Nov 2, 2012

[Over] Analyzing the For Your Eyes Only Poster (Or: When is a Crossbow Just a Crossbow?)

Here's an interesting post that I started writing over a year ago, and, like many posts, never got around to finishing. But I came across it today, and figured it was worth hastily finishing and posting amidst all this James Bond excitement of late. So think of it as a lost post from the Double O Section Mission Archives, hopefully still somewhat relevant and worth reading...

Peter Lorenz at the excellent, fantastic Illustrated 007 blog (a site I really can't say enough good things about) recently posted a piece of For Your Eyes Only concept art that basically amounts to an unfinished prototype for the poster we all know and... Well, some of us love. Others don't. That tends to be a very divisive poster. In my household, the division is pretty easy to pinpoint as it runs down gender lines. My (now ex-) girlfriend's exception to it meant that my own US advance was one Bond poster that would never be framed on the walls of our old, shared apartment. But there are also men who hate that design, and women who love it. To me, it's basically a striking visual concept, a layout that, love or hate, you're unlikely to forget. I'd say it's quite a compliment to a piece of movie advertising that it still sparks debate three decades after the fact!

Anyway, Peter's post got me thinking about this debate, because that unfinished piece of Brian Bysouth art in which the woman whose legs and butt are displayed so prominently is not merely cut off, as she appears on the final poster, but unfinished. If one were inclined to read too much into posters (a hobby I rather enjoy, myself), one would not be remiss for thinking that this image of the unfinished woman might perfectly portray the sexism of the Bond franchise. (Again, that's a subject to which there are two sides. In college a good friend and I presented a paper at a conference on action films reading the Bond canon as feminist text. And I think at least a couple of our arguments held merit, as have some made by many others on the subject.) What is a woman to Bond, someone more judgmental than I might ask, but her parts—and not even their sum? ("Splendid protuberances, front and rear," wrote Ian Fleming in Casino Royale... to spray some gasoline on this hypothetical fire.) Of course, this is the point in this hypothetical debate where a voice of reason might interrupt, and point out that what we are discussing is an unfinished piece of artwork, and not any sort of intentional commentary on gender politics in Bond films. But it's fun to think that way, isn't it?

So thinking along those lines sent me running to one of my two favorite scholarly tomes ever penned on the subject of 007 (a resource I frequently cited in film studies classes in college), specifically to Tony Bennett and Janet Woolacott's analysis (or possibly over-analysis, depending on your perspective) of that poster on page 242 of their book Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (Methuen, 1987):
Since the 1970s, this licensed adjustment of traditional norms of female sexuality has given way before an obsessive concern to effect a redistribution of phallic attributes back from women to men. Publicity posters for the Bond films of this period thus typically represented the relations between Bond and 'the Bond girl' in the form of a contest between two rival sources of phallic power and authority.

The poster for For Your Eyes Only, read from an anxious male perspective, is a case in point. The foreground is dominated by the buttocks and legs of a girl clad in swimming wear and seen from the rear. She stands with legs astride, the relations between her two feet - clad in high-heeled shoes - and her crotch form a triangle with the crotch forming the apex. Her right hand holds a cross-bow, sprung for action and armed with an arrow, pointing to the ground. Bond is framed within the triangle formed by the girl's legs and crotch. Diminished by the girl's domination of the foreground - his head is level with her knees - Bond is placed directly below the girl's crotch, gun in hand with his gaze directed anxiously not to the viewer or to the girl's face but to her crotch. Outside the triangle formed by the girl's legs, a variety of action scenes from the film are depicted.... The 'adventure' elements of the plot are thus relegated to the margins of the composition, a series of escapades which have a distinctly Boy's Own flavour compared with the central challenge which Bond has to respond to: restoring the symbolic order of the phallus by 'outgunning' the girl whose phallic power threatens to overwhelm him.
Well put, no? I wonder if that's exactly what Brian Bysouth was thinking? So what is this poster to you, dear readers? Sexist, misogynist objectification of women? A desperate man's attempt to restore the symbolic order of the phallus? Or just a clever image dreamed up by a savvy marketing department who knew how to sell their product? Good art? Bad art? Please, chime in!

If you're into Freudian takes on spy imagery, also check out the post Lipstick Feminism: Gender Roles in Deadlier Than the Male (Or: When is a Speargun Just a Speargun?)


Delmo said...

A clever image dreamed up by a savvy marketing department who knew how to sell their product. Hell, there's a Silencers poster that beats them to it except Dino isn't in between the legs. I thought this post was going to talk about how some newspapers airbrushed hot pants onto the girl's ass.

Tanner said...

Another practice dating back to the Sixties! Spy posters have always been too racy for some territories. Besides the American newspapers you mention that gave this woman more clothing, it was also distributors in some more Puritan countries. (I think there's an example on Peter's site.) Dahlia Lahvi's bikini on the Some Girls Do poster was... shall we say, greatly expanded upon in several countries, for instance. And I'll never get over my annoyance when I bought a Hot Enough For June six sheet from Cyprus only to discover that Sylva Koscina's negligee had been PAINTED over and turned into a dress! I've often wondered if someone specializing in such restorations could somehow remove the paint... but then again, it's an interesting artifact in its mutilated state. (And I don't have room for a six sheet anyway!)

That Silencers poster you mention wasn't even the most risque one there was for that film! Remember the one with Dino riding that oversize pistol? But if one were to take the Bennett and Woolacott approach, that would have been representative of the pre-feminist Sixties when men were still in full possession of the phallic power and hence had no need to "restore" it. That is IF one were to take that approach...

Simes said...

I read Bennett and Woolacot's book a long time ago, and basically thought: "What a load of over-cooked and over-analysed horse shit".

I'd read the book again if I could find it, but I know my opinion wouldn't have changed.

As for the poster, it's one of my favourite Bond posters which means nothing more than a snazzy image to sell the product. e

Honestly, some people could analyse the meaning of a telephone directory if they put their minds to it...

David Morefield said...

I seriously doubt anyone thought it would be a good idea to market a Bond film by showing 007 with his "phallic dominance" threatened. More likely someone simply saw the old publicity photo from "Gunsmoke" with Matt Dillon on the streets of Dodge, framed by the legs of a gunfighter -- or one of many similar Western images -- and thought "what a great way to work in a butt shot!"

When this film was in release in my neck of the US, the only poster I ever saw was a photo version, not painted art. It wasn't until years later I saw the painted version which I gather was used internationally. So a good question would be which came first, the photo or the painting? If the former, then the reason Bond is looking at the crotch instead of the face is because the girl wasn't there at all when Roger posed, and he didn't know where to look. The painting looks the same because its based on the photo. Simple as that.

The only symbolism to be appreciated here is in the minimalist encapsulation of the whole Bond mystique in one simple picture: elegance (tux), sex and danger.

That said, I was never a fan for the simple reason that it WAS a photo, and I loved the painted posters. Soon enough we would enter the era of photo montage hell, and this IMO lackluster poster was an early harbinger.

Simes said...

I seem to remember reading somewhere that whoever modelled for the photo said that she wore the bikini (or whatever it is she wears) back to front, to make for a more interesting picture.

Wow - she can say that again....!

Tanner said...

Simes, I had the same experience with Bennett and Woolacot. It was one of the first non-fiction books about Bond I ever got my hands on, because they had it in the library of the college where my dad taught. Suffice it to say, it was NOT what I was looking for! But even then I did manage to find the humor in it. Shortly after I discovered Benson's Bedside Companion at my public library, and THAT was what I was looking for. But the hyper-over-analysis of B&W stuck with me, and I later made sure to track down a copy of my own.

I had a similar experience in college in one of my first serious film studies classes, when the professor was lecturing about the coded gay relationship between Rambo and the Colonel in First Blood. It seemed preposterous! But that class had a real effect on me, and it opened up a new way of watching and analyzing movies that in come cases made them a lot more fun. The more preposterous a theory you could present, in fact, was even more fun--as long as you could back it up with textual evidence to support it. Now I'm not so sure, though. Perhaps there was something to that Stallone/Crenna supposition. I recently met the director of that movie, and I really should have asked him. (But I was too focused on asking him about the impossible-to-see TV play he did based on a le Carre story, "Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn?")

Later on in college, while writing a Hammeresque vampire script, I had a male vampire hunter plunge a stake into the heart of the lesbian vampire at the end, and realized that should the film ever be made, someone would one day accuse me of attempting to re-establish phallic dominance in that action, and so I changed it to a woman vampire hunter splashing her with Holy water to provide a different sort of analysis. I think that's when it really struck me how much better a script could be when you really were concentrating on different levels. So maybe even Bennet and Woolacott weren't as crazy as I first assumed?

Then again, turning such an analytical gaze on a POSTER definitely seems pretty hilariously preposterous to me. I'm not sure if it was entirely clear in the post (I didn't really want it to be because the goal was to generate discussion, and I'm STILL hoping someone pops on defending their analysis!), but the reason I love that passage so much (and the reason it's stuck with me) is because I find it hilarious.

David, I'm in complete agreement with pretty much everything you say. It was a marketing gimmick, and a pretty great one that does indeed encapsulate all that is Bond in one striking image which I, too, love. As you say, elegance, sex and danger. I could be wrong, but I THINK that the photo version was mocked up first, before the artwork was painted. I also think that the foreground and background elements (Roger and the model) were shot in different sessions, so Roger probably wasn't staring at anything. (He did several different poses in that shoot, and the US advance has him in an entirely different position, not even aiming at anyone's crotch.) While its certainly possible that the Western artwork you mention was an inspiration, I think there was also a liquor ad that ran in 1980 or so with a very similar pose which also might have inspired the MGM marketing team. (Would it have been Donald Smolen at that point?)

I agree with you, too, about photo vs. artwork posters (of COURSE!), though I do think that one was the best of the photo ones. (I also like the similarly posed TLD photo poster--though it's nothing on the painted international version!) At least something posed like that that says so much with so little (as you point out) is infinitely preferable to a Photoshop montage of disembodied heads floating in blueness!

So, anyway... Come on, any takers to defend the position of Bennett and Woolacott???

Tanner said...

I've read that, too, Simes (about the backwards bathing suit), and I like the effect! Another controversy surrounding this poster is whose butt and legs those are in the photo versions... and hence the basis for the art versions. I think several models have claimed to be the one, and I suspect that the answer might be that they did photo sessions with several different models looking for the right effect. I wonder if that mystery's ever been solved?

George said...

The best Bond poster, IMHO, along with that of The Living Daylights.

David Morefield said...

Re: the controversy over whose derrière it is: The way I heard it, one girl insisted it was hers because of the ring she's wearing (which was her own), while the other one said, no, she knew it was hers because of the bikini. In the end -- and again I'm going on 30-year-old memories here -- someone in authority said they were both right, sort of. The butt belonged to the one girl while the hand belonged to the other. We were still in the pre-Photoshop era then, so who could've guessed? (Aside from regular readers of the National Enquirer)

I think they went with the hand they did because it was holding the correct crossbow, or something.

Hey, I guess that may solve the "which came first" question! The girl said it was her own (engagement?) ring, whereas if they'd been asked to recreate the painting, she'd have been issued one temporarily from the prop dept.

Delmo said...

Rambo and Trautman? More father & son that lovers. How sad your professor was.

Tanner said...

The preposterousness of such a Rambo/Trautman connection was my immediate reaction, too, Delmo. I remember telling my parents about it on the phone, and resolving to stick to mainly production classes rather than theory. But that and other classes made me not only open to preposterous analyses, but even more amused by them. I want to clarify my above statement: just because I think such overwrought analyses as Bennett and Woolacott's are reading way too much into something where things weren't actually intended and consequently hilarious, I don't mean to imply that they are without validity. I think just about any crazy interpretation is valid if the case can be well-stated (even when it clearly doesn't reflect auteur intent), and I think that film criticism is a valid and essential component of the art form.

Interestingly enough in the midst of this rollicking discussion, I saw a movie on the subject tonight at the AFI Festival in Los Angeles called Room 237, which examines five different interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining ranging from possibly plausible to completely preposterous. But the documentary clearly demonstrates that the value of the interpretations is in the discussion they generate, and the entertainment they generate, and not so much in their plausibility.

There's a really fine line between criticism and fandom. Both circles, while often dismissive of the other, revolve around picking apart works of art or entertainment to degrees far greater than the works were often intended to be picked apart. And I'll listen to anyone's point of view if they state it clearly enough. (I'm not really sure which side of that fine line this blog falls on, but I like to think I sometimes straddle it.)

Not that I buy into Rambo and Trautman, mind you... Though I will admit that anything's possible! I remember seeing director Michael Winner speaking after The Mechanic a few years ago explaining that the intent was to tell a (tragic) gay love story between those two assassins, but nobody could tell Bronson that was the point of the script because he would have gone apoplectic!

Tanner said...

Thanks for that additional information, David! Fascinating stuff! I'm not surprised to learn there were two women used to create that image. You're right: it certainly prefigures this age of Photoshop! (But looks pretty seamless to my eye.)

David Morefield said...

I got out a copy last night and looked closely; you can see where the arm was pasted in. Also, Roger is not looking at her crotch (at least in the photo); he's looking at her left knee, and aiming at same. That would've been a painful shot if he'd taken it!

The problem with the kind of criticism and fandom you mention is that in either case, the commenter goes in with a pre-conceived thesis and then bends the facts to fit his argument. This can make for interesting reading, but ultimately it's meaningless, as nothing is being "discovered" or "revealed." There is no "hidden truth" there.

I remember cheesing off my high school English teacher, an ardent devotee of Hemingway, by suggesting that all of the writers' chest-beating machismo and "man's man" stories were probably motivated by a fear of his own latent homosexuality. I didn't believe that (or care either way) but it was a fun way to turn the typical BS against the BS'ers.

Did I mention I spent a lot of high school washing chalk out of erasers?