History, Legacy & Showmanship

007… Fifty Years Strong: An Interview with James Bond Historians

June 10, 2013 - 12:01 am   |   By 

Coate:  Best theme song?

Burlingame:  We Have All the Time in the World by John Barry and Hal David, sung by Louis Armstrong in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Cork:  Why pick favorites?  Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die was one of the reasons I became a fan.  Goldfinger, The Look of Love, Nobody Does It Better; this was the soundtrack to my life.  Heck, I love Where Has Everybody Gone and Another Way to Die!  It just depends too much on my mood.  Some days are a We Have All the Time in the World day; some days are Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang day! 

Desowitz:  The Bond Theme.  It personifies everything about Bond and the moment you hear it, fifty years of memories are instantly recalled.

Duncan:  My son loves Madonna’s theme for Die Another Day, which a lot of fans dislike.  My son loves it because it’s the only theme that’s not a power ballad.  Madonna’s theme song is a modern song, with beats and electronic stuff that I know nothing about.  Curiously, it also works well with the title sequence – which shows Bond being tortured using scorpions.  For me, the theme song has to work with the title sequence, within the film, and not necessarily work alone on the radio.  The best two are Goldfinger, where director Guy Hamilton made Shirley Bassey hit certain words and phrases in sync with the images, and Skyfall, where the Adele’s song invokes both the mood of the moment, and foreshadows the story to come.

Helfenstein:  Goldfinger.  As Marvin Hamlisch once said, if you’re dead, you wake up for the opening horn blast of Goldfinger.

O’Connell:  I think Bassey’s Diamonds are Forever is a flawless piece of movie music – speaking volumes about the wit, sexuality and twilight world of Bond, his women and foes.  And All Time High reminds me of falling in love with Bond music via my Dad’s car stereo and a soundtrack cassette from Cubby’s office.  But Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill is the one for me.  It was the first time I was aware that a Bond song had a cult, drive and cache of its own – one which was my first indicator of the size and scale of the cultural phenomenon of Bond.  The song was everywhere in the hot London summer of 1985 and is a decade defining hit, with or without Bond.

Pfeiffer:  Favorite song is Goldfinger – nothing original about that, but You Only Live Twice is a close second. 

Rubin:  Goldfinger.

Scivally:  The best theme song is The James Bond Theme from Dr. No, but I also like the instrumental theme of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the powerful vocals of Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and The World is Not Enough.

Worrall:  From Russia With Love thru You Only Live Twice are inseparable.  Skyfall is pretty close, too.

Coate:  Best 007 gadget?

Burlingame:  The original Aston Martin DB5.

Cork:  While I love Little Nellie, I could see crashing it at high speed.  The rocket-belt would get me killed.   I’d love to see all guns made signature guns, so that would be my most favored to become real.  But for me personally, I’d like the mini-rebreather.  How cool to be able to snorkel, see something interesting and just have that little gadget in a swim-trunk pocket?  That’s the one I’d use. 

Desowitz:  The Aston Martin DB5.  It’s the perfect extension of Bond’s personality, and its return and destruction in Skyfall had palpable emotion tied to it.  In fact, losing the car is the only thing that angers Craig’s Bond.

Duncan:  The only answer to this is the Aston Martin DB5, although I often harbored dreams of owning a Lotus Esprit and visiting faraway exotic islands, where I would meet Ursula Andress and/or Raquel Welch.

Helfenstein:  The jet pack.  I defy you to find a cooler image than Connery wearing the jet pack on the Thunderball poster.

O’Connell:  Can I claim the DB5?  It is an extension of Bond and his tailoring, with its silvery grey suit, side gill pockets and bullet-diverting lapels.  Like Bond, it can be regenerated, says “007” quicker than any Walther PPK or glass of Diet Vesper and is a bespoke, yet totally cinematic fiction (DB5s do not outrun Ferraris!).  That moment when Craig pulls off the cover in the London lock-up to reveal the glistening DB5 got the biggest applause at the premiere.

Pfeiffer:  The most iconic gadget has to be the ejector seat in the Aston Martin DB5.  I remember how the audience howled in delight and surprise when it was utilized.

Rubin:  The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger.  Thank God that Bond’s Bentley “had seen its day.”

Scivally:  The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger has to be the best gadget, because it set the standard that all other Bond films would follow.

Worrall:  The Aston Martin DB5, obviously.

Coate:  And… best 007 movie?

Burlingame:  I’m very fond of the sole Lazenby film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  But from the Connery era, it would have to be Goldfinger; from the Moore era, probably For Your Eyes Only; from Dalton, The Living Daylights; Brosnan, Tomorrow Never Dies; and Craig, Casino Royale.  As you can imagine, musical choices and approaches influence my thinking.

Cork:  I know it sounds like a wimp-out, but I have numerous favorite Bond films.  I think the first four are great films.  They created a cinematic identity for James Bond that endures to this day.  Without those first four films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball), it is unlikely we would still be watching James Bond films.  To be more specific, if You Only Live Twice had been made in 1967 as the first James Bond film, even with all its spectacle and production value, I don’t think the series would have endured for very long.   I think Skyfall and Casino Royale are brilliant films that both honor and re-define the Bond genre.  Having a thirteen-year-old son, it has been great to hear him and his friends talk about Bond and Skyfall, to see how that film works for them, just as it was great to sit in theaters and listen to audiences react to the film.  I don’t know that there has ever been a better-directed Bond film than Skyfall.  It really is a fantastic film.  But my favorite?  Some nights I want to watch Live and Let Die, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Some nights I want to watch the 1967 Casino Royale.  I don’t really try to rank them.  That always frustrates folks, but it is just the way it is. 

Desowitz:  Even though Goldfinger was my first Bond movie and had a great impact on me, my favorite is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service because it took Bond to a whole new emotional place.  It didn’t matter that Sean Connery wasn’t Bond, his presence still hung over the franchise and George Lazenby, despite his youth and inexperience, provided a fresh vitality and vulnerability as 007, falling in love for the first time, and Diana Rigg, still evoking memories of Mrs. Peel from The Avengers, was a wonderful match.  Even Telly Savalas shined as Blofeld, even though he seemed miscast as well.  Peter Hunt found the right mixture of action and drama in Fleming’s best book and made what I still think is a transcendent Bond film.

Duncan:  I have grown up watching Bond movies, so obviously my concerns and my appreciation of the movies has changed during this period.  So although I first loved the humor of Diamonds are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me, I also loved the gadgets, the stunts, the woman, and the sheer chutzpah of the productions.  Now almost fifty, I think that the film that really sticks out for me is Casino Royale.  It has character and story as well as all the expected Bond trappings.  Everything about that movie just clicks.

Helfenstein:  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:  the only Bond film that deserves the term masterpiece.  Sumptuous scenery, hyper-kinetic action, a diabolical villain, an ethereal Diana Rigg, and a cocky Bond devastated by a gut punch of a tragic ending.  Ian Fleming’s world perfectly captured on film.

O’Connell:  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Obviously Goldfinger and From Russia With Love are the golden standards, the templates which saw the Bond movies carved forever on the tree of popular culture.  But Secret Service proved the series could be both franchise and individual episode.  It also demonstrated how it could recast, regenerate and survive.  It is a Bond film where everyone – the designers, songsmiths, directors, stunt teams and editors – are at the peak of their game.  It also, of course, gave some soul and even lyricism to the 007 project.  James Bond may not want to let us into his emotions but the James Bond films can.  And to achieve all of this as the suited hero was fleeing out of fashion is another tick in its favor.

Pfeiffer:  My favorite Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service… beautifully scripted and featuring bold direction by Peter Hunt plus what is arguably John Barry’s best score.  I also think George Lazenby did a terrific job, given the fact  he had no acting experience. 

Rubin:  Ironically, Goldfinger was the first Bond movie I ever saw and I still consider it the best.  In pure tone, excitement and humor, it had all the right touches.  A truly perfect Bond film.

Scivally:  My favorite James Bond movies are the two that involve the least gadgetry and are the closest in spirit to the Ian Fleming books they’re based on: From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  From Russia With Love has a superb cast and feels more like an espionage thriller than a comic book spy adventure, while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service presents George Lazenby’s more vulnerable interpretation of Bond, has a terrific ski chase sequence, and features Diana Rigg as Traci di Vicenzo, the only woman able to get Bond to commit to marriage (although his pending nuptials don’t keep him from taking advantage of the crumpet at Piz Gloria!).  That said, I think Goldfinger is an immensely entertaining film that still holds up beautifully nearly fifty years after its release, and defined the James Bond formula for most of the films that followed.

Worrall:  Impossible to say.  Depends what mood I’m in.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and Skyfall are in my top five.

Coate:  And, finally, do you think we will live to see an era where there are no more James Bond movies?

Burlingame:  Not in our lifetimes.  The fact that Skyfall made $1 billion worldwide only suggests that filmgoers’ appetite for Daniel Craig, and prominent filmmakers tackling Bond stories, hasn’t diminished at all.  I see the franchise continuing for decades, very likely with a new generation of Broccolis at the helm.

Cork:  That question is far above my pay grade.  In 1962/3, no one could have seen where Bond would go.  I have no clue what the next fifty years will bring!

Desowitz:  No, I think Bond is in good hands with Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and when the time comes, the mantle will be properly handed down.  And the franchise is too much of a moneymaker for the industry to let it die.  And there will always be a fan base to keep Bond alive.

Duncan:  Bond is a pure wish fulfillment character.  All the men want to be like Bond, and all the women want and desire Bond.  Bond lives life to the full – he enjoys the sensuality of food and women, and revels in the tension of gambling and racing fast cars – because his dangerous job means that each day could be his last.  Characters who are unambiguous about their course in life are very attractive.  We would all like to live life to the full like James Bond, so I see no reason why Eon should stop making movies about him and his adventures.

Helfenstein:  If I have to resort to making them with action figures, there will always be James Bond movies.

O’Connell:  Only if hell freezes over.  Which will then make a superb location for a Bond film.  So – no – evolution won’t actually let that happen!  Of course it would be naïve to assume they will last forever (and I have had that selfish thought, “but what if I die and the films continue?!”).  I don’t think Eon and the Bond camp look too far ahead.  They never take anything for granted.  Even talking to Barbara Broccoli on the eve of Skyfall’s release suggested an understandably guarded stance on assuming success and jumping the gun on any future plans.  The best hope for Bond’s future is perhaps evidenced in the past and present of how these films are made.  Who learns the ropes on them, who understands those vital notions of integrity, character and Fleming… it all strengthens the generations holding up this franchise.  That is its best hope of continuing.

Pfeiffer:  As I’ve written before, the only constants in life are “death, taxes and the next James Bond movie.”

Rubin: There are only three things certain in life – death, taxes and the James Bond movies.  I will guarantee that.  James Bond is forever.

Scivally:  I think it is inevitable that the series will eventually run its course, but I believe that time is a long, long ways off.  So far, the Bond producers have managed to keep the series both popular and profitable.  As long as that remains the case, the movies will continue to be produced.

Worrall:  Depends on how old you are!  I reckon, if Eon persuade Chris Nolan to direct Bond 25, which would be Craig’s fifth, and possible last outing, they might sell-out and retire like Lucas did with his Star Wars franchise.  Without Barbara and Michael at the helm I do not think the series could continue in the same vein that we have become used to.

The latest installment in the Bond franchise: Skyfall

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- Michael Coate


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