MI6 Confidential features Armstrong, Picker in new issue

David Picker

David Picker

MI Confidential is out with A NEW ISSUE that, among things, includes features on stuntman/second unit director Vic Armstrong and former United Artists executive David V. Picker.

Armstrong worked on the 007 film series in such films as You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was interviewed for John Cork-directed documentaries about those movies, providing some behind-the-scenes perspective about how stunts were performed. From 1997-2002, Armstrong assumed the helm as stunt coordinator and second unit director for three Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan.

Picker was among the UA executives who reached a deal in 1961 with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to get the 007 film series started. His memoirs were published last year, including A CHAPTER ON THE BOND FILM SERIES.

Also included in the issue are stories about Lana Wood and her experiences filming Diamonds Are Forever and Ian Fleming’s taste in cars.

The price for MI Confidential No. 25 is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros. For more information about the contents or to order, CLICK HERE.

A Bond for all seasons; how 007 endures

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming


By Nicolás Suszczyk

Who was the best James Bond? Which is the Best Bond film?

We often ask and we often fight in boards, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. Want to know my answer? Pierce Brosnan and GoldenEye. Still, I get along with every Bond and every film very well, despite those I don’t like very much, i.e. Quantum of Solace.

But besides many people are a child of their generation or relate to their favorite Bond actor/film to his first memories, there are many reasons to consider every 007 film was great and every Bond actor was unique. They represented a particular time in society.

Back in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most “hated” newcomer James Bond -– mainly thanks to the Internet and the famous CraigNotBond.com site. We can remember Daniel wasn’t only criticized for his looks but for representing an opposition to the style set by Pierce Brosnan in four James Bond films, a style reminiscent to the Roger Moore era with typical “save the world” and “get the girl” plots with a pinch of drama.

But Craig promised a grittier and tougher Bond, his muscular body giving us a hint of that, and fans couldn’t really get it.

It is funny to see what happens now, with Daniel Craig being established as a successful 007 after three films: Casino Royale, his follow-up Quantum of Solace and the Academy Award winning Skyfall, also the most successful Bond film to date. Now there are lots of people out there blaming the Pierce Brosnan era calling his Bond “weak”, “without charm” and with “stupid plots”.

This makes me think and evaluate every Bond and Bond film not as standalone plots or just thinking about the actor, but going beyond the film and actor and thinking of the sociopolitical/cultural era they were released. Why does Bond battle a media-tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies? Why does Bond go to outer space in Moonraker? Why the Miami Vice-style villains and plot in Licence to Kill?

The answer is simple: the era in which the film was released.

It’s perfectly logical Bond has to face a guy like Franz Sánchez: his American friend works with the DEA, he was captured and tortured, his wife killed, Bond seeks revenge on his own –- and obviously, Auric Goldfinger won’t be his villain, he’ll have to face a ruthless drug dealer with his butchers. The same way a man obsessed with increasing his value of gold won’t be a drug dealer in 1964. In 1989, you could obviously expect plots like Miami Vice or Die Hard.

Of course, if Star Wars rings a bell to you, then you’d understand why 007 went to outer space in 1979, the same way in 1997 communications and technology were involving every day and you could create a war using mass media – oh, by the way, remember how the media was involved in the Gulf War from the 1990s?

Ian Fleming began writing his novels in the early ‘50s and the Broccoli-Saltzman duo adapted the plots to the ‘60s, respecting the standards set by the British spy, journalist and author, but making them suitable for the time we were living.

That’s why Goldfinger tries to irradiate Fort Knox and ties the secret agent to a laser beam instead of stealing the gold or using a buzz-saw. The same reason the guano plot from Dr. No the novel is no match for the rocket toppling the evil doctor plans in the 1962 film. And of course, the abundance of girls had to be there (the swinging ‘60s) in the first Bond cinematic adventure, instead of letting Honey Ryder being the only girl in the whole adventure.

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Fifty years later, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go straight the same way: they respect the origins of the character, but they also give a look at the times we’re living. Plenty of situations in Casino Royale and Skyfall were lifted from the Fleming books: Bond’s “death” at the end of You Only Live Twice with M’s obit, the Glencoe settings where Fleming tells us Bond was born, and 007’s decadent situation and re-shaped for duty just like at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.

We all have our hearts, people. Mine is, of course, with that first glance at the GoldenEye film and game and the cardboard Tomorrow Never Dies standee I came across at a shopping mall being a kid in the ‘90s. That was “James Bond” for me as today “James Bond” is what people see in Skyfall or what my parents or my uncle watched in the Roger Moore era (some of them still complaining about the few gadgets in Quantum of Solace).

But Bond was made for all seasons. Perhaps that’s why we all get the “James Bond Will Return” credit at the end of every film!

Ian Fleming’s entry on a ‘literary embarrassments’ list

Cover for the first edition of The Spy Who Loved Me

Cover for the first edition of The Spy Who Loved Me

James Bond creator Ian Fleming has shown up on a list he’d probably wouldn’t like.

The BOOK DIRT BLOG has posted a list of eight books THEIR AUTHORS WISHED THEY HADN’T WRITTEN and are considered “literary embarrassments.”

For Fleming, it’s The Spy Who Loved Me, his 1962 007 novel that’s written from the first-person perspective of a woman and where Bond doesn’t show up until the last third of the story.

Here’s an excerpt of a fairly short entry.

(Fleming) sold the rights to the title only, after the book proved to be sort of a bomb. He refused a paperback reprint of the book in the UK, effectively trying to bury it completely.
(snip)
Critics fell over themselves to pan it. “His ability to invent a plot has deserted him almost entirely,” wrote the Glasgow Herald.

There’s not that much more, but our policy is to only put in excerpts to encourage readers to check out the original source material.

The thing is, Fleming has some notable company on the list. The Book Dirt blog also references books by Neil Gaiman, Martin Amis, Harlan Ellison and Louis L’Amour among others. To read the entire list and accompanying commentary, CLICK HERE.

Thanks to The Rap Sheet, where we spotted the Book Dirt blog entry.

2014: numerous big 007 anniversaries

"Order plenty of Bollinger -- '55, of course."

“Order plenty of Bollinger — ’55, of course.”

We were reminded that 2014 will mark a number of significant James Bond film anniversaries. Thus, there’s more reason than normal for 007 fans to dip into their home video copies.

50th anniversary of Goldfinger. The first mega-hit for Agent 007.

45th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An early attempt to bring 007 back down to earth, but one that wasn’t judged a success by United Artists.

40th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun. A box office misstep after Live And Let Die set a worldwide 007 box office record (though not in the U.S. market).

35th annivesary of Moonraker. Producer Albert R. Broccoli’s extragant follow-up to The Spy Wh Loved Me.

25th anniversary of Licence to Kill. A controversial Bond entry that preceded a six-year hiatus for the series.

15th anniversary of The World Is Not Enough. Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 entry and a preview of attempts to bring a more dramatic take to the world of 007.

UPDATE: As reader Stuart Basinger reminds us:

60th anniversary of the CBS television broadcast of Casino Royale. The first, and so far only, adaptation to feature an American (Barry Nelson in this case) playing Bond.

50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s death on Aug. 12. 007′s creator passed away the month before the film version of Goldfinger’s U.K. debut.

And one more that’s related:
50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Debut of the series featuring Ian Fleming’s other spy, Napoleon Solo, co-created with television producer Norman Felton.

Our modest proposal for a James Bond-related movie

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

This weekend in the U.S., Saving Mr. Banks, a telling of the behind-the-scenes turmoil during the making of 1964′s Mary Poppins, is out. Generally, movie makers love to make movies about their industry. So why not a movie based on how James Bond made it to the screen?

There certainly were moments of drama that occurred before 007 made it to the screen in 1962′s Dr. No. The meeting where Irving Allen, then the partner of Albert R. Broccoli, ridicules the Bond novels to Ian Fleming’s face. The ticking clock as Harry Saltzman strained to make a deal with a studio before his six-month option on the bulk of the 007 novels expired. How the producers and United Artists wrangled about who to cast to play Fleming’s gentleman agent with a license to kill.

Such a project likely would face complications. It’d be easiest for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in partnership with Sony. Saving Mr. Banks was released by Walt Disney Co., which meant it was no problem to use clips from Mary Poppins in a sequence about the movie’s world premier. However, an MGM-Sony combo would need to proceed cautiously, not wanting to alienate Eon Productions, which actually produces the 007 movies.

One possible vehicle to do a “being the scenes of 007″ movie would be to acquire the screen rights of one-time United Artists executive David V. Picker’s memoir, which includes a chapter on the Bond movies and how they came to be. One possible scenario for a movie would be show how things came to be through Picker’s eyes.

Don’t hold your breath for such a movie (or even TV movie). But it would have the potential to be an entertaining film.

Peter O’Toole dies; his minor 007 connection

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O'Toole in 1967's Casino Royale

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O’Toole in 1967′s Casino Royale

Peter O’Toole has died at 81. His stellar career included one very, very minor James Bond connection: an unbilled cameo in producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

We’d try to explain, but it’s really not worth it. Feldman signed up a lot of famous actors for his over-the-top comedy. The producer opted to go the spoof route after being unable to cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli (a former employee) and Harry Saltzman, who held the film rights to the bulk of the Ian Fleming 007 stories.

O’Toole in various obituaries (including THE GUARDIAN, VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) understandably emphasized his role as the title character in Lawrence of Arabia.

That 1962 film, directed by David Lean, had a crew that would have a greater impact on the film world of James Bond: director of photography Freddie Young (You Only Live Twice), camera operator Ernie Day (who’d be a second unit director on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and special effects man Cliff Richardson, the father of John Richardson, who’d work special effects on several Bond movies.

Also, Spy’s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, included a snippet of Maurice Jarre’s main theme for Lawrence for a scene set in the Eyptian desert.

Medical study concludes 007 drinks too much

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

A new study published in the BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL shockingly concludes the literary James Bond drank too much.

The study lists three authors and says two of them read all 14 James Bond books by Ian Fleming. (Two of the books were short story collections but that hasn’t prevented some outlets SUCH AS THE BBC as referring to 14 Bond novels.)

“Contemporaneous notes were taken detailing every alcoholic drink taken,” according to the study. “Predefined alcohol unit levels were used to calculate consumption. Days when Bond was unable to consume alcohol (such as through incarceration) were noted.” The authors calculated he consumed 92 alcoholic units a week, excluding times when alcohol was unavailable. He had a daily high of 49.8 units, the study said (hic).

“We were struck, while reading the original James Bond books, that his alcohol consumption seemed rather high and wondered whether he would realistically have the capacity to perform (in all aspects of his life)…at his high level of alcohol intake,” the authors wrote.

“Ideally vodka martinis should be stirred, not shaken. That Bond would make such an elementary mistake in his preferences seemed incongruous with his otherwise impeccable mastery of culinary etiquette. We examined Bond’s alcohol consumption to determine whether he might have been unable to stir his drinks because of the persistent shaking of alcohol induced tremor, making it more socially acceptable to ask for his drinks ‘shaken, not stirred.’”

The study also included a graphic indicating Bond started out drinking a lot in 1953, cutting back, more or less, through 1957 before escalating again.

You can guess where this is leading.

James Bond’s weekly alcohol intake is over four times the advisable maximum alcohol consumption for an adult male. He is at considerable risk of developing alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, impotence, and other alcohol related health problems, together with being at serious risk of injury or death because of his drinking. Although we appreciate the societal pressures to consume alcohol when working with international terrorists and high stakes gamblers, we would advise Bond be referred for further assessment of his alcohol intake and reduce his intake to safe levels.

We conclude that James Bond was unlikely to be able to stir his drinks, even if he would have wanted to, because of likely alcohol induced tremor.

To view the study, CLICK HERE.

Director exits Ian Fleming film, TheWrap says

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Duncan Jones, who had been scheduled to direct a film based on the life of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, has exited the project, according to A STORY BY JEFF SNEIDER on The Wrap entertainment news website.

According to the story, the director’s commitment to work on a movie being developed by Legendary Entertainment and to be released by Universal forced Jones to part ways with the Fleming film. Here’s an excerpt:

With Legendary’s “Warcraft” starting production early next year, director Duncan Jones has been forced to part ways with “Fleming,” the upcoming biopic of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, TheWrap has learned.

Jones was keen to direct “Fleming” but scheduling became an insurmountable obstacle, as the producers were unwilling to wait nearly two years for him to finish “Warcraft,” which Universal will release on Dec. 18, 2015.

“Warcraft” is an adaptation of the popular video game “World of Warcraft,” and the big-budget tentpole calls for a long post-production process. Travis Fimmel and Paula Patton are expected to star.

“Fleming” is based on Andrew Lycett’s biography of Ian Fleming.

Sneider’s story says “Fleming” is now looking for a new director, with plans to do casting in 2014.

To view TheWrap’s story, CLICK HERE.

GUEST REVIEW: Solo by William Boyd

solonovel

The author did a review of Skyfall that ran on this blog on May 15 and has contributed to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website and alt.fan.james-bond.

By Peredur Glyn Davies
Much was made in the publicity for the new James Bond continuation novel Solo, by William Boyd, that this would feature 007 doing the unexpected and going rogue, “going solo.”

The very title hints that in this story Bond will not have the usual caravan of allies to help him, but that he will have to rely on his wits alone. The question is: is this an enticing and novel premise?

A brief glimpse into the Bond universe that precedes Solo shows us that Bond, of course, is not averse to going rogue. It’s a major aspect of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights, if we remain within the Fleming canon, and it crops up now and then elsewhere too (even in the Gardner novelisation of Licence to Kill, if you accept that as canon!).

Solo, then, is already potentially on the back foot, since it promises an original concept which itself lacks originality. Nevertheless, the idea of a truly rogue Bond is an appealing one. The idea of a period Bond novel which tries to move away from the formulaic issues that will plague any long-running series is also pleasing.

The plot sees Bond sent by M on an assassination mission to stop civil war in a fictional African country. Bond is aided along the way by a woman called Blessing and abetted by a scarred villain called Jakobus Breed (wherein the initials J.B. can hardly be a coincidence). Suffice to say that once Bond finds himself in Africa—and, later, the USA—he is beset by the usual dangers that we would expect Bond to face on one of his adventures.

Except… not really. There are a number of rather surprising things about Solo

First the titular tease of Bond going solo does not manifest itself until quite late in the novel, which means, among other things, that the book feels rather imbalanced—a work of two halves. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about that (Casino Royale, for example, is structurally very curious, but Fleming manages to make it work). But for a novel that claims to be different one would expect the author to embrace that difference from early on in the tale.

Even when he supposedly goes solo, Bond is hardly alone for most of those chapters. None of his actions really differ from how he would usually behave.

So he is doing these things without the permission of M. So what? A true rogue Bond should be doing things, surely, that fall outside the remit of his 00 status, to go to extremes for the sake of justice. Instead, Boyd sends Bond on a formulaic jaunt to America, the main problems he faces being trying to obtain a driver’s licence and weapons without support from Q Branch.

Second, Bond spends a long time in this book looking at other people doing things. Fleming’s Bond was never really a watcher. He is an impatient man, whose idea of fighting the foe is, more often than not, to barge in and rely on his wits, strength and luck. Boyd’s Bond is more of a detective, spending several chapters of the first half of the novel sitting in a town and letting things happen around him.

Instead of a blunt instrument, Boyd’s Bond is a refined instrument, cold and clinical rather than hot and passionate. There is literally one part of the novel which consists of four chapters of Bond looking at a building from another building.

Fleming’s Bond, I feel, would have got bored quickly and would have sought that white-hot thrill of danger and the threat of death.

Moreover, whilst Bond novels are always about more than just action and death-defying escapes, Solo is light on action scenes. Bond hardly gets into a fight at all.

Sometimes when the plot looks as if we’re building up to an exciting sequence, the author pulls back and the action either doesn’t transpire, or it is dealt with perfunctorily. Not that Solo shies away from violence but this violence is frequently rather static rather than being the kind of thing we expect of a page-turner.

In particular, the final climax is over and done with abruptly and any tension that has been cranked up prior to this point drains away unsatisfyingly.

Third, while the geopolitical aspects of the novel’s story are a refreshing change from anything involving nuclear bombs, the plot verges at times on being dull. This is because the plot revolves around issues such as who is funding the rebellion, and it’s hard to get one’s blood pumping about something that mundane.

Fleming was excellent at character-driven action, whereas Boyd often sticks to plot-driven action. The sheer number of named characters in the book (including a bewildering number of chauffeurs) hints at this. I found it strangely hard to care when certain characters got killed off or certain other characters turned out to be bad ‘uns.

This is a pity, since there are lots of interesting (or potentially interesting) characters here—especially Breed, the “man with two faces”—but I yearned for there to be more actual stuff happening between them and Bond.

Boyd doesn’t always tie his plot strands together very satisfyingly. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the case of a major female character whose numerous interactions with Bond ultimately serve only to fulfil a minor plot requirement.

Surely the overarching plot of any novel of this type should bring all the plot strands together, somehow, and in a pleasing fashion, at the end? Instead, a lot of this (rather long) novel’s story feels superfluous and disconnected.

Let me clarify that I still enjoyed reading Solo, for the most part. Boyd’s great skill as an author is in setting a scene, and some of the most pleasing sections of the novel are where Bond has a particularly fine meal or had a stiff drink. Boyd can cause the reader to salivate via an adroit turn of phrase.

There are also some chilling and moving descriptions of the plight of the fictional African civil war on the civilians, and a disturbing sequence where Bond tries to help some villagers who are on the verge of starving to death. Boyd also strives for realism, and much of the novel gives a detailed procedural account of how an intelligence operative might deal with the situation. I appreciated the research that Boyd has gone into, and the detail adds to the atmosphere.

On the other hand, Boyd’s adherence to realism means that there are almost no fantastical elements to this story. Whilst I did not expect any giant squids or gardens of death, I believe that good Bond stories set themselves apart from the crowd by being able to include fantastical elements without descending into pastiche.

Solo is down to earth, for the main part, and there is almost nothing here that could be termed spectacular. Glimpses of Fleming-like plot details late in the day give promise, but are ultimately overshadowed by the more pedestrian aspects of the story.

Solo could be described as a character study of Bond rather than a Bond adventure. Nevertheless, I don’t suspect most people pick up a Bond book for a character study. To me, the insightful investigation of Bond’s inner workings fall flat when put against the book’s failings. More often than not the plot rambles and the action is flaccid.

I realised, after finishing the book, that I was more able to accept the structural and narrative idiosyncrasies of Solo if I conceived of it as not being an action thriller, but rather a whodunit of sorts. Bond is much more the detective than the physical hero.

If you go into reading this novel without expecting the derring-do we might otherwise expect of James Bond, but instead see it as a slow unravelling of a complex plot, then perhaps it would feel less strange.

That said, the key part of any whodunit is the great reveal, and ‘the reveal’ here, when it comes, didn’t excite me. In a novel where Bond meets one of the villains only once, about a third of the way through, it’s hard to be that gripped by a plot twist.

It seems likely, going by Ian Fleming Publications’ current business model, that William Boyd will not write another Bond novel. That would be a shame, if only that several plot elements are left unresolved here, and as such it feels incomplete without a continuation of the tale. Also, Boyd clearly knows his Bond very well, and his writing style is fresh and highly readable, and perhaps in a different novel the same flaws might not arise again in a sequel.

However, ultimately I see Solo as the third part of a disconnected trilogy of lacklustre Bond continuation novels—following from Devil May Care and Carte Blanche—which have played with the character and with the formula in various ways, but on no occasion truly succeeding.

The more experimental Bond novels of late, specifically the Young Bond and the Moneypenny novels, have, in my view, been far more successful than the ‘adult Bond trilogy’ as sources of entertainment because they have nailed both the character and the spirit of Fleming’s creation in a way that William Boyd hasn’t succeeded.

REVIEW: Solo by William Boyd

solonovel

Solo, William Boyd’s turn at penning a James Bond continuation novel, tries to thread a needle: giving fans of the literary 007 what they want while putting his own spin on the proceedings.

Boyd succeeds, at least most of the time. The author’s tale, set in 1969, uses a thinly disguised version of the Nigerian civil war as a setting and manages to provide readers a sampling of his world view without seeming too preachy.

Meanwhile, Bond drinks a lot of alcohol and a lot of different kinds; he periodically smiles grimly to himself; and he’s still fussy about what he eats (including having his own salad dressing). What’s not to like?

Well, in his drive to make Bond a real person who makes mistakes, Boyd occasionally has 007 commit Homer Simpson moments.

Bond goes rogue, makes his own fake passport but — D’OH! — forgets to come up with a fake U.S. driver’s license until he’s already arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport. Later, Bond curses how he doesn’t have coins to throw to create a diversion until — D’OH! — he suddenly remembers he’s carrying (and has been for some time) a sock with $10 worth of nickels and dimes to use as a weapon.

Also, at one point, Boyd actually writes this piece of Bond reflecting: “Revenge is a dish best served cold, he reminded himself.” Evidently, Boyd’s Bond is a great secret agent but not an original thinker.

To be fair, that’s quibbling. Overall, the story holds the reader’s interest. Boyd keeps the reader turning the pages. The author demonstrates knowledge of Fleming’s Bond. He drops in references to Ian Fleming novels in such a way that long-time readers will pick them up but doesn’t bog down the narrative.

Boyd doesn’t attempt to provide a Dr. No/Auric Goldfinger/Ernst Stavro Blofeld mastermind villain. There isn’t even a Kronsteen/Rosa Klebb opponent. Given the geopolitical theme Boyd inserts, that’s probably for the best. Boyd’s interest is the geopolitics. There is a villain, Kobus Breed, but he’s at best in the Red Grant class.

No, Boyd want to make a broader point about How the World Really Works and how Bond, Breed, Felix Leither, M and other characters are all having their strings pulled.

Fleming’s originals, published from 1953 into the 1960s, were a then-new take on St. George and the Dragon. For Boyd, St. George and the Dragon are pawns on the chessboard of life. It’s just a part of how Boyd sought to make 007 his own. GRADE: B.

Earlier posts:

April 2013: OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP

August 2013: THE AFRICAN WAR THAT MAY HAVE INFLUENCED BOYD’S SOLO

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