Sunday 27 April 2014

James Bond enters the archaeological record

The James Bond films have occasionally shown archaeological remains (whether real or props) in the background to the action. In From Russia With Love, Bond accompanied Kerim Bey through the late Roman Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, For Your Eyes Only saw scenes of underwater archaeology (even if Melina Havelock's sense of chronology was a little out), and the recreation in Skyfall of a flight of steps, which Bond ascends on his motorbike to reach the roofs of Istanbul, was so detailed that it included replica Roman, medieval and later stonework. But now, after 50 years of the Bond films, James Bond is himself beginning to enter the archaeological record.

Since 2008, an archaeological project has been recording and analysing the remains of one of the numerous 'peace camps' which were established around the Greenham Common US airbase in Berkshire between 1983 and 2000. The Common Ground Research Group, working with the University of Southampton, has surveyed and collected artefactual material from Turquoise Gate, a short-lived camp occupied from 1983, with the aim of producing a social history and archaeological study of the site using survey and mapping data, artefact analyses, photographs, videos, and interviews with the camp's inhabitants.

As with any archaeological fieldwork, the field survey and data collection were carried out in a systematic manner. The site was gridded into metre squares and any surface material within each square was collected and logged. Among the many structural, personal and domestic objects recovered, such as concrete fragments, bottles, and toys, was an empty promotional bag of Smiths crisps. The promotion was linked to the release of Octopussy in 1983 and advertised a watch offer and a competition to win a holiday. (The packet pictured below - courtesy of a tweet by @misterdv - is not the one found by the project.)

The crisp packet found at the camp is noteworthy for at least two reasons. From an archaeological perspective, it can be closely dated. Clearly referencing the film, the packet cannot have been discarded before 1983. Like a newspaper recovered from a time capsule, or a Roman coin found at the base of a wall, the packet provides a terminus post quem – the earliest possible date for its deposition and any activity or other material associated with it.

It is also notable that the packet, which promotes a film in which James Bond prevents a nuclear bomb planted by a Soviet hardliner from detonating in a US airbase, was found in a camp established outside a US airbase by women protesting against the presence of nuclear missiles at the base. It is uncertain whether the consumer was aware of the plot of Octopussy or simply did not place much importance on the promotion or the film, but the packet's contents were obviously eaten nonetheless.

The packet of crisps is not the only object relating to Octopussy (apart from vehicles and props which appear periodically in temporary exhibitions celebrating the Bond films) to have been curated. For a while, the Nene Valley Railway held in its collection an LMS CCT (no. M37066M) railway carriage, which had been used in the film. In May 2009 the organisation wished to dispose of the carriage and noted that it was complete, but in poor condition. (On reading this appeal, I contacted owner of the 'Cars of the Stars Museum' in Keswick, who said that he'd look into acquiring the carriage. I didn't hear further from him and since then the museum closed and relocated to Miami.)

The mass of material generated in response to the James Bond films – books, posters, promotional objects and so on – has been acquired, consumed, hoarded, curated, or discarded. Some of this is seeping through to the archaeological record, having been recovered by archaeologists and analysed to provide insight into economic and cultural aspects of the objects and their context.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Stromberg's underwater city now a reality?

The broadcaster Alan Whicker once said of the Bond films that they “are not afraid to be ridiculous; they provide a framework of fantasy that's just possible. Not science fiction, but science fact.” This was later echoed by Cubby Broccoli who said of Moonraker that, “we're not science fiction, we're science fact. It's science fact plus our own fantasy of Bond.” Both statements recall Ian Fleming's view that his plots “go wildly beyond the probable, but not, I think, beyond the possible.”

A model of Stromberg's undersea city, with Roger Moore's Bond looking on

Still, you have to wonder with some of the plots – Stromberg's plan in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to create an underwater city with his submersible base, Atlantis, at its centre, for example. But even this isn't as far-fetched as it seems. By the mid 1970s, the technology of the sort that would be required to make Stromberg's vision a reality wasn't far behind (indeed, marine biologists had already established underwater laboratories). Today a number of research facilities allowing researchers to stay underwater for a prolonged periods exist, while underwater tourism and resorts are being developed.

One of the earliest undersea bases was established by one of Ian Fleming's heroes, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Continental Shelf Station II, or Conshelf II, was an underwater starfish-shaped 'habitat' built off the coast of Sudan in 1963 that accommodated six 'oceanauts' for a month. It replaced the first Conshelf, which, built a year earlier, was a more modest steel tube structure that was built at a depth of 10m off the coast of Marseilles. (I'm reminded of Dr No's armoured glass-sided aquarium six metres underwater (Dr No, 1958), which itself, given the reality of the later Conshelf projects, may not have been, in Fleming's words, “beyond the possible.”)

Today, one of the best established underwater research laboratories is Aquarius. It was deployed in 1993 by Florida International University and is located in deep reef in the Florida Keys. Apart from providing a base for marine exploration, the habitat boasts several home comforts, including a shower, toilet, hot water, cooking facilities and wifi. Missions inside Aquarius tend to be relatively short, though – usually ten days, occasionally two weeks or more.

As sophisticated as it is, any researcher diving down to Aquarius looking for a structure befitting a meglomaniac would be disappointed. Aquarius is more Yellow Submarine than Atlantis. For  the sort of structures that Ken Adam might have designed, we have to turn to underwater tourism. One underwater resort being developed is the Discus Hotel off the coast of Dubai. This hotel complex comprises a disc raised on stilt-like supports above the sea and a disc built ten metres below the sea around a central pillar – Atlantis meets Piz Gloria. Then there's Poseidon's Mysterious Island, which forms part of the Poseidon Undersea Resort project in Fiji. Accommodation and other tourist facilities are available in an array of underwater pods connected by a central unit and what looks like a shaft that gives access to the surface.

A project that seems more in line with Stromberg's vision of permanent undersea living (minus the destruction of the earth by nuclear missile, of course) is futurologist Phil Pauley's Sub-Biosphere 2. Apart from providing a base for underwater research and tourism, Sub-Biosphere 2 is designed to accommodate on a permanent basis 100 people, which, Pauley considers, “is the minimum number that would be required to rebuild our species in the event of a catastrophic man-made or natural disaster.” Pauley adds that in the future “we may be safer living underneath the sea in the long-term.” The concept structure comprises eight pods arranged in a ring around a large central pod. As with Atlantis, the whole structure is designed to be raised and lowered above and below the sea.

Judging by the underwater structures highlighted here, it is reasonable to suggest that, like the space aspects of Moonraker, the underwater city ideas within The Spy Who Loved Me are based on elements of 'science fact'. It is testament to the production team of the film that Stromberg's Atlantis, almost 40 years after the film was made, retains a degree of plausibility and doesn't look too out of place against the likes of the Discus Hotel, Sub-Biosphere and other underwater habitats.

Further reading:

Sunday 13 April 2014

Bondian words in the dictionary

Wiktionary's definition of 'Bond girl'
In an earlier post, I argued that the word 'Bond girl' ought to be in the dictionary. Easily fulfilling the standard criteria for inclusion for most major dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, the term has been in use since 1963, it has, as the OED stipulates, attained a level of currency that allows it to be used without the expectation of an immediate explanation of its meaning, and it has been used independently many times in newspapers and literature, on TV and in other media. Remarkably the word has not yet made it to the OED, but Bond girl does now appear in the Wiktionary, along with a number of other Bond-related words.

Two meanings of the word Bond girl are offered in the Wiktionary: 1) “One of the beautiful, seductive young women who appear in James Bond movies”; and in a transferred sense, 2) “A beautiful, seductive young woman.”

If using Wiktionary as their principal reference, Scrabble players (Blofeld included) would not be able to place Bond girl, comprising as it does two words, but they would be able to play Bondiana, which is defined by Wiktionary as “Items relating to the fictional spy James Bond.” Players might also wish to remember the adjective, Bondlike, which means “Characteristic of James Bond.” Curiously, the example of use quoted below the Wiktionary definition – in this case from an edition of Popular Science (“With a host of Bond-like gadgets, the Army's latest peacekeeping machine protects without taking lives.”), the word is hyphenated, which would not be permitted in Scrabble. I think my inclination would be to hyphenate the word, but I'd be in a minority, as these days the trend is to remove hyphens.

The final Bond-related (or is that Bondrelated?) word to appear in the Wiktionary is Bond villain, which describes “An evil mastermind who attempts to take over the world.”

There are some words which I think also deserve a place in the Wiktionary, among them Bondian, Bond song, and Flemingesque. Bondmania (or Bondomania) may have had a chance in the 1960s, but now the word is rarely heard, and only with reference to the public reaction that greeted the release of the films Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Bondmanship, which dates to 1963, never really caught on, and doesn't appear to have survived the year.

Like its sister project, Wikipedia, the Wiktionary is an open-content resource that depends on its users to contribute and edit entries. It has criteria for inclusion, which are stated to be strictly applied. In any case, I would not disagree that Bond girl and other Bond-related words merit inclusion, being terms that, as the Wiktionary demands, “someone would run across”, are attested through “widespread use, use in a well-known work, or use in permanently recorded media in at least three independent instances spanning at least a year”, and are idiomatic. That Bond girl and other memes have made it to a dictionary is testament to the success of the James Bond phenomenon in popular culture.

Sunday 6 April 2014

More on the shaken not stirred debate

Recently I was flicking through a copy of The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail (2013, Ryland Peters and Small) by Tristan Stephenson, a drinks industry consultant and pioneer of the molecular mixology movement.

Turning to the section on the Martini, I noted the inevitable reference to James Bond, but was also interested to read a passage quoted by Stephenson from The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto published in 1948. The extract indicated that the debate about whether a Martini should be shaken or stirred had been a long-running one even before Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond novels.

In the extract, DeVoto dismisses as a superstition the claim that the Martini (in this case one made with gin) must never been shaken. The ingredients, he contends, are “stable, of stout heart,” and it does not matter whether they are shaken or stirred. The idea that shaking bruises the gin is, in DeVoto's view, “an absurdity.”

Tristan Stephenson does not disagree with this, and goes on to list the benefits to the drink that shaking brings. Shaken Martinis can be made quicker than stirred martinis. Shaking increases aeration, which helps release flavours and makes the drink feel lighter. The cloudy appearance of the shaken Martini slightly alters the drink's taste and aroma. In addition, Stephenson publishes a graph to illustrate how shaking reduces the temperature of the cocktail quicker than stirring does, and keeps the drink cold for longer with no further dilution. James Bond is not so incorrect after all.

The notions that shaking bruises the gin and that one should never shake a Martini are highly successful memes. They are widespread in popular culture (even beyond the world of cocktails), they have longevity (evidently pre-dating Bond), and have survived largely unchanged. That these ideas continue to be perpetuated is to a very large extent down to the success of the James Bond novels and films. As long as James Bond orders his Martini 'shaken, not stirred', the debate about the best way to make the drink is likely to run for a while longer yet.

Related post: Shaken or stirred: the debate continues

For more information on James Bond's Martini, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond by David Leigh.