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A Bond for the Ages

Everyone who attended UWAA Member Night at “Skyfall” last weekend received a special bonus. We handed out a program featuring an essay that examined how each James Bond actor reflects our times and hopes about the future. The piece was penned by Andrew Tsao, head of the School of Drama’s BA program and host of UWTV’s Backstory: A Filmmakers Vision. Here is Andrew’s essay:

Andrew Tsao

As the Bond franchise continues to update itself, it is worth doing our own bit of detective work as we go along for the ride. What does the latest installment say about our times, and how does the man who plays Bond embody our own hopes and fears about the future?

Connery was a Scottish Bond, lending a roguish edge to the otherwise loyal servant to Her Majesty. To the English, the Scots have always been feared and loathed as barbarians from the north. Having Connery don the Savile Row suits was in itself a bit of social irony.

George Lazenby was Australian. An outlier from the frontiers of England’s cast offs. He was the Bond who lived through the loss of his wife and forever made Bond’s quest for justice personal.

Roger Moore was quintessentially proper, and embodied something shallow and self-absorbed about England, which of course mirrored the England of his Bond’s time (1973-1985) as it went from the anarchic Punk era to the Iron Lady’s cold hand of social Darwinism.

Timothy Dalton brought a brooding darkness to Bond in the late 80’s, perhaps presaging the crisis of purpose the character and England was going through then. Although the Falklands conflict was in 1982, it took the end of the Thatcher era to bring home the permanent decline of Great Britain as a world power.

Pierce Brosnan was Bond from 1995 to 2002. The Blair / Clinton world of micro wars and regional conflict where the enemy and the mission were both confused. He was a bothered Bond, often questioning his superiors and his own motivations.

There were of course other less well-known Bonds, including David Niven and Barry Nelson, on television.

Now we have Daniel Craig. The son of working class parents, he was raised in decidedly un-posh Liverpool. He brings a Stanley Kowalski-like roughness to Bond, yet seems to relish the finer things that are so much a part of Bond’s lifestyle. He is the post 9/11 Bond, and the films he has starred in are defined by an almost celebratory mayhem that continues to surpass itself with each film. Entire city blocks are leveled in chase scenes and massive destruction accompanies the dogged pursuit of villainy. It is as if the cataclysmic destruction we have now experienced in the west due to mass terror attacks has seeped into the Bond films as a kind of pop-catharsis. Craig is not ruffled by the chaos, however. He remains stoic amid the ruins, as if to say: “This is the world we live in. No use fretting about it, let’s just do what we have to do.”

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One Response to “A Bond for the Ages”

  1. Dan McGlaughlin wrote:
    November 13, 2012

    To Andrew Tsao:

    I recently read and enjoyed your essay on James Bond which was reposted by Matt Wastradowski on the UW blog on 11/13/12.

    Considering Skyfall by examining the character of “Bond, James Bond” as both a response to and embodiment of the popular mood or zeitgeist isn’t a tack I read all that much in popular film criticism.

    The deconstructionists in the english department at your university might have my head and scream “Sola Texta!” for making this point but: I don’t think it’s possible to understand any public cultural text (especially a film about an agent of the British cryptocracy or secret intelligence service) without considering the popular attitudes and concerns (weltanschauung) of the culture that produced it.

    (Sidenote: It’s a long held theory by a friend of mine that if the The Stone Roses hadn’t occured and created Brit-Pop then Tony Blair wouldn’t have been possible.)

    You’re spot on vis-a-vis Connery as an ironic wink, Moore’s callow rakishness, Dalton’s Thatcherism ( License to Kill is a mini War on Drugs, maybe Reagan had a hand in penning that script), and Brosnan’s Bond as a Blair/Clinton golem cum gadgetry fighting proxy wars against gangsters instead of states ( à la The Soviet Union) i.e. is Bond relevant anymore?

    Something that you highlighted, which I missed, is the mutable aspect Fleming’s Bond. I considered the 2006 reboot of the franchise (a grittier, tougher Bond that uses his hands more and his toys a lot less) as a direct response to the Bourne films. But I suppose the amaranthine appeal of the character isn’t so much our desire to see a lovable rouge and his toys but the need for men on the frontlines “stoic, amidst the ruins” willing to stand on the ramparts and defend western civilization, or what is left of it. And how much fun it is sometimes to see an action flick well made.

    So the silly quips and dazzling gizmos that worked in a film like 1995’s Goldeneye might not work today? I guess that wine will not travel.

    “What, no pithy remark, no glib comeback?” Sean Bean’s Trevelyan (006) asks Bond.

    No, not this time. “…let’s just do what we have to do”

    Great Essay.

    Dan McGlauglin

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