|1972 American version of Brosnan's book|
There are few bookstores in the area that I reside in Southern California. Having lived in the Seattle area where bookstores were almost as prolific as coffee houses, it is a disappointment that from several brick and mortar choices, I now have a choice of a national chain, which carries inventory it feels will sell, and a used bookstore. However, a few months ago, my boyfriend and I met up with a good friend of ours at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I was quite excited to be visiting a new establishment and was hoping that perhaps some treasure would be mine.
Amongst the two story bookstore, which incorporated some rather fun oddities (see accompanying photos), I found a film studies section. And, tucked between a couple of tall picture books was a squat book: John Brosnan’s (no relation to Pierce) James Bond in the Cinema (1972). Its dust jacket was intact as well as the book itself, and the spine was tight. Very important was the fact that it was free from offensive odors, other than the scent of old paper, which is part of the charm of old books. And, it was five dollars! I felt I could not pass up such a wonderful deal!
I didn’t know anything about the author, so I’ve been doing a bit of digging. Hailing from Perth, Australia, John Raymond Brosnan was born in October, 1947 and passed away in 2005. He went by several pen names and wrote in a number of genres such as science fiction, fiction, short stories, comics, and non-fiction. James Bond in the Cinema was his first non-fiction effort and apparently, it was the first book to analyze the Bond as a cultural phenomenon ( see CommanderBond article here). Contained within are the obligatory chapters covering each of the first seven Bond films, Dr. No through Diamonds Are Forever, however my interest was piqued with an introductory chapter entitled “ Why So Popular?” and the first of two appendix, which explored “ Offshoots of Bond.” So, let’s take a look at what Brosnan had to say in 1972, which would have included Connery and Lazenby’s turns at interpreting James Bond.
|The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California|
So, why are the Bond films so popular? Brosnan makes some of the expected points: plots that boil down to good versus evil, mysterious villains that seem to be fantastical modern monsters of technology gone awry or twisted by their greed for power and world domination. He says the Bond stories are not unlike the folklore of Saint George fighting the demonic dragon. For instance, he cites Dr. No’s atomic power as “his unholy source of power” (11). Brosnan also equates the Bond films to the Westerns in contemporary attire – good vs. evil, fighting with one’s fists and quick wit as well as his trusted gun.
Brosnan makes a couple of correlations that haven’t been part of mainstream analysis that I have come across in my readings thus far. First is that the Bond films are very visual forms of entertainment due to the editing process, which results in non-stop action. He states “fast cutting kept the eye dazzled and the mind reeling so that one didn’t have the time to think about it all. Instead one was swept along by the sheer speed of the film” (11). It is hard to imagine that editing of that style was new at the time, especially given the preponderance of quick editing techniques we have today. It is this quicker pacing that Brosnan says results in the international appeal of Bond in spite of language barriers. It’s kind of like watching martial arts films: you may not be able to understand the dialogue, but the action and pacing of the film compensate.
Bosnan also compares the Bond films with comic strips stating that “in both cases the characters are one-dimensional and the emphasis is on action” (11). He doesn’t think that is a bad correlation because the movies allow adults to tap into their childhoods when life was more carefree and worries virtually unknown. This model was easy to maintain in the movies because aside from Bond’s marriage in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the audience learns little of Bond’s personal life, which keeps his portrayal uncomplicated by character development.
As side note, in this chapter Brosnan mentions the criticism the first two films received from the portrayal of violence. However, with the crime vigilante and poliziotteschi films of the early 70s, Bond’s violence was considerably tamer in comparison.
The old adage is that imitation the highest form of flattery. From Dr. No to Skyfall, all aspects of James Bond has been well and truly explored and exploited. In the first appendix, Brosnan explains that the spy boom of the 1960s could be classified as one of three types of story structures: the spy thriller, the comedy spoof, and the comedic thriller (157). He provided several examples of each type. Many examples are familiar and well reviewed, such as Casino Royale as an important spoof because of its direct relation to Fleming. However, the author chose The President’s Analyst (1968) starring James Coburn as the best spoof (159). Coburn had starred in Our Man Flint (1966), as an American Bond knock-off but it did not do well at the cinema house. More serious efforts in the spy thriller arena included The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965), based on a John Le Carre novel, and Billion Dollar Brain (1968), which was an unfamiliar title based on the Led Deighton’s books. And in the comedic thriller, Brosnan mentioned the American television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn and the feminine version, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Brosnan. All have at one time or another been compared with Bond on some level.
|Art installation at The Last Bookstore|
There are gaps in Brosnan’s summary of offshoots. He briefly mentions there were Italian productions, but in actuality, Italy had a thriving production structure that exploited the demand for Bond with imitations that starred or were staffed by individuals directly involved with the Eon Production Bond films. In addition, there was a plethora of Italian films with Agent 077 tagged to the movie’s title, but the official series starred American actor Ken Clark. These, taken together with the transnational productions that often saw Italy paired with Spain, France, or Germany (or some pairing of all or some of the countries) there was a whole Eurospy genre that was born from the Bond films, finding their pinnacle of popularity in the mid 1960s.
While Brosnan relates that the spy genre seemed to dwindle as the 1960s came to a close (157), the genre has experienced a resurgence with the Bourne, Austin Powers, Johnny English, as well as James Bond himself, now a 50 year old filmic franchise. Countries beyond the UK and the US are venturing into the business of spyfi and superspies, such as India’s Agent Vinod (see my review here) and more recently revived French agent OSS 117, so it will be interesting to see how Bond continues to influence the spy/thriller genre in the coming years.
NOTE: All page references are from John Brosnan's book.