Having been James Bond scholars for many years we noted how increasingly everybody was becoming a James Bond fan. After years of having to explain to non-fans – ‘civilians’ – the basics about Bond, now, in the Daniel Craig era, everybody was a James Bond expert.
This has happened for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Bond films on DVD are loaded with extras and documentaries increasing the average knowledge of the film-fan significantly. The Bond novels are constantly in print with new Continuation books released to great success every few years. Daniel Craig has made 007 cool again and also crossed the gender divide: women love Bond. Arguably, Bond is at his zenith perhaps even more so than during Bondmania in the mid-Sixties.
However, with great success comes great inaccuracy. Misquoted facts leading to half-accurate legend grow to playground myth. Coupled with the internet age and the democracy of the blogosphere, in the words of Alan Partridge, people keep getting Bond wrong.
One of the reasons why we decided to write Some Kind of Hero in the way we did was to combat this increasing laissez-faire attitude to the facts. Our own personal decades’ worth of archive material was the basis for in-depth research prior to the numerous interviews we undertook. We insisted that the sources for our assertions were annotated and cited. To paraphrase famed football manager Bill Shankly, ‘Some people think Bond is a matter of life and death. We assure you, it’s much more serious than that…’
Anyway, here is our top 5 list of Bond hits and myths which Some Kind of Hero to bring to the Bond fans out there:
All of them were made with love and passion and respect and each one of them was successful in the market and in the hearts of some Bond fan somewhere. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) was disregarded on initial release but has become an all-time classic. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) was hampered by the producers’ infighting but has lasted as a memorable eco-thriller. Licence To Kill (1989) underperformed at the US box office but arguably was the beginning of the shift to more character-based nuanced Bond films. Die Another Day (2002) was derided for the Madonna song and the invisible Aston Martin but was the highest-grossing Bond at the time and was a great anniversary Bond thriller.
Whilst Fleming grew to like Connery’s interpretation and appreciated the success the initial films gave to the success of his books, he conceived of Bond’s Scottish heritage way before the actor was cast. Fleming himself had illustrious Scots antecedents, his grandfather Robert Fleming founding the private bank which invested in American infrastructure during the early twentieth century.
Due to the fact there has been an unbroken run of success for more than half a century does not mean the Bond formula is automatic guarantee for box office gold. The films have evolved and changed due to the actor playing 007, the times they are set in and the key creative team. Whilst Daniel Craig or director Sam Mendes are the lightning rods for plaudits, they are the visible heads of a solid team who have included Oscar-winners such as production designer Peter Lamont, costume designer Lindy Hemming, sound engineer Chris Monro, Grammy award-winning composer David Arnold and special effects doyens Chris Corbould and Steve Begg. The top of the talent tree are producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson who diligently and deftly continue to prove themselves to be the world’s most successful – and underrated - producing pair.
The perennial chestnut of who is the best 007 spawns a range of answers. It is a myth that people tend to prefer the first Bond they saw: generations of Bond-watchers automatically cite their favourite as Sean Connery and in this DVD age, who we see first has nothing to do with our age. Roger Moore’s seven film, fourteen year unbroken reign was arguably a greater achievement than Connery’s mould-breaking cinematic work as Moore had to reinvent an already popular character. He did and built on the audience Sean created. Pierce Brosnan reinvented and rebuilt a depleted franchise laying a commercial foundation that allowed Daniel Craig to build on and give artistic heft to. One-time Bond George Lazenby did an astounding job in an astounding film that posterity has been kind to. If one has to say there is a best bond, of course everybody knows the obvious answer to that: Timothy Dalton! In his brief but brilliant tenure, the fourth Eon Bond was Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Dalton DNA runs throughout the current incarnation.
There are three types of Bond song: the big, bombastic showstopper exemplified by Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger, the dark, melancholic, regretful ballad of which Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice is an example and finally, the heroic, rock anthem like Paul McCartney’s Live And Let Die. Dame Shirley Bassey, whilst the cultural voice of Bond, cannot always straddle the genre and has to give way to new sounds and experiments. Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall, co-written by James Napier, has a dark, swirling string arrangement and insistent piano line which echoes the work of the classic Bond composer John Barry, and a haunting, soaring lyric. Sam Smith’s song emphasises the mysterious, character-based emphasis of the new film directed by Sam Mendes. It’s a perfect combination of Sam meets Sam. Taking its cue from a moment in the film where Bond sees his name spray painted on the Memorial Wall of the derelict MI6 HQ, it’s big and dramatic and showcases the full range of Sam Smith’s extraordinary voice. The first UK No. 1 Bond song is automatically very 2015 but also has the hallmarks to endure as an evergreen.
By Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury