Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bond, James Bond

"In loving memory of Albert R. Broccoli"

The end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) start with the above message, a tribute to the man behind it all. As the biggest Bond film ever, Skyfall stages itself grandly across the globe this week, the piping excitement amongst us Bond fans, gaping at the pantheon behind one of the longest running film series (1962-2012) in cinematic history, leaves us awestruck and thrilled. The tag of being the second highest film grossing film series ever, after the Harry Potter series, is just one of the many snazzy accoutrements that James Bond films have tied to themselves at the end of their 50 years.

Sean Connery set the ball rolling in the first film of the series Dr No (1962) in the widely popular casino sequence featuring Sylvia Trench, when he lights up a cigarette as the camera pans on his assuredly pluck yet irresistibly desirable face and he introduces himself as 'Bond, James Bond' - an irrevocable signature introduction that has become one of the greatest quotable quotes in cinema history. Within the next few seconds, Trench realizes that James Bond is that dangerously challenging adventure of a man that is more than hard to avoid. Oozing an air of gentlemanly suavity, Bond is a man with a purpose, almost ready for anything that comes his way.

Made on a meager budget of $1million after being panned by Hollywood studios, Dr No ushered in a film series that boasts an audience of a quarter of the world's population have seen at least one out of the 23 Bond films, along with a number of spinoffs, spoofs, parodies, video game adaptations and two non-Eon Bond films. Fifty years later, in a dimensionally changed entertainment landscape, who would have thought that a fictional British MI6 spy agent, James Bond, would garner millions of fans, who have come to believe that they can live their lives with a bond-esque cinematic badassery and wait with humongous expectations to witness another manifestation of Broccoli's vision, even he is gone for long?

We all know that ‘Cubby’ a.k.a Albert R. Brocolli is responsible for triggering the idea of this super successful franchise with team players Harry Saltzman and novelist Ian Fleming. Born in Queens, New York, Broccoli was blessed with an Italian descent. Along with his partner Irving Allen, he set up Warwick films in London and produced a string of films in the 1950s. It was in 1960 when Broccoli had the genius epiphany of taking up Ian Fleming’s novels on James Bond and making them into films. He agreed to co-produce them with Harry Saltzman, who already had the rights to Fleming’s books. They set up their own production house, but more importantly, they lent Bond a distinct character of his own as they witnessed his growth from low to staggeringly high budget films, from Dr No to Goldfinger (1964) to Thunderball (1965) to Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and until The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Broccoli defiantly waited 5 years to legally acquire the rights of Thunderball, which he was convinced should be his first Bond film, but anachronistically ended up making Dr No due to legal issues. In the end, Thunderball turned out to be the highest grossing Bond film ever, inflation adjusted.

On one hand, while Saltzman has continually running parallel interests along with Bond, Cubby treated it like his own family business with much moxie, dedicating every drop of his blood and sweat to it. When they fell apart in 1975, Broccoli took on the hat of a solo producer, nurturing his baby like a constantly evolving graphic novel. Saltzman’s exit posed little threat to Broccoli;s independence even with the studios lurking around to cash in on the success of Bond. In 1977, he produced The Spy Who Loved Me, which was the first in the franchise to have no content borrowed from Fleming’s book. From Moonraker (1979) to Octopussy (1983) to License To Kill (1989) to Golden Eye (1995), he produced an array of Bond films, until his death due to heart failure, that have emblazoned him as the single greatest creator of the series. His company, Danjaq LLC still holds the copyright and the trademarks of all Bond films, through their inhouse Eon Productions, distributed by United Artists, which was later bought over by MGM, which itself was later acquired by Columbia Studios (Sony Pictures Entertainment). Danjaq is currently run by Cubby’s daughter Barbara and stepson, Wilson, and them along with Columbia, have been producing fanciful episodic adventures from much before the sequels and the comic book adaptations stepped in. 

23 films of James Bond. More than USD 5 Billion Gross. 6 lead actors. Along with a legacy of excellence wafting in with guns and espionage, Cubby had a raging predilection for keeping everything within the doors of his family. With most films being shot at Pinewood Studios UK, Broccoli maintained a strict loyalty to most cast and crew members, along with his characters. Richard Maibaum wrote or co-wrote 13 of the first 16 films; Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written or cowritten the last five. Composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and Maurice Binder, who created the swirling opening-credits sequences, stayed with the franchise for a generation or more. The character of M, as the head of MI6, always gives the assignment to Bond, while Q is the guy who is largely reprehensible for all the gadgets and devices used by Bond that makes us smile coyly. Only three actors have played M while only two have played Q. Desmond Llewelyn was Q for 17 films. Most directors have been British, as opposed to the slambang culture of franchises nowadays with a new director stepping in for each sequel. Sean Connery (6 films), George Lazenby (1 film), Roger Moore (7 films), Timothy Dalton (2 films), Pierce Brosnan (4 films) and Daniel Craig (3 films) have been the only actors to play Bond.

Riding high on his bevy of a crew, Broccoli produced more than 40 films in his illustrious career, out of which 17 were of the Bond franchise. But there is more to him than his assuring consistency. Classy tales of espionage, nerve-wrecking action and relentless plot featured in all of the Bond films, but it is the resplendent motifs envisioned and strung together by Broccoli that liven Bond films even today, long after the material is no longer derived from Fleming's novels. Broccoli being a horse-racing enthusiast, along with Saltzman, was the man who grated the first of Bond films with these nuances, leitmotifs and themes. Monty Norman's ridiculously famous James Bond theme, Maurice Binder's crackling gun barrel sequence, the pre-title and the title sequence, the lascivious seductiveness of Bond girls, Rolex watches, Savile Row suits, relentless number of sleek cars, fancy aircrafts and sharp guns, the blatant tongue-in-cheek humor, the devastatingly megalomaniacal villains or the unfathomably visceral locales - most of these elements have been quintessentially remnant in all the 23 ventures, albeit in slightly modified forms. While the pre-title sequences have matured to show full chase and fight sequences, the title sequences still reflect the underlying theme of the film. The gun barrel sequence is perhaps is the most riveting sequence which has also been in many Bond posters. Norman’s 007 theme has had many composers playing with it, including the latest one by Adele in Skyfall, who mashes it up to produce a crackling track, keeping the heart intact.

Soaking them in formulaic patterns never devoid them from growing over time with the contemporary zeitgist of the industry or exponentially whetting the trendsetting production scales. The themes of Bond movies have graduated from hallowing Russian mafia and menacing Cold War hangovers to challenging terror threats and revengeful counterintelligence and much more. The Queen’s secret service agent cadre, led by Agent 007, has risen to save the country from all contemporary adversities with a gung-ho attitude and cutting edge equipments.. While in earlier films, the Russian spy syndicate SMERSH was known as SPECTRE Film nerds credit Cubby for indefatigably thinking ahead of his time at all instance, mostly with the jaw-dropping gizmotic technologies that Bond used. Goldfinger was the first film that captured the use of a menacing laser in a film scenario, while it also marked the debut of Bond’s most famous car, the grey Aston Martin DB5. While Bond only uses a Walther pistol, his cars have been equipped to fire guns, missiles, rockets, lasers or just swimming under-water like the Lotus Espirit in The Spy Who Loved Me, mostly anything to fight his adversaries. In Skyfall (2012) , his Walther PPK/S is customized to his palm prints. Other gadgets that have been used by Bond are bug detectors, dagger shoes, a garrote watch, a bowler hat, a waterproof burial bodybag, dentonite toothpaste, mini-nuke bomb and tons of other fancy stuff. A high dose of class with the innate killer instincts is a rare combination that Bond always pulled off with much ease.

Broccoli wasnt perturbed by the notion of portraying Bond girls as sex objects with double entendre names such as Pussy Galore or Kissy Suzuki or just by having more than one Bond girl in a film. Bond girls created the maximum rivulets in the media for years as the famously indispensable component of each film, even when they were central to the plot or not. They may be victims rescued by Bond, or else ally agents, villainesses, or henchwomen. Cubby's idea was to show Bond girls as desirable, while Bond himself was more desirable to them. From the sultry Ursula Andress in Dr No to the sensuous Halle Berry   in Die Another Day (2002), Bond girls have sizzled the screen with more than just their oomph.

As Bond trots the globe, he is continuously working on his mission and his relationships can only be temporary and dont take time to end. However, the character of Moneypenny recurs as an ally who is his female companion on this journey many a times. Bond’s humor is sarcastically glib as he flirts with Moneypenny, while she doesnt appear in films where Bond falls in love such as with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). One of Bond’s allies is Felix Leiter, who is a CIA agent and is mostly underplayed as someone of lesser significance in the world of a more efficient British spy. The adrenalin administering high points consisted of racy chase sequences, stunning meeting with villains, the imperfect martinis or just another befuddling turn in the tale only add to this delectable affair with adventure. Broccoli was awarded the 1981 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Academy Awards for all his contributions to cinema.

Despite being a rousing stretch of eye candy, not all Bond films became the favorites of critics. However, no other film series from Hollywood have reveled in success of a parallel stature with the audiences, striking the chords of their hearts with a fillip. Bond films have provided fodder to hundreds of films across the globe ever since their inception, but more often than not, these furtive efforts provide some fleeting loveliness instead of lasting greatness. From integral plot points pattern to the blithe personality of secret agents to the action and chase sequences, Bond films inspired more than a generation. The Bond franchise second to only the Harry Potter film series in its overall Box Office Worldwide Gross, another British venture which outpaces Bond in just 8 films. While Harry Potter is adorned with the spandex of a completely fantasy premise, Bond walks the thin line between nerve-wrecking reality and the cinematic leap of faith. It would also be fatuous to not consider the effects of inflation on the Box Office recently, considering Harry Potter is a newer franchise with a run time of 10 years.

In 2006, Eon decided to reboot the Bond series with a makeover. The new Bond was no more the martini-sipping classy assassin wearing a tuxedo. He became the ruthless thug desirable for removing his shirt. He appeared onscreen with a rugged brawn, more like a brute and vicious fighter, stripped off his technical virtuousity, but doused with gritty intents. The Bond girl has taken the role of the classy one now. In Skyfall, the 23rd venture from Eon, Daniel Craig suits up in a tuxedo, drives an Aston Martin DB5, but also goes back to his action hero roots as he fights his new enemy, Silva, more by his intellect and skill than by his jaw-dropping gizmos. Broccoli’s family business has outgrown its limits, adapted seamlessly to the changing times and still curated a flavor of Bond’s original assemblage without forgoing originality. With Skyfall, Eon and Sem Mendes pull off a fitting tribute to Cubby, right on Bond’s 50th anniversary. I guess that is how you become a legend, Sir Albert Broccoli. 

Originally published for Long Live Cinema here

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