007: the spy who never dies

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

ACCORDING TO The Times yesterday, scientists are predicting that 50 years from now we will all be living on anti-ageing drugs and communicating with fish. This is, of course, speculation, so let me offer a safer prediction: half a century from now we will all still be watching James Bond films. And so will the fish. As long as they are British fish. And male.

Bond was born with an anti-ageing drug in his fictional veins that is unique in our culture. Sons, as they grow up, progressively decline to do things with their fathers: they grow out of the bedtime story, they would rather go to the football match with their mates. But rare is the son, aged 8 or 80, who will not agree to accompany his father into the fantasy world of 007.

The power of the shared Bond ritual offers a peculiar insight into the masculine British mind. Many women also enjoy the movies, and the appeal of Bond is global, but in order to be both shaken and stirred by Bond (OK, that’s the last of the catchphrases) it helps to be British, male and slightly naff: interested in gizmos, sex without commitment, saving the world, clunking double-entendres, fast cars, drink, ironic self-mockery and, above all, embracing a particular sort of loneliness.

It matters not who Bond is, nor which generation he addresses. He may be blond or brunette, bloodless or bleeding. It makes no difference. Every Bond is outside society’s rules while saving society itself; he is a stud-muffin, but essentially alone; he has signatures — cars, clothes, watches — but few personality traits or quirks (compare him, say, with the sheer oddness of Sherlock Holmes, or the flaws of Philip Marlowe). He has no politics, no friends, no family, no past (though the new movie tries to build one retrospectively) and nofuture. He is what many Englishmen imagine they could be, and very seldom are: the lone wolf.

This central core of male fantasy transcends the various incarnations of Bond. He is about having what you are denied in a British world of convention and order. When Casino Royale was published in 1953, food was still rationed in Britain and gambling illegal outside exclusive clubs: so Bond played the baccarat tables and ate beef in Béarnaise sauce, now the staple of every Angus Steak House, then the stuff of gastronomic dreams. Sean Connery’s cold-eyed killer and misogynist transported a generation of British boys brought up on Airfix models, Marmite toast and monogamy. Roger Moore, the most ironic Bond, took cinemagoers from grey Britain to places where the sun shone permanently and you could ski backwards firing a machinegun. Bond has a fabulous wardrobe without ever once having to go shopping — another fantasy for the average British male.

It is fashionable to declare that each generation gets the Bond it deserves. More striking, it seems to me, is just how similar the Bonds have been, which helps to explain the transgenerational appeal. The technology, girls and scenery change. Bond has survived the Cold War, the Vietnam War, two Iraq wars and several sexual revolutions. Ian Fleming’s humourless Bond (“sex, snobbery and sadism”, said Paul Johnson, back in 1958) gives way to the more emotional Daniel Craig version, yet the character is essentially the same. ...

comments powered by Disqus