Real World Documentaries on the Fictional James Bond!
By Kristin Battestella
If there’s one thing more magical than analyzing Bond onscreen, then it’s analyzing the analysis of others analyzing Bond onscreen! So here’s a session of Bondian non fiction and documentaries to delve deeper into Her Majesty’s fictitious Service.
Biography: Daniel Craig – From his first school plays, maternal support, and theatre work to edgy independent fair such as Love is the Devil and successful Hollywood turns in Road to Perdition and Layer Cake, this 2007 episode of the long running series illumes the decade of thespian work before Craig’s coveted casting as the first blonde Bond. While it’s great to see childhood photos and early snaps of the handsome young actor, the zooming, panning, angled, and spinning photos can be annoying as they continuously repeat and fill the 45-minute TV time. Of course, most of the 21st century Biography shows play more like hip, gossipy, entertainment newsbeats instead of the program’s traditional, seemingly official, or sanctioned sit down interview and intimate revelation with the subject. Instead, snippets from other Craig interviews pre and post Bond, chats with old school teachers, and commentary from celeb columnists make for a somewhat awkward presentation. A showbiz reporter informing on Craig’s first marriage, famous girlfriends, daughter, and extreme privacy against intrusive tabloids feels illegitimate – if industry reporters are talking about how he doesn’t often grant interviews or ignores media fodder and he didn’t consent to an interview with Biography…yeah, whoopsie! Short clips from Craig’s early films and television that international audiences may not have seen do much better in showing the actor’s talent, versatility, and penchant for heavy scene chewing material. The popcorn narrator doesn’t paraphrase Barbara Broccoli’s decision on choosing Craig as Bond until the final fifteen minutes, but the encapsulation of the challenging transition and becoming accepted as 007 is interesting to see in retrospect again now. It’s nowhere near all encompassing on Craig’s life and career, no – this episode seems to have more of everyone else but him! Indeed, I’d like to see a new, real Biography conversation someday with The Man Himself reflecting on his Bond tenure, yet fans new to the franchise or Craig’s work can get a quick summary here before diving into his varied filmography for complete Craig appreciation.
Bond Girls Are Forever – Maryam D’Abo hosts this retrospective hour on “The Women of James Bond” with an honest, globe trotting, and fun approach fitting to this fanciful, exclusive club. Footage of each lady in her respective Bond film looks great alongside new intimate conversations on Their Man James and what it means to be a Bond Girl from Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Luciana Paluzzi, Jill St. John, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams, Lois Chiles, Carey Lowell, Michelle Yeoh, Halle Berry, and Rosamund Pike. Non traditional 007 gals like Judi Dench as M and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny also have their say, and updated editions of this 2002 video include thoughts from Eva Green, Caterina Murino, Gemma Arterton, Naomie Harris, and Berenice Marlohe. Of course, this isn’t exhaustive with every gal in every Bond movie, and understandably, some foreign ladies or retired gals perhaps did not wish to appear. Although this leaves little reflection on From Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, Goldeneye, and The World is Not Enough, we can forgive absentees of note such as Diana Rigg, Barbara Bach, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Tanya Roberts, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Sophie Marceau, and Denise Richards. Pity also there’s no outside canon conversation with Kim Basinger, but the major loves and villainesses here give unique cross coverage on the fame, notoriety, expectations, career help or hindrance, and where are they now comparisons. Serious issues on the sexism of Bond then and now, the feminism movement, and the over the top damsel or bitch caricatures are debated as well. This isn’t specifically a classic look or by Bond focus, but the chronological order and clips from all the 007 pictures go along well with the multiple re-releases and companion book. Besides, it’s just dang fun to see how these ladies have only gotten better with age.
Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of James Bond – World War II background, lovely post war period footage, and Jamaican home videos inform on Bond creator Ian Fleming’s literary tenacity to start this 2012 hour and a half detailing the history behind the beloved spy. From the earliest, struggling Jimmy Bond adaptations and difficulties in establishing the titular Eon Productions to interviews with Christopher Lee, Fleming family and friends, Barbara Broccoli, the Saltzman family, and Michael G. Wilson, this documentary has a lot of history to cover! Archive footage of Fleming and Cubby Broccoli supplement the hesitation over choosing Sean Connery as Bond and finding the right production team with Maurice Binder and John Barry before the fame, franchise heights, cast fallouts, and more. Quotes from John F. Kennedy, voiceovers with Connery, and more conversations with Maud Adams, Judi Dench, Bill Clinton, Famke Janssen, Rosmund Pike, and Sam Mendes read like a who’s who, and of course, we have retrospectives with 007 men George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Whew! Indeed, this feels a little too action movie fast paced as it intercuts and jumps between Bond footage. The time here isn’t a sentimental reflective documentary going deep with Fleming’s genesis, but some film details are skipped over in favor of the bitter, decades long Kevin McClory drama. Thanks to a playing it safe lack of depth beyond how these court cases broke Fleming’s health, viewers who don’t know the franchise’s history may not fully grasp the scale and legal issues created by McClory’s claims. Time is much better spent on the Lazenby switch, trouble between Broccoli and Saltzman in Moore’s early era, Dalton’s darker take on 007, Brosnan’s waits in landing the role, and 21st century refocus with Craig. Despite the title, there’s a lot more of the basics then what’s untold – an entire series of documentaries could be done with the story of this franchise. A telefilm per actor, an episode on Fleming, one on Thunderball and the Battle of the Bonds with Never Say Never Again – the billion dollar interest can support it! There are a few pacing hiccups, sure, but ultimately, this nostalgic look serves its purpose in getting both newcomers and longtime audiences hankering for a viewing marathon.
The Real Story: James Bond – The Smithsonian Channel presents this 2009 45 minutes debating how much fact is actually in Ian Fleming’s spy fiction. Did Bond embody his creator’s womanizing and addictive ways? What about those real life secret service efforts and AU commandos orchestrated by Fleming? Expert interviews discuss the literary action, plot formulas, and sexism on the page and how they encapsulated Fleming’s own military life, travels, and espionage experience. Real life card game encounters and officers who would become M inspirations had their twists in Casino Royale while enigma decoding plans become From Russia with Love’s premise, but what wartime heroes could have suggested the 007 character? Was Bond the author’s wish fulfillment or something darker and misogynistic? Through expensive tastes and real world expertise, Fleming used his history and the Cold War topics of the time to draft the perfect fantasy spy for a post war UK still looking for heroes. The segment on fantastic wartime gadgetry, real gyrocopters, and defecting spies becomes a little out of place since the majority of the time here plays more like a Fleming biopic than something about Bond or the film franchise. The re-enactments and narration hyperbole are a bit much at times, and the questions raised sound so overly serious or faux scandalous amid otherwise tender and fresh family angles and period footage. These numerous possibilities, theories, and offshoots on how Bond came to be are nothing new in themselves, and the presentation could have been exclusively about Fleming by going deeper into his exhaustive book pace and it’s increasing tired and ill tasking upon his health. Fortunately, literary purists will like the brief graze upon the films, and the fiction comparisons and digging deep into life imitating art is always interesting to see.
And just in case you’re curious, no, I still haven’t gone through all the multitude of features on the Bond 50: The Complete Film Collection blu-ray box set, tee hee.