Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Remember Teel James Glenn, neo-pulp author and stunt coordinator? If not, read his interview here. He’s awesome.

After the meeting where he spoke, we had a really good discussion at lunch about movie fight scenes. I was pretty psyched to find out that a professional stunt coordinator shared a lot of my opinions about them.

First of all, we both really dislike the way fight scenes are directed in most modern movies. They tend to be filled with rapid cuts — frequently cutting away from the combatants to their surroundings — so you can’t even tell what the hell is going on.

I’d always assumed the reason for that is because directors are trying to conceal the fact that the actors aren’t really fighting, and stunt doubles are doing all the work. But Teel said it’s more because most modern directors don’t understand the psychology of fighting. They do those jump cuts because that’s the way they film conversations. One guy “speaks” with his fist, the other answers, etc. Teel said directors have also told him that they make the cameras jump around to simulate the “disorientation” and “confusion” of being in a fight.

I’ve done some martial arts training that involved full-contact sparring, as has Teel. And we agreed that when you’re really engaged in a fight, you’re not the least bit distracted. If a guy standing directly in front of you is intent on hitting you, there’s very little else of interest to you at that moment. Yeah, you should be aware of your surroundings, but you’re certainly not swinging your gaze around randomly at other objects in the room.

It turns out Teel is also a big fan of my all-time-favorite movie fight scene, which is James Bond vs. Grant in “From Russia With Love” (1963).

Here’s a clip.

I didn’t know this until Teel made me aware of it, but the guy who staged that fight scene was a former paratrooper named Bob Simmons. That makes sense.

One of the things I like about this scene is that the two opponents aren’t simply trading punches on the jaw, which happens in a lot of movies from the 1960s. Nor are they wasting time with a bunch of balletic high kicks, which you’d see in action movies from later eras.

Nope. They’re fighting like a couple of guys who are intent on killing each other, and don’t give a royal fuck how graceful or gallant they look in the process.

Like the parts where Bond takes Grant’s jacket off his shoulders to trap his arms, then knees him in the sternum? And stomps on his spine? And slams the door in his face? That’s some dirty shit! And that headlock Bond gets Grant in at about the 2:40 mark is banned in Judo and jiu jitsu competitions, because it’s what you’d do if you wanted to break a guy’s neck.

Sure, there are plenty of cuts in the scene. But they serve to convey what’s going on in the fight, not obscure it. Another thing I like about it? No background music. Two guys are trying to kill each other with their bare hands, for cryin’ out loud! If you can’t make that exciting without putting a bunch of techno crap in the background, it’s time to go back to film school.

So THAT’S how you do a fight scene. Modern directors, watch and learn.

OK, I just patched a big, gaping hole in my cultural literacy. I read my first Ian Fleming James Bond novel.

Wow! I was pretty blown away. It wasn’t at all what I expected. That’s both good and bad, but mostly good.

I started at the very beginning with “Casino Royale,” the first Bond novel written in 1952.

Aside from any inherent merits of the work itself, which were considerable, I found it interesting in much the same way as when I first read “Dracula,” or a collection of Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard.

In all three cases, I was dealing with characters who had gone on to saturate modern pop culture. I’d taken in derivations of those characters. Interpretations by other writers and filmmakers. But I’d never checked out the source material.

I found out that James Bond, like Conan and Dracula, was a considerably different character at his inception than the guy who emerged from a decades-long stay in the pop culture echo chamber.

You could argue that Bond was the most influential of the three. Ian Fleming virtually invented the modern thriller. 007’s influence persists in everything from action/adventures like “The Dark Knight,” to spoofs like Austin Powers, to works that fall somewhere in between, like Scott Pruden’s “Immaculate Deception.”

So how does the original Bond, James Bond (yes, that phrase is in “Casino Royale”) stack up?

Let me give you a warning, in case you intend to read “Casino Royale.” Some minor spoilers are coming.

So if you just want to know if you should read the thing, my answer is yes. The stories are very different, but in some ways I see “Casino Royale” as comparable to Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.”

Like “Straw Dogs,” it’s very much a product of its time. Like Peckinpah’s film, it’s problematic, and those problems pretty much begin and end with its treatment of women. But the two works are so skillfully done, so gripping and suspenseful, that you can almost tune that out.

Now, on to the review.

I grew up watching James Bond films. I loved the Roger Moore movies when I was a kid, but considered them too lightweight as I got older. Although I still enjoyed the Sean Connery movies, even those I basically considered to be frothy, male-fantasy escapism. A sharp contrast to John le Carre’s works, which explored the gritty side of espionage.

Le Carre and Fleming, I should note here, both drew on professional experience in espionage for their works.

To my surprise, I found that “Casino Royale” was far closer to Le Carre’s stuff than I had imagined. It wasn’t quite as psychologically complex or intellectually rigorous. But it was a lot more raw and dark — flat-out bleak at times — than I’d expected. In tone, it was more like the 2006 version of “Casino Royale,” the “gritty reboot” of the franchise starring Daniel Craig (which I really liked).

I might as well address this now. The sexism in the book was very over-the-top and very off-putting.

Look, I’m no politically correct scold. I’m not going to pick up a book written 60 years ago and expect it to conform exactly to modern sensibilities. And the James bond franchise has never been renowned for its enlightened attitude toward women, so it’s not like I was expecting “The Feminine Mystique.”

But the James Bond in this novel is not the double-entendre-spouting charmer that Sean Connery and Roger Moore portrayed. He’s a sneering misogynist with an overweening contempt for women.

To be fair, Fleming doesn’t present this as a sympathetic trait. And as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Bond maintains that attitude toward women as a psychological shield, because getting too close to someone is a potentially fatal mistake in his job.

But it’s hard getting around cringe-inducing moments such as Bond’s speculation that sex with a female character will be enjoyable because her emotional inaccessibility will give it “the sweet tang of rape.”

Still, one thing that surprised and impressed me about the book was the extent to which that job exacts a physical and emotional toll on Bond. He’s far from the stoic, indestructible hero. More like a man desperately trying to maintain his stoicism in the face of overwhelming tests.

Sure, it starts out as pure male fantasy. Glittering casinos. Beautiful women. Big money and cool spy tricks. You see how seductive the job can be.

Then the book veers sharply away from male wish fulfillment territory.

The villain, Le Chiffre, kidnaps Bond. Then he takes Bond to his sprawling, underground headquarters, where he straps him into a fiendish high-tech execution device. He explains to Bond his plans for world domination, then exits the room to carry it out and leave Bond to die. But Bond cleverly escapes by …

Actually, that’s not what happens. What really happens is that Le Chiffre brutally tortures Bond by beating his genitals. It’s a long, harrowing scene that rivals the sodomy from “Deliverance” for disturbing, sadomasochistic intensity.

He ends up in the hospital, because this Bond doesn’t take a beating and then show up in the next scene looking impeccable in a dinner jacket. There, he tells a colleague he’s thinking about retiring, because he can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys anymore and the memories of the men he’s killed weigh heavily on him.

Does this sound like anything you’d see in one of the Roger Moore films? Not exactly.

I’m not going to give away the ending, although it won’t surprise you if you’ve seen the 2006 remake. I’ll just say it ends with Bond back in the game, but at the price of even greater emotional isolation.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a fun, campy romp, don’t read Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.” But if you’re looking for a good book, by all means do so.