In defense of the traditional Superman

The Adventures of Superman main title

The Adventures of Superman main title

It’s not cool to be Superman in the 21st century.

Batman — in particular the more grim and gritty versions of recent decades — is more popular. Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has a darker take on the iconic character, says, “There’s no winning anymore for Superman.” 

Others say Superman is too square, not appropriate for a darker time.

What follows is a defense of the traditional interpretation of Superman.

Superman is an orphan — not only of his parents but an entire planet. While he grew up on Earth, he is not *of* the Earth. His Clark Kent identity gives him a respite, a pause, from the responsibilities of being Superman. But he can’t withdraw to his Clark persona indefinitely. He know he has to fufill those responsibilities.

That’s just the way it is. He can no more abandon one or the other.

One of the best comic book examples of this dynamic is mostly forgotten now. In the 1970s, Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin wrote a four-part Superman comic book story illustrated by Curt Swan where Superman is forced to confront which persona he truly is.

When he tries to be Clark alone, he’s not complete. But when he tries to be Superman full-time, he gets no chance to take a break, no chance to catch a breath.

It’s not that Superman is a Boy Scout. Rather, he simply has more abilities and powers — more of an opportunity to act on what needs to be done. He’s still human, despite his birth on Krypton, and has the same needs, wants and desires as anyone else.

That’s a big burden. But when done well, it’s still compelling.

When it comes to adapting that for other media, you’ll find enthusiasts for all sorts of interpretations of the traditional Superman, including the (low-budget) 1950s Adventures of Superman television show with George Reeves and the 1978-1987 (initially big budget) Christopher Reeve movies.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and director Snyder have opted for a darker direction. That’s in vogue and perhaps to be expected. Still, people shouldn’t disregard the traditional interpretation.

REVIEW: The Music of James Bond (2012)

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Music journalist Jon Burlingame is nothing if not persistent. To write The Music of James Bond, he had to reconcile differing accounts and memories of various participants to create a narrative of how 007 film scores were created. This included new interviews as well as drawing upon interviews he had done previously while writing about film and television music for variety.

Perhaps the most daunting task was explaining the creation of The James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman but revamped by aggressive orchestrations by John Barry. Short of traveling back in time to watch it first hand, Burlingame’s account is likely to be the most definitive we’re likely to get. Along the way, he provides additional anecdotes, including quoting a 1990 interview about Barry’s shock (and anger) after editor Peter Hunt had put it throughout the finished Dr. No film. Barry had been told it would just be in the main titles.

Along the way, Burlingame provides many other details about 007 scores, including Barry’s own disenchantment with Bond starting in the early 1970s. “It’s a trap, and I don’t know how to get out it, really,” Barry says in a 1971 interview published in the RTS Music Gazette in 1976. Burlingame also interviewed Cary Bates, a one-time scribe for DC Comics who among those who submitted story ideas for The Spy Who Loved Me. Barry had told Bates in 1972. “You know, I’m not doing them anymore.”

John Barry

John Barry

That would prove not to be the case. Barry kept returning, not ending his association with 007 until 1987’s The Living Daylights. Partly, it was out of loyalty to the series that helped launch his career as a movie composer. Partly it was because producer Albert R. Broccoli knew Barry could produce the inevitable tight deadlines that Bond movies made by Eon Productions continually faced. Barry had one last chance to return, for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, but passed.

Some of the tales Burlingame tells are known but he adds nice flourishes. A 2006 U.K. television special detailed how producer Harry Saltzman despised the Barry-Don Black title song for Diamonds Are Forever. Burlingame notes how Broccoli was present after Saltzman stormed out of a meeting with Barry and Black at Barry’s apartment. “Do you have any Jack Daniels?” the veteran producer asked after a few moments of silence.

What’s more, some of the best passages discuss Bond songs that didn’t happen, including a planned Frank Sinatra rendition of a Moonraker title song (for which Paul Williams had written the lyrics). Also, throughout are quotes that go beyond the typical fare. One example was composer Marvin Hamlisch, who scored 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me on his own frustration he was never asked to do another 007 film. “You can deliver an Oscar nominated song. You can deliver a number-two record, and it still ain’t good enough.”

Personally, I would have liked a bit more commentary on how Barry could get passed over for Oscar nominations for Bond while getting five Oscars for other work. But that’s a quibble. The author tells readers that Broccoli didn’t believe in big Oscar campaigns for Bond films as well as how United Artists actually unsuccessfully promoted a nomination for Clifton James as J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die.

Music has always been one of the distinctive aspects about the Bond films. It’s about time for a book on the subject, including 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the two non-Eon Bond films. Burlingame delivers. GRADE: A.

SEPTEMBER 2012 POST: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK.

The Music of James Bond, 293 pages, Oxford University Press.

UPDATE: The September 2012 post referenced a lawsuit related to the song Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The lawsuit was filed by Shirley Bassey. She recorded her version *after* Dionne Warwick’s rejected main title song for Thunderball. The idea was it might be suitable as the song for the end titles. Jon Burlingame details how this plan went awry.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 35th anniversary: license renewed

July is the 35th anniversary of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. It may not be the best James Bond movie but it’s certainly one of the most important for the series: 007 got his license to kill renewed.

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of Spy’s poster: Barbara Bach is “introduced” while Michael G. Wilson gets a credit he wouldn’t receive on the final version of the poster.


Spy faced many barriers to reaching the screen: the breakup between founding 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; widespread doubt (outside of Bond fandom) whether Agent 007 had a cinematic future; and legal fights as Kevin McClory sought to get back into the 007 movie game more than a decade after 1965’s Thunderball.

All of those topics have been covered in more detail than we can provide here. Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on the 10th James Bond film.

Eon Productions was now headed solely by Cubby Broccoli, aided and abetted by stepson Michael G. Wilson (who got a “special assistant to producer” credit in small type in the main titles). United Artists had bought out Saltzman’s stake in the franchise. The studio (now, in effect, Broccoli’s partner) supported the remaining Bond producer by doubling down, greatly increasing Spy’s budget compared with 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (about twice Golden Gun’s $7 million outlay).

For star Roger Moore, it was his third 007 film. It firmly established him in the role and he has said it’s his favorite Bond movie. The plot has a number of similarities with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, also directed by Lewis Gilbert. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

The script was developed after a number of writers participated without receiving a credit (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant). The final credit went to 007 stalwart Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (the latter, who got top billing in the screenplay credit, was brought in by Gilbert). There even were odd changes in the early version of the film’s poster compared with the final version.

For all the twists and turns, Spy was a big hit in the summer of 1977. It generated $185.4 million in worldwide ticket sales, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.) The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for its sets (designed by Ken Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), score (Marvin Hamlisch) and title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). The movie, though, went 0-for-3 on Oscar night.

Do all 007 film fans love Spy? No. Check out some of the comments by HMSS EDITORS, many of whom never warmed up the Roger Moore movies. Still, Spy’s success ensured there would be future 007 screen adventures, securing Broccoli’s control of the franchise.

007 Fidelity Index: how close are the films to the books? Part III

We conclude our comparison of James Bond films to the Ian Fleming originals. We’ve gotten a mixed reaction. While some like the analysis, there’s also a worry that these entries reinforce fan like/dislike of particular actors.

These postings, for the most part, aren’t intended as movie reviews (though we admit to taking a shot to the second half of Die Another Day in a previous installment). And they’re not intended to praise or criticize any particular actor. Anway, here’s our final category, films that are virtually entirely creations of the filmmakers with next to nothing of Fleming’s novels or short stories:

MADE UP OF WHOLE CLOTH

The Spy Who Loved Me: The official story, told time and again, is that the deal Eon Productions made with Fleming is that only the title of the author’s novel could be used. That’s understandable. Bond doesn’t appear until two-thirds of the way through and the story is told from the perspective of a young woman who has had her share of troubles in life.

The movie Spy, from all accounts, was the first time Eon retained the services of a tag team of writers, including future director John Landis, author Anthony Burgess and DC Comics writer Cary Bates. The final script was credited to Christopher Wood, director Lewis Gilbert’s choice, and 007 veteran Richard Maibaum. It’s a virtual remake of You Only Live Twice (also directed by Gilbert). In a documentary on the film’s DVD, we’re told that superthug Jaws was inspired by Horror, a thug in the novel who wore braces. The film ended up being a bit hit and re-established 007 as a popular movie figure at a time many critics wondered if he was washed up.

A View To a Kill: The movie is viewed by some fans as yet another remake of Goldfinger. But the Richard Maibaum-Michael G. Wilson script seems to channel John Gardner’s continuation novels as much as Fleming, including a scene set as the Ascot horse-racing track, also featured in Gardner’s License Renewed novel. That’s somewhat amusing given how Wilson has badmouthed Gardner’s novels, including at a 1995 fan convention in New York City. Then again, you can’t copyright locations, and as a result, you don’t have to pay royalties and rights fees.

GoldenEye: Bond returned to movie screens in 1995, six years after his previous film adventure. Once more, Eon brought in multiple writers. Three got some form of credit: Michael France, Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein. One, Kevin Wade, didn’t, though he managed to have a CIA operative (played by Joe Don Baker) named after himself. The film also launched the seven-year tenure of Pierce Brosnan as Bond.

Tomorrow Never Dies: If it worked once (bringing in several writers), it can work again, or at least that seemed to be Eon’s approach to Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing. Novelist Donald E. Westlake was among those employed at least at one point. Westlake’s involvement might have gone unnoticed except the author told an Indiana audience that he would be writing the film. That was news to Bruce Feirstein, standing next to Michael G. Wilson, when Wilson was asked about Westlake’s comments during a 1995 fan convention in New York City.

The film ended up with a “Written by Bruce Feirstein” credit but that was misleading. Other writers were brought in after Feirstein submitted a draft. Feirstein was summoned to finish things up as the film faced tight, frantice deadlines to ensure a Christmas 1997 release.

The World Is Not Enough: by 1998-1999, Eon’s approach to film writing was well established: bring in enough writers and you can develop a workable story. This time, it began with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with Dana Stevens (wife of director Michael Apted) playing midwife and Bruce Feirstein finishing things up. All but Stevens would get a credit.

Quantum of Solace: The most recent 007 movie follows a familiar pattern. The Purvis and Wade duo worked on the project at one point. Paul Haggis did the heavy lifting as the project faced a Writers Guild deadline for a strike. Another screenwriter, Joshua Zetumer, was brought in for final polishes. Haggis got top billing in the eventual writing credit followed by Purvis and Wade, with no mention of Zetumer. The film was a big hit, though some fans wondered if the movie was too heavily influenced by the Jason Bourne movies. There were few critques suggesting the film had too many Ian Fleming influences.