MARK O'CONNELL

Writer, Author, Bond Fan

Tag: Sam Smith

THE WRITING’S ON THE OSCAR TOO – Sam Smith wins the Academy Award for SPECTRE

 

“I’m prepared for this
I never shoot to miss”

A BIG congratulations to Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, the EON team and our ‘co-star’ Barbara Broccoli for winning the Best Original Song Academy Award for SPECTRE!! It is much deserved and another gilded feather in the cap for 007.

Sam Smith performs WRITING’S ON THE WALL….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay6WYQrLZgE

Sam Smith wins the Oscar….

http://www.theguardian.com/film/video/2016/feb/29/sam-smith-dedicates-oscar-for-best-original-song-to-lgbt-community-video

 

SPECTRE is out now on BluRay, DVD and digital download.

 

THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM – Reviewing SPECTRE and Bond’s newest bullet

SPOILERS!!

Bally-Boot 3

“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?!).

3895702_the-teaser-trailer-for-spectre-is-here_45059d09_mAnd 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.

LAS-48_AW_29320-Spectre-1000x500In 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.

1$_V?_Job NameOne 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.

SPECTREThere 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.

“Come in Number One, we were expecting you” – Sam Smith & WRITING’S ON THE WALL make 007 chart history

JUKEBOX

CONGRATULATIONS to Barbara Broccoli, Team EON and the SPECTRE ensemble for making Bond chart history with the Bond series first UK Number One!

Sam Smith’s WRITING’S ON THE WALL has gone straight to the top of the British charts in its first week of release and is set to resound around the globe for Bond, SPECTRE and Smith. The singer has told BBC’s Radio One “out of all the songs I’ve brought out in my life, I was not expecting this to even chart in the top 10, let alone number one. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite some kneejerk panic and reaction, SPECTRE’s opening anthem is a worthy track, a solid one and possibly needs to be seen in the context of the film it flanks. It is certainly carrying on a grand tradition of the top singer of the era stepping up to 007’s mic and giving the series their take on a Bond tune. This will get Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy nominations. Easily.

For a review of the track and what it means for Bond – read here.

And Mark O’Connell writes for OUT magazine about Smith and the Bond song legacy :

Why Sam Smith entering Bond’s Thunderball of fame is good news for 007

 

Breaking Bond’s fall with WRITING’S ON THE WALL – reviewing Sam Smith’s 007 anthem

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SPOILER WARNING. I think.

 

From those mid Sixties strings firing like very familiar harpoon guns into a John Barry-savvy ocean, Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall is clearly ripped from the very genome of 007’s DNA. And it has certainly “divided fans” as media outlets love to say. But maybe middle-aged, blokey Bond fans aren’t quite the Sam Smith demographic. Aside from a trailer or two and a few Range Rover vanity vlogs, this is all the movie-going public can ‘own’ right now of SPECTRE. The bar is always high.

I’m prepared for this,

I never shoot to miss

Did I love Adele’s Skyfall when I first heard it about 30 seconds before going on air to talk about it? Did I instantly warm to Gladys Knight’s Licence To Kill when I heard some 2am snippet on local radio? And did I like or even understand the lyrics of The Living Daylights when I first heard a weirdly mixed b-side version? No to all of them. Bond songs are curious beasts. The best ones charted badly, the disliked ones sold well, they have always been a canny marketing tool dressed in a sequinned ball-gown, unlike champagne they age better than they first taste and they always play differently onscreen than through a phone.

Disclosure

Disclosure

It is seemingly not just the writing that is nowadays on the wall, but everyone and his Twitter bestie’s opinion of what a good Bond and a good song is. Nothing divides reaction more than music (well, maybe Jeremy Corbyn does a little bit). But nothing divides musical reaction more than a Bond song – not when the writing can be fired in 140 characters or less at every media wall going. Because the 53 year old cultural legacy of Bond is so rich, it becomes personal – strapped to all film fans nostalgias and musical tastes. And Bond song opinions are like favourite Bonds – everyone has one, so to speak. But like new 007 actors, Bond songs need time to bed in. Not every dollar-paying punter knows all these songs inside out.

It is a stranger sound for Bond. It is a different sound for Bond. But it is not wrong. It maybe needed a stronger climax, but it needs to be seen alongside Daniel Kleinman’s forthcoming title sequence for the actual SPECTRE film rather than snatched hearings on Spotify. There is a camp tragedy to it all – in part fuelled by Smith’s oeuvre of really martrying those vocals into submission. He certainly gets the drama of the gig. It is definitely a 1am torch song lament (like a lot of the best 007 numbers are). It is worth remembering too that – like Adele’s Skyfall, Madonna’s Die Another Day and Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name – there is now a story context to these songs. They are not just dropped in as a fade-to-titles Bond scrambles in some yacht for his condoms and champagne. In the Craig era these songs are now a narrative and tonal stepping stone for the film themselves. SPECTRE launches with a visceral, ambitious and aggressively mounted action sequence in Mexico City. The quieter melancholy of this track could be an apt and intended breather. There is definitely a context to this song based on what the audiences would have just experienced and the drama at stake. Remember – Sam Smith was asked to read the script. The writing is on the wall in the song, the film, its family of colleagues and all of Whitehall.

Co-written and co-produced by Jimmy Napes, Writing’s On The Wall is certainly a well-produced track. As Adele’s creative partner Paul Epworth proved in 2012, the Bond song project now has its eyes on producers and the ability to put on a production as much as the headlining singers. Whilst the sibling-production duo Disclosure (who co-produced the track) are more about the garage synths and electronica than anything evident in this tune, theirs is very much a crisp effort. The track could have very easily derailed itself with Smith’s octave-spinning vocals and penchant for piling vowel upon vowels (or Mariah-ing as artists less skilled than Smith tend to be guilty of).

If I risk it all, could you break my fall?

It’s certainly different – a [gay] male vocalist “risking it all” with a pained love song that retracts the traditional and bombastic momentum of a Bond song with a quiet falsetto or three (Communard Bond anyone?!). This writer would have loved to hear Smith step aside from the successes of Adele’s Skyfall, really go with that falsetto motif and create that hi-energy disco Bond song Sylvester never recorded. But maybe with Writing’s On The Wall we now have the first Bond song that sees a male soloist take the stance of the trapped bird, the love that cannot say no to our man James. That aching, first-person narrative is very Sam Smith and very Bond.

I’ve spent a lifetime running and I always get away

But for you I’m feeling something that makes me want to stay.

As it seems every self-pronounced diva on Eurovision seems to be channelling a faux John Barry Does Bond vibe (Conchita Wurst and her chuffin’ Vauxhall feathers anyone?!) what Disclosure, Napes and Smith have done here is definitely not faux. It is a very vintage Bond sound – no doubt in tune with that mid Sixties Thunderball template the fourth Craig film has its eye on. This film is called SPECTRE after all. In the wake of Austin Powers’ imitations and pastiches, that old-school, cat stroking villainy needs a classical sound to pin the film to that John Barry heyday when audiences last saw that mob of piranha-owning stalwarts in their prime. But is more David Arnold channelling John Barry than not and maybe indicative of the fact these ain’t your father’s Bond songs anymore. Sam Smith and his colleagues on this one were toddlers when Brosnan stepped into the role.

So as some initial reactions are seemingly giving this fledgling Bond song another kick in the wall, it might be worth noting what Smith himself noted to BBC Radio 1 upon its debut – “it’s a grower this one”. He may well be right.

 

Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall is available now on iTunes.

SPECTRE is released in the UK on October 26th.

OFF THE WALL – Sam Smith is announced as SPECTRE’s title song performer

smith 2The official writing is finally on the wall with the announcement that British singer Sam Smith is performing  Writing’s On The Wall– the title song to the 24th Bond movie, Spectre.

Just like Adele before him, the multi-Grammy award winning British singer is a natural choice, a very current and high-selling choice and do not be surprised if Sam Smith is performing Writing’s On The Wall at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Just sayin’.

However, Smith of course strenuously denied such Bond associations, citing Ellie Goulding in a scent-diverting tactic. Other names were touted too – including the rather delicious prospect of Radiohead getting involved.

But the upshot was it was always Smith’s gig. Co-written very quickly with Smith’s co-writer Jimmy Napes (Stay With Me), the track allegedly took barely twenty minutes to structure with the end result being one of the proudest moments in Sam Smith’s career thus far.

He is the first British male solo artist in fifty years to perform a Bond tune, the first out performer and one of the youngest too.

For my fuller thoughts on Sam Smith’s casting as the Spectre title song artist :

OUT MAGAZINE : Off The Wall – Why Sam Smith entering Bond’s Thunderball of Fame is good news for Bond

BBC 5 LIVE :  Sam Smith ‘obvious choice’ for theme tune says Mark O’Connell

Writing’s On The Wall is available to buy and download from September 25th 2015.

CD and vinyl pre-orders are being taken here

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