Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Man Who Saved Britain

A Personal Journey into the 
Disturbing World of James Bond

I stumbled across this book after a summer reading binge of Classic Spy Novels, including From Russia with Love and several by Len Deighton, who once worked on the screenplay for Thunderball.

James Bond is such a tempting target, a combination of the distasteful and the ridiculous, that it's refreshing to come across a book so unlike many others about him: his girls, his gadgets, his whatever.

Here he is gleefully carved up by Simon Winder, but it's more than simple character assassination. What gives the book some weight is the way Bond is linked with Britain's disastrous post-war decline: "As a large part of the planet slipped from Britain's grasp, one man silently maintained the country's reputation."

Winder eviscerates Bond, Fleming, Britain's colonial past, several Prime Ministers, the books and their inept sequels, the films and the actors as well as his own youthful idolization of them. Here's a sample:

Each of the Moore films is an achingly implausible attempt to pretend that nothing is wrong. In scene after scene, as he seduces Egyptian girls or quips with CIA operatives or faces off against remorseless Indian industrialists, the tension is almost intolerable -- will they or won't they all just start laughing at him? At his clothes? At his country? Will they deride the wonky, poorly engineered little gadgets that the senescent Q slips into Bond's incompetently stitched coat pocket? Will whole streets of extras collapse into gales of cruel laughter as his Lotus Esprit pops and burps along with Moore gripping the wheel, looking grimly ahead and praying the engine doesn't catch fire?

The book appeared in 2006 (before the first Daniel Craig movie was released). The approach is somewhat rambling and disjointed, and since there is no index you can't zero in on a particular novel, film or actor.

Despite the mockery, or perhaps because of it, I immediately sought out as many of the movies as I could find. Yes, not only is Bond a guilty pleasure, he is also a sort of modern deity, a character who has achieved mythological status -- a heroic, ridiculous, oversexed, shape-changing psychopath.