[Marxism] More on James Bond
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 28 07:33:52 MST 2006
Dennis Perrin: http://redstateson.blogspot.com/2006/11/rough-trade.html
NY Times, November 27, 2006
Books of The Times
The Empires Sun Has Set, but James Bond Is Forever
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN
A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond
By Simon Winder.
288 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.
The cars, the girls, the martinis, the exotic locales, the eye-popping
gadgets for a generation of fans, James Bond embodied the quintessence of
British savoir-faire: the civil servant with a license to kill, the secret
agent who saved civilization from a series of nefarious villains while
staying in the worlds fanciest hotels and romancing a bevy of beauteous babes.
In the entertaining and very funny new book The Man Who Saved Britain,
Simon Winder publishing director at Penguin UK gives us a rollicking
tour through Bondland, even as he artfully deconstructs the appeal of Agent
007. His central argument is that Bond arrived to uphold the British ego at
the very moment when Britains planet-spanning empire was breaking up and
the once-great power was trying to come to terms with its diminished
post-World War II role.
While Britain was coping in the 1950s and 60s with unemployment, inflation,
strikes and demoralization, and making the humbling transition from empire
to welfare state, a solitary Englishman who embodied the old-fashioned
belief that a single individual could save the day through sheer guts and
expertise was almost single-handedly maintaining the countrys reputation.
While the magic, the romance and the often squalid reality of dominion
over the world which had animated millions of emigrants, sailors, soldiers,
traders, journalists for so many generations came to an absolute,
unrecoverable, bewildering end, Mr. Winder writes, somewhere on the globe,
in a luxury hotel, one man was secretly slipping a .25 Beretta automatic
into his chamois-leather shoulder holster, examining his rather cruel mouth
in the bathroom mirror, putting on his dinner jacket and going out into the
night to save their world.
Mr. Winders thesis is hardly an original one academics and journalists
alike have made similar arguments many times before but he explicates it
with uncommon wit and élan, joining the pantheon of scholars and well-known
authors (including Umberto Eco, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin) who have
found a multiplicity of literary and philosophic meanings in Ian Flemings
An anomalous mélange of cultural history, memoir and criticism, The Man
Who Saved Britain is at times repetitious and overly discursive, but it
vividly evokes the bleak, gray world that Britons inhabited in the postwar
years, a world in which Bonds international travels and casino visits
must have seemed derangedly heady to the books first readers. And it
expertly captures the knowing blend of nostalgia, sophistication and plain
absurdity that made the Bond books (and later the movies) such a hit in the
1950s and 60s.
Curiously, the book contains no pictures of Bond or his nemeses or his
gizmos: certainly a missed opportunity given the wealth of images from some
20 movies that span more than four decades.
Mr. Winder examines the roots the Bond books had in Imperial Leather pulp
fiction (like H. Rider Haggards King Solomons Mines) and works by
writers like John Buchan, Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. He provides a
lively sketch of Flemings wartime service, which helped inspire the
novels. And he pelts the reader with a small hailstorm of Bond trivia. Like
the fact that Barry Nelson played an American spy called Jimmy Bond in a
1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale. Or his observation that the
famous Bond theme began life as a sitar-backed song from an abortive
musical based on V. S. Naipauls novel A House for Mr. Biswas. In
addition, Mr. Winder provides some very tart assessments of the Bond
movies, from the early Sean Connery films through the increasingly
ridiculous ones starring Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.
Cleverly using his own Bond-mania to underscore the hold that 007 exerted
over male Britons of a certain age, Mr. Winder recalls preparing for his
first real job as a bookseller abroad: rushing to a gentlemens clothing
store called Tropiccadilly, which specialized in late imperial nonsense
like bewildering hats and devastating tropical weight sand-drill suits,
to purchase Bond-inspired gear.
Thinking back now, he writes, a tiny voice says, You looked like a
moron, but at the time, he adds, I felt great and hardly noticed the
gap between Bonds own sex-and-murder-themed foreign travels and my own
mission to sell disturbingly out-of-date computer textbooks to Cameroon
schools. The young Mr. Winder also did his best to emulate Bonds
self-possessed knowledge of where to go, whom to tip, how to behave as he
hailed airport taxis, stalked into lobbies, inspected hotel suites,
erratically tipped (It will do very well keep this), ordered drinks.
In real life James Bond would be in his 80s now, but he is one of those
literary characters like Peter Pan who never age and never change. Just as
the books and movies follow a familiar formula, so Bond himself, as Mr.
Winder writes, is at his most reassuring when like a hamster with his
wheel, he performs the same narrow set of functions over and over the
scenario, the seduction, the foiling of the plot, the killing of the villains.
For Mr. Winder, Bond, like the queen, remains a curious fossil remnant of
an imperial attitude that has long since vanished from the rest of Britain.
The queen must presumably spend some part of the day, he writes, moping
about how her dad had been king-emperor, had the allegiance of a quarter of
the planet and had been treated in some quarters as a god, whereas she has
to wander around the streets expressing interest in the lives of ladies
holding plastic flags with ice cream dripping down their fronts. Bond shows
no such introspection or reskilling. It is a very odd aspect of
contemporary Britain that a country which is almost unrecognizable from the
one which nurtured Fleming (aside, of course, from the occasional survival,
such as a seemingly unstoppable urge to despoil Iraq) should still, for so
much of the world, remain the country of James Bond.
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