Thursday, December 4, 2008

Spending some time with James Bond.

By Charlie Kondek

My Uncle Frank recently gave me a copy of The Best of James Bond 30th Anniversary collection, a CD with all the theme music from the James Bond movies, from the main Monty Norman theme to License to Kill. I had the earlier version of this record (and others) on cassette when I was growing up and listened to it frequently because I was a huge James Bond fan, and hearing this music again gave me all kinds of good feelings. Of course, I know all the songs (and what songs - the strings, the horns), but it brought back that time in my life vividly.

The James Bond novels and movies were very important to me as a teenager. I'm sure they were and are important to a lot of people. James Bond is such an obvious role model for young men and simply entertaining. In recent years I have come to describe the phenomenon to myself as just this: James Bond thrillers are not great spy novels, they are pulp novels of the most basic kind - good guy defeats bad guy and gets girl(s) - and the reason they have endured is because they simply struck a right chord at the right times, first as Cold War-era novels and then as a movie franchise that spanned decades. Like all great series characters, Bond is both general and specific. General: he is strong and tough and sexy. Specific: the cars, the gambling, the smokes, the booze. Put him up against the world's great series characters, especially from similar genre (spies, private eyes, swashbucklers) and I think you'll come up with that same set of general and specific. Think Sherlock Holmes.

I find this hard to talk about without getting too personal but James Bond was important to me because I always was a hero worshiper, an admirer and an emulator. I wanted to be like Bond very badly, although different in my own ways. I wanted to be confident and strong, erudite. I did not particularly want to be a womanizer although of course I wanted attention from women. Bond was, for me, part of a pantheon of heroes that included Philip Marlowe and Indiana Jones and Bruce Lee and Humphrey Bogart. I have since outgrown these heroes, most of my heroes these days being people I know (and, oddly, women!) but like tangible treasures, they are always tucked away in a special cedar box in my heart.

Some final (for now) and random thoughts on Bond. I tuned out to the movies while Pierce Brosnan was still playing the role. Just not interested. In fact, I only like the pre-Roger Moore movies, especially my favorite, From Russia, With Love. And by the way, I don't have anything against Moore, I just prefer that era for the films. I love the Fleming novels, and now that I re-read them in my middle thirties find that they are not great writing as a whole, although there are moments where they are great. The movies departed from the novels in that the novels were really about character and plot, even if the characters were at times a little shallow or caricature-ish and the plots ridiculous. The movies are about bigger, faster chases with bigger, faster explosions and an endless parade of interchangeable women. I am not interested in them unless Paul Schrader or somebody takes them over and puts the emphasis back on plot and characterization.

The Bond novels that I find myself re-reading include: From Russia, With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun. By the way, the album shown here is one I have on vinyl and wore out needles on as a kid. I got the image at this fine blog.