Idris Elba: The 2018 007 wave

Idris Elba

UPDATE (4:50 p.m., New York time): The Hollywood Reporter quotes a representative for Fuqua as saying the supposed conversation with Barbara Broccoli never happened and the Daily Star story was “all made up stuff.”

Justin Kroll, a writer for Variety, had the following:

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ORIGINAL POST (tweaked to incorporate Fuqua’s denial): Three years ago, the blog said the Idris Elba/James Bond “debate doesn’t appear to be going away soon.” Talk about an understatement.

It’s 2018 and this week the idea of Elba playing 007 was trending all over social media. It began a story in the Daily Star. The tabloid’s article said director Antoine Fuqua “chatted to Barbara (Brocccoli) about who will take over from Daniel Craig, 50, if he hangs up his gun after the next Bond film, due next year.”

Antoine, 52, revealed Barbara feels “it is time” for an ethnic minority actor to star as 007 and she is certain “it will happen eventually”.

He added: “Idris could do it if he was in shape. You need a guy with physically strong presence. Idris has that.”

There was no indication the Daily Star reached out to Eon for comment (and now we know why).

Back in December, Broccoli said the following in a Hollywood Reporter podcast.

Question: Would you ever hire a person of color or a woman to play James Bond one day?

Broccoli: Anything is possible. Right now, it’s Daniel Craig and I’m very happy with Daniel Craig.

Meanwhile, the Fuqua quote got cited in summaries produced by CNN.com (which asked Eon for comment), People, and Esquire. Almost immediately there after (but before Fuqua’s denial), fans debates ensued. Temperatures up in a thread on The Spy Command’s Facebook page.

Like the movie groundhog day, many of the same comments uttered before were stated again.

–Bond is white/it’s political correctness run amok/it’d be like casting a white guy as John Shaft. Of course, people of color have seen the opposite (“whitewashing”) occur for many decades. White guys (Olivier Welles) playing Othello, white guys playing Asians (like Mickey Rooney’s less-than-subtle performance in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman in the title role, who was half Chinese, half German.

–Read the books! Where Bond has a scar down his cheek and Felix Leiter (played by two different black actors in a combined three movies, including two made by Eon) was a Texan with straw-colored hair.

–Elba is too old to play James Bond. Elba turns 46 on Sept. 6. Of course, last month saw the debut of Mission: Impossible-Fallout starring 56-year-old, age-defying, skydiving Tom Cruise.

–Elba is too old to spend a decade playing 007. The traditional expectation is a new Bond actor will be at it for about a decade. However, the hiatus between 007 films is growing. Eon will barely make three 007 movies in the 2010s, assuming Bond 25 meets its scheduled fall 2019 release date.

Assuming Eon doesn’t sell itself, will it mount, say, only two Bond films in the 2020s? Is the “Bond actor spends a decade in the role” model up for reappraisal? Could future Bond actors do one-offs?

Not that any of this is going to change minds. But it looks like this latest wave — goofy tabloid stories and all — is as strong as previous ones.

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Sylvia Trench, an appreciation

Eunice Gayson (as Sylvia Trench), Zena Marshall (as Miss Taro), Sean Connery (as James Bond) and Ursula Andress (as Honey Rider) in a publicity still for Dr. No.

The character of Sylvia Trench, as portrayed by the late Eunice Gayson (1928-2018), has a special place in 007 film lore.

Sylvia was the only Bond woman character (aside from M’s assistant, Miss Moneypenny) to appear in more than one of the Bond films made by Eon Productions. Maud Adams appeared twice as two different characters in the Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy.

Sylvia had less than 20 minutes of screen time combined for Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

Still, Sylvia was Bond’s first film on-screen conquest. Or was Bond her conquest? In Dr. No, Sylvia is the one who takes the initiative.

Sylvia Trench wasn’t an Ian Fleming character from his 007 novels. The idea was Sylvia, devised for the films, would be a recurring character. Bond would be rushing out to go on a mission but would, eh, spend some quick time with Sylvia before doing so.

At the same time the basic notion behind Sylvia’s character likely would have gotten old had it gone beyond two films.

How would you put Sylvia into Goldfinger? Asking Bond why he was morose after Jill’s death from being pained with gold paint?

Where would you place Sylvia in Thunderball? “Sorry, Sylvia. I have to go to this health clinic. Maybe I can see you when I get back.”

In You Only Live Twice? Maybe she’s sobbing after Bond has faked his death.

What about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Bond (with George Lazenby replacing Sean Connery) already tosses his hat to Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) at his wedding. It’s a small emotional moment. What would he do for an encore for Sylvia?

The Sylvia Trench character actually helps make the first two 007 films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, special. There’s a fair amount of continuity between the two movies without getting bogged down.

What’s more, Bond’s initial encounter with Sylvia in Dr. No  helps establish a lot about the 007 character in a very tight, economical way. The character, as played by Eunice Gayson, was a key part of that.

So with the passing of Eunice Gayson, let us also remember Sylvia Trench. The character was important to getting the film 007 off the ground. At the same time,  she certainly didn’t overstay her welcome.

Sometimes, less is more. But Sylvia stayed around long enough to have an impact.

Eunice Gayson, 1st Bond woman, dies at 90

Eunice Gayson in a publicity still.

Eunice Gayson, who played Sylvia Trench, the first Bond woman of the 007 film series, died June 8 at 90.

Gayson’s death was announced by her official Twitter feed.

The British actress played Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia With Love. The character wasn’t in Ian Fleming’s novels but created for the movies.

When first seen in Dr. No, she’s gambling at the same table as Bond. Sean Connery’s Bond initially isn’t seen to build up his introduction to audiences.

The audience witnesses Sylvia Trench losing twice to Bond. She then arranges to get more funds (“I need another thousand.”).

“I admire your courage, miss…” Bond says.

“Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, mister..”

“Bond, James Bond,” as the character’s face is finally shown. Later, Sylvia surprises Bond in his apartment only wearing a pajama top.

The casino scene “locates Bond in this exclusive environment of high-stakes gambling, but what’s also interesting is that Sylvia Trench is there as an independent woman,” James Chapman, an academic who has written extensively about Bond, said in a sidebar to a 2012 BBC story.

“She’s the one who comes on to him with a double entendre-laden dialogue,” Chapman said. “”It’s 1962 and right on the cusp of sexual revolution. The scene is saying it’s OK for this woman to be unaccompanied in a casino, picking up men.”

Trench again played Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love but the character was retired from the series after that.

During her acting career, Gayson also appeared in episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent and The Saint.

Here was the post on Twitter announcing her death.

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UPDATE (9:50 a.m. New York time): Eon Productions issued a statement via Twitter by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson about Gayson’s death. “Our sincere thoughts are with her family.”

007 gets drawn into U.S. politics

One-time GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s Twitter picture.

James Bond got drawn into U.S. politics this week as CIA got a new director.

The U.S. Senate voted to ratify Gina Haspel in a 54-45 vote. But not all Republican members of the Senate voted for the veteran CIA employee because at one point she ran an agency facility in Thailand performing “enhanced interrogation,” including waterboarding. Haspel wrote a letter dated May 14 (which became public the next day) saying the agency shouldn’t have utilized such techniques.

Mike Huckabee, a one-time GOP presidential candidate, criticized one GOP Senator who voted no, Jeff Flake of Arizona.

“Of course Jeff ‘Flaky Flake’ didn’t vote for Gina Haspel,” Huckabee wrote May 17. “If @realDonaldTrump nominated James Bond, he would have voted ‘no.’ That’s why Flake is ‘Dr. No.’ And I’ll be HE colluded with the Russians! ‘From Russia With Love.'”

Huckabee also is the father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary.

Here’s what the tweet looked like:

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Meanwhile, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, whose politics are the opposite of Sanders, had this reaction:

 

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On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.

Chill, 007 fans: This gentleman agent is used to criticism

“But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Daniel Craig said while promoting SPECTRE.

Recent stories on websites and British tabloid papers about how millennials are critical of old James Bond films has upset fans of the gentlemen agent.

On social media, that’s generated comments such as, “Bite my bum millenials,” and “I blame the parents……poor upbringing.”

The thing is, the criticisms mentioned in these stories aren’t new. They’ve been around pretty much as long as Bond has. Specifically, Bond is a womanizer, represents imperialism, has racial overtones, etc., etc.

One critique that sometimes is cited is an April 1958 review by Paul Johnson in the New Statesman of the novel Dr. No.

There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a school boy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill…

(snip)
The plot can be briefly described. James Bond, an upper-class Secret Service Agent, is sent by his sadistic superior, M., to Jamaica, to investigate strange incidents on a nearby island.

This review was published almost 60 years ago, yet mirrors some of the criticisms contained in the recent “Millennials vs. James Bond” stories. Those stories rely heavily on Twitter posts. As the website Medium noted in a Jan. 28 story, not all of the tweets are even written by millennials.

On occasion, similar critiques were made when Bond went to the big screen.

In 1973, for example, Time magazine’s review for Live And Let Die declared Bond to be “a racist pig.”

Needless to say, Bond has survived all that — and not always with help from the principals of Eon Productions, which makes the 007 films.

First, consider what Eon’s Michael G. Wilson told USA Today in 2012. Bond is not even a hero, Wilson has said. “There are plenty of imitators, but Bond really is the first one that was an anti-hero,” Wilson told the newspaper.

An anti-hero is defined as “a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.” (emphasis added)

In 2015, Bond star Daniel Craig said of 007: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long,” (emphasis added)

A misogynist is defined as “a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts or mistreats women.” That’s harsher than the definition of a chauvinist, “a person who believes one gender is superior to the other.”

That gave an opening to writer Laurie Penny in an October 2015 commentary in the New Statesman.

“James Bond is a guilty pleasure but one in which the pleasure is increasingly overwhelmed by the guilt. Even Daniel Craig seems to know this,” Penny wrote.

Then, there’s Eon boss Barbara Broccoli, who told the Evening Standard in 2012, that women characters in Bond movies today are better than most of their earlier counterparts. “Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over,”

In the interview, Broccoli wasn’t specific about the “clipboard” women. She complimented the characters of Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfiner. In Moonraker, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) was holding a clipboard, but she was also a CIA agent and an astronaut.

Recently the website Haphazard Stuff did an in-depth review of 2012’s Skyfall. But it took the occasion to note all the times that women actors in Bond movies over the decades said their characters weren’t like the “empty-headed” Bond girl stereotype. It’s the video below, roughly from the 12:00 to 18:00 mark.

Remember, the actors said this as part of promoting the movies they were in. It’s almost as if running down its earlier product as part of promoting the current product is part of Eon’s standard operating procedure.

In any case, Bond fans should take a deep breath and move on. Millennials likely are no more critical of Bond novels and movies than previous generations. Bond has been fired at for a long time. But he’s still here.

Uncomfortable moments in early 007 films

Close captioned image from Dr. No

Over the past few days, there have been three stories (in LAD Bible, the Daily Mail and the Express) about how millennials (people becoming adults in the early 21st century) find early James Bond films lacking.

The stories rely heavily on posts on Twitter from those who complain that Bond is a rapist or comes across as “rapey.” There are also complaints about racism as well.

But many of the tweets don’t get into specifics. With that in mind, here are some scenes that might be generating that reaction.

In selecting these three examples, they’re about Bond himself. In the stories linked above, some of the posters on Twitter objected to, for example, Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who appeared in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

The sheriff clearly was racist, but was devised by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz for the audience to laugh at and ridicule.

“Fetch my shoes” (Dr. No): While on Crab Key, Bond (Sean Connery) instructs Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) to, “Fetch my shoes.”

Quarrel, a Jamaican native, had been assisting MI6 operative Strangways. The latter’s disappearance spurred M to assign Bond to find out what happened to Strangways. That put him on the trail of Dr. No.

Anyway, Bond telling Quarrel to “fetch” his shoes wasn’t a major plot point. Bond, Quarrel and Honey are getting ready to hide out in Crab Key.

While Bond’s line doesn’t have good optics in the 21st century, it wasn’t so great in the 1960s, either. The U.S. civil rights movement already was well underway. The Montgomery bus boycott began in December 1955.

In 2014, a website called The Complainist  did a detailed analysis of Dr. No. Concerning “Fetch my shoes,” it said the following:

“Oh goddammit. Fetch you’re own shoes JB. Gross. Gross gross gross.”

Bond and Kerim laugh lecherously (From Russia With Love): In From Russia With Love, Connery’s Bond is talking to Pedro Armandariz’s Kerim about whether Tatiana’s offer to deliver a Soviet decoding machine is genuine.

Bond and Kerim enjoy a laugh together in From Russia With Love

Kerim is skeptical. “My friend, she has you dangling.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Bond replies. “All I want is that Lektor.”

“All? Are you sure that’s all you want?”

“Well…” Bond says. The two then laugh lecherously for about five seconds before we cut to the next scene.

The thing is, this is a big difference from Ian Fleming’s novel. Bond was afraid he might actually be falling for Tatiana. In the film, at least in this scene, there isn’t nearly as much emotion involved. It’s an example of the different worldview of the novels and films.

Bond’s roll in the hay with Pussy (Goldfinger): This is likely the source of the “rapist” and “rapey” comments.

Auric Goldfinger instructs Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) to show Bond around his horse farm to reassure CIA agents who are keeping an eye on the place.

Bond and Pussy eventually go inside a barn. They demonstrate their skills in self defense. After Bond throws Pussy to the ground, the agent says, “Now, let’s both play.”

Pussy resists for a while before embracing Bond.

Bond tries to secure Pussy’s cooperation in Goldfinger.

As depicted in the film, she appears to have been wooed over by Bond but it’s not until the very end of the scene.

It’s not just millenials who’ve commented about this sequence over the years. I’ve had discussions with first-generation 007 film fans who feel the scene gets very close to rape.

Just a year later, in Thunderball, the filmmakers allude to Goldfinger. Bond has gone to bed with SPECTRE killer Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). But she stays loyal to SPECTRE.

“What a blow it must have been,” she says to Bond.

“Well, you can’t win them all,” Bond says.

In the 1990s, director Guy Hamilton recorded comments about the film for a Criterion laserdisc home release that got recalled.

“I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie,” the director said on the commentary track. “How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”