Thursday, 17 August 2017

On location: Altaussee, Austria; or a visit to Mr White's house

A summer holiday to Salzburg in Austria allowed me to visit one of the locations used in the last James Bond film, Spectre. The edge of Lake Altaussee, by the alpine village of Altaussee and about one and a half hour’s drive from Salzburg, was the setting for the scene in which Bond visits Mr White. One of Eon’s local contacts during the filming of the sequence was offering ‘In the footsteps of James Bond’ boat tours of the lake, and naturally I booked myself a place on one of them.


My fellow passengers and I had our first treat even before the boat left the jetty. Beside us, moored to another landing stage, was the thin wooden boat that Daniel Craig’s James Bond uses to motor across the lake to Mr White’s cabin.The boat is based on a traditional Austrian craft known as a Zille or Plätte.

Bond's boat in Spectre
As we pulled away from the shore and started to make our way across the lake, we heard some facts and figures about Altaussee. Unfortunately, my German was too poor to understand much, but I got the gist, and in any case, I didn’t need any translation to realise that we were heading towards a wooden building on the far side of the lake that looked rather familiar. In fact, we were following Bond’s course to Mr White’s house.
 
The view towards Mr White's house on the tour (top) and on screen
After a while, the boat pulled up to the jetty beside the building that normally serves as a bar and restaurant. This is presumably closed during the winter, allowing it to double as Mr White’s cabin in Spectre.

 
Mr White's house now (top) and as shown in Spectre
We wasted no time in disembarking and literally walking in James Bond’s footsteps towards the house. Apart from some superficial differences, the outside of the wooden building seemed little changed from its appearance on the big screen. Indeed, traces of the production still remain. The stone footings of the veranda are made of fibreglass and were fitted especially for the scene, and if I understood aright, the chimney was added too.

 
The veranda with the fake stone footings
Entering the building, I saw that the staircase seen in the film is a feature of the property (annoyingly, I didn’t take a photograph).

 
The staircase as shown in Spectre
And there is a further sign that the production crew had been there in the form of two displays of photographs and newspaper cuttings.

 
The displays inside the house
Just before Bond enters the house, we have a view back towards the lake. This shot shows the actual edge of the lake in front of the building.


The view from the house to the lake (not sure where the tree went)
Eventually, we all boarded the boat and returned across the lake back towards the village. As we approached the end of the tour, our guide let us into a secret. Bond alumnus Klaus Maria Brandauer has a house (and boathouse) here. We weren’t told whether he was there during filming, but it’s intriguing to imagine Bond’s reaction if he had bumped into Maximilian Largo, his old sparring partner in Never Say Never Again
 

The boat tour, organised by Altaussee-Schifffahrt, was excellent, although it would have been helpful to have some information at least in English. Nevertheless, if you happen to be in the area, the tour is essential.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

James Bond films referenced in latest VW commercial

The latest Volkswagen TV advert for the Golf GTE looks to two classic James Bond films for inspiration. The ‘Button’ advert, created by adam&eveDDB, promotes the vehicle’s hybrid technology, which allows drivers to combine electric and petrol engines at the push of a button. The advert features a series of archetypal movie villains with their fingers poised over big red button ready to wreak destruction. We then see the car – and its all-important button – in action before the advert ends with the tagline, ‘a more responsible use of power’.

Viewers are treated to a pantheon of villains. There’s sci-fi supervillain on a spaceship who presses the button to fire a laser that blows up a planet, which is an obvious nod to Star Wars. We also see a mad professor straight out of a 1930/40s’ black-and-white horror film, who presses the button to animate his own Frankenstein’s monster. Then there are villains from a 1970s’ blaxploitation-type film, a Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop film, and a Indiana Jones-like adventure. 

Naturally, the film series that defined many of the standard tropes or memes of the movie villain is not forgotten. A man strapped to a near-vertical table is looking at the wrong end of a large laser weapon. A woman in a military uniform is at the control panel and laughs maniacally as she presses the button to fire the laser.

What’s interesting is that the scene draws on two Bond films. The laser and the set clearly derives from Goldfinger (1964). There are shades of Ken Adam’s designs, as the set in the advert replicates the little office, complete with employees and a small set of steps, at the back of the laser room in Goldfinger, the golden-brown colour scheme, and the angular walls and metal supports. The laser weapons are also similar in design, albeit that one has green elements, the other blue.

 
The laser rooms in the VW ad (top) and Goldfinger

The villain is modelled on Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love (1963). She wears a Russian-style military jacket with gold buttons, a light brown or khaki shirt and a brown tie similar to the uniform that Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, wears in the Bond film. Their hair is different, but it’s sufficiently close to reinforce the link.
 
A Rosa Klebb-style villain in the VW ad (top) and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb

VW’s ‘The Button’ ad is the latest in a long line of commercials that reference the James Bond films, despite the products having no connection to them. Back in the 1980s, PG Tips advertised its tea bags with the help of a chimpanzee spy called Bond, Brooke Bond. More recently, Sky Sports enlisted David Beckham to advertise its services in a Bond-style advert, and Jaguar evoked Spectre in its advert for the Jaguar XE. Coincidentally, the Sky and Jaguar campaigns, like that for VW, also focused on the villain, demonstrating that the Bond villain is every bit as enduring in popular culture as Bond himself, and is especially appealing to advert writers.

Friday, 4 August 2017

James Bond and railway station restaurants

We know from Goldfinger and the short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ that James Bond is rather partial to the hotels and restaurants of French railway stations.
 

In Goldfinger, while driving through Orleans in pursuit of the eponymous villain, Bond decides to stop at the Hotel de la Gare and eat at the station buffet. Bond tends to choose the station hotels, we’re told. They were adequate, and ‘it was better than even chances that the Buffet de la Gare would be excellent.’ Just as Bond expects, he finds his room cheap and comfortable, and he is able to eat one of his favourite meals – oeufs cocotte à la crème and sole meunière – in the restaurant.
 

Even in Paris, Bond opts for the station hotel. In ‘From a View to a Kill’, Bond stays at the Terminus Nord opposite the Gare du Nord, which we’re told is the least pretentious and most anonymous of the station hotels in the city, although on this occasion, he decides to eat out.
 
Bond's hotel in 'From a View to a Kill'
James Bond would find a kindred spirit in Walter Hillyard, a character in the 1961 espionage novel, The Arena, by William Haggard. While waiting at Paris’s Gare de Lyon to board a sleeper train destined for Milan, Hillyard visits the station restaurant and orders ‘the set dinner unhesitatingly.’ He reflects that ‘you could eat much better at the Gare de Lyon than at many more famous restaurants,’ adding that there was less fuss in the service too. We’re not told what Hillyard eats, but he orders a bottle of Beaujolais, ‘confident that here at least the label wouldn’t be lying.’
 

Such views are probably all that Bond and Hillyard have in common. Hillyard is a City banker, and is unaware that there is a plot to murder him on the train. There is, however, more of a Bond figure in Major Mortimer, a British secret service agent who’s been keeping an eye on the situation and might just be able to save the day.
 

Is it still the case that station restaurants in France are the best? Was it ever the case? Of course, I can’t comment on all stations, but I can certainly vouch for the restaurant attached to the Gare d’Agen in southwest France, where I once had a superb meal of foie gras mi-cuit and steak tartare. You wouldn’t get that in the chain restaurants and sticky-carpeted pubs typically found in English railway stations. As Walter Hillyard says, ‘nobody in their senses would eat at an English terminus at all.’