery to Bondian artefacts. Let's look at a few examples.

The first object is a bottle of Perrier. The label depicts a Bond figure within the second zero of the gun symbol. It may be obvious now that the bottle was used to promote GoldenEye and therefore dates to 1995, but the link may not so clear in the future as cultural memories fade. However, looking at our logo typology, we can match the symbol, particularly the angular seven, with that used for GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, and can therefore date the bottle to between 1995 and 1999.

Having said that, from technical point of view, it is possible that the bottle was made after 1999; although the use of the symbol within the films dates from 1995 to 1999, the label could have been printed after that period. However, the date of the bottle is extremely unlikely to be earlier than 1995, as the design of the symbol didn't exist before then (just like, say, a time capsule can't have been deposited before the date of the newspaper placed inside it).

What about the second object, a postcard showing the gun barrel with a Bond figure inside? The gun symbol resembles the type used on the Perrier bottle, but on closer examination we can see that the symbol leans to the right. This dates the postcard to 1999 or later, as that form of the symbol was used for The World Is Not Enough. However, with the extra information on the card – Cubby Broccoli's centenary – we can revise the date to 2009, making the gun symbol a residual occurence; in other words, it continued to be used despite being effectively out of date by 2009, by which time a new version of the logo was current in film marketing.

The third object is Corgi's Lotus Espirit from For Your Eyes Only. We know that the car can't have been made before 1981, the date that the film was released, but was the car made more recently? In fact, the gun symbol on the base of the car points to a date of manufacture after 1987, as the symbol matches that used for The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. We should be cautious, though, if we want to date the car up to 1995, when the style of the symbol changed with the release of GoldenEye. The style of symbol introduced with The Living Daylights continued to be used on later Corgi models, as the picture of the BMW Z8 from GoldenEye shows.

Even negative evidence – in this case the absence of a gun symbol – provides a useful indication for a date. The packaging on this UK board game, made by Spears Games in 1966, lacks the gun symbol, and this is consistent with the period from 1962 to 1969 when the symbol was used largely in US marketing only, and had yet to be established as an essential part of Bond iconography in British posters and products.

Finally, when future archaeologists excavate Bond-related objects from dumps and other waste deposits, they should be aware that there is a good chance that the objects were not deposited when the objects were made. Many are likely to have been curated by their owners – that is, retained and treasured for years after manufacture. For collectable material, there will inevitably be a significant time gap between manufacture and discard.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Rating James Bond

Recently we learnt that Diamonds Are Forever, which was rated 'A', the equivalent of the current PG (parental guidance) rating, will be rated 12 (recommended for viewers 12 years and over) by the British Board of Film Classification for its release in the Bond 50 Blu-Ray box set, reflecting changes in attitudes towards violence and stereotyping. Meanwhile, the rating for Casino Royale, originally 12A, will be raised to 15 (suitable only for viewers 15 years or over), as cuts made for its cinema release are restored.

Ratings for the Bond films have varied between countries as cultural sensibilities, particularly with regard to the depiction of violence and sexual behaviour, have varied. We can see this when we take a look at the classification policies of a few countries.

In Sweden, for example, all Bond films up to (and including) Tomorrow Never Dies have been rated 15 (that is, no one under the age of 15 are permitted to see them), reflecting the general view held by the Swedish Media Council, which classify films, that depictions of violence are more harmful to society than, say, sexual acts or strong language. Curiously, though, all films since Tomorrow Never Dies, with the exception of Casino Royale, which was given a 15 rating, were rated 11, being deemed suitable for viewers of 11 years or over, or between 7 and 11 years if accompanied by an adult.

In Peru, all films, with three exceptions, have been rated 14, being suitable for viewers of 14 years or over, although under 14s are admitted if accompanied by an adult. The exceptions have been The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, which were classified as being suitable for general audiences. By comparison, the Australian Classification Board has rated the Bond films either PG (parental guidance recommended) or M (recommended for mature audiences). The films with the slighter higher rating have included Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights, and all films from Tomorrow Never Dies onwards.

The UK and US have taken similar positions on Bond film classification. In the US, with one exception, all films up to The Living Daylights have been rated PG, or its precursor, 'Approved'. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was rated M, or for mature audiences, a short-lived rating equivalent to PG, PG-13, or even R (restricted), depending on the film. Licence to Kill received a PG-13 rating, denoting that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13, and all films since then have received the same classification.

In the UK, films up to The Living Daylights received a PG (or the 'A' equivalent) classification. As in the US, Licence to Kill was problematic owing to its drug theme and depiction of violence, and was rated 15, a higher rating than was usual for a Bond film and despite cuts. However, at that time, the more palatable 12 or 12A rating, which has been given to all Bond films from GoldenEye onwards, did not exist, and it is possible that had it been available, the film would have been so classified, although it is notable that the film has so far not been reclassified for its various video/DVD releases.

This brief, and fairly random, survey of Bond film classification shows that, from a memetic point of view, cultural attitudes evolve along separate trajectories within individual societies, hence the variation in film ratings across different countries, and changes in classifications within them over the course of 50 years. And while the Bond films have generally been regarded as family entertainment, the message from boards of film classification seems to be that the ideal Bond-viewing family is a mature one.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Enter the Saint

Recently I watched a run of RKO's Saint films, which were made by between 1939 and 1941. The Saint was played by Louis Heyward in the first film, The Saint in New York, George Sanders in the next five films, then by Hugh Sinclair in the final two, The Saint's Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger. In my mind, George Sanders, who conveyed a charming, but dangerous, and at times caddish, adventurer, was the best of the Saints, followed by Hugh Sinclair's debonair swashbuckler, then the smooth playboy of Louis Heyward. 

Inevitably there have been many comparisons made between the Saint and the Bond of the cinema, and certainly the similarities are obvious. Both have the persona of a gentleman, both are outside, or at least on the margins, of the law in their pursuit of criminals, both are handy with their fists and a pistol, and both are irresistible to women.

No wonder that Roger Moore was always a Bond in waiting the moment he appeared as the Saint in 1962. There was also much press speculation about Ian Ogilvy, who played the Saint in The Return of the Saint in 1978 and 1979, as a potential Bond, although he was never screen-tested for the role.

There are also aspects of the format of Saint adventures that recalls the screen Bond. As in the Bond films, each episode of both Saint TV series had a pre-titles sequence, which would end with a halo appearing over the Saint's head. In the RKO series, the George Sanders' films began with a short animated sequence. This features the stick-figure symbol of the Saint, which appears at the end of a tunnel-like frame, then increases in size as it walks towards the viewer. The sequence ends with the stick figure extending its arm as if preparing to fire the pistol it holds. The device to some extent prefigures the gunbarrel device of the Bond films in design, and fulfils the same role of introducing the film and heightening the anticipation of the audience.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Just published: Adventure at Creake Abbey

It is well known that Ian Fleming was fascinated by new technology, experts and adventure. What is less familiar is that in 1953 he combined these interests in an innovative archaeological survey to search for buried treasure at a medieval abbey.

In an article in the latest edition of British Archaeology magazine, Edward Biddulph describes how a dive to the wreck of an ancient Greek ship in the Mediterranean by Ian Fleming inspired him to organise a pioneering metal-detecting survey at Creake Abbey in Norfolk, and influenced elements of his novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The latest issue (September/October 2012) is available now in the UK in larger branches of WH Smith and other retailers or by subscription – see the magazine's website for details.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Designing 007 - a review

After 50 years of cinematic secret service, James Bond has been given the equivalent of a corporate-branded carriage clock with the arrival of an exhibition at the Barbican in London. There cannot be much more space on his mantelpiece, as this is at least his third 'long-service award'. The World of 007 exhibition, marking 35 years of the Bond films, toured museums and exhibition halls across the world in 1997, and 2008, the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth, saw a major exhibition – For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, which celebrated aspects of the films as well as the novels – at London's Imperial War Museum.

The current exhibition, Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style, is a fitting tribute to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Its focus is on the design, fashion, and art of the James Bond films, showcasing props (especially gadgets), costumes, and sets to form a remarkable collection of some 500 exhibits.

Appropriately for a celebration of 50 years of Bond films, the exhibition begins on a golden theme, displaying among other exhibits a model of Shirley Eaton's golden girl, Ken Adam's Goldfinger set designs, and Scaramanga's golden pistol. Ian Fleming is not forgotten, and visitors move into a small, though somewhat crowded, space that commemorates Fleming's life and the influences that brought James Bond to life.

The exhibition moves into MI6 headquarters and the sets and props from M's office and Q's workshop. Some of the best-known material is on display, including the trick attach̩ case of From Russia With Love (interestingly the model is still in production, though presumably without the gadgets). The attention to detail is incredible Рthe official passports issued to Daniel Craig's Bond in 2006 shows that he was born in Berlin in April 1968 Рand we are reminded how cutting edge the technology shown on screen was; Bond's digital watch in Live and Let Die, for example, was virtually unheard of in 1973.

Visitors then enter the casino zone, and are presented with the glamorous costumes, dinner suits, jewellery, and card tables that epitomises the James Bond films. These, together with the use of mirrored walls and projected casino scenes from the films, put us into Bond's world, and we get a sense of the excitement and danger of Casino Royale's poker tournament from a reconstructed set.

Part of the exhibition is devoted to the villains. The almost natural evolution of villains' style is  acknowledged with a display of the Nehru/Mao-type suit of the archetypal villain, Dr No, whose portrayal and costume survived to lesser or greater extents in nearly all the villains that followed. And if you wondered why the costumes for Sanchez and other villains of Licence to Kill was, well, a bit Miami Vice, it may be because the designer had also worked on that TV series.

The strong association between Bond and snowscapes is recognised with an exhibition of designs and costumes from Bond's snow- and ice-bound adventures. Pride of place is a model of Gustav Graves' Ice Palace from Die Another Day, but what took most visitors' attention was a projection of the pre-titles ski jump in The Spy Who Loved Me, which still looks fantastic on the big screen and remains one of the most iconic stunts captured for the cinema.

The exhibition does not start and end in the ticketed areas. Much of the space outside the exhibition space displays elements from the world of 007; visitors are greeted with a wall of Bond posters (see the video below) and an Aston Martin DB5, and can take Bondian refreshments in the 007 Martini Bar. And the gift shop is a Fort Knox, or maybe Octopussy treasure-chest, of Bond-related nick-nacks and merchandise.

With such a range of exhibits on display, and judging by the huge interest the exhibition has generated, the material produced over 50 years of the Bond films have been transformed from disposable film props and documents to artefacts, the stuff of history. Indeed, such film-related objects are no less culturally valid than other artefacts, such as pottery, coins, and fine art. A massive Bond archive now exists. Isn't it time these were brought together in a dedicated, and permanent, museum of James Bond?