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.

Michel Legrand’s brush with 007

Cover to Michel Legrand’s soundtrack for Never Say Never Again

The death of accomplished film composer Michel Legrand at 86 resulted in many tributes (see this story in Variety) because of the work generated over a long career.

But, given the subject matter of this blog, Legrand’s score for a James Bond film shows doing music for any movie isn’t easy and especially so when the core audience has built up certain expectations.

The 007 film, of course, was 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery heading up a Bond production competing with Eon’s Octopussy coming out the same year.

Jon Burlingame wrote in the 2012 book The Music of James Bond that Legrand wasn’t even approached until after filming had been completed. The composer had been working on Yentl, “one of his most complex projects,” involving nine original songs as well as the score, according to the book.

Then, Sean Connery came calling about Never Say Never Again.

“Sean’s warmth and his enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand told Burlingame. “And I told myself, to attach a Bond to my filmography, it’s not something to pass up!”

The musical template of the Eon 007 films had been established by John Barry, who had been signed to score Octopussy. Legrand chose to go his own way, especially with Never Say Never Again featuring an older Connery.

“The idea of Never Say Never Again was to bring a distance, an irony, a second layer of connection to the official series, in relation to Connery’s age,” the composer told Burlingame. “Immediately, there was a distinction.”

Over the years, I’ve heard fans complain about Legrand’s score. Burlingame, in a review of the score in his book, says “as a fundamentally jazz-based score, it has many fun moments and offers a very different slant on music for 007 even though it was far from what Connery fans were expecting.”

For more details on Legrand’s career, you can read obituaries from Variety (wrtten by the aforementioned Burlingame), the BBC and The New York Times. Below is a tribute on Twitter from film composer Daniel Pemberton.

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Never Say Never Again’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Adapted from a June 2013 post. An epilogue is added at the end.

Never Say Never Again marks its 35th anniversary in October. The James Bond film originally was intended to go directly up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, that came out in June 1983.

Sean Connery, after a 12-year absence from the role, was going to make a James Bond movie his way. Warner Bros. and producer Jack Schwartzman had made the actor the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. He was not only star, but had approval over various creative aspects. He had much of the power of a producer without the responsibilities.

Schwartzman, an attorney turned film producer, took charge of a long effort to make an non-Eon 007 film. Kevin McClory, who controlled the film rights to Thunderball, had been trying to mount a new production since the mid-1970s with no success. Schwartzman became the producer, with McClory getting an executive producer credit and both men “presenting” Never Say Never Again.

McClory, at one point, had attemped a broader new 007 adventure. Never Say Never Again was only supposed to be a remake of Thunderball. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had scripted non-serious (the pilot for the Adam West Batman series) and serious (Three Days of the Condor) was hired as writer. Irvin Kershner, who had directed The Empire Strikes Back, was brought on as director. As an added bonus, Kershner had a history of working with Connery on the 1966 movie A Fine Madness.

“As far as I’m concerned, there never was a Bond picture before,” Kershner said in quotes carried in the movie’s press kit. “There is a certain psychological righness to the characters as (Ian) Fleming saw them. He understood people very well. He was an observer of life and that’s what makes him a good writer. I tried to maintain that quality in the film. I wanted the people to be true.”

By the Way

Starlog magazine devoted a cover to the “Battle of the Bonds” in 1983.

Not mentioned in the press kit was the fact that Connery, who had script approval, objected to Semple’s effort. As a result, at Connery’s urging, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to rewrite but didn’t get a credit.

The end result was a storyline that veered from a version of Largo who’s clearly off his rocker to goofy gags involving the likes of British diplomat Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson). Perhaps Connery really meant it when, in 1971, he called Tom Mankiewicz’s lighthearted Diamonds Are Forever script the best of the Eon series up to that point.

Also present in Never was an over-the-top SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), a far wilder version of Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). In Thunderball, Bond tells Domino (Claudine Auger) her brother has been killed in a dramatic scene on a beach. In Never, he tells Domino (Kim Basinger) in the middle of a tango in a campy scene with loud music playing on the soundtrack.

‘Sean’s Warmth’

Speaking of music, composer Michel Legrand was recruited by none other than star Sean Connery, according to Jon Burlingame’s 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. According to the book, Legrand felt burned out after working on the movie Yentl. “Sean’s warmth and enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand is quoted by Burlingame. Legrand’s score is a sore point with fans, who still give Connery a pass for his role in bringing Legrand to the film.

Understandably, fans prefer to focus on Connery’s performance in front of the camera, rather than decisions he made behind it. The actor, who turned 52 before the start of production in 1982, looked fitter than his Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever.

A survey of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant editors some years ago (the survey is now offline) reflects admiration for his acting while mostly downplaying his decision making behind the scenes.

At the box office, Never Say Never Again did fine while trailing 1983’s Eon entry, Octopussy, $55.4 million to $67.9 million in the U.S. The Schwartzman production had been delayed by four months compared with Octopussy.

Years later, Connery was seen on a CBS News show, saying that Never had “a really incompetent producer.” For Schwartzman, things didn’t end happily. He died in 1994 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer.

Connery remained a star until he retired from acting in the early 2000s. Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually gained control of the rights to Never Say Never Again.

Cover to Bondage No. 12, 1983

2018 epilogue: Like Octopussy, Never Say Never Again polarizes fans. Maybe more so.

Bond fans who never warmed to Roger Moore say the movie is just fine and superior to many of the 007 offerings of Eon Productions during this era. Evidently, Nigel Small-Fawcett’s goofiness is better than the goofiness of, say, Eon’s Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

During this time, there was a U.S.-based 007 fan publication, Bondage. You got the idea whose side Bondage was taking with the “Battle of the Bonds.” Issue No. 12’s cover had a publicity still of Connery from Never Say Never Again.

“Sean Connery returns in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN,” read the cover blurb. “Plus Octopussy.” The publication devoted a second cover to Never Say Never Again in 1984.  (The Book Bond website ran a 2014 story showing all the covers from 1974 to 1989.)

Meanwhile, to this day, pro-Eon fans still curse the name of Kevin McClory. I’ve seen comments from 007 fans on message boards who abhor Never Say Never Again simply because it’s not an Eon product.

For me, Connery is my favorite Bond actor. But looking back, I suspect Connery discovered being a (de facto) Bond producer is a lot harder than it looks.

There have been fan efforts of re-editing parts of the movie, including one with an Eon gunbarrel logo (putting Connery’s head on top of Timothy Dalton’s body) and overlaying John Barry scores from the Eon series.

Decades after its release, Never Say Never Again still gets a rise out of fans, regardless of their opinion.

Octopussy’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Adapted from a May 2013 post with an epilogue added at the end..

Thirty-five years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work.

Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more than normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story takes place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

2018 epilogue: Over the past five years, Octopussy has continued to generate mixed reaction.

One example was an article posted this month the Den of Geek website. 

While the site said Octopussy deserves another chance with fans, it also levied some criticisms.

It’s a funny old film, Octopussy, one used as evidence by both Moore’s prosecution and his defense. Haters cite the befuddled plot, an older Moore, some truly silly moments (Tarzan yell, anyone?), a Racist’s Guide to India, and the painfully metaphorical sight of a 56 year-old clown trying to disarm a nuclear bomb (rivalled only by Jaws’ Moonraker plunge into a circus tent on the “Spot the Unintentional Subtext” scale.)

At the same time, Den of Geek also compliments aspects of the movie, including its leading man.

Moore also submits a very good performance, arguably his strongest. Easy to treat him as a joke but the man really can act. Sometimes through eyebrows alone.

Thirty-five years later, Octopussy still has the power to enthrall some and to generate salvos from its critics.

I know someone, now in his 40s, who says it’s his favorite James Bond film. I have a friend who refuses to buy a home video copy of it (and every other Roger Moore 007 film) on the grounds that none of the Moore entries are true James Bond films. So it goes.

Broccoli says major B25 decisions to be made in 2018

Barbara Broccoli

Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in a long interview with the THR Awards Chatter podcast, said major Bond 25 decisions won’t occur until sometime in early 2018.

Given it’s mid-December of 2017, that’s not terribly surprising. But the podcast is a chance for fans to hear things for themselves.

Asked if “we know” Bond 25’s title or director, she replied: “I don’t. It’s still to be determined.”

Asked about who will distribute the movie, she said, “It’s exciting to be courted. We’ll hopefully be making that decision early next year.”

Gary Barber, CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “is leading this whole crusade,” Broccoli said, referring to the distributor issue.

MGM is home studio to the Bond franchise. The last four 007 films were released by Sony Pictures. With Skyfall and SPECTRE, Sony also co-financed but only got 25 percent of the profits.

MGM is getting back into distribution seven years after exiting bankruptcy. It formed a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures to distribute each other’s movies. But, for now at least, that joint venture isn’t involved with Bond 25.

Broccoli was asked whether Bond 25’s distribution may be split between the U.S. and internationally. “That’s all to be decided in the future,” she said.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

The producer went into more detail about how went to work for Eon, co-founded by her father, Albert R. Broccoli. Broccoli, 57, doesn’t do a lot of interviews and this one is longer than most. Among the highlights:

Working in her teens on The Spy Who Loved Me: “My job was captioning stills.” She had to do through a lot of film and “you’d have to come up with captions.

Working on Octopussy as an assistant director: “I was basically a runner. I was a third assistant (director).” One of her responsibilities was dealing with a large group of young actresses. “I was responsible for herding them and get them around.”

Associate producer Tom Pevsner was “a mentor to me.” Broccoli said she learned the art of production scheduling from Pevsner. “He taught me about breaking down scripts…He was an incredible man.”

Pevsner joined the series with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. With 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill both Broccoli and Pevsner had the title of associate producer. Pevsner’s final Bond film was 1995’s GoldenEye, where he had the title of executive producer. Pevsner died in 2014.

On her working style with half-brother Michael G. Wilson: “Michael and I are very different. Strangely enough, when it comes to Bond, we always agree.”

On 007 actor Daniel Craig: “He brought humanity to the character…making Bond relevant to today.”

Broccoli said she first saw Craig in the 1998 film Elizabeth. “He has the most incredible presence on the screen,” she said of Craig. “He’s lit from within. I remember thinking, ‘What a force.’ I just watched everything he did.”

Craig announced in August he’d return for a fifth film as Bond. Before that announcement, Broccoli said, “My heart was breaking.”

To check out the podcast, CLICK HERE. The Broccoli interview begins at the 40:36 mark and lasts almost an hour. She also discusses her non-Bond movie, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in detail as well as talking Bond.

Evolution of the United Artists logo on 007 films

United Artists logo from 1983

United Artists is a forgotten studio today despite an illustrious history. It was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

For James Bond fans, it was the studio that gave life to the cinematic 007. In 1961, UA, by then led by Arthur Krim, bought into the pitch by independent producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For two decades, UA financed the 007 movies.

Under Krim’s leadership, UA invested in other film properties, including The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and movies starring The Beatles. Under Krim, UA acted more like a bank than a true studio, financing various independent producers. UA didn’t have actual studio facilities.

For first-generation 007 film fans, the UA logo (or lack thereof) was part of the theater experience. What follows is a look at what theater goers would see. Still other UA logos were devised for home video and television showings.

1962-1965: For the first four 007 films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball), there was no UA logo. Just a black screen before the gunbarrel logo. Some fans look on those days fondly. Without a logo, it build up the anticipation for the gunnbarrel.

1967: Transamerica, an insurance and financial conglomerate, bought UA in 1967 while keeping Krim and his crew in charge.

The first Bond film with a UA logo was You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Eon series. United Artists was identified as “a Transamerica company.” There was no music with the logo.

1969-1979: Tranamerica devised a stylized “T” logo that was incorporated with the United Artists logo.

Long-running UA logo under Transamerica ownership.

Theater goers would see the “T” logo come together, followed by the words, “United Artists, Entertainment From Transamerica Corporation.” There was still no music accompanying the logo.

This logo would run a full decade as far as the 007 series was concerned, beginning with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and running through 1979’s Moonraker.

However, behind the scenes, UA was undergoing challenges. Krim and his executives exited UA in the late 1970s, starting a new operation, Orion Pictures.

Various executives were promoted to replace them. That group (financially, at least) made a bet on director Michael Cimino and his movie Heaven’s Gate. It was a huge bomb. Would lead to….

UA logo, 1981

1981: Transamerica had enough with the unpredictable film business. The company sold off UA. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio weaker than its glory days of the 1930s-1950s.

When For Your Eyes Only came out, there was a UA logo without mention of Transamerica. Just “United Artists,” with white letters on a black background.

1980s MGM/UA logo

In 1983, MGM was now billing itself as MGM/UA Entertainment Co. That year, UA-branded films (including the 007 adventure Octopussy). were followed by “United Artists Presents.”

With A View To a Kill, things were simplified, with just the MGM/UA logo.

UA logo, late 1980s

However, toward the latter part of the 1980s, a new stylized UA logo following a new MGM/UA logo (without MGM’s Leo the Lion in it).

Music accompanied the MGM/UA logo. When it switched to the UA logo there would be a “swoosh” sound effect.

This would be seen in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill. What’s more, it shows up on some television versions of 007 films.

However, another shakeup was in store.

MGM in the early 1990s was in financial turmoil after it changed hands and called itself MGM-Pathe. French bank Credit Lyonnais took over MGM in 1991. Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, also sued MGM following an MGM sale of television rights to the 007 film series that Danjaq/Eon felt undervalued the movies.

UA logo in 1995

It wouldn’t be until 1995 things were sorted out where the Bond film series could resume with GoldenEye. (The bank would eventually sell MGM to Kirk Kerkorian, a previous owner of the studio.)

A new United Artists logo debuted with the words, “United Artists Pictures Inc.” Lights came together to form the words “United Artists.”

UA logo 1997

When 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies was released, the logo was tweaked slightly to say, “United Artists, An MGM Company.”

What’s more, versions of this logo were also used in home video releases of Bond films in the late 1990s. They were attached to the early 007 movies without logo and replaced UA-Transamerica logos in other movies.

And then, as far as Bond was concerned, it was over.

MGM 1999 logo used with The World Is Not Enough

Starting with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Bond movies were now marketed under the main MGM brand name. That film included a version of the familiar MGM logo noting the studio’s 75th anniversary with the words, “A legacy of excellence.”

From this point forward, the only reminder of the UA days for Bond would be deep in the titles in the copyright notice where United Artists Corp. would be listed as one of the copyright holders.

Footnote: MGM revived the United Artists brand, cutting a 2006 deal with Tom Cruise’s production company. That resulted in the 2008 movie Valkyrie.

Footnote II: Orion Pictures, the outfit founded by the former UA executives, is part of MGM.

MI6 Confidential Comes Out With 2 Roger Moore Issues

Cover to MI6 Confidential No. 40, one of two Roger Moore tribute issues.

MI6 Confidential is out with not one, but two Roger Moore tribute issues.

In issue 40, there are features about how the actor was introduced as the new James Bond in the early 1970s and examinations of his first four 007 films, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

In issue 41, there are features about For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. The issue also includes an interview with director John Glen, who helmed Moore’s Bond adventures of the 1980s.

According to the MI6 Confidential website, customers will be charged for two issues, or 14 British pounds plus postage and handling and such.

Full disclosure: The Spy Commander occasionally contributes to MI6 Confidential but wasn’t involved with either of these issues. Sir Roger died in May at the age of 89.