50 Years of James Bond Essay – an essay by Ian F. Hunt
50 Years of James Bond Essay. Nationalism, Violence and Sex (an Essay by Ian F. Hunt)
This year the Bond Film Franchise celebrates its fiftieth year. The first Bond Film Dr. No (Terence Young. 1962) opened fifty years ago and the premiere of the latest film in the series, Skyfall (Sam Mendes. 2012) has just opened in the cinema. Bond films adhere to a successful formula, they are known for their depiction of National identity, Bond’s Britishness, which I will consider first and how Nationalism is one of the central elements to the success of the films at the Box Office.
Bond films are also famous for their Bond Girls I will look at gender and consider how the Bond films portray women on screen and the roles that they play, for example the femme fetal and the love interest and how this has changed over time. From Sean Connery’s Bond of 1962 where women were portrayed as second-class citizens as either the love interest, or in less prominent roles, to the present where the balance between the sexes has been somewhat addressed.
Then I will discuss Bond’s Villains; the adversaries who Bond must overcome, their importance to the films and the unique way they are portrayed on screen as mentally or physically scared, or otherwise deformed sexual deviants. Then go on to looking at how Bonds villains change with the political status from the time of the communists to megalomaniacs with their own agendas. The portrayal of Violence, an integral part of Bond films. I will consider how this has developed over time and in particular how the portrayal of this on screen has changed and has been influenced by recent films of the same genre as much as a change in audience expectations.
Finally in the conclusion I will make the argument that the Bond Film Franchise with this proven formulae of Nationalism, Violence and Sex continues to appeal to followers of Bond and now attracts a new generation of fans with the Franchise reboot of 2006 and the casting of Daniel Craig in the lead role.
There have been many changes in the Bond films over the decades, the films always reflecting upon the National/International politics and social conventions of the time. In the Cold War years, Bonds adversaries, the villains were typically from the Soviet Union, the Eastern Block and the Far East in fact Communist countries, which included China and North Korea. These were interspersed with megalomaniac’s, typically heads of International Corporations or Crime Organisations.
In comparison the political allies of Britain are almost always portrayed positively. There is a good reason for this, for example Americans are portrayed in this way, for as a large English speaking country America would also be the largest market for the Bond films outside of Britain and therefore generate the greatest box office returns.
Nationalism and in particular the waving of the British Flag features in the narrative of most if not all of the Bond films, Bond is British, this national identity and its associated iconography feature throughout the films. For example the suits that Bond wears, the cars that he drives and especially the film sequences featuring well-known landmarks filmed in London. Some of this is message is delivered subliminally, the imagery of Britain and its icons is used to reinforce National Identity, Bond is British. Bond without this nationalist link is unthinkable; the films would lose an essential part of their identity. Even though the films target a global audience, without the reinforcement of Bonds Britishness, Her Majesties Secret Agent the films could become just another action movie.
We can infer that it is to the filmmaker’s financial advantage to include scenes depicting nationalist identity; they have a direct link to box office returns. Iconic landmarks of London and other capital cities are used to great effect and not just to inform the audience of the films location. The film Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008) appeared to be particularly successful in China, it featured scenes from Shanghai. In fact the overall box office receipts were bolstered by the Chinese link, making up for shortfalls in box office receipts in Bonds more traditional markets, the United Kingdom and America. McNary, D. (2012) says ‘Its beefy $9.1 million Chinese debut represented the second largest ever for a non-Chinese pic, ‘
London’s Palaces, Buckingham and Westminster typically make an appearance as does the iconic Black Taxi and the Red Busses of London. Nationalistic imagery featured most notably in a parachute design used for the opening sequences of The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert. 1977). Where Bond played by Roger Moore ski jumps off a mountain seemingly to fall to his death only to pull the release of a hidden parachute revealing the Union Flag design. I remember the gasps and cheers in the cinema as the parachute opened.
This scene was replicated recently in the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. Daniel Craig filmed in a meeting with the HRH The Queen seated at her desk and then followed by a scene that featured what still appeared to be the Queen jumping from a helicopter over the main Olympic stadium using a Union Flag designed parachute. This sequence in many ways shows the extent that the Bond character has become integrated into a central figure within the National identity of Great Britain and also part of our heritage; it may well be that for some, that James Bond character is an actual real life person and that Bond is Great Britain’s top Mi6 Spy.
As Sullivan (2012) suggests ‘Ian Flemings Bond character is sometimes identified as being based upon Ian Fleming himself and the real life experiences of Commander Wilfred Dunderdale who apparently had a name for fast cars and beautiful women. The members of group of commandos associated with Fleming in the war years are also suspected as being a source for Fleming’s books, but Bonds character may in fact be based on an amalgam of all of these real life characters’
Bond film portrayal of sex on screen relies almost exclusively on innuendo and in earlier films with a degree of humor particularly during Sean Connery and Roger Moores time cast in the role of Bond. Who could forget the female characters Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead. Full nudity has never been portrayed in Bond films, neither has graphic violence. This is almost certainly due to satisfying the censorship requirements of countries key to the success of the film. For example the American market had an almost puritanical approach to certification; the filmmakers would aim to obtain a certificate rating as sufficiently low as possible in order to make the films as accessible to as wide an audience as possible. While at the same time not diluting the portrayal of sex and violence shown on screen to such an extent that audience expectations for the film remain unrealised.
This aim of the producers to secure the lowest film rating certificate has also been identified by Jenkins (2005) who says ‘When adapting Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels into films, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose to neglect the sexual and nationalistic deviance apparent in Fleming’s works, despite the novelist and his books’ popularities. Most of the filmmaker’s decisions, however, rested on American public opinion and on censorship during the 1960s’
The Bond audience expects to see non-explicit sex and violence certainly a key factor in the Bond Film formulae. Bond films themselves have set the standards of what the audience expects to see when viewing a Bond/Spy film. However Bond films are certainly not without sex and indeed the portrayal of sexual deviancy.
Sexual deviancy has been touched upon in many Bond films. Usually this sexual deviancy is restricted to those characters playing the role of villain because it would be unthinkable for the hero to be a sexual deviant for this would break one of the key conventions for a hero. The hero figure is portrayed as an upright citizen with strong moral beliefs. When considering Bonds villains and associated sexual deviancy there are many examples. One example would be the portrayal of the homosexual assassins in Diamonds Are Forever, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. However the limit of homosexuality is limited to scenes of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd holding hands and the effeminate voice of Mr. Kidd. Then again in the final scenes through Mr. Kidd’s facial expressions, as he appears to enjoy what can only be interpreted as pleasure as Bond forces Mr. Kidd’s hands between his legs.
A good example of the portrayal of a villain’s sexual deviancy is from the scene featuring Rosa Klebb’s character a KGB Colonel interviews who interviews Bonds love interest Tanya in a memorable scene from Russia With Love (Terence Young. 1963). The scene is sexually charged and with a menacing overtone but visually it is low-key, just the caress of hand upon cheek, the slap of Klebb’s whip on the table top, a suggestion of what maybe in store for Tanya. Rosa Klebb uses her position of power to make overt lesbian sexual advances to Tanya Romanova in this scene, which is strongly rejected by Tanya and with a degree of revulsion. But again the sexual deviancy is inferred rather than shown.
Sexuality and Nationalism appear to go hand in hand in Bond films, as Jenkins. 2005. P309-317 says ‘English nationalism is not only embodied in Fleming’s villains; the novels also reveal perceived cultural supremacy through the bodies and sexuality of the series’ women. In From Russia with Love, Bond is able to seduce Tatiana Romanova, a Russian agent who is originally sent to seduce and destroy Bond; this plot twist links O07’s sexual prowess to his national potency by literally placing Britain on top of Russia’
Some villains project a degree of sexlessness, appearing to neither need nor want the companionship of the opposite or indeed same sex. Bonds most notorious and reoccurring adversary the disfigured Ernst Stavro Blofeld appears sexless in the Bond films, a white cat his only companion. However there are Blofeld scenes where women feature, but again no inference is made to there being any form of sexual relationship between Blofeld and the women. In most cases Blofeld uses them for decoration, or for his own diabolical plans, in for example OHMSS (Peter R. Hunt 1969) featured Blofeld’s women being brainwashed into being his angels of death, these women who would through the brainwashing help him to spread his sterility virus to decimate the Worlds food supply.
Looking deeper into this we should ask why a sterility virus and why women were chosen for the distribution of this virus, was this an attempt to portray Blofeld’s distaste for women and their sexuality? Blofeld would also display women as his conquests from battle, in effect the spoils of battle between Blofeld and Bond. For an example look to Diamonds are Forever (Guy Hamilton 1971) and the character Tiffany Case, who is captured by Blofeld and is then shown in subsequent scenes with Tiffany wearing only a bikini. Looking deeper into what this symbolism could be interpreted as Mulvey. 1975. P6-18 says ‘She is isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised. But as the narrative progresses she falls in love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics, her generalised sexuality, her show-girl connotations; her eroticism is subjected to the male star alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too’
We could infer from Mulvey theory that Blofeld has forced Tiffany to wear the bikini not for his visual or sexual pleasure but proclaiming his power over her, to denigrate her as a second-class citizen by denying her clothes. Blofeld also uses the capture of Tiffany to proclaim his superiority and sexual potency over Bond by in effect stealing his woman. Blofeld announcing his success to Bond when he remarks upon her change in loyalties in the scene where he catches Bond trying to sabotage his plans for World extortion. Blofeld has or shows no other purpose for keeping Tiffany close to him other than as Jenkins. 2005. P309-317 suggests ‘reflected the national deviancy-sexual deviancy theme embedded in the American 1950s Cold War mentality, which supported the view that sexual “perverts” had intentions to weaken the nation’s moral fiber and established heterosexual desire’
The Bond film OHMSS (Peter R. Hunt. 1969) portrayed Bonds first attempt at a stable relationship in Bonds short-lived marriage to Tracy. Bond films portrayal of women and Bonds relationships with them are generally purely for the audience’s satisfaction, the male gaze, voyeurism and the opportunity for Bond to reveal his overt masculinity. The female protagonist, succumbing to Bonds charms. Bonds use of sex, as a distraction to gather information through sexual conquest, to advance his cause towards a successful conclusion is another key part of the Bond film formulae.
Violence in Bond films. In 2006 the Bond Franchise was re-booted with the release of Casino Royale (Martin Campbell. 2006) and the casting of a new Bond in the guise of Daniel Craig. This is a different Bond, hard and unsmiling, the action sequences seemingly more violent and more personal. No doubt influenced by the Bourne series of films including The Bourne Legacy (Doug Liam. 2002), which had seemed to steal Bonds place in the Spy genre and at the same time giving America its first successful homegrown Bond. But Bond is back with a vengeance retaking his position at the top of the spy if not the action film genre as well.
We are re-introduced to Bond as he achieves his 00 status, the opening sequence is shot in black and white and there are many elements of the cold war visible in the miss-en-scene, the villain wears a fur hat, reminiscent of the Soviet Union in style, it’s also obviously cold which makes the audience think of Siberian winters.
The filmmakers want us to believe that even though this is a Bond film set in 2006, it also includes many visual clues for the audience to relate to from the 1960’s films. Delving deeper into the reasons behind this opening sequence it could be inferred this is done to create a direct link between the films of the 1960’s and the 2006 reboot. The audience is therefore manipulated into thinking this is a new Bond and yet also the Bond we know from the 1960’s. The filmmakers go on to reinforce this thought process by making certain that all the usual elements are in place; the cars, the girls and the gadgets but these appear secondary to Bond the emotionally flawed and yet reborn action man.
The portrayal of women in Bond films has also been rebooted. The love interest Vesper appears to view Bond with distain and avoids his initial sexual advances. Vesper shares equal status with Bond, this is not business as usual. Vesper is not the usual Bond girl although she seems to fit the requirements, beautiful and available. Vesper plays the femme fetal a double agent working both for the British Taxpayer in charge of the money Bond needs to defeat the villain Le Chiffre and simultaneously working for Le Chiffre albeit under duress.
The femme fetal is a recurring theme in Bond films and may explain Bonds inherent mistrust in women. Bond is reluctant to consider a lasting relationship with women, for they generally prove to be untrustworthy. In Casino Royale the femme fetal, Vesper uses Bonds attraction to her to lead him into a trap, which in turn leads to Bonds torture and predictable death. But she in contradiction is also responsible for saving Bonds life after attaching the defibrillators electrodes to shock him back into life after he has been poisoned. There is conflict in her emotions, on one level she as double agent, the femme fetal who must work to stop Bond from achieving his aim. To prevent Bond from winning the poker tournament and thus defeating Le Chiffre while balancing that against her love of Bond. This creates emotional conflict in Vesper who is already falling in love with Bond and shifting her loyalties to his cause, this feeling of love and betrayal eventually leads to her death as she realises that Bond knows she is a double agent and so decides that she prefers death rather than living with betrayal.
Bonds emotions are also tested, his machismo image takes second place as his love for Vesper causes him to forgive her. To the new emotionally flawed Bond she is not just another sexual conquest. The loss of Vesper cuts into Bonds psyche and even though he knows she has betrayed him this makes no difference when Bond seeks personal vengeance on the ex boyfriend who trapped Vesper into being a double agent and in Bonds eyes is ultimately responsible for her death.
With the re-boot the roles of women depicted in the films continue to strengthen towards equality, no longer are they portrayed as second-class citizens. Strong female characters play key roles in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. For example Judi Dench’s role as ‘M’ is carried over from the previous films starring Pierce Brosnan. At the time of these films release, in real life the head of Mi5 was a women and Bond films are nothing if not contemporary in its portrayal of the social attitudes and politics of the time by casting Judi Dench as M.
M’s character is strong and virtually merciless comparable to that of a Bond villain, for she has no compunction of using Bond to achieve her cause even when it seems it must be at his almost certain death. This mercilessness is revealed when she feels that Bond has disobeyed her orders. She immediately disavows him, cancelling his 00 status and ordering his capture or death. She also expects Bond to ignore his feelings for Vesper and warns him against taking vengeance even though she too was betrayed by Vesper. M’s feelings do not appear to come into how she does her job,
She is a strong female character not one to let emotions interfere with her job and she expects the people who work for her to be the same. But at the same time the audience is made to feel that secretly she does have some feelings for Bond, as she appears to allow him too much free will. In several scenes we watch her at a key decision point where she gives Bond another chance. To see if he is on the track of something or that he is indeed carrying out her orders but not necessarily in the way that she intended. Bond understands this relationship with ‘M’ knowing that if he breaks the rules he must deliver on her trust in him, or her wrath if he fails her.
Looking deeper we can compare this relationship to that between a boy and his mother he’s free to do whatever he does but at some point he must explain to his mother what he has done and why. But Bond instinctively knows that at the same time a mother always forgives her boy no matter what he does – doesn’t she?
Bond appears less machismo sexually but without effecting his masculinity, which has been achieved by switching the emphasis of Bonds character away to some extent from his womanising and replacing this with more action sequences and therefore violence. Bond’s most recent films depict him as being almost monogamist. Speculating we can assume that the changing attitudes to sex of the viewing public has been taken into consideration, the portrayal of promiscuous sex and its relationship to sexually transmitted diseases. So rather than specifically identifying this issue in the films. The films now just show Bond as having one, possibly two sexual partners and unusually for Bond films there is now more than a hint of an emotional link between Bond and his love interests. In comparison to earlier films such as Dr. No (1962), Bond had several sexual partners and in particular the sexual attentions of the femme fetal, Miss Taro who attempted to lure him to his death while engaged in a sexual escapade at her home in the Jamaican hills. Although in this film the true allegiances of Miss Taro were obvious to Sean Connery’s Bond and therefore the trap easily avoided, unlike the scenario faced by Daniel Craig and his femme fetal Vesper.
Bonds character changes to fit the times as Lodderhose. Variety. P70 says ‘Both “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” offered auds a taste of a how 007 was evolving to fit the times: Daniel Craig’s James Bond proved to be more rugged and raw, darker and more emotive than previous Bonds and made for a cool fit for the younger generation. “Skyfall” helmed by Sam Mendes, looks set to see Craig’s character continue the tough-guy-with-feelings trend as Bond faces his most interesting and challenging villain to date, Silva (played by Javier Bardem), who “certainly puts James Bond through the paces,” says producer Barbara Broccoli’
Part of this change in Bonds character is reflected in how the violence depicted in the most recent films appears more personal and graphic. Sequences where Bond is shown fighting hand to hand or shoots from close range proliferate. In one scene in Quantum of Solace Bond kills not with his ever present shoulder holstered Walther PPK but with his bare hands and everyday items that he finds in a hotel room when he is discovered mid search. This scene is very reminiscent of the rival Bourne film franchise The Bourne Legacy (Doug Liam 2002) the film sequences where Bourne also generally disdains the use of a gun and kills using his bare hands and seemingly ordinary items to hand, the innocuous biro pen, a rolled up magazine to incapacitate and kill his enemies.
This is an example of where the Bond Franchise has had to take back the high ground from the usurpers of Bonds crown these include the Bourne films and recent television programs, for example Spooks, a BBC television series. But in order to regain its position Bonds character has had to adapt, become tougher and less smiling, he appears on screen unshaven dirty from the chase, the battle. But there are incongruities, Bond faces his enemies suited and even after the most strenuous of chases and battles all it takes is a wave of the hand to brush away the dust, a quick straightening of the tie and a pull on the shirt cuffs to return Bond back to the image of the supercool suave gentleman spy. This is toughness taken to the next level, the less smiling Bond reflects upon current times, people are generally more serious, times are hard, the excesses of the previous decade are gone and Bonds character has had to change to match this new social climate.
The audience is more likely to emphasise with the new Bond, times are indeed harder, the Public sector is being cut back, budgets have been cut and so Bond has had to reflect this. In Casino Royale, for example Vesper a representative of her Majesties Treasury accompanies Bond on his mission to ensure that the public gets value for money even when fighting terrorism. This gritty and grimmer Bond character has been reinforced by the release of the follow on films, reflecting a more serious demeanor, with Bond now limited to just a few wry comments.
In conclusion and in many respects evidenced by the phenomenal success of the release of Skyfall the Bond formula apparently continues to work. Skyfall a British based Bond film with the majority of the on screen action taking place in London and the wilds of Scotland, with only the briefest of forays into China and Turkey. From a nationalist viewpoint Americas absence from the films narrative is surprising when considering box office returns or is it? Chinas economic growth and new world position would have been a major consideration when the filmmakers decided to locate some of its storyline in China possibly in anticipation of higher box office returns as it enjoyed with Quantum Of Solace. However this absence of any American National interests from the narrative does not seem to have affected the American box office returns, which at time of writing stand at according to Child (2012) ‘$89 million, which have been the highest for any Bond movie on its opening weekend’
Skyfall’s release confirms the continuing appeal of the Bond franchise in this its fiftieth year. The Britishness of Bond is center to this as is the other key elements, the violence and machismo sex of Bond’s character. The Skyfall villain remains true to form. Eberts (2012) says of Skyfall’s villain ‘Silva’ a Gay bleached megalomaniac; the filmmakers have brought us full circle’
Skyfall’s Bond has much in common with the Bond of 1962. The world has changed and Bond has adapted to it yet he remains the same, a contradiction by any sense but we are left with the conclusion that the formulae works and we can look forward to yet more years of James Bond, British secret agent. Collett-White (2012) says that ‘the 23rd film is the most successful in the Bond Franchise as the latest box office figures puts Skyfall at the top of the UK box office records taking in over $152 million therefore surpassing the previous holder Avatar’ .
The reboot positions the Bond Franchise back on track and with the UK high box office returns currently in excess of £100 million, this can only ensure that there will be an even greater incentive for the producers and studios to make more Bond Films. Bond followers can therefore look forward to more of Bond, perhaps another 50 years of Bond. Albeit an ever changing Bond, reflecting current politics and social trends yet a Bond that stays the same, following the proven Bond formulae that includes the elements of Nationalism, Violence and Sex.
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