Forget ‘shaken, not stirred’

24 January 2005 at 07:08 Leave a comment

What you need is a slice of lemon peel.

I’ve just read Tanya Gold’s meanderings (I’d call it a diatribe, but it’s not that rigorous) about James Bond in the Guardian. All I can say is, read the books. [The saddest part being I normally agree with her, and I haven’t blogged and given her credit for that!]

To be fair, she’s clearly talking only about the James Bond movies (with an unfortunate reference to the books which makes it seem that you can lump them all together for one analysis), and since she’s declaring the franchise dead we can assume this isn’t a serious piece. But it’s quite obvious that she hasn’t read the books.

Strangely enough, I finished From Russia with Love yesterday and intended to write it up here. This from a girl who loathes banality, and the movies do make JB seems superficial and banal. Sean Connery manages to get something interesting behind the eyes, and he even seems to have the ‘cruel mouth’ that Fleming describes, but the best part of JB that I’ve found in reading very recently a whole bunch of them all at once (this is what happens when you haven’t gotten around to getting a library card, and your house comes with a bunch of Fleming’s books in it) is what I call his ‘first person sardonic’ perspective. I’ve now read the in situ Book Club copies of Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, and The Spy Who Loved Me. Oh, and by the way, I enjoyed them so much that I bought FRwL after reading the others.

I also have to admit that I find it amusing that Tanya Gold complains that, “He had a weird predilection for girls with silly names,” since the heroine of FRwL was Tatiana “Tania” Romanova.  Again, the movies are the worst here.

I consider Goldfinger a must read. I’m recommending it to everyone that I know, despite the homophobia, sexism and offensive racism. The villains are quite fun, but the gem is James Bond. And that’s just what the movies can’t get right. The bad guys/girls are all very two-dimensional, which is why the books work best when they are from JB’s perspective, when we get inside his head and leave the others to portray themselves in present-tense action only. The worst JB I’ve read yet is The Spy Who Loved Me, written entirely from the perspective of one of his rescuees.

You could have guessed that, couldn’t you? That Ian Fleming couldn’t get inside a woman’s head.

But what makes Bond work for me are the very things that don’t seem to make it to the big screen: his sense of responsibility, his self-doubts, his self-consciousness, his fears.

James Bond’s suavity on-screen seems so off-the-cuff, so unpracticed, and therefore arrogant and bristling with self-confidence, but in Goldfinger, “he pulled a comfortable chair in front of the open balcony door and sat and smoked a cigarette while he gazed out across the sea and thought of how he would put things to Goldfinger when the time came” (pg. 43). Planned.

And he’s always second-guessing himself:

He and the girl couldn’t sit for four days in this coupé with the blinds drawn. Their presence would be reported back to Istanbul, telephoned from some station, and by the morning the loss of the Spektor would have been discovered. Then what? A hasty démarche through the Russian embassy in Athens or Belgrade? Have the girl taken off the train as a thief? Or was that all too simple? And if it was more complicated – if all this was part of some mysterious plot, some tortuous Russian conspiracy – should he dodge it? Should he and the girl leave the train at a wayside station, on the wrong side of the track, and hire a car and somehow get a plane back to London? [he decided, “No”]

That James Bond’s counterparts are 2-dimensional, that his understanding of them is banal (constantly tainted by value judgements revealing his homophobia, racism, etc.) actually makes his character more believable. Could someone whose job it was to kill, and to kill frequently, do that job if he saw mothers’ sons, wives’ husbands, fathers’ daughters, children’s fathers in the faces of those he killed? No. He would have to strip them down to a type and dismiss them. Dehumanize them. It’s what we have come to object to in racial and gender stereotypes. But to retreat from the understanding that people did, and do, look at other people in these simplified ways is to lose sight of the outlook of everyday people all around us.

As a superficial example of the movie media’s inability to portray the subtleties of the Bond character, I will mention his choice of alcoholic beverage. I haven’t read them all yet, but I have yet to find ‘shaken, not stirred’ in reference to his martinis (and he drinks a lot of other things besides martinis).

But forget ‘shaken, not stirred’. He likes his martinis with a slice of lemon peel.

In summary [out of 5 ¤¤¤¤¤]:

Diamonds Are Forever ¤¤¤
A bit long, somehow, for a Bond. The meanderings over-meander, and the answers to questions seem to come to easily and with a lot of gruesomeness. Readable, but not great.

– “There was a medium dry Martini with a piece of lemon peel waiting for him. Bond smiled at Leiter’s memory…” (pg. 77)
– “Vodka Martini” (155)
– “Vodka dry Martini” (pg. 159)
– “Bourbon and Branch water(pg. 164)
– “bourbon and branch water, half and half” (pg. 188)

From Russia With Love ¤¤¤¤
A fun romp. Interesting to see his idea that the Soviet state kept its citizens sort of innocent (read: gullible) while the upper eschelons knew what evil they were really up to…
“Bond put the thought of his dead youth out of his mind. Never job backwards. What-might-have-been was a waste of time. Follow your fate, and be satisfied with it, and be glad not to be a second-hand motor salesman, or a yellow-press journalist, pickled in gin and nicotine, or a cripple – or dead.” (pg. 115)

– drank “two excellent Americanos” (pg. 116)
– “two dry Martinis and a half-bottle of Calvet claret” (pg. 119)

Goldfinger ¤¤¤¤¤
My favorite, bar none. Great bad guy. Great ‘chase’ scene across France. The golf match with Goldfinger is outstanding, and the final scheme a hoot.

-“gin and tonic” (pg 127)
-“bourbon and soda” (pg. 188)

For Your Eyes Only ¤¤
Actually a series of short stories, none of which I remember well except the first one:

“From a View to a Kill”, which is rather brilliant, I thought.
-an Americano” (pg. 12)
“For Your Eyes Only” was sad and, well, sad.
“Quantum of Solace” is an odd one – told by a man Bond meets at an official shindig.
– brandy (pg. 89)
“Risico” is a rather usual, enjoyable Bond romp.
– a Negroni (pg. 110)
“The Hildebrand Rarity” is interesting because it could only have been written by someone who has been trapped by a series of circumstances on the boat of a tyrant. I have. And this gives you a pretty clear idea what kind of nightmare it can be, though my trip didn’t end in murder…

Thunderball ¤¤¤¤
A good one. Sort of ‘heavier’ than I prefer. I can’t explain that, but absolutely enjoyable. Thought the health spa business was fun, but Nassau wasn’t as entertaining. But well done, and all that.

-Leiter again orders them “two dry Martinis without olives and with some slices of lemon peel separate.” (pg. 115) (N.B. – Leiter’s diatribe on the profit made from a drink in a bar is very entertaining).
– Clicquot rosé champagne

The Spy Who Loved Me ¤
Written from the perspective of the “Bond girl”, this piece turns JB into just another 2-dimensional character. If you like the woman, you’ll like the book, but she didn’t really interest me.

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Entry filed under: reading.

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What I’ve been reading:

  • James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, L.L.D. (London, 14 King William Street, Strand: William P. Nimmo, 1876). 3 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 3, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985). 4 years ago
  • Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 4 years ago
  • Stephanie Kallos, Broken for You (New York: Grove Press, 2004). 4 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 2, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985) 4 years ago

T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.

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