“The dead are alive” whispers a humble caption as an audacious and sinister opening shot soars, swoops and tracks into one of Bond’s greatest opening overtures. As a lone figure pushes through a pulsing exodus of Day of the Dead carnival goers, it’s Samedi Night Fever on the streets of Mexico City. Spinning senoritas, sexy La Catrinas and cadavarious cads jostle and party in a glorious and ghoulish ‘one take’ melange of remembrance and skulduggery. Pinned to one ‘continuous’ and brilliantly mounted five minute take, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s camera finds our man James and his corpse bride already embroiled in a deadly hunt of cat and louse. Cue all manner of roof hopping, cuff shooting and a remembrance funday the likes of which Craig’s Bond has never done before with such zest, scope and ball-busting ambition. With Tambuco’s pounding percussion, Chris Corbould’s wholly logical special effects, Jamy Temime’s bravura costume design and Gary Powell’s heart-pounding stunt work – these are department heads at the utter peak of their Bond game. And this is just the first ten minutes of Spectre. Not even that. But already this breathless, apocalypse wow of a helicopter fight over the Zócalo puts this movie’s opening gambit up there with any Union Jack parachute or jetpack escape.
That playful sense of relief and victory has been slightly absent from the Craig era. It didn’t sit with the internal dramatics and renovated psyche of our man James. But in Spectre these opening heroics are fierce, epic and nail bitingly victorious. Craig and director Sam Mendes utterly earn that moment when Sam Smith’s mid Sixties strings fire like familiar harpoon guns into a John Barry-savvy ocean and Daniel Kleinman’s inky titles begin their wraithlike dance. As writhing snakes form the cornea of an eye, eye sockets burn like it’s 1973 and Live and Let Die all over again and Kleinman pays apt reverence to Salvador Dali’s multiple eye motif (from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound), Spectre’s notion of surveillance and watching is readily apparent. The turbulent wake behind a speeding bullet becomes the tentacles of an octopus that grips, smothers and seduces; and a naked Daniel Craig stares at the audience as various hands and arms flail for his attention (in a homo-baiting visual not totally dissimilar to a topless, faceless George Lazenby in a OHMSS teaser poster). As the titles make one of cinema’s most utterly reassuring declarations that once again “Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions presents”, a million shards of glass do indeed haunt Bond from his past when the Ghosts of Bond Films Past, Le Chiffre and Silva twist and remind like story phantoms. Contrary to some of the naysayers bashing Sam Smith, it is a wholly fresh notion to cast a male vocalist and a pained love song that retracts the traditional and bombastic momentum of a Bond song with a quiet falsetto or three (Communard Bond anyone?!).
And before you know it, we’re back through that double tufted leather door and Ralph Fiennes’ vexed M bashing Bond for being a Guardian headline. The world’s security agencies and MI6’s Double O Section are allegedly at a crossroads – a cyber sea-change in an ever prescient world of refugees, holiday resort terrorism and identity theft. The rigid, Apprentice contestant sneering of newcomer Andrew Scott and his bureaucratic Max Denbigh are flagging up change for everything that M and Bond know . A new shared surveillance network called Nine Eyes proposes replacing agents in the field with “drones” and previously guarded nations will rather spuriously now “share” information. The thrust of Spectre is utter Edward Snowden and his damaging and downright petrifying claims about government surveillance techniques. This is not surprising for Eon and this particular Bond film. Producer Barbara Broccoli currently has her film making sights on Glenn Greenwald’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, No Place to Hide – Edward Snowden, the NSA and The Surveillance State. In Spectre the NSA is the fictional CNS – the Centre for National Security – or perhaps a rather dubiously managed central nervous system rife for abuse and personal intrusion. Once again out on his own and saddled with diktats from above that even M cannot stop, Bond must not only pursue the mission he is already on when the film starts, he must also do so with the least interaction with the home side.
In Spectre there is a wonderful stuck in boarding school during the holidays dynamic about the M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner foursome. With Denbigh pitched as Spectre’s blinkered and dangerously naïve Ofsted inspector, Fiennes beleaguered, but principled turn as MI6’s headmaster is one of the film’s highlights. Still imbued with that ex-army, Northern Irish veteran life alluded to in Skyfall, Fiennes’ M is a fiercely principled man, defending with pride the skills of “my quartermaster” and of course top agent, Bond. Echoing one of Bond’s educations in 2008’s Quantum of Solace and probably the key thrust of Spectre, Fiennes firmly believes “a licence to kill means knowing when not to kill”. Playing down some of the near idiot savant tics of the character in Skyfall, Ben Whishaw’s Q relaxes his quartermaster into a supporter of 007. Less cool and aloof geek, he is now more Airbnb savvy hipster getting himself embroiled in a perilous field trip with only the thinnest of escape options. It is a seriously encouraging state of affairs when Bond’s home side are made up of at least three possible future Knights of the British acting fraternity – Fiennes, Kinnear and Whishaw.
One almost passing moment of M dining alone (at Rules – Covent Garden’s real dining refuge as featured in the spy worlds of writers Graham Greene and John Le Carre) is so well pitched as an out of hours Moneypenny and Q show concern for Bond, the mission and their careworn boss. Once again London is a support character in Spectre. But this is a very different London to that so gloriously used in 2012’s Skyfall and the wake of the Jubilee and the Olympics. This is a London for loners. Bond lives alone in a decidedly sparse apartment, M dines alone or is on the lamb with only a meagre holdall of his possessions, a lone Q operates into the early hours out of his own refuge, Moneypenny walks down empty streets at night and MI6’s abandoned base at Vauxhall now cuts a lonely, derelict sight.
Cut to an Italian job in Rome and a funeral rendezvous with Monica Bellucci’s striking and life worn widow, Lucia Sciarra. “Can’t you see I’m grieving?” she barks as Bond’s coy “No, I can’t” is not long followed by quite a passionate bout of Catholic baiting nooky. Not even the Pope could absolve Bond of his sins now. Spectre is a decidedly passionate film. After Lea Seydoux’s Dr Madeleine Swann and Bond are embroiled in a highly brutal train fight with Dave Bautista’s burly Hinx, an urgent instrumental version of Sam Smith’s title song spills into what is a really passionate embrace and a great Roger Moore inspired answer to “well, what do we do now?”. Seydoux’s Madeline Swann is a markedly downbeat Bond woman. Played by rising French actress Seydoux (Blue is The Warmest Colour, Grand Central, Midnight In Paris) the Proustian Madeleine Swann is a play on words and continues Skyfall and writer John Logan’s literary cameos. A madeleine cake was famously referenced at the beginning of Proust’s Swann’s Way – when the subject marks how a nostalgia-making madeleine brings back a tumult of hard emotions and childhood remembrances. Further underlining the nod, Swann’s Way was the first chapter of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu, 1913) which translates as the more familiar Remembrance of Things Past and is all over Spectre as Bond, Madeleine and Oberhauser almost trip over their childhood photos and regret.
A long time casting wish for the Bond camp, Monica Bellucci’s presence is a beguiling, yet all too brief one. It is a slither of an appearance, but one that sets the film up for one of its masterstrokes – the reintroduction of criminal organisation, Spectre. One gate-crashing bout of Bond’s best Italian language skills later and it’s For Your Eyes Wide Shut as Bond infiltrates a cult-framed criminal summit – a ruthless enclave of vengeful business, dubious start-up schemes and the minutes of terrorism. Fearful accountants attempt buoying up middling business success, murderous assignments are tendered out to the most tender-less of candidates and one particular new board member makes a viciously violent play on the phrase ‘by the pricking of my thumbs’. And there is a microphone. And a tannoy. There is no monorail alas, but in a world of mass cyber communication it is refreshing to see how a starter business like Spectre still relies on a pointed microphone. On a stand.
Actually, Spectre the film is refreshingly tech-free. All keyboard tapping intrigue is kept to a minimum, a trickling line of spilt beer is as good a way of finding hidden rooms these days, a secret hand gesture rather than a retina scan gets you into villains lairs, an alpine clinic demands all phones and guns to be handed over upon arrival and the DB10 is not fully fledged just yet (but it does boast a Frank Sinatra cd – in a possible nod to one of Cubby Broccoli’s close pals). In the best John Glen era swagger, Bond is very much “on his own this time” as the story and M require Bond to not communicate with anyone.
And so to Christoph Waltz. Alongside Javier Bardem, the double Oscar winner was the Bond films must-have villain. The National Theatre of Eon now has its most apt actor to nail that necessary sense of European villainy so memorably pioneered in the SPECTRE-bound likes of From Russia with Love and Thunderball. As Franz Oberhauser, Waltz crafts a very still and quietly calculating nemesis. Nothing however quite matches that doom-ladened boardroom entrance as Oberhauser drops the name “James” into the minutes with foreboding precision. In sockless slip-ons, humdrum slacks and a Nehru suit jacket he refuses to properly button up, Oberhauser emerges almost as an aloof Jeremy Corbyn at a seaside conference. Possibly disadvantaged with constant references to previous Bond villains, Oberhauser may also ultimately emerge as somewhat of a lesser force. He certainly upholds Dr. No’s skills at picking the right dress size for his visiting Bond women, Rosa Klebb’s ability to sour a hotel room for guests and Helga Brandt’s penchant for torture (the Craig era does love to strap its lead to a chair). Obviously the elephant in Spectre’s room is 007’s most famous adversary. But if anything this film is about the children of Spectre – the next generation of flame keepers. And flame throwers. It is a sinister beat when Bond and Swann are in separate rooms at Oberhauser’s Moroccan base and are unnerved to see framed photos on the walls of their childhoods.
The lurking white cat that is Mr White has been sauntering under the radar for three Bond movies now. The Austrian scenes between Jesper Christensen’s White and Bond are one of Spectre’s triumphs. Once again Christensen drags with him a Jacob Marley sense of impending, inescapable doom. But there is now a conscience and a resignation to his fate and actions. Rather than wholly using the Hannes Oberhauser strand of Ian Fleming’s 1966 short story collection Octopussy & The Living Daylights as expected, it is Mr White who is afforded writers John Logan, Robert Wade, Neal Purvis and Jez Butterworth nod to the source material. Instead of Octopussy’s father in the 1983 film being provided with an honourable alternative to court martialling and an shameful death, it is now Mr White in a scene that comes back to haunt Bond in quite a marked, devilish way.
There is of course more Fleming DNA weaved throughout this Bond bullet. An unused Fleming title is finally put to good use, Fleming’s great nephew Tam Williams plays an all-important, but faceless lover and a torture scene lifts directly from Kingsley Amis’s 1968 continuation Bond novel, Colonel Sun.
And talking of Mr White (and taking one of Roger Moore’s Bond Women tropes of the 1980s), Spectre has a lot of Daddy issues. Lea Seydoux’s ele-quaint turn as a White Swann of haunted memories, divorced parents, a hatred of weaponry is oddly affective alongside her striking love for Commander Bond. And Franz himself is clearly blaming his father and his relationships for his life choices. But the one figure who is refreshingly free of such familial angst is James Bond himself. The much touted back story of the Oberhausers and a teenage James are almost superfluous to Spectre. This then leaves Craig’s 007 to utterly enjoy the Bond ride in the first of his four films (to date) which is just a fun mission.
One of the successes of Spectre is how it reinstates – and earns – that Bond swagger. As composer Thomas Newman’s choir and Vatican establishing shots fanfare that Bond Arrives ™ moment, this twenty-fourth 007 bullet is peppered with joyous beats and assertive tangents. This is a Bond film with abundant champagne on ice, an alpine clinic with remote control shutters, a rather useful watch and a real lack of second unit domination. And that unashamed heterosexuality is back. Quite right. Craig’s Bond has not yet bedded a Bond woman who stays with him as the end credits hit. There is even space for not one, but two ‘c’ word gags. That potty mouthed Judi Dench and her Skyfall expletives have a lot to answer for.
Sam Mendes second spin of the dice is less the bespoke, mahogany hued world of Skyfall. The Mexico City scenes have a contemporary immediacy to them whilst conversely the Morocco scenes aboard a vintage train and later in the desert reek of Agatha Christie movies as an anachronistically dressed Bond and Swann await an appointment with death. Cue EON Productions’ Chauffeur Complex (and one close to the heart of Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan). Nearly every Bond film features a suited chauffeur. Spectre is no different as an approaching and beautiful Rolls Royce Silver Wraith shimmers out of a desert mirage like a wheeled Omar Shariff and reminds of Kleinman’s title wraiths.
Talking of Lawrence of Arabia, there is a marked nod to David Lean in Spectre. Pursuing the hot and cold motif of Mexico and Morocco versus the freezing climes of Austria, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography has the romantic visual sweep of Doctor Zhivago and that duality of ice and sand. Antique trains thread through the desert, shadows are thrown at Spectre HQ like Ken Adam drapes and aerial shots show Bond and London from the eye of an eagle. Hoytema’s work here underpins one of the most romantic looking of Bond movies. Freddie Young (who shot Zhivago, Lawrence and 1967’s You Only Live Twice) would be proud. The dusty hues of Mexico City are awash with that key marigold Day of the Dead colour, Austria is lent a drab February ski trip grey and Rome is suitably romanticised and Catholicised with candle-light auburns and oranges. One pull focus gem sees a resigned Lucia Sciarra and her last ever nightcap flanked by death only for Bond to turn the tables in one slickly orchestrated beat.
This is not a 007 adventure that feels the need to keep the action plate spinning. Casino Royale was sometimes fearful of its central card game motif so threaded in constant physical peril and stairwell skirmishes. The action beats in Spectre are all pinned to the story. As in Skyfall, the stunts inform the narrative rather than pause it. Gravity is the action motif here – the gravity of Bond sliding down a crumbling Mexican wall onto an abandoned sofa, the gravity of a fiercely realised fist fight aboard an out of control helicopter, the gravity of what goes up must come down, the gravity of a wingless plane chasing a fleet of jeeps down an Austrian mountain on nothing but momentum, the gravity of a playful parachute descent in Rome and the gravity of a last act jump off an exploding building.
From Pale Kings to pain authors, Spectre is a breathless triumph that breathes, thrills, romances and glows with a sinister, retro pride. It is Mendes’ Kubrickian opera of baroque quirks, wit and deliberately strange imagery.
Many thanks to EON Productions for the screening.
Spectre is released nationwide in the UK on Monday 26th October and 6th November in the US.
With a growing archive of at least 15,000 illustrations, famed Bond creative hub EON Productions has collated a celebratory [and of course timely] coffee table look at 53 years of 007 design. Written by EON’s Archive Director Meg Simmonds, Bond By Design – The Art of The James Bond Films is a lavish 320 page tome – as much about the unnoticed artisans of cinema as it is James Bond 007’s glorious design legacy.
Straddling the various artistic strands feeding into the onscreen Bond – costumes, sets, graphic design, props, cars and stunts – Bond By Design explores the 007 design palette chronologically from Dr. No through to SPECTRE. As Archive Director at EON Productions, Meg Simmonds not only contributes to countless 007 books, articles, DVDs, auctions and documentaries, she has also helped curate, launch and maintain a triumvirate of Bond exhibitions. Designing Bond (which has just finished a summer run in Madrid), Bond In Motion (now parked up for a successful run in London’s Covent Garden) and the lesser known Exquisitely Evil (at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC) are all must-see branches of this ongoing project to mark and celebrate Bond’s production, sociological and cultural history.
As the lushly reproduced storyboards, charcoal sketches and hand-drawn illustrations evolve into rich marker pen interiors and beautiful water-coloured vistas before making way for the new era’s digital schematics and pre-vis imagery, Bond By Design is as much a document of late 20th century movie entertainment design as it is 007 – an opulent tribute to the lost heroes of movie design. The painted ponderings of costume designer Julie Harris (Live and Let Die) are as rich and relevant as any Cecil Beaton drawing for My Fair Lady. Anthony Mendleson’s costume paintings for 1965’s Thunderball equal any Edith Head etching for those balletic frames and never-ending legs. Donfeld’s watercolour illustrations for Diamonds Are Forever’s Tiffany Case are as luxuriant and era-pinning as any Vogue Paris cover or Robert McGinnis Matt Helm poster from the same time. And check out Barbarella’s Jacques Fonteray and his Moonraker suits and “Breeder” gowns! It is telling too how the ‘house style’ for Quantum of Solace, Royale and Skyfall ‘s digitally produced designs still hark back to that pulp fiction style of paperback cover art.
Of course the creative endowments to Bond and cinema from the likes of designers Ken Adam, Peter Murton, Syd Cain and Peter Lamont go unchallenged. Yet Meg Simmonds and the EON archive go further with Bond By Design. The end result is a rich reserve of those sleek sketches, languid watercolours and the vital scope of ambition EON and Danjaq afford these designers. But, Bond By Design also underlines the furnishing, decorative and architectural savvy these designers had [and continue to have]. The detail and notes Peter Lamont assigns a fairly incidental set and his clear awareness of materials, light, manoeuvrability and tone is as striking as any triangular ceiling of Ken Adam’s. And this is before the internet, online libraries and catalogued furniture archives. It is not enough for these designers to know their production and construction restraints. As this book testifies, they have to be ahead of fashion, erudite with what they know about the history [and future] of interior design and what will let all the global audiences into the story. And that is before you factor in the final challenge that twenty-four Bond films and their design teams increasingly come up against – originality.
“My job is to give them sets to work in that will surprise and amaze an audience”
Of course these designers are all sketching for the good of Bond and cinema. But Bond By Design lays bare their own characters. Ken Adam’s thick, dark and angular images for The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldfinger perfectly highlight just how he was indeed “the man who drew the Cold War” (The Daily Telegraph, 2008). Bond By Design sees those filmic and real life influences of his – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Alexander Korda, that Germanistic penchant for precision and cavernous industry and a post-war, Space-Age renaissance of new materials and substances. Likewise, Peter Lamont’s career as a set draughtsman cannot be missed when you witness the mathematical precision he puts into each set, walkway or even doorframe.
“Never a dull moment working on a James Bond film, I can tell you!”
The devil is naturally in the detail with this collection. It is as much about what we never see as what we do. So costume sketches contain reminders that stunt teams have to wear wet-suits under Lindy Hemming’s red dresses for Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd and notes hint at how Blofeld’s coat of arms from OHMSS must be technically wrong.
The what nearly happened clues are nearly as rich as what did make its way up onto the screen. Close scrutiny of the artists notes and thoughts betray that Solitaire might well have worn an afro wig in Harlem in Live and Let Die (with a possible early thought that Diana Ross was in the running for that film?), the scarlet hues and hanging bling of The Man With The Golden Gun’s Bottoms Up Club are now a VIP room norm, that Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever may have had an unused office complex to end all office complexes, that Whyte was first called ‘Graves’, Tomorrow Never Dies’ antagonist was once called Harmsway and that OHMSS’s Syd Cain designed an abandoned dog fight for GoldenEye. Very little is creatively wasted in the Bond franchise.
“What the Bond films did, they stimulated my imagination. I felt the sky was the limit. I could do anything.”
It is the staggering specifics that go into these drawings – and ultimately on-screen – that makes Bond By Design such a valuable document for all film lovers, let alone Bond fans. The thought and notes jotted down for a simple flower-covered pillar in a party scene in A View to a Kill or the in-depth measurements Lamont makes for the flower elevations in OHMSS lay bare the commitment to quality first pioneered and bankrolled by the likes of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and now well and truly continued with Barbara Broccoli and the man with the most producer credits on Bond, Michael G Wilson. This is the tireless effort going on behind, in-front and beside the scenes as hardened fans panic about gun-barrel logos infinitum on 007 forums. So much is actually designed for a Bond film beyond physical sets and theatrically-minded interiors. Gold bars, the front of Baron Samedi’s train, Bond’s MI6 logo, casino chips, Martini glasses, what ornaments a villain owns, is it to be a headscarf or a necklace a panicking tourist wears are all elements that viewers will never see and yet have to be factored in, designed, made and duplicated. This writer has always been a tad partial to a good villain’s logo. And those faux-corporate emblems are lovingly presented too including Zorin Industries’ try-out logos.
“I go with my instincts on every aspect of how I design films. It’s all emotional response to things”
Dennis Gassner, production designer on SPECTRE
SPECTRE is understandably not explored in too much depth this time round as a great many of its design and visual tricks are tied to its plot and story surprises. However, designer Dennis Gassner’s discussion of director Sam Mendes’s urge to explore “hot and cold” in the film makes utter sense for a Bond movie as does the use in Mexico City of those prime 007 colours – “red, black and white”.
As if it needs endorsing any more, this new champion of Bond production books also comes with a pair of glossy Ken Adam designs and a foreword contribution from Adam, Lamont and Gassner. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Bond By Design – The Art of the James Bond Films
by Meg Simmonds
Published 1st October 2015
With thanks to Dorling Kindersley and EON Productions.
Sam Mendes returning to the Bond fold is great news. Not because Skyfall was the most successful Bond movie, the most successful British movie ever, won two Oscars and a few high profile gongs. It is not even because it was the first Bond movie for a while to become a cultural event, a film whose momentum and qualities both shook and stirred the public’s consciousness and stoked the anticipation for what James does next in a way possibly not seen since the 1960s. No, Sam Mendes returning to direct Bond 24 is great news as the Bond series is in a new golden age of confidence and impetus. With 2012’s fiftieth anniversary bench-marker Skyfall pulling all sorts of clever doves out of Baron Samedi’s top hat, the pressure is naturally there for all involved to find a new hat to pull some tricks from.
Can lightning be trapped in an empty Bollinger bottle twice? Of course it can. 007 producers Eon Productions have a whole cellar full of lightning bottles. But I doubt Bond 24 will be Skyfall Too – Back to the Chapel. It will no doubt take its predecessor’s baton and sprint with it like a gym-fit Daniel Craig. Yet it will be a totally different kettle of SPECTRE piranhas. Heck, there may even be some SPECTRE piranhas in there. And a submersible Prius. With Union Jack airbags. Maybe not.
Yet it won’t retread. We are in era of Bond directors with firm creative signatures of their own. Mendes’ tends towards films exploring what circumstances and the wider facets of society does to people. Respectively American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Revolutionary Road and Skyfall are a turn of the century classic, an ode to gangsterdom, a bitter stab at suburban nirvana and a home-soil vendetta. They are Sam Mendes looking at what wider circumstances, societal structures and defence mechanisms do to the common man. Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva (Skyfall) is no different to Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham (American Beauty). Both have been chewed up and spat out by life. And both allow Mendes to have fun with how they stick up two fingers to the world. Likewise Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead and Away We Go’s Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski are striving to not let the same happen to them. There are lot of roads to perdition in Sam Mendes work. There is no reason to question why a new facet of Bond will not be explored, another internal scar creating external damage laid bare. That is the world of Fleming. And that is the DNA of Bond onscreen.
But along Mendes’ story paths there is a playfulness and wit. Lester Burnham’s breakdown is a lush descent into suburban anarchy and Away We Go is a fun road movie peppered with non-centric eccentrics. Mendes is currently executive producing Penny Dreadful under the auspices of his own creative company Neal Street Productions (Call The Midwife and The Hollow Crown – which of course saw Skyfall’s Ben Wishaw recently scoop the Best Actor BAFTA). Written by Skyfall and Bond 24’s John Logan, Penny Dreadful is a London Victorian re-imagining of the origins of classic horror creations such as Dracula and Frankenstein. A co-production with Showtime, the series is due to bite TV screens in 2014. This sort of baroque villainy has already shown its own teeth (literally) in Skyfall and could well flick a different villainous cape in Bond 24. With John Logan in the writing seat alongside Mendes, the end result of their 2012 ‘act one’ was a carefully arched Bond film marked by rich exchanges pushing the story forward through dialogue, character wit and drives (Bond and Severine, Bond and Silva, Bond and M, Bond and Q, Bond and Kincade, Bond and Moneypenny). The creative impulse to let the characters steer the story was a welcome one and wholly succeeded. Expect more of the same come the Fall of 2015. Skyfall ended with the orphan James Bond presented with a new family. Ben Wishaw’s Q is suggesting he will be back, as might Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ralph Fiennes as the new M. But what about the bureaucratic Clair Dowar MP (Helen McCrory – whose real life husband and possible ‘next Bond’ candidate Damian Lewis is currently shooting Eon’s new co-production, The Silent Storm) and Rory Kinnear’s much-liked ally Tanner? And of course we may well see more familiar keynotes of Bond re-dressed for 2015.
Mendes clearly relished his time working with Eon Productions, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. It is a team-led ‘family’ operation with working relationships and continuity much valued linchpins. Throughout the 1980s, director John Glen helmed all five successive Bond movies with great results, creating new fans in new generations and blasting the lazy detractors of that era’s output with aplomb (see this writer’s Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan). Sam Mendes will have already done the same. As part of a maybe three-act regeneration of Bond, Skyfall certainly has re-pointed the character for its guardians and its audiences new and old. The twenty-second Bond film relished the heritage of 007. My hunch is that Bond 24 will move forward from that. Or aside. The history of the films will not be sidelined. The much touted ‘formula’ of Bond is entwined with the heritage of the character, the films and those that produce them. Yet, Mendes will want to produce a brand new movie, a brand new take and a brand new project. He has never directed a sequel to any of his cinematic work (whose narratives admittedly do not leave much room for ‘what happened next?’). We all have our wish lists and suggestions (mine would be Barcelona, Washington, a bit of skiing and a Daft Punk theme tune). However, it is worth noting the curious skill of Skyfall was how it packed in wholly familiar turf for the Bond series – London, the Far East and Istanbul – yet dressed it most wisely. Mendes is not about reinventing the wheel, but how the spokes work. We are still in a time of relative studio poverty (Skyfall had to allegedly hem in its budget and the results worked). Bond 24 will no doubt have to rein itself in too – as best as a multi million pound movie can. But having financial and physical restrictions often aides creativity. The Bond series’ production history has always proved that.
For any director or writer to come into that Bond world is no doubt a daunting task. Next time round Mendes is no longer the new boy at school. He is head boy – a proven newcomer with a few trophies (if that matters alongside such global box office stamina) gleaming in the Eon cabinet. But the team at Bond HQ are not wholly looking to emulate Skyfall. They are looking to emulate the decisions, the discussions, the aptitude and perceptions Mendes brought to the table. Of course the dollars and the studios that gave and then counted them are wanting more of the same. That is simple business sense. But film-making – even on the scale of a Bond – thrives on creative relationships and continuity. It is about both project and product for Eon.
The Sony PR elves were forever telling us how Mendes noted his own Bond fandom launched when he saw 1973’s Live and Let Die. There are echoes of that film in Skyfall (the arched villainy, the deathly opening titles, the throwaway dead girls, the drama often playing out on familiar streets and pavements and even the shared double-decker London buses…maybe). The question now is – what Bond film did Sam like next? My money’s on a direct sequel to Octopussy. That barge had to pull in somewhere?!*
Mark O’Connell is the author of Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Prelude by Barbara Broccoli). www.splendidbooks.co.uk
“Choose your next witticism carefully Mr Bond, it could be your last” (Goldfinger, 1964)
All the Daniel Craig Bond movies have ended with a beginning. But none more so than the closing motifs, nostalgias and characterisation of Skyfall. The regeneration of Bond is apparently complete. Yet, with every next film, Eon and 007 are faced with starting again, of re-election or a second album Groundhog Day with less Sonny and Cher and more Shirley Bassey. Or Adele.
Skyfall is Bond’s heritage – the Aston Martin DB5, the now justified return of Moneypenny and Q and that double-tufted leather door of M’s which got fans more giddy than being reincarnated as a Berenice Marlohe shower curtain. It is also a curious hint at his future. Bond’s world is no longer a governmental granite behemoth of old, but a prescient post “2012” cyber-spy playground of Met Police officers in stab-vests and social-media distracted commuters, media-savvy Whitehall bureaucrats whose only defence agenda is media presentation, Bond women with histories of child sex trafficking, Bond villains with workplace revenge over ones of mass genocide, Bond not afraid to joke/hint he is has an alias on Grindr (maybe), his boss has an army history in Northern Ireland (a series no-go for years), Q is a sexy geek possibly “on the spectrum” and we have now seen Moneypenny’s legs.
We are now in an era where juggling the old and the new, the exploding lairs of Roger Moore’s reign and the internal devastations of Craig’s, require handling by contemporary film makers unafraid to make mainstream fare with a scholarly eye, and vice-versa. It is no easy task to forever move forward with a central character the audience must not take too seriously – but he and his storyworld always has. Eon know why Bond works. More crucially they know how it doesn’t.
Like Skyfall, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me were also their respective 007’s third entry. Everything Or Nothing (director Stevan Riley’s rich and recent documentary looking at the evolution of 007) suggests that it is the third film for a Bond actor where he really makes his franchise stamp. If so, is there a pattern for the fourth film too? Thunderball (1965), Moonraker (1977) and Die Another Day (2002) are arguably examples of the Bond brand and their leading men in an effective, but over-comfortable groove. James Bond’s biggest cinematic enemy has always been himself. How do you follow up those Bond movies that really chime with cinemagoers (where old ladies on the bus had seen it and builders were whistling Adele in their lunch break)? How do you create an event planned or otherwise that equals the peaks of 007’s 2012, 1977 and 1964? Put simply, you bite the bullet and start again.
It is now assured we will get a fourth Daniel Craig outing – or B24 / Bond 24. MGM and Sony Picture’s bean-counters have seen to that, and more crucially so will the team at Eon. Screenwriter John Logan (Peter and Alice, Noah) who lent such eloquent fizz to Skyfall’s dialogue and particularly the scenes with villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is staying on board. Director Sam Mendes who clearly enjoyed the process has now confirmed he is unable to commit – due in part to long-standing theatre projects Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and King Lear.
Yet Mendes can and might return. He has yet to helm a sequel to his own work and has evidently forged great working relationships with the Bond team. So who else?
As Bond fans and film websites the world over begin the speculation game all over again, Eon’s decision to bring in auteur-minded directors like Mendes and Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) with a storytelling confidence and instinct clearly works. The biggest hurdle an incoming director has now is not the eyebrow-raising stigma of doing a Bond, but simply not being Mendes. So what about Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina), Gareth Evans (The Raid), Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan), Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town), Kevin MacDonald (Senna, The Last King of Scotland) or Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Drive)? Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Trance) has of course already filmed his pre-title sequence last year involving Craig and Elizabeth Windsor parachuting onto London’s East End and ticks a lot of British and competent storyteller boxes (and he would possibly be the first Bond director the wider British public have even heard of).
But the casting of Bond 24’s director is ultimately down to the producers and who they want to work with. And the course and eventual thrust of Bond 24‘s grand plan dictates everything. Mendes is a force of both film and theatre who the likes of Eon and Barbara Broccoli wanted to work with for a while. Broccoli – whose multi Tony winning production Once opens this month at London’s Phoenix Theatre – is a keen but quiet force of theatre herself, with Chariots of Fire, A Steady Rain, Catwalk Confidential and of course Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as recent projects. Might a director emerge from the same dual camps as Mendes?
And lest not forget Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X Men First Class) who sadly – like Bond himself – has commitment issues. Christopher Nolan is another golden boy rich for easy speculation pickings, but we will see. One thing is certainly influential. Bond 24 is semi-locked in. Availability is key. And whilst a Bond director will possibly always be homegrown, British minded or plucked from what the 1950s used to call “the Commonwealth” , I was not joking about Ben Affleck. Likewise, Kathryn Bigelow.
Unlike any Bond actor before him Daniel Craig emerges as less a movie star fulfilling a tempting contract and more of a movie actor with a creative ownership and pride over the character and the direction of the franchise like never before. It was Craig who approached Sam Mendes. It was Craig who championed Adele and was grinning beside her like a schoolboy when she bagged the Golden Globe. And it will be Craig who no doubt has a necessary say on what happens with Bond 24.
Despite its vintage DB5 and ancestral pads, there is a modernity to Skyfall. There is no reason to believe that will not evolve into and through Bond 24. Who knows – out gay screenwriter John Logan may give the new Q a boyfriend or see Bond toying with a male concierge for vital information. Bond is as straight as they come. But even if his Skyfall dialogue bomb (“why do you think it is my first time?”) says otherwise that doesn’t imply his tactics are. With Craig’s 007 passport already pretty full of Europe and Asian destinations, maybe some North American city or alpine fun could be in order – with a bit of Washington-based senate villainy thrown in for Watergate effect. Or Africa? And is the Craig era assured enough to go big – big global jeopardy, big sets, big explosions? Or conversely, how small can a successful 007 movie go? Skyfall was a particularly small Bond movie. As Mendes’ stint proved, a solid script, story-led pyrotechnics, utter conviction in the project, simple but effective character strokes and the proven skills of the Bond crews can easily steer Skyfall II (or Dr. No XXIV) back to repeat business, even less critical resistance and something Bond has more of right now than any other franchise’s history – the audience’s goodwill.
And whilst we are at it, let’s now throw a title-tune bone at Muse, Depeche Mode or Kylie Minogue. Better still, bring back Adele. She doesn’t have second album problems. (I wasn’t joking about Kylie either).
Just as the notion of Sam Mendes or even Forster helming a Bond movie would have been at best a curious prediction ten years ago, am I doing what every Bond fan does – assuming Bond’s past, his on-screen triumphs and not-done-that yets, will inform What James Did Next? Skyfall’s whole package was a curve-ball entry masquerading as formula. Aside from the natural fervour to see Daniel Craig again in what might well be his penultimate outing, Bond is now in a very interesting place. Those directing, writing and starring in the movies predominantly grew up with these films. Just look at the standing 00-Vation at this year’s Academy Awards where Shirley Bassey’s soaring rendition of Goldfinger had the likes of Tarantino, Witherspoon and Affleck on their feet beaming with guilty pleasure.
As Skyfall’s deliciously effective villain Silva proved, it is not what a Bond film can now do to make its mark, but how. The entire cat and mouse motif of Bond and Silva was predicated on a writer’s notion – a piece of deliciously rendered dialogue about who will be the “last rat standing”. That is potentially more about the Bond character and brand’s immediate future than scores of stuntmen in paragliding hovercrafts. Bond 24’s greatest ruse could be to take Bond even further out of his Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me comfort zones. Of course the expected beats will be in place. Yet like one of those Tom Ford designed suits of Daniel Craig’s, Bond 24 could well follow the new Bond formula as blueprinted in Skyfall, the new comfort zone – sharper stitching and less embellishment, traditionally cut but using new material, just enough room for surprises and tight in all the right places.