Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bond and the 'Sixties

Over the years, Bond parodies have often blended the send-up of 007 with a broader evocation of the '60s. Austin Powers, for example, is an "international man of mystery"--whose cover is that of a fashion photographer who freaks out at the happening that is the Electric Pussycat Swingers Club, a man possessed of countercultural credentials that Dr. Evil openly mocks.

More recently, the Big Time Rush movie opened with the members of the band dressed in tuxedos and acting out a secret agent fantasy while singing the classic "Help!"

What, one wonders, could be more 'sixties than this blend of Bond and the Beatles?

And yet, what could be more dissonant and unlikely?

Of course, both the secret agent and the band were icons of the decade. Yet, the simple fact is that the 'sixties was not all one thing, no more than any period is one thing, Bond and Beatles the product of different, frankly conflicting currents. One thinks "1961-1969," and the stereotype is youth culture and counterculture, but Bond is a far cry from that, even the Bond of the films. Yes, they looked very fresh and modern, with their hedonistic, sexual, irreverent hero, their fast pace and flashy visual style, their jet-setting narratives and futuristic technology and visceral action, brought to you through the magic of Technicolor and Panavision.

Yet, even the Bond of the screen remained at bottom an updated clubland hero of the kind granddad enjoyed as a kid. A bowler-hatted, suit-wearing, middle-aged civil servant who not only works for an organization run out of a wood-and-leather office by an uptight, pipe-smoking Victorian, but expects to wear black tie for night life, snaps at the nearest Black Guy to fetch his shoes and remarks the inappropriateness of red wine with fish. He even takes a swipe at the Beatles themselves, remarking that they should only be listened to with earmuffs on. Youth culture? It was the kind of thing that Bond was reacting against, explicitly in the novels (think the cab ride in the early part of Thunderball), and only somewhat more subtly in the movies.

With his usual incisiveness, Simon Winder remarked the contradiction between Bond and that broader image of the 'sixties at some length (and some of the recent continuation novels have acknowledged it in little ways, like Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care), but by and large the realization seems to escape most of those looking back at the decade. The humor in the Austin Powers films was at times subtle. (Even in an era when it seems everyone is bragging about being a black belt in some martial art, I suspect that the utter nonsense that is the "Judo chop!" went over most people's heads.) At times, it was even sociologically astute. (The exchange about how there is no world for Dr. Evil to take over anymore is priceless.) However, I never got the sense that Mike Myers' blend of secret agent and Swinging London was meant to be taken ironically--and this seemed still less the case in the Big Time Rush movie.

Still, it has been good for a laugh.

Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
Review: The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond, by Simon Winder


Arion said...

Nice post. And speaking about Bond and other spy movies I have to say I just read your post about The Man from UNCLE and it was great. I just wrote about it in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):


I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



Nader said...

Thank you for your comments.
I'll be sure to drop by your blog as soon as I get the chance.

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