Monday 28 November 2016

James Bond referenced in latest Paco Rabanne advert

The latest advert for Paco Rabanne's One Million Privé fragrance has a distinctly Bondian look.


In one TV spot, we see a handsome and cool hero putting on a dinner suit. He clicks his fingers, and the scene switches to a dark space, criss-crossed with laser beams reminiscent of a well-known scene from Mission:Impossible. Our hero energetically negotiates his way around the beams – he is evidently an expert gymnast – before reaching the door to what appears to be a gold vault (shades of Goldfinger?).

The action cuts to another dark empty space, lit only by a spotlight. The man clicks his fingers again, and we see him on top of a skyscraper resembling the Empire State Building like a well-groomed King Kong. The spotlight is moving around looking for him. There is a close up of the man. Keeping with the King Kong allusion, a woman stands on his open hand. The man turns to the camera and clicks his fingers again.

Instantly, the man's appearance changes. He now wears a white dinner jacket and adopts a very familiar pose: he stands facing us, the lower part of his left leg behind his right leg. His left arm is held against his body, his left hand tucked under his right elbow. The lower part of his right arm is bent upwards, his hand resting on his chin as if he is in thought.

If you put a gun in his right hand, then he'd be imitating the classic James Bond pose seen on many posters and publicity shots from the Bond films, beginning with From Russia, With Love. The reference is confirmed as the spotlight captures him, and he is enclosed in a white circle that mimics the gunbarrel sequence that traditionally opens a Bond film.

But he hasn't been caught for long, as he makes an appropriately Bondian escape holding on to the landing skid of a helicopter.

Though short, the advert is crammed with film references, among them references to James Bond (potentially five – the pose, the dinner suit, spotlight, the helicopter and the vault).

The use of the spotlight is itself interesting. In the traditional gunbarrel, it is not a spotlight we see moving across the screen at the start of the gunbarrel sequence, but simply a white dot – or possibly the sights of a gun – that is transformed into the end of a gunbarrel. The dot, however, is similar enough to a spotlight for the spotlight to be used as a proxy by photographers, film-makers and others for the gunbarrel. Simply shine a spotlight on someone and the allusion to Bond is made.

I'm reminded of the cover of the Mail on Sunday's Event magazine in August last year, which showed Anthony Horowitz caught by a spotlight. Whetting readers' appetites for a feature about Horowitz's James Bond novel, the image was clearly meant to recall the gunbarrel sequence (although there is something Tintin-esque about it too, which may also have been intended, since Horowitz is a fan of Hergé's creation).

Thursday 17 November 2016

Skyfall - Home Alone or John Buchan?

The defence of Skyfall, James Bond's family home in the Scottish Highlands, against an assault by Raoul Silva and his small army in the 2012 film has been dismissed by critics as James-Bond-does-Home-Alone. I think the criticism is unfair. Not only is Home Alone a good film, but the critics are also ignoring a more fitting, literary parallel – one from the pages of John Buchan.

In a recent post, I explored the similarities between the novel of Moonraker and John Buchan's fourth Richard Hannay adventure, The Three Hostages. It seems that Skyfall also has some Buchan blood, in this case from his fifth Hannay novel, The Island of Sheep (1936).

The Island of Sheep, 2012 Polygon edition
When Valdemar Haraldsen's life is threatened by a gang of villains led by master-criminal d'Ingraville, who are pursuing by any means a claim on a 'great treasure' discovered by Haraldsen's late father, Haraldsen turns to Richard Hannay, Hannay's fellow adventurer Lord Clanroyden (formerly Sandy Arbuthnot) and an old friend of Hannay's, Mr Lombard, for help. All three had sworn an oath to Haraldsen's father to protect his son should ever the need arise.

At first, Haraldsen is persuaded to hole up at Laverlaw, Clanroyden's ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands. As Sandy explains, 'The fight must come, and I want to choose my own ground for it... Haraldsen will be safe at Laverlaw till we see how things move.' Unfortunately for Haraldsen, things move rather too quickly, as d'Ingraville and his men are drawn to the estate and make their presence felt.

Haraldsen must retreat further, this time to his own ancestral home on the Island of Sheep in the Norlands (probably the Faroe Islands). Echoing Clanroyden's views, he shares an old proverb with Hannay that 'strongest is every man in his own house.' Clanroyden agrees, and tells Hannay again that 'we must fight them, and choose our own ground for it, and since they are outside civilisation, we must be outside it too.'

James Bond has the same idea in Skyfall. Laying a trail for Silva to follow, Bond tells M that he's taking her 'back in time. Somewhere we'll have the advantage.' Arriving at the lodge, Bond tells the family gamekeeper, Kincade, that 'some men are coming to kill us. But we're going to kill them first.'

Once at the house, Hannay and the others start making preparations for its defence, rather as Bond, Kincade and M do at Skyfall. They shutter the windows and barricade the doors with furniture, and take positions at various parts of house armed with revolvers, rifles and double-barrelled shotguns.

And just as Skyfall has a secret passage – a priest-hole – that leads Kincade and M, and later Bond, away from the house and towards the chapel, Haraldsen's house boasts a little stone cell once occupied by an Irish hermit that takes people away from the house unnoticed via a set of steps to the entrance of a cave by the sea.

Haraldsen's house has no name – it is simply known as the House – but Buchan gives an interesting name to the island's principal hill: Snowfell. The name is obviously not so very different from Skyfall.

The similarity between the scenes at Skyfall in the film of the same name and the passages set on the Island of Sheep in John Buchan's novel may well be coincidence, but if the events of The Island of Sheep had been described in a Bond novel, then we would have no hesitation in claiming that the scenes in Skyfall were based on them. In any case, the similarity indicates that the Skyfall scenes have a literary antecedent. Just as the Bond novel Moonraker can trace its origins to the adventures of Richard Hannay, it seems that Skyfall has also inherited tropes or memes from Buchan's work.

Friday 11 November 2016

A look at the Bond parody 'Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy'

If being honest, even the most ardent of fans would concede that Ian Fleming's novels are very much of their time and contain aspects which sit uncomfortably with modern attitudes. Take the representation of homosexuality. To Fleming's credit, there are a few characters who are gay or are hinted to be gay, but their portrayal is problematic. Pussy Galore and Rosa Klebb are the lesbians of heterosexual male fantasy, and in the case of Scaramanga and Wint and Kidd, the homosexuality is a symptom of an abnormality that in part explains the criminal behaviour.

To be fair, Bond's attitude to homosexuality, as suggested for instance by his discussion with Troop about 'intellectuals' in the the Secret Service, is reasonably progressive for the time (it should be remembered that homosexual acts in private were not decriminalised in the UK until 1967), and this no doubt reflects Fleming's own relatively liberal views. After all, some of Fleming's best friends were gay.

However, it is not the gay characters that have made the Bond novels easy targets for camp parodies (we could blame instead Bond's particular habits, for instance in relation to food, and the homoerotic quality of Bond being hit on the genitals with a carpet beater), of which Cyril Connolly's 'Bond Strikes Camp' and 'The Spy who Minced in from the Cold', by Stanley Reynolds are notable examples. A rather more thoughtful parody, however, is Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy (Harper Collins, 2001), by Mabel Maney.

The novel, set in 1965, concerns an attempt by a secret organisation, the Sons of Britain Society, to depose the Queen and return the Duke of Windsor to the throne. Enter Her Majesty's Secret Service, whose officers serve to protect the Queen, and another mysterious organisation, the Greater European Organization of Radical Girls Inderdicting Evil (G.E.O.R.G.I.E.), which is populated by lesbians sworn to protect the world from destruction wrought by men. Curiously, though, both the Secret Service and G.E.O.R.G.I.E. appear to be oblivious to the plot to kidnap the Queen until it's in full swing.

Meanwhile, James Bond is on sick leave, having suffered a nervous breakdown. In order to preserve the reputation of the Secret Service and the belief that England's top agent is still on active duty, his sister, Jane, who looks very much like James, is blackmailed by the service to take James' place. Jane's mission is to receive a medal from the Queen without raising suspicion.

James Bond's absence is, I suspect, designed to avoid breaching copyright, and there are other changes in personnel; M become N, Miss Moneypenny becomes Miss Tuppenny (and, incidentally, the head of G.E.O.R.G.I.E), and, borrowing from the films, Q becomes X. The author is familiar with the Bond novels: Jane has an unruly comma of hair, as does James, there is reference to the 'powder vine', and it's revealed that Jane's handler, Agent Pumpernickel, or 001, has a S-shaped scar on his cheek, which was made by an enemy agent to mark him as a spy. The scar not only recalls the scar that Fleming's Bond has on his cheek, but also the knife cut in the form of an inverted M that Bond receives on the back of his hand in Casino Royale.

That said, the author doesn't stick rigidly to the 'facts' of Fleming's novels. The Secret Service in Mabel Maney's novel is usually referred to as Her Majesty's Secret Service, operates in England, and exists solely to protect the Queen, just as the US Secret Service is tasked with protecting the President. And, of course, family details are wrong. Apart from the sister we never knew about, James' mother is called Sylvia, and his father, James Bond Sr, was a secret agent who Jane believes took his own life.

The Bond films are referenced as well. To prepare for her mission, Jane is required to wear a dinner suit, drink vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), and practise raising her eyebrows, reputedly in the manner of Roger Moore. Like the film Bond, Jane has a very active love life, though falls in love with one of the agents of G.E.O.R.G.I.E, a redhead called Bridget. There are gadgets, too, in the form of deadly lipsticks.

I enjoyed the book, though as with most of the longer Bond parodies, such as ALLIGATOR and (ahem) Devil May Care, the joke wears thin after a while. However, the characters are better drawn than they usually are in parodies, and Jane is interesting enough to deserve to appear in further adventures.

There have been numerous candidates for the first female James Bond, notably Modesty Blaise, but Jane Bond has better claim than most, having a believability that others lack (that's not to say that the plot is believable, which is far more fantastic than any plot of Fleming's). It is this credibility that means that the book is not so much about a 'gay Bond' than simply an entertaining spoof of familiar Bondian tropes.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Spectre inspires the first Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City

In a blog about James Bond's impact on culture, I could hardly fail to mention the Day of the Dead parade, which was held in Mexico City on 29th October as part of its annual Day of the Dead festival. As I describe in a previous post, the festival traditionally involves offerings of food and drink to household ancestors, streets decorated with flowers, market-stalls selling edible skulls, and graveside feasts. This was the first year that a parade was held in the city. And the reason why it was held was due to Spectre (2015).


While I have my misgivings about the film – Blofeld revealed as Bond's step-brother? The series could have done without that complication – it is undeniably spectacular, and the Day of the Dead parade that opens the film is up there with the best of the series' pre-title sequences.

Lourdes Berho, the chief executive of the Mexico Tourist Board must have thought so too. 'We knew that this was going to generate a desire on the part of people here, in Mexicans and among tourists,' she told reporters, 'to come and participate in a celebration, a big parade.'

The thousands of people who came to view the parade saw performers in skeleton costumes and masks, floats bedecked with skeletons, and giant skeleton marionettes. Some of the participants wore costumes from the film itself. Others had costumes inspired by the film or wore more traditional costumes, such as those representing Aztec warriors.

This isn't the first time James Bond has had an impact on aspects of life beyond the normal scope of popular culture. The revolving restaurant on the summit of the Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps has been known as Piz Gloria ever since it appeared in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Maps of the region around Phuket in Thailand (well, Google maps, at least) officially record a small islet off Khao Phing Kan as James Bond Island, which formed part of Scaramanga's lair in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

Whether Spectre's impact on the Day of the Dead festival will be as lasting as Bond's impact on the the Schilthorn and Phuket has been remains to be seen. As David Agren reports in the Guardian, some commentators, among them the editor of Nexos magazine, Esteban Illades, took to social media to denounce the parade as populist stunt. Interestingly, though, the Guardian also reports that parades and processions have in fact been part of the festival for a some years now, even if in a relatively minor way.

What Spectre has done is given that emerging tradition a boost, and changed expectations about what the Day of the Dead festival entails. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see the parade return next year, and indeed hear of similar parades being held elsewhere. (Look out for a parade near you!). More generally, the parade demonstrates how James Bond continues to have significance and relevance in the wider cultural environment. It may be a while yet before we hear of a Jason Bourne Island...