Sunday, 26 January 2014

David Arnold introduces You Only Live Twice

Last Thursday I was at the British Film Institute (BFI) at London's Southbank to see film composer David Arnold introduce You Only Live Twice. The event was one in a series of 'Screen Epiphanies', in which notable individuals discuss a film that has influenced or otherwise inspired them.

I must confess that You Only Live Twice isn't my favourite Bond film. The script, which is built almost entirely around a volcano that the film makers happened to see when scouting for castles by the coast, is a shameful waste of Fleming's novel (although ironically elements of it have appeared in subsequent films). The three-Bond-girl formula, as revealed to screenwriter Roald Dahl, the 'stirred, not shaken' vodka martini, and the mysterious cameras relaying images of the helicopter picking up the car with the magnet and the capture of a space capsule back to Aki's car and Blofeld's control room respectively, suggest a careless and somewhat cynical approach to the plotting. Then there's the Japanese bath scene, which has dated badly, even without the help of Austin Powers.

So when I sat down in the auditorium, I was rather glad I'd had a fortifying cocktail (a 'gipsy martini', which contained Kina Lillet, an ingredient of Bond's Vesper martini). By way of an introduction to David Arnold's involvement with the Bond series, the audience was shown the titles sequence to Casino Royale. Brilliant stuff, and I was rather hoping the projectionist would let the film run on. Still, this set the mood perfectly, and as the interviewer brought him on to the stage, David Arnold was deservedly greeted by warm applause.

The interviewer naturally asked David Arnold about why You Only Live Twice was an epiphany. Arnold revealed that the film was the first (?Bond) film he saw. He was 8 years old or so, and was at a birthday party at community hall when a projector was brought out and You Only Live Twice was played. The screen was small and the sound poor, but the young David was entranced by the film and its music. Moments such as the Kobe dock scene and the Little Nellie sequence, and musical themes, particularly John Barry's 'Space March', helped create a life-long Bond fan and inspired his future work.

Surprisingly, David Arnold wasn't entirely sure about how he came to be involved with the Bond series. By 1996, when he began having conversations with Barbara Broccoli about scoring a Bond film, he had written the score to Stargate, and was producing Shaken and Stirred, an album of reinterpreted James Bond music and title songs. In one version, David Arnold was recommended to Barbara Broccoli by John Barry, to whom David Arnold was introduced by George Martin. At that meeting, Arnold took the opportunity to play Barry a few tracks from his album. Barry liked what he heard, and went to Barbara Broccoli. In another version, Barbara Broccoli heard some of the tracks independently and had decided to hire Arnold without John Barry's intervention.

David Arnold spoke a little about his work scoring the open ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2012, and his recent work on Sherlock and the forthcoming musical, Made in Dagenham. While open to the prospect of working again with Eon Productions, he gave no hint about his future involvement, if any, with the Bond series. As for Skyfall (scored by Thomas Newman), Arnold thought very highly of the film and the score, and was happy to have watched the film as a Bond fan on the other side of the screen.

On that note, the interview finished, and it was time to watch You Only Live Twice. Did watching the film on the big screen change my opinion of it? Possibly, a little. I admit the film is hugely spectacular. The opening space-set sequence in which the SPECTRE capsule captures the American spacecraft is creaky, but it still manages to look awesome and pack some emotional punch as one of the astronauts is cut off and drifts into the vastness of space. The sumo wrestling scene is nicely shot and integrated into the film, and reminded me that one thing the Bond films do very well is present local colour, events and customs to help ground the films and give them a sense of place (think of, for example, the bull-fighting in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, or the Palio di Siena in Quantum of Solace). The ninja drop from the roof of the volcano is epic, and with the help of Freddie Young's photography and Ken Adam's sets, audiences have no doubt that every penny spent on the film can be seen on the screen.

But for all these pluses, there still remain, for me, a large number of significant irritations – the inability of Blofeld to shoot Bond (there must be better ways of extracting Bond from moments of peril other than relying on Blofeld's procrastination), the comical effect produced by one of Mr Osato's employees ('Spectre 4', played by Michael Chow) saying everything twice, and the faults already mentioned – which all contribute to the feeling that plotting and coherence were the least of the film-makers' concerns. But then again, the Bond producers recognised as much, as they returned to Fleming with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a fantastic film and a favourite with the fans, me included.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ian Fleming's Tale of the Unexpected

A recent visit to the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, reminded me of the varied connections between Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. There was the obvious, of course: a small panel presented a few facts about Dahl's experience writing the screenplay of You Only Live Twice, and a press of a button on an interactive display brought up an image of a page from Dahl's handwritten script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Then there was some information about Dahl's role in the Second World War as Assistant Air Attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, where he was drawn into intelligence work and was introduced to Fleming; the two would become firm friends.

A plastic model of a leg of lamb inside a drawer revealed another connection. The model represented one of Dahl's earliest short stories, 'Lamb to the Slaughter', which was first published by Alfred A Knopf in 1953 in the short story collection, Someone Like You. In the story, a woman, Mary Maloney, kills her husband, who is about to leave her, with a frozen leg of lamb. She cooks the lamb and serves it to the investigating police officers, who are searching in vain for the murder weapon. “Get the weapon, and you've got the man,” Sergeant Noonan tells Mary. The story was filmed twice, first for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958, then in 1979 for an episode of Tales of the Unexpected for ITV in Britain.


In his introduction to the Tales of the Unexpected adaptation, Roald Dahl tells the audience that the Ian Fleming was responsible for the story, which had come about during dinner they had together one weekend in Vermont. The roast lamb they had been eating had been very dry and tough, and Fleming remarked that the meat must have been in the deep freeze for 10 years. He suggested that whoever was responsible (the cook, maybe – the recording is a little unclear) should be shot, but Dahl suggested that there must be a more interesting punishment. The story was generated in the subsequent discussion.

Dahl doesn't tell us when this conversation took place, but sometime in the early 1950s is most likely, possibly the summer of 1951. Dahl had moved to New York in that year, and since 1950, Fleming spent almost every summer in Vermont, staying at Black Hole Hollow Farm, a property owned by Marie-Josephene Hartford, the wife of Ivar Bryce, Ivar Bryce being a close friend of both Fleming and Dahl. According to Andrew Lycett, however, Fleming had the idea of the deadly frozen leg of lamb for a while before he dined with Dahl, and indeed had literary ambitions of his own with regard to its use; Fleming revealed (in ?1948/9) to Peter Quennell that he was planning to write a thriller based on it.

Whatever the sequence of events, the story 'Lamb to the Slaughter' contains some essential memes that originated with Ian Fleming, and is therefore of interest to students of Fleming's writing. The story also reveals Fleming's fascination with crime and crime fiction, which would resurface periodically with, for example, his interest in American mobster Lucky Luciano, and the more crime-orientated plots of The Spy Who Loved Me and Diamonds Are Forever.

Incidentally, the title story in Fleming's first short story collection, For Your Eyes Only, is set in Vermont and features an estate called Echo Lake, which was based on Black Hole Hollow Farm. Other stories in the collection vary in style, notably 'Quantum of Solace', which is Fleming's homage to Somerset Maugham. In the same vein, 'The Hildebrand Rarity' offers some memetic connections with Dahl's writing – the ironic manner of the murder committed and the twist in the tale – and could also be considered a homage. That said, given the origin of 'Lamb to the Slaughter', those qualities might just as appropriately be considered Fleming-esque.

Read an update of this story and further information about the origin of 'Lamb to the Slaughter' in my article on the connections between Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming in MI6 Confidential issue 30.


Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner
Treglown, J, 1994 Roald Dahl: A Biography, Faber and Faber

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Enton Hall - the real Shrublands

In 1956, Ian Fleming entered Enton Hall, a health farm near Godalming in Surrey, for a course of naturopathic treatment; his wife Ann had visited the clinic earlier in January of that year, and would be a regular guest. Andrew Lycett tells us that Ian Fleming did not take his treatment seriously, and often escaped the hall with another patient, Guy Welby, whom he had befriended, for drives in Welby's Rolls Royce. Nevertheless, Fleming's stay at Enton Hall had sufficient impact on him to provide the inspiration for Shrublands, a health farm which James Bond visits in Thunderball (chapters 2-4). Despite the different name and location (Sussex), Shrublands is a thinly-disguised Enton Hall, as a comparison of Fleming's text with a contemporary brochure issued by the health farm reveals.

The brochure sent out to prospective guests at the time of Fleming's visit is Enton Hall: A Residential Clinic and Health Farm Devoted to the Renewal and Preservation of Health by Natural Biological Methods. It is undated, but a copy I managed to acquire includes a price list dated October 1963. It was almost certainly unchanged from the brochure issued in 1956. Ann Fleming mentions the brochure in a letter to Evelyn Waugh dated 13 January 1956, noting that while the dining room looked melancholy, she was encouraged by the plates, which were heaped with food. The plates were still there in the brochure issued in 1963.

In Thunderball, James Bond arrives at Shrublands in a taxi. As stated in the brochure, Enton Hall similarly sent taxis to collect guests from the local station, and no doubt Fleming used this service. We know from Bond's earlier conversation with Miss Moneypenny that he's staying in the Myrtle room in the Annexe. Enton Hall also had rooms in an annexe (the Oak House), and the charge for these was 22 guineas a week (about £23), a figure very close to the 'twenty quid' for a week's stay that Bond's taxi driver mentions. As Bond enters the grounds of Shrublands, he passes an “imposing, mock-battlemented entrance”, a description that applies equally well to the gateway of Enton Hall.

Enton Hall gateway

Bond's taxi continues round the gravel drive to the front of the main house, a “red-brick Victorian monstrosity”, where the sun-parlour and terraced lawn are situated. Again the description matches Enton Hall, a red-brick Victorian building with a sun-lounge and south-facing lawn at the front.
Enton Hall: front of building

After being shown to his room, Bond flicks through a copy of Alan Moyle's Nature Cure Explained, which had been left beside the bed. Enton Hall's brochure does not mention the book, but the health farm's methods were utterly in keeping with its principles. As stated in the brochure, treatment “is based on the biological approach as incorporated in Osteopathic and Naturopathic Philosophy.” It is possible that Fleming was introduced to Alan Moyle's book during his visit to Enton Hall in 1956.

Walking around Enton Hall, he notices that his fellow guests wear “unattractive quilted dressing-gowns.” This no doubt reflects the rules of the clinic; at Enton Hall, the brochure instructed patients to bring a warm dressing gown, as patients were not to dress fully until after consultation and treatment. Alas the brochure does not show 'the rack', the motorized traction table to which Bond is grievously subjected, but we do see a photograph of the 'Gentlemen's treatment room' (and staff wearing short-sleeved 'smock-like' coats), which, just like the gentlemen's treatment room at Shrublands, was divided into compartments by plastic curtains.

Enton Hall: Gentlemen's treatment rooms

Before Bond faces 'the rack', though, he enjoys 'dinner' (hot vegetable soup in a mug) in the sun-parlour at a “little café table near the windows overlooking the dark lawn.” If an illustrated version of Thunderball were ever produced, then the illustrator could do no better than reproduce the image in the brochure captioned 'View from sun lounge'. The photograph, showing two men at a little café table at the window overlooking the lawn, precisely illustrates Fleming's description, which was almost certainly written with Enton Hall in mind.
Enton Hall: The sun lounge

The brochure produced by Enton Hall confirms that Shrublands was closely modelled on the health farm that Fleming visited in 1956. The scenes Fleming describes are there in the brochure, and one also wonders whether the treatment Bond receives (with the exception of 'the rack') is identical to that given to Fleming. As with much of his fiction, the Shrublands passages are detailed and convincing, not only because of Fleming's desire for accuracy, but also because they describe his own experiences.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985, The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill
Lycett, A, 1995, Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

Photographs by Enton Hall Ltd

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Bond memes in Cars 2

Apart from eating turkey, drinking eggnog, opening presents and paying family games (Scrabble included), my Christmas was spent as usual catching up on the numerous films on TV. Looking through the listings, I was pleased to see Pixar's Cars 2, which I was curious about when it was released in 2011, as one of the characters in the film, Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine), is a spy car obviously based on James Bond and his Aston Martin DB5. Sitting down to watch the film, I noticed that the Bond references didn't stop with the car.
Finn McMissile
The film opens with action – accompanied by Bondian music – that recalls the pre-titles sequences of the Bond films. British spy Finn McMissile infiltrates a secret meeting on an oil rig somewhere at sea using his front bumpers that shoot out as grappling hooks, recording equipment hidden in his front lights, and wires that extend from the underside of the car to allow him to be suspended above the meeting without being detected. There he learns that a fellow agent already on the platform has been discovered and been crushed into a cube, a nod, perhaps, to the crushing of a car - and Mr Solo inside it - in Goldfinger.

Soon McMissile is himself discovered, and a car chase ensues. He deploys all his tricks to escape, including an oil slick released from the rear of the car (oil is ejected from the rear panel of lights on the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger), mines that are fired out from the hubcaps (a device not seen on Bond's cars, although the McMissile's hubcaps also include tyre slashers, which are present on the DB5), and machine guns fixed to the side of the car (a standard feature on most of Bond's vehicles, though the positioning on the guns in this case is closest to the location of the machine guns on the Aston Martin Vanquish in Die Another Day).

Forced off the oil platform into the sea, McMissile jet skis on the water in the manner of Roger Moore's Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, although the appearance of the skis under the car is more reminiscent of the outriggers on Bond's Aston Martin Vantage in The Living Daylights. McMissile is not yet safe, however, as the villains torpedo McMissile and he sinks into the sea. Fortunately, he converts himself into a submarine in the style of Bond's Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Finn McMissile's number plate provides another reference to Goldfinger; while 314 FMCM doesn't match the plate of the DB5 (BMT 216A), both comprise silver lettering and digits on black arranged in a group of three and a group of four.

In another nod to Bond, McMissile's colleague, who also works for British intelligence, is called Holley Shiftwell, a name clearly inspired by the suggestively named Bond girls, Mary Goodnight, Holly Goodhead, Penelope Smallbone, and Molly Warmflash. If I recall it correctly, when McMissile tells Miss Shiftwell that “You never feel more alive than when you are nearly dead”, I was reminded of The World Is Not Enough and Elekra King's phrase, “There is no point in living, of you can't feel alive,” and indeed Tracy's words uttered in On Her Majesty's Secret Service: “People who want to stay alive play it safe.”

I expect my list of Bond references in Cars 2 is far from complete, but even so it is a reminder of the depth to which the Bond films are embedded in popular culture. It is especially remarkable that aspects or memes from the film of Goldfinger retain sufficient cultural currency to be referenced in a major plot device in a children's film nearly fifty years after the film was released.