Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The James Bond Archives

When counselling, I often advise: Just imagine you're James Bond! Needless to say, I usually get rather irritated looks. Is he probably slightly mad? seems to cross quite some minds. And, so I start elaborating: I do not mean you should attempt to become superman (or superwoman), I mean something completely different. Can you imagine Bond suffering from motivation problems? Sure, after a completed mission he prefers to stay under the duvet with his lover and does not want to be disturbed by calls from London. But that is at the end of the movie. Apart from that he's always ready to do what is required from him. Never does he complain, criticise or find fault with the universe. He always acts like a gentleman. In this sense, he could very well be a role model.
Looking at stills of action movie making feels weird and fascinating. To be shown how Bond and his companions are constantly surrounded by lots of people, some of them holding cameras and microphones, very likely destroys quite some of the sensations one might have experienced while watching the movies. It is a rather sobering experience to realise that the movie heroes (yes, we knew that, of course ... but nevertheless) are hardly more than puppets on a string.

The James Bond Archives is an impressive document that lets us participate in the very human endeavours that go into the making of a movie. I do especially warm to the scenes in which the actors and actresses seemingly have fun and appear to be most relaxed.

Among the discoveries to be made is "Casino Royale", the first James Bond parody that is based on the Jan Fleming novel. Shot in 1967, it is starring Peter Sellers, Ursula  Andress, David Niven, Orson Welles ... and Woody Allen! Ursula Andress said about it: "Peter Sellers wanted to change the whole script every day and every day he got into a big fight with the producer Charlie Feldman. Then Peter Sellers walked off, and we had to wait. It was the craziest film I ever made."
"There is only one recipe for a best seller. You have to get the reader to turn over the page", Ian Fleming, the creator of the fourteen James Bond novels once remarked. In a Playboy interview that introduces this tome he was asked whether, as some psychologists seem to believe, "neurosis is a concomitant of the creative drive" to which is responds: "I think this is perfectly true. I think to be a creative writer or a creative anything else, you've got to be neurotic. I certainly am in many respects. I'm not quite certain how but I am. I'm rather melancholic and probably slightly maniacal as well."

 The James Bond Archives provides not only plenty so far unpublished movie stills as well as production memos from filming but also an oral history recounted by over 150 actors, actresses, producers, directors, stage designers, and stuntmen. The actress Honor Blackman, who starred in "Goldfinger", summed up succinctly, by quoting producer Harry Saltzman, the appeal of the Bond movies. "Harry Saltzman always said that women came out of a Bond movie dreaming about Bond and the men came out walking tall. That's the attraction of the Bond films. I think, that men identify with him, and the females want him."
The James Bond Archives is a hugely informative and most enjoyable tome. It is indeed, as the publisher says, "a comprehensive tribute to the legend of James Bond". This is how editor Paul Duncan introduces the book: "Exactly half way though the first James Bond film, Dr. No, Bond prepares a trap for Professor Dent. Bond arranges a bedroom to make it look as though he is asleep in bed, then calmly puts a silencer on his gun, and plays a card game as he waits behind the doorway. Deep into the night, Dent carefully opens the bedroom door and empties his gun into the bed. Bond, knowing that Dent's gun is empty – "You've had your six," he says – shoots Dent in cold blood, then puts another round into Dent as he lies on the floor. Bond, still sitting, unscrews his silencer and blows into it, contemplating his next move.

This is the quintessential Bond moment. Up to this point, Bond has been a charming, cultivated gentleman, equally at home in a casino or a seafront bar, fully able to repel attacks from devious chauffeurs or rapacious women. And then he kills without hesitation, for Queen and Country. It is the first time that we understand what it means to have a licence to kill."

Disclaimer: When advising people to imagine 007 as a role model, I do of course not refer to his licence to kill.

Paul Duncan, Editor
The James Bond Archives
Taschen, Cologne 2015

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