Thursday, 26 November 2015

From Bond girl to Bond woman

In interviews following the press event to launch Spectre, and leading up to the release of the film, Monica Bellucci, cast in the role of Lucia Sciarra, rejected the term Bond girl in favour of Bond woman or lady. “I am so much more mature. I'd prefer to be called a Bond woman or perhaps a Bond lady,” she told the Mail of Sunday in February 2015. In an interview for the Sunday Times, she said, “I am a Bond lady.”

The rejection of Bond girl was on the basis of her age, the description of girl simply being inappropriate for an older woman. This was echoed by former Bond girl Fiona Fullerton, who appeared as Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill (1985). She told the Daily Express in August this year: “I kind of cringe when I'm referred to as a Bond girl because I'm not a girl any more. I'm very much of the older fraternity so I'm a Bond woman.”

A similar view was expressed in the reaction, some 20 years earlier, of actor Michael Williams to the news that his wife, Judi Dench, had been cast as M in GoldenEye. “Oh brilliant”, he said, “Bond-woman!” Judi Dench has used the term herself, writing in her autobiography, “I really shouldn't be called a Bond woman at all, but I call myself one”.

Others have accepted the term Bond women because they have considered Bond girl inappropriate for any woman, young or old, or have associated the term with passive female characters who provide little more than decoration. Halle Berry told the Daily Express in November 2002 that “Jinx [her character in Die Another Day] is the next step in the evolution of the Bond woman. Year after year, they become a little bit stronger, a little smarter.... Now they're Bond's intellectual equals and physical rivals.”

When Léa Seydoux was asked in the October 2015 issue of Total Film whether her character, Madeleine Swann was a Bond woman rather than a Bond girl, she replied, “She's a strong woman”, a response that neatly side-stepped the requirement to accept either label. The Daily Star claimed in October 2008 that Izabella Scorupco demanded to be called a Bond woman in GoldenEye, because she thought the usual term Bond girl was demeaning (although judging by interviews published in 1995, Bond girl appears not to have been so problematic).

Notably, in her foreword and chapter introductions in Bond Girls are Forever (2003), co-author Maryam d'Abo (Kara in The Living Daylights) rarely uses the term Bond girl. She writes, for example, that “it is the casting of the Bond women that garner the most attention,” and that “there has never been a Bond film without a Bond woman.” Reading this, one gets the sense that Maryam d'Abo is not entirely comfortable with the term Bond girl, although Bond girl is not rejected explicitly, and is naturally retained in the title of the book.

The earliest use of the term Bond woman that I know of dates to 1989. An advert for Elle magazine that appeared in the Daily Express in 1989 trailed the contents of the June issue. Women in the Bond films were the subject of one of the articles, presumably coinciding with the release of Licence to Kill. “A Bond girl's life has never been easy,” the advert claimed. “Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma'am. Then bang bang, you're dead. But the role of the Bond woman is changing,” the implication being that term Bond girl was not appropriate for characters such as Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who was perceived as being Bond's equal. 

This trawl through various sources has traced the emergence of the term Bond woman and revealed two definitions. In one sense, it is a term that reflects age, being associated with older women. Despite the use of this newer term, Bond girl itself is not rejected. In another sense of the term, Bond woman is presented as an alternative to Bond girl, reflecting the perception that female roles in the Bond films have changed through the course of the series, and making the obvious point that the actors are women, not girls.

Whether women in the Bond films are Bond girls or Bond women, it could be argued that such labels, Bond girl especially, have largely been imposed on the actors, seemingly first emerging in the media (the earliest reference to Bond girl I know of is in the Daily Express and dates to February 1963), and becoming deeply embedded in the cultural environment. The result is that every interview at press conferences or in newspapers and magazines seems to oblige actors to engage with the term Bond girl. This may be the reason why many of the actors (beginning at least as far back as 1969 with Diana Rigg) claim that their characters are stronger, more independent, and more on equal terms with Bond than their predecessors.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The food of James Bond - what is brizzola?

Food and eating are as much part of the James Bond books as drinking, gun-play, gambling and car chases. Reading the books today, many of the dishes Bond consumes – exotic or sophisticated in the 1950s and early '60s – are now commonplace and enjoy a regular place on the dining table. Spaghetti Bolognese and shrimp curry are two examples. Other dishes leave us scratching our heads. Why does Bond eat an avocado for dessert? And just what is brizzola?

I discuss Bond's odd views about avocados in a earlier post. As for the brizzola, it has been suggested that the dish is something of an Ian Fleming invention. In fact, not only does the dish exist (possibly the name derived from bresaola, an Italian salted beef), it was a favourite of a former US president.

(c) Penguin
Felix Leiter orders brizzola for Bond in a New York restaurant in Diamonds are Forever (chapter 8). Ian Fleming describes it as beef straight-cut across the bone, which is roasted, then broiled. This is not dissimilar from the description given to Lowell Sun journalist Earl Wilson in December 1971 by Robert Kreindler, president of New York's famous '21' Club. He defined brizzola as 'charcoal-broiled prime rib of beef with bone intact'. Evidently 21 was well known for the dish. Earl Wilson also reported that President Richard Nixon regularly ordered brizzola when he ate at the club during his visits to New York.

While James Bond dines at Sardi's, Ian Fleming had been to 21 (as well as Sardi's), and recommended the restaurant in his New York chapter of Thrilling Cities. Fleming often gave Bond the food that he himself had eaten. Whether he ate brizzola at Sardi's or 21 before putting it on Bond's plate is uncertain, but it is likely that his description is at least based on experience.  

How might you cook brizzola today if recreating the dish at home? My suggestion is to take a steak cut from a prime rib of beef – complete with bone – and cook it over a charcoal barbecue or, the second-best option, on a griddle pan. Larger cuts or joints of prime-rib beef should be roasted before being finished off on the hob or barbecue for that essential brizzola taste.

For more information about Bond's dining, and recipes inspired by the food he eats (though not, alas, brizzola), I recommend Licence to Cook, a cookbook of Bondian recipes. Or, for a comprehensive guide to food in the Bond books and films, there is James Bond's Cuisine: 007's Every Last Meal, by Matt Sherman.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Bond memes in Despicable Me and Minions

Another reference to Bond
I have to confess that I did not especially enjoy Despicable Me (2010). I found it a little dull, to be honest. Still, the film does contain aspects that derive from the James Bond films, which is to its credit. These references are obvious enough. The protagonist, Gru (presumably named after the GRU, the Soviet-era military intelligence agency), is a criminal mastermind who plans to steal the moon. He naturally recalls Blofeld, and the link is reinforced by his large workforce of minions, known of course as Minions, whose uniforms and loyalty parody the private armies of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice or Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There are more allusions to the Bond films in the sequel, Despicable Me 2 (2013), which I enjoyed more (another case of the sequel being better than the original?). Having turned away villainy and settled down to family life and jam-making, Gru is persuaded by the Anti-Villain League (AVL), headed by M-like character Silas, to join forces with AVL agent Lucy. The powerful substance PX-41 has been stolen and their task is to track down the culprit. Lucy drives an unprepossessing car, but, as one might expect from a spy's car, has its fair share of gadgets. One of these is revealed when the car plunges into the water, the vehicle rapidly transforming into an underwater car. In another sequence, the car becomes a flying car.

The car's submersible and aerial capabilities bring to mind Bond's submersible Lotus Esprit (Wet Nellie) in The Spy Who Loved Me and Scaramanga's flying car in The Man With The Golden Gun. As I discussed in a previous blog post, the idea of a flying and underwater car has an older origin; For example, Robur the Conqueror, the super-villain in Jules Verne's 1904 novel Master of the World, has one. That said, James Bond's vehicles undoubtedly have greater cultural penetration, being the more recent and enjoying frequent exposure on big and small screens everywhere.

Apart from Gru, the film alludes again to Blofeld. Following a lead, Gru and Lucy enter a wig shop. They see the back of a chair in which the proprietor, Floyd Eagle-san is sitting. He rotates his chair to face Gru and Lucy, and on his lap is what we assume is a white cat, but which is then revealed to be a wig. It's a clever nod to Blofeld, particularly his appearance in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

The association between cats and villainy (not necessarily originating with the Bond films, but boosted by them) is referenced in the third film, Minions (2015), which is a prequel set in the 1960s (the decade itself being an acknowledgement of the period that introduced the Bond films and saw the rise of spy- (as well as Bond-) mania). Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob hitch a ride with a family, the Nelsons, on their way to Villain Con. The family's young daughter, tells the Minions of her ambition to be a super-villain, picking up and stroking her pet cat as she does so.

Bondian traits make a small but important contribution to the construction of the Despicable Me/Minions films. Interestingly, it's Blofeld, rather than Bond, who provides the principal references. Given that at the time the films were made, Blofeld had not been seen on screen since 1971 (or 1981 with For Your Eyes Only), the films are testament to the character's continued cultural prominence.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Colonel Sun in Spectre and other Bond films

The latest Bond film, Spectre, contains many references to previous films and Ian Fleming's novels, and I listed some of these in my last post. But as Ian Fleming Publications recently revealed, Spectre also incorporates elements from Colonel Sun, the 1968 continuation Bond novel by Kingsley Amis.

I've identified the scene below, and while I don't describe it in detail, those who have yet to see the film may wish to look away now.

One of the classic elements of a Bond film is a scene of torture. Casino Royale had one, as did Die Another Day and, before that, The World Is Not Enough. Spectre has one too, and it is this scene, involving thin pointy instruments applied to the head and set in the villain's lair, which is lifted from Colonel Sun.

If there was any doubt that the screenwriters had looked through the pages of Colonel Sun for inspiration, it is confirmed by a line given to the villain – a philosophical thought about what the lack of eyes does to the essence of a man – which is taken almost verbatim from the novel. (I'm not certain, but I think he has another line from the novel, said when he directs Madeleine Swann to a chair.) These references, by the way, are from chapter 19, 'The Theory and Practice of Torture'.

As The Book Bond has pointed out, this may not be the first time Colonel Sun memes have been included in a Bond film. Die Another Day has the character Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, and in The World Is Not Enough (those two films again!), M is kidnapped, just as M is kidnapped in Colonel Sun.

I wonder if there is another reference. On the final page of Colonel Sun, James Bond and Ariadne, the heroine and GRU agent, talk about having to part and return to their duties. Ariadne says, “People think it must be wonderful and free and everything. But we're not free, are we?” Bond replies, “No. We're prisoners. But let's enjoy our captivity when we can.” This reminds me of the final exchange between Camille and Bond in Quantum of Solace (“I wish I could set you free. But your prison is in there”, Camille says, indicating Bond's mind).

Admittedly, this final reference seems less convincing than the others, but given the repeated nods to Colonel Sun in recent films, the writers, chiefly Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, clearly have had Amis' book in mind when coming up with ideas, and it is reasonable to suggest that their films contain other references.

Incidentally, Amis wrote Colonel Sun as Robert Markham, but the new edition of the book, published by Vintage, has dropped the pseudonym altogether. This no doubt improves the book's marketability, but the timing is interesting too. Any new Bond film brings with it glut of Bond-related books and reissues, all hoping to benefit from the film's publicity. But the reissue Colonel Sun has been a while coming; the last UK edition appears to have been published in the mid 1990s. Given that Spectre unambiguously contains elements of the novel, Vintage could almost have published Colonel Sun as a film tie-in.

Returning to Spectre, the references to Colonel Sun are significant, as until now it had been thought that there was reluctance within EON to adapt the continuation novels. Does that mean that we're going to see more of the continuation novels in the Bond films? If so, top of my list for an adaptation is Anthony Horowitz’s excellent Trigger Mortis. I wouldn't mind betting that the motor racing section of the book, which is based on material by Ian Fleming and includes Fleming's own words, will eventually make it to the big screen. Remember, you read it here first!