“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.
Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan author Mark O’Connell joins a formidable SPECTRE boardroom table of Bond experts including David Walliams, Edgar Wright, Raymond Benson, Ajay Chowdhury, Andrew Lycett, Matthew Parker, James Bond Radio, Ben McIntyre, Steve Cole and Alan J Porter to try and compile the definitive list of Bond movies, good and bad.
The Times (October 15th 2015) declares this to be “most comprehensive poll of Bond experts” and has pinned a top movie which is certainly a surprise – as are many of the Top Ten and even the bottom eight.
The pull out supplement is certainly worth a buy of the paper (there is a lot more to it than the list and the reasonings) … but as The Times is only subscription only it seems only fair to at least let fans see how “the experts” voted……
Thanks to Dominic Maxwell and The Times.
“It was that moment in the day when the world has had enough”
The race date was Monday September 7th 2015.
The starting grid was London’s Waterstones Piccadilly.
The grandstand was flanked by Ian Fleming Publications, Orion Books, Fleming family and gathered guests proudly watching the newest Bond author take to the driving seat and rev up the engines for the official launch of the newest 007 continuation novel, Trigger Mortis.
“The man was a genius at what he did”
Anthony Horowitz on Ian Fleming
Arriving to a packed crowd in a 1950s Bentley, the 60 year old author of The House of Silk, Moriarty and the Alex Ryder series soon arrived at the Film & TV section of Waterstones’ flagship London store with apologies for taking up so much room with his new tome. In true 007 style (well, true 007 launch style), part of the floor has been dedicated to Trigger Mortis : Unlocking Bond – Les Enfants Terrible’s immersive tribute to 007, Fleming, 1950s motor racing, codes, clues, vintage globe-trotting and Bakelite telephones. Heck, even Geoff Love’s flagship Big Bond Movie Themes album was resplendent on the vintage turnstile! And it was here that the BBC’s Mishal Husein (looking pretty sharp herself) talked through Trigger Mortis with Horowitz – examining its genesis, research and thinking.
“He’s very good at jumping in and out of Bond’s head”
Anthony Horowitz on Fleming
One of the key phrases Horowitz’s mentioned throughout was his constant need to remind himself to be “selfless” with Trigger Mortis. This is not his series or even his creation to showboat his own creative foibles, fancies and tics. It is a honest and endearing approach and one that has clearly fed into the strong reviews the book is garnering from critics and Bond literature fans alike. Horowitz is adamant he has not rebooted what Fleming has created. He highlights how you “need a good title, a good girl and good villain“. Quite right. He is also highly mindful of the era that surrounds Trigger Mortis. It is no author’s role to change his book’s societal backdrops or the world vision of its protagonist. Horowitz discusses the gay characters in the book but is forever mindful of keeping faithful to a late 1950s context alongside acknowledging too the shifting attitudes of 2015. Again, it is that “selfless” approach.
“With original material by Ian Fleming”
With Fleming himself looking on in the form of Anthony Smith’s bronze bust of the cigarette-clutching writer, the poetry and casting of Anthony Horowitz’s new role as Bond author became most clear. A TV screenwriting veteran himself (having written such TV fare as Robin Of Sherwood, Poirot and Foyle’s War), Horowitz is the perfect choice to write the 007 novel that incorporates Fleming’s own TV treatment work, Murder on Wheels into a new 007 novel. Murder on Wheels was one of nine TV treatments written by Fleming for a television drama that ultimately never manifested. Some went into the published Bond novels, but four remained tantalisingly unused and, hence, unread.
The always animated Horowitz explains how he was invited by the Fleming family to use some of these unread works – to somehow weave them into his novel as a starting pistol of sorts. Horowitz has of course changed a few details and names from Fleming’s treatment notes. But Murder on Wheels is very much 007’s original creator waving his lap number flag at Trigger Mortis. He may have died 51 years ago but Horowitz is clearly proud to be able to be in this collaboration of sorts with Bond’s creator on this one.
Horowitz discusses too how he was fortunate enough to visit Germany’s infamously dicey racetrack – the Nurburgring – with racing driver and expert, Mario Franchitti, how an unsuccessful attempt to get noticed for writing a Bond film screenplay ultimately fed into his first Alex Ryder novel (Stormbreaker) and a small matter of a very public apology at the start of the week. Horowitz had caused a mild storm in a teacup (the sort that only gets unnecessarily amplified by social media) by claiming potential Bond actor headline maker Idris Elba was too “street” to play 007 on screen. Having told Horowitz that he did not need to apologise (Elba is as street as Jack O’Connell and Tom Hardy – so the sentiment has no racist overtones to it), he astutely told this writer he felt it was better to nip it all in the bud. Which he did. He also continued to clarify how he had not slated Skyfall and the forthcoming Spectre, but actually said they were just not as brilliant (in his mind) as 2006’s Casino Royale.
So there we have it. A full house of press, fans and Bond readers new and old were witness to the latest 007 novel firing off the starting grid. They certainly left feeling Trigger Happy as Horowitz did a lap of honour by signing copies of the hardback.
It is worth noting that the Waterstones edition of Trigger Mortis features the unseen Ian Fleming text for Murder on Wheels and a discussion chapter from Horowitz himself on how he was inspired and spurred on by it.
With thanks to Anthony Horowitz, Mishal Husain, Riot Communications, Waterstones Piccadilly, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, Fergus Fleming, the Fleming family, Ajay Chowdhury, Remmert Van Braam, Brian Smith, Matthew Field and Orion Books.
Trigger Mortis is published now by Orion Books / Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
With thanks to Anthony Horowitz, Mishal Husain, Riot Communications, Waterstones Piccadilly, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, Fergus Fleming, the Fleming family, Ajay Chowdhury, Remmert Van Braam, Brian Smith, Matthew Field and Orion Books.
Some Kind Of Hero – The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films is a new, exhaustive account of the production of the 007 movies and is written by Ajay Chowdhury and Matthew Field.
“We have gained a new appreciation of not only how the series was started but how that Rolls-Royce standard has been maintained” – Field & Chowdhury
“For over 50 years, Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions has navigated the ups and downs of the volatile British film industry, enduring both critical wrath and acclaim in equal measure for its now legendary James Bond series. Latterly, this family-run business has been crowned with box office gold and recognized by motion picture academies around the world. However, it has not always been smooth sailing. Changing tax regimes forced 007 to relocate to France and Mexico; changing fashions and politics led to box office disappointments; and changing studio regimes and business disputes all but killed the franchise while the rise of competing action heroes displaced Bond’s place in popular culture. But against all odds the filmmakers continue to wring new life from the series, and 2012’s Skyfall saw both huge critical and commercial success, crowning 007 as the undisputed king of the action genre.”
Some Kind of Hero recounts this remarkable story, from its origins in the early 1960s right through to the present day, and draws on hundreds of unpublished interviews with the cast and crew of this iconic series.
Authors Field and Chowdhury commented: ‘As we delved deeper into the Bond mythos, we realised there were many untold tales from many unsung heroes who played key creative roles in the series. We hope that even the most devoted Bond fans will find fascinating facets to the franchise in these pages. We have gained a new appreciation of not only how the series was started but how that Rolls-Royce standard has been maintained. When SPECTRE is released later this year, we hope readers will gain some insight in yet another chapter in the remarkable story of the James Bond films.’
About the authors :
Matthew Field is a film journalist with CINEMA RETRO magazine and an author, whose books include THE MAKING OF THE ITALIAN JOB and MICHAEL CAINE – YOU’RE A BIG MAN. He was also a consultant on the acclaimed James Bond documentary EVERYTHING OR NOTHING.
Ajay Chowdhury is an attorney and has given legal consultation on motion picture, music, publishing, television, and theatrical projects. He was the associate producer on two feature films and has contributed to numerous books on James Bond including GOLDENEYE – WHERE BOND WAS BORN : IAN FLEMING’S JAMAICA.
Some Kind Of Hero – The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films
by Matthew Field & Ajay Chowdhury
Published by The History Press
December 5th 2015