Oct 5, 2012

Happy Global James Bond Day!

On my way into work this morning as I listened to my freshly updated Bond songs playlist on shuffle to see how Adele's "Skyfall" fit in with the canon (quite well!), I passed two Aston Martins. Not that rare in LA, but it still felt affirmingly appropriate on the morning of Global James Bond Day. I'm shocked at how much I enjoy that notion (and actually saying "Happy Global James Bond Day!" to random people), but it makes me feel good (a nice feeling after several particularly crappy months) that there is such a day and that it's today and that there's a brand new James Bond movie opening very soon! (I saw my first LA billboard for Skyfall last night, adding further to that sense of anticipation.) While I'm very much looking forward to attending the Music of James Bond event at the Academy tonight, I don't feel like you need a big event in your city to enjoy Global James Bond Day. I suppose that I'm taking the role of a cartoon elf and saying that the true meaning of Global James Bond Day isn't found in splashy events or buying Blu-rays; it's found within all of us! (Please picture me rising up on a pedestal like Woody Allen's Jimmy Bond in Casino Royale as you read that, but with Nina's "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?" playing in the background.)

Anyway, besides the foolishly giddy feeling I get thinking about it, it is a pretty amazing accomplishment that this film series has run continuously for fifty years. When Dr. No opened in Britain fifty years ago today, it was a different world. It was a world divided between East and West, locked in a seemingly eternal Cold War that has come and gone. It was the dawn of a Jet Age, also sadly come and gone, which suddenly made the possibility of world travel open to everyone--even if traveling in the style of James Bond was still beyond the means of most families. A lot has changed in those fifty years, and it's pretty amazing that, thanks to numerous reinventions by the series' producers, 007 remains not only relevant but hugely popular. It's even more amazing to look fifty years on the other side of Dr. No. Going back the same amount of time that's passed between then and now, we find a world that hadn't yet experienced two world wars, let alone a cold one. A world where cars were still rarities. Thinking about it that way makes fifty years seem like a really long time to me. But I know why James Bond has remained popular for such a duration, and why he will remain popular for the next fifty-year increment as well. I know it for the same reason that anyone reading this blog knows it. The things that appeal to fans in James Bond are not rooted in the Cold War, the Jet Age, or any specific time. They're things audiences in any age will always enjoy: exotic locations, beautiful people, impressive technology and, above all, a call to adventure. So on this Global James Bond Day, I'm thankful to everyone who shaped this film franchise I love so much fifty years ago, and the custodians of it who have continued to provide me with so much enjoyment ever since. And I don't feel the least bit corny about typing that.


Quiller said...

"...the true meaning of Global James Bond Day isn't found in splashy events or buying Blu-rays; it's found within all of us!"

Indeed. Why, we could make Global James Bond Day an annual celebration, complete with animated TV specials fretting over the commercialization of Global James Bond Day. Why, I can envision "A Charlie Brown Global James Bond Day" even now...

Charlie Brown: I guess you're right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little VHS copy of A View to a Kill. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't understand what Global James Bond Day is all about. Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Global James Bond Day is all about?

Linus: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Global James Bond Day is about. Lights, please. "But now he would attack the arm that held the whip and the gun. The business of espionage could be left to the white-collar boys. They could spy, and catch the spies. He would go after the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy. 'This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It's an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this one at once. 3030 was a double, working for Redland. Yes, damn it, I said 'was.' The bitch is dead now." That's what Global James Bond Day is all about, Charlie Brown.

Quiller said...

All snark aside, I don't think it really hit me until today just what an achievement the Bond series, in its entirety, represents. There is an integrity to the series, an unerring commitment to quality control, that is not like anything else in the history of the film industry. Whenever they went too far in one direction (Moonraker, Die Another Day), they always made a course correction (For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale). Whenever they got knocked down by changing times and a changed global film market (The Man With the Golden Gun, Licence to Kill), they always came roaring back (The Spy Who Loved Me, GoldenEye). The EON team knows what they're doing and how to do it. There is something inspiring about seeing the words at the very end of the credits in each film: "James Bond Will Return." Yes, because he always has, come hell or high water.

Personally, having been born in the interlude between Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, having seen my first Bond movie (The Spy Who Loved Me) on ABC at the age of 9 (and read his first Bond novel around the same time), I can't imagine a time when James Bond didn't exist in some form or another. I also can't imagine another character who so thoroughly defines the millieu he inhabits, the subset of the human condition that he represents. Does Sherlock Holmes completely define the image and the cultural construct of the detective? Hardly; there's a multitude of characters, from Poirot to Sam Spade, from Miss Marple to Philip Marlowe, from Mike Hammer to the CSI crew, who can claim to define what it means to be a detective. But somehow, fifty years after the launch of the film series, sixty years after the first novel was published, James Bond is probably who -- or what -- most people think of when they hear or read the word "spy."

It's also worth pointing out that Ian Fleming's creation, both on the page and on the screen, is one of the most influential properties in the history of the adventure/international intrigue genre. One way or another, everyone who has written or filmed spy fiction over the last half-century has been either following in Fleming's footsteps, or reacting against him and what his creation represents. How many times, when a new spy movie is heading for theaters, have you read an interview with the filmmakers or the actors in which they assure you that their movie "isn't James Bond -- this is the real thing?" How many novelists have tried to assert their bona fides by having their fictional agents take smug potshots at 007 (indeed, Tanner, you alluded to this in your review of Jon Stock’s Dead Spy Running). And yet Bond has outlasted or stood up to them all.

I got home late and missed most of the Everything or Nothing documentary on EPIX, but I did manage to catch the tail end of it. As the documentary sums up the impact of the series, former President Bill Clinton says that "the idea that one man, backed up by the best technology, can prevent something bad from happening, is very reassuring." What Clinton didn't mention, but could have, is the idea of that one man making the difference and saving the day with style and sophistication, with elegance and class and a touch of licentiousness. That, more than anything else, is what keeps us coming back, year after year, long after the 60s and Swinging London faded into history, long after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. The promise of a world that was sexier, more stylish, and more fun than the one we inhabit -- and that one man was there to navigate it with aplomb. James Bond has done that now for fifty years, and provided millions of people with undiluted, unpretentious entertainment. And for that, I am forever grateful.

Tanner said...

Great comments, Quiller! Your first one absolutely cracked me up. And the second mirrors my feeling exactly, though perhaps more eloquently! It's kind of amazing that Ian Fleming struck such paydirt when he created Bond. (Though, to be fair, the enduring public vision of 007 is a collaboration between Fleming, Broccoli, Saltzman, Young, Connery, Barry, Adam and quite a few others. But the spark was Fleming's, to be sure.) And who could have recognized it at the time? Not the critics who spewed accusations of "sex, sadism and snobbery!" Those bywords were derogatory code for, well, sex, adventure and glamour, and they proved to be the exact ingredients that audiences were hungry for! As proven fifty years on from the films, sixty from Fleming first striking those golden keys.

And you should keep an eye out for the documentary! It airs several times over the weekend on EPIX, and is also available in their on demand section. I did end up watching the first half hour tonight, and found it well worthwhile!