All Time High

Since the #MeToo Movement emerged in Hollywood (and beyond) the knives have been out for Ian Fleming’s secret agent. It is no surprise, on reflection: if you wanted a genre that had male dominance stamped all over it, here it is. Despite various attempts to shift emphasis (and a distinct move away completely from women as objects that began with the Casino Royale reboot in 2006) Mr Craig’s shower entrance in Skyfall gets an entirely understandable mention in that montage. What might once have been considered sexually charged gains a different hue when consent isn’t obvious, or indeed bothered with.

The people who make Bond quite obviously know they have a problem. A look at the @007 Twitter feed or the Official Website make this all too apparent: nothing controversial, a real emphasis away from the sexual and overly misogynist aspects of the movies, with shift towards what could be considered a more family-friendly outlook. To that end, I can now buy a Funko 007. There’s a 10p Coin of the Realm in a Bond stylee. At the weekend, a friend quite gleefully linked me a tweet which would appear to suggest the iconic DB5 is soon making a debut in brick format.

Those of you concerned that Danny Boyle’s gonna stuff up Bond 25 should bear in mind that there’s a lot at stake here besides the transfer of 007’s License to Kill. The world does need heroes, of that there is no doubt, but it is clearly time to ensure that diversity and respect get a fairer hearing than was previously the case. If the push into less controversial territory in terms of merchandising (and a new installation in the Alps in a location where SPECTRE was filmed that ignores all those scantily clad ladies completely) it’s a fair shout that you’ll be fixating on plot far more than has normally been the case.

The tabloids are full of casting rumours, we know when it starts shooting. Bond 25 has a lot to live up to, quite apart from public expectation. The groundwork already being done already suggests the direction that we’re heading may be distinctly different to those trodden before. Time will tell.


PS: I’ve written my own take on the current 007 and how there could be the means to introduce a female into the iconic slot on the MI6 roster. It seems like a good idea to shove some self-promotion in here…

 

Where I Stood

The Bechdel Test, if you are not already aware of it, is quite significant for many women in popular culture. In its simplest form? Bechdel ‘asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.’ Here, it transpires, is one the simplest forms of judging gender equality, and it works. When creating your work of written/spoken art, whatever it might be, giving your characters something to do other than fret about the opposite sex isn’t just sensible, it is often essential if you can’t write women well to begin with. Because good stories, despite what Black Lace might tell you, aren’t just about sex. Writing as I am right now with someone else’s characters as inspiration, it occurs to me that the current crop of Bond women are actually quite tough. However, there aren’t ever two Bond girls ever in a room at the same time, and if there were? Well, DUH, all they’re gonna talk about is how great Bond was in bed before (presumably) having a cat fight with pillows in slow motion and soft focus.

Actually, that’s probably not far off the truth in the Universe anyway.

monica

It took half a century for Bond to kop off with a woman effectively his own age. Expecting the franchise to come up with empowering female storylines is not exactly high on the priority list, but it would be a lie to try and pretend there wasn’t at least some effort made in Spectre. Moneypenny’s got a guy in bed, for starters, when Bond phones in from Rome for intelligence, thought I’d have given Bond more marks for interrupting her on the job. There’s at least a concessionary nod here to a real world and actual lives outside of Whitehall. But when it’s all but brief and you feel like only lip service is being offered? That’s where I am, but I’m in something of a quandary right now, because my female protagonist’s having quite a hard time reconciling her professional and personal attachments to 007. Having relationships isn’t wrong or bad, without them the human race ceases to exist. However, when you find your character unable to separate the professional and the personal and increasingly not worrying about consequence?

Does it matter what truly motivates you to be what you are?

This song has become quite a significant part of my process as a result, mostly because of the following section of lyrics:

And I won’t be far from where you are if ever you should call
You meant more to me than anyone I ever loved at all
But you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you
This is what I have to do

These four lines are at the crux of what I’m trying to explain: you can care deeply and emotionally about someone, yet not be with them. A person can understand that they’re in love with someone else and yet know that this is not what is required to either survive and progress. Popular culture pushes onto us the notion that relationships are only worthwhile if they come with a satisfactory and (presumably) long-term conclusion, but that’s not true at all. Sometimes, things have to fail so you can get better. More often than not, sacrifices need to be made in order to expedite the progression of your existence. Except, in the world of Bond, there is rarely (if ever) an exploration of this. Since Casino Royale there has, at the franchise’s core, been at least some attempt to address this shortfall, and when you see Bond locate Vesper Lynd’s interrogation tape from L’Americaine in Spectre? That story is at an end. This 007 finally closes that chapter of his life and moves on.

The fact this is never discussed further and simply implied makes me sad beyond words.

bond_xmas

So here I am, making sure that my heroine doesn’t simply grasp her feelings, but she actually understands and learns from them. It’s a tough ask to stretch it out over an extended narrative, but I have the flashpoints all mapped out. I’ve also very deliberately included as little Bond as I can conceivably get away with, because to make this work he can’t be the motivation in the frame. The problem with an all-encompassing ‘hero’ is that sometimes, you don’t want to know their story. Spectre tries and largely fails to give depth to a world that has never been about everybody, because that’s not how Fleming wrote 007. When the franchise reboots (and I am confident you’ll hear something by the end of the year on that front) I can only hope that maybe, just maybe, the success of all these ‘extended Universe’ outings in cinemas will make the Eon people consider that perhaps it is time to not just make Bond all there is to see. However, why I watch a Bond movie is a long way from what I’d consider to be the ‘target’ audience.

In the meantime? Wish fulfilment will have to do.

Secret Agent Man

There is a point in Spectre, after the first snow-based chase sequence of Daniel Craig’s tenure, when Bond confronts Madeline Swann, having rescued her from the bad guys. She asks: ‘Why should I trust you?’ before a clearly exasperated Bond replies ‘Because right now I’m your best chance of staying alive.’ The audience already knows this is 007’s love interest, that you don’t chase a blonde across the snow and destroy millions of pounds worth of plane and Land Rovers unless you’re clearly indebted to the woman you’re pursuing, and here in one beautiful exchange is my entire problem with this film. It looks fabulous, contains all the elements that should be in a Bond film… except not one made in 2015. This is so obviously a love letter to Bond’s past, and the criminal organisation that gives the film its name also condemns the whole thing to become, in the end, a worrying parody of it’s own genre. Because while Mike Myers made Austin Powers a beautiful pastiche of everything 1960’s including Bond, Sam Mendes makes this 007’s outing a mirror of all the faults that keep the secret agent the way a certain generation of men will always remember him: tortured, brilliant, invulnerable and ultimately hollow.

What makes this saddest of all is that the two and a bit minute trailer for the movie I saw back in the early part of last year is actually a better presentation of the plot than the movie ends up itself being, because once you know that twist, you’re done: its Game Over. When it becomes apparent who Christopher Wentz is? You know how this will conclude. There is no surprise, or amazement, and everything becomes almost embarrassingly predictable. From the ridiculous set pieces to the record breaking explosions and the beautifully composed tableaux, it is all pointless when you know why Wentz is there, and instead of the homage to 23 other movies I suspect Mendes sold this as, you get an almost depressing understanding of where everything is heading. I thought I knew this Bond, I watched him get his 00 designation. I shouted at the screen when a colleague shot him and happily accepted his return from the dead, but when it became apparent her surname was Moneypenny? This path was already laid, and I was annoyed with Mendes, an anger that actually surprised me. All that hard work in two and a bit movies to build Bond as a tenable and acceptable 21st century reboot was removed in a five or so minutes of clunky and ill-conceived lip service at the end of Skyfall to a Spy who should have been left dead and buried in the 1970’s. But no, the World loves Bond. Misogynistic, womanising, invulnerable Bond. Shame on you for using Naomi Harris to do this, too, for just so many reasons. Women clearly give up everything for Bond, happy to be demoted from Field Agent to glorified PA without a line of real or believable dialogue. Oh, give me a fucking break.

Some of us can see right through you, 007.

Spectre is a disappointment, even more when I see how great the British press thought it was. It is almost as if nobody will ever diss James as he’s clearly a national treasure: after all, he jumped out of an aeroplane with the Queen in 2012. It doesn’t matter how earnest you make the relationship with Swann, it’s a joke, because she leaves him in Act 3 and you’re just holding your head in your hands, because if there’s still X minutes left everybody knows she’ll be back. It’s as if this script was written by a bunch of men who understood just how far they could push the envelope and no more, that what really should have transpired wouldn’t have made for a suitable homage anyway because Bond can do no wrong. Monologuing your bad guy works when he has you tied to a chair attacking your exposed genitalia. It becomes less acceptable on his personal Island surrounded by clearly cosmetic server units, and when you reach the stark stylised nature of your deserted desert based lair? Sorry, but no. We had three movies that actually presented a secret agent with a relevance to the 21st century. This means the pre-credits sequence for Bond 25 will either be breaking Bloefeld out of jail so he can spend two and a bit hours being all menacing, or Eon will see sense and actually break the mould. Because with all the interest in an Oscars ceremony where a complete absence of diversity in the film industry is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss?

wtfmal

This franchise doesn’t need another white, male Bond on a reboot. I’m really hoping Daniel Craig is done with 007, because if he walks away now I’ll maintain the respect he granted me by making Bond finally be the James I thought worked best, who I as a woman could actually believe had a soul. I’ll forgive him about 70% of Spectre where he’s clearly only doing what the script told him to do, and remember the broken man who picked up Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd from the wreckage of the house she died in, and made me cry for the first time ever in a Bond movie. Because then, 007 was real and brilliant and now he’s become a parody of a parody.

You really need to give Idris Elba or Tilda Swinton the designation. Tom Hiddleston won’t do, and if you pick an unknown white guy again? NOPE. The only way I could see you saving this whole sorry mess is giving it to the BBC and letting them take 007 to Television. You want to keep people happy when you do?

Make Bond openly bisexual.

Yeah, that would work.