An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

John Glen: Behind the scenes of Octopussy

John Glen

MI6 Confidential is out with a new publication, John Glen: All Time High. It’s a behind the scenes look at Octopussy, the 13th James Bond film made by Eon Productions.

What was different, my from perspective, is I had the chance to work on it.

Not to give too much away, but it was a chance to get a better look at the making of an important James Bond film. Octopussy was up against a competing Bond project, Never Say Never Again. The latter had Sean Connery returning to the role of James Bond. Eon brought back Roger Moore for his sixth Bond outing with Octopussy.

The focus on the new publication was always going to be on director John Glen. He helmed all five of Eon’s 007 movies in the 1980s. A lot was riding on Octopussy.

A personal highlight, for me, was the chance to interview Glen earlier this year. It took place by phone in June. I had a detailed list of follow-up questions to an earlier session.

Interviews are as much art as science. The interviewer needs to be prepared. At the same time, a good interviewer has to press for details at certain times while backing off at other times and let the subject provide their point of view.

Because of the time differences involved, I would be calling in early in the morning my time. I was preoccupied with mechanics, making sure the interview would be recorded properly.

Also, as the interview unfolded, I had to go with the flow. I had to make sure all the questions were asked. But I didn’t want to cut the director off. This was also going to be an important interview for the publication.

It wasn’t until hours after I had completed the interview, I had a chance to reflect on the experience. Yes, I had directed a five-time Bond director. It wasn’t until then I could take a deep breath about the experience.

In any event, I was just a cog in this production. For more information, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 and 20 euros, plus shipping.

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

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Barbara Broccoli now No. 2 in 007 film tenure

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

The milestone took place a few years ago, but it should be noted that Barbara Broccoli is now No. 2 in 007 film tenure at 38 years.

Broccoli, 60, has worked in the franchise full-time since 1982. She graduated from college that year and soon was working on Octopussy, which began filming that summer. She received an on-screen credit of executive assistant.

Earlier, she worked part-time as a teenager, writing captions for publicity stills on The Spy Who Loved Me.

At 38 years, she trails only her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, 78, who joined Eon Productions in 1972. Wilson and Broccoli have shared the producer title on Bond films since 1995’s GoldenEye.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon and its parent company Danjaq, had a tenure of 35 years, from 1961 until his death in 1996.

UPDATE (July 11): To be clear, this post only concerns total tenure time on a full-time basis. Albert R. Broccoli was either co-decision maker (when Harry Saltzman was his partner) or primary decision-maker (after Saltzman departed) for almost all of his 35 years. He only yielded toward the end of that time because of health issues.

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have spent more years involved in the franchise. But it took them some years to achieve the same decision-maker status.

Another inexpensive gift from the 007 Store

Maud Adams in an Octopussy publicity still.

The 007 Store has another inexpensive gift: A replica Octopussy robe like the one Maud Adams wore in the 1983 James Bond film.

Seven, or 007, of the silk robes are for sale. The price: 949 British pounds, or a tick under $1,200, each.

Here’s a description from the website:

This unique collectors’ piece is a recreation of the iconic silk robe worn by Octopussy in Bond’s thirteenth film adventure. Just seven robes have been handmade exclusively for us by luxury loungewear experts MENG, following the original design in the Bond Archive. Each robe is beautifully boxed and comes with a numbered certificate of authenticity from Eon Productions.

This is the latest in a line of pricey 007 products. Aston Martin is selling replica DB5 cars for about $3.5 million complete with gadgets (but not legal to drive on public streets or roads). Aston announced two years ago it would build up to 25 of the cars.

Last year, Neiman Marcus offered seven “stocking stuffers” of a $700,007 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera cars “designed by 007 himself” Daniel Craig, complete with a limited-edition Omega watch and tickets to the No Time to Die premiere.

UPDATE (July 8): According to the 007 Store, all seven Octopussy robes sold out.

A View To a Kill’s 35th: No more Moore

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

Updated and expanded from a May 2015 post.

To sort of steal from Christopher Nolan, A View To a Kill isn’t the Bond ending Roger Moore deserved, but it’s the one that he got when the film debuted 35 years ago this month.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli had prevailed at the box office in 1983 against a competing James Bond film with Sean Connery, Broccoli’s former star. Broccoli’s Octopussy generated more ticket sales than Never Say Never Again (with Connery as de facto producer as well as star).

That could have been the time for Moore to call it a day. Some fans at the time expected Octopussy to be the actor’s finale. Yet, Broccoli offered him the role one more time and the actor accepted.

Obviously, he could have said no, but when you’re offered millions of dollars that’s easier said than done. There was the issue of the actor’s age. Moore would turn 57 during production in the fall of 1984.

That’s often the first thing cited by various entertainment sites over the years.

However, the problems go deeper than that. As the blog wrote in 2012, the movie veers back and forth between humor and really dark moments as if it can’t decide what it wants to be.

Typical of A View To a Kill's humor

Typical of A View To a Kill’s humor

Director John Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson constantly go from yuks and tension and back again. If the humor were better, that might be easier to accept. A typical example: In the pre-titles sequence, there’s an MI-6 submarine that’s supposed to be disguised as an iceberg but its phallic shape suggests something else.

For those Bond fans who never liked Moore, just mentioning the title of the movie will cause distress. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence over the years, some Moore admirers don’t mention it as one of his better 007 efforts.

Still, A View to a Kill has historical importance for the Bond film series. Besides being Roger Moore’s final outing, it was also the final appearance of Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny.

There’s also an in-joke for those familiar with the business side of 007. Bond, desperately holding onto a rope attached to a blimp, has his manhood imperiled by the top of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.

That structure was home to the conglomerate that formerly owned United Artists, the studio that released Bond films. Transamerica dumped UA, selling it in 1981 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after the movie Heaven’s Gate bombed at the box office. Things have never been the same for the 007 film series since.

Regardless whether you’re a critic of Moore as 007 or a fan, he did hold down the 007 fort through some hectic times (including the breakup of Broccoli with his 007 producing partner Harry Saltzman).

It would have been nicer to go out on a higher note than A View To a Kill. But storybook endings usually only happen in the movies.

Bond 25 questions: The Rhythm Section/Super Bowl edition

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Separate events over the weekend — the debut of a non-Bond Eon film and a Super Bowl spot for No Time to Die — have generated some questions at the blog.

Are these events related?

Yes, in one respect.

The Rhythm Section and No Time to Die will have music from the same group.

The music credit for The Rhythm Section says the score was “produced by” Hans Zimmer while the music was by Steve Mazzaro, a composer affiliated with Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions.

After the No Time to Die commercial aired on the Super Bowl, Zimmer put out a tweet that said, the spot “doesn’t have my music (still working on it with my friend Steve Mazzaro!) but you’ll hear what we come up with soon.”

So, Zimmer is working with Mazzaro on No Time to Die. Meanwhile, Mazzaro’s score for The Rhythm Section sounds very much like the Zimmer-credited scores for Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. BROOOOOOMMMMM!

Are you saying No Time to Die’s score will sound like that?

Not necessarily. But the Mazzaro (channeling Zimmer) score for The Rhythm Section didn’t break new ground. We’ll have to see what the duo come up with for No Time to Die.

What was new in the Super Bowl spot?

Actually, quite a lot. There were a few shots that appeared in the trailer released in December. But there was new material, including Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Lashana Lynch in an unusual aircraft.

That plane looked similar (but larger) compared with the mini jet seen in the pre-titles sequence in 1983’s Octopussy. The idea originally was in the first draft script of Moonraker where Bond and Holly Goodhead flew his and her mini jets.

What happened with The Rhythm Section’s box office?

The Paramount-released movie was not just a flop. It was a historic flop. It had the lowest box office (not adjusted for inflation) of any movie opening with more than 3,000 screens. The Rhythm Section broke a 14-year record in that regard.

Deadline: Hollywood published a story over the weekend about various things that went wrong, including test screenings that went over badly, financing issues and behind-the-scenes disagreements.

Movies with more problems have been hits. If Deadline is to be believed, there was a lot of bad luck involved for The Rhythm Section. Regardless, the numbers are the numbers. Numbers can be very unforgiving.

Maibaum’s ‘circular’ script structure

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

A few James Bond films utilize a structure that, for the purposes of this post, I am crediting to veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum (1909-1991).

That’s the “circular” structure — the audience sees something at or near the start of the movie that is repeated (with key variations) at the climax.

With the following examples, it’s difficult to give Maibaum full credit. Other screenwriters worked on the Bond films involved. But Maibaum is the only constant. So, without further ado:

From Russia With Love (1963): The film opens with James Bond apparently being stalked — and then killed — by Red Grant (Robert Shaw). However, Grant has only killed a double as part of a training exercise.

Grant kills Bond’s double using a garrotte hidden inside a watch. Later, Grant tries to kill the real Bond (Sean Connery) with the garrotte during a fight sequence on the Orient Express. Naturally, Bond turns the tables on Grant.

Caveat: Both Johanna Harwood (who got an “adapted by” credit) and Len Deighton (uncredited) also worked on the script.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): The film opens with a gangster (Marc Lawrence) hired to take out Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) on his home grounds, including a “fun house.”

Scaramanga has to scramble before he finally dispatches the gangster. Much later, James Bond (Roger Moore) is lured into the “fun house.” Bond loses his own Walther PPK. But he kills Scaramanga taking a PPK from a life-sized 007 figure.

Caveat:  Tom Mankiewicz was the original screenwriter, then Maibaum was brought in. Mankiewicz did the final rewrites.

Octopussy (1983): After the main titles, a 00-agent disguised as a clown flees from a circus. He’s fatally wounded by twin assassins who are also circus performers.

Toward the climax of the film, Bond (Roger Moore) is disguised as a clown — the same getup as his doomed predecessor — and manages to deactivate an atomic bomb just in the nick of the time.

Caveat: Octopussy began as a script with an effort by George Macdonald Fraser, which was later rewritten by Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.

About that 007 Stage incident

007 Stage after the June 4 incident.

An explosion (or explosions) on the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios occurred on June 4. There have been wildly different reaction.

Tabloids such as The Sun and the Daily Mail have used the incident to proclaim that Bond 25 is cursed.

In reality, most “curses” are unrelated events except for a broad subject matter. There’s the “Superman Curse,” for example.

Except, Bud Collyer didn’t die at age 61 because he played Superman on the radio. George Reeves’ death was ruled a suicide, which is often the result of complicated events, but his death is blamed on him playing Superman on TV in the 1950s. Christopher Reeve didn’t break his neck because he played Superman in the movies. Kirk Allyn didn’t die in his late 80s because he played Superman in 1940s movie serials.

Put another way, calling something a curse papers over actual tragic events. Still, referring using the curse label makes a nice tale.

So it is with Bond 25, which has included a director who departed and a star (Daniel Craig) who injured himself.

At the same time, there’s a temptation to dismiss the Bond 25 explosion, and injury of a crew member as “stuff happens.” That’s bad in its own right.

Some crew members do have hazardous jobs — stunt performers especially.

Aerial cameraman John Jordan lost a foot as the result of an injury during filming of You Only Live Twice. Jordan lost his life during filming of 1970’s Catch 22.

More recently, a stunt performer was killed during production of For Your Eyes Only. Stunt man Martin Grace suffered a serious injury during filming of Octopussy.

With this week’s Bond 25 incident, we just know, via an Eon Productions tweet, that a crew member suffered a minor injury. No details on how minor or what the crew member’s job was.

Regardless, the incident was serious. You don’t poke holes in the side of a massive studio stage unless things got serious. There are various questions that may or may not get answered.

Will all this mean Bond 25 might get delayed? Honestly, I don’t care. I’m more concerned how glib some people are depicting all this.

Curse? No way. But “stuff happens”? Again, no way. This week was a serious incident and it should be viewed way.