Thursday, May 24, 2018

Retiring Bond?

The place of the Bond novels in the history of spy fiction is their being the vehicle for the transmission of the old-style clubland adventure tradition to the post-war world.

This was partly a matter of its adroitness in adapting it to new realities. Britain was no longer the dominant power in the world it was in the day of Duckworth Drew, or even Bulldog Drummond, but he could still see Britain as a world power by way of its partnership with a U.S. bound to it not just by a common heritage or values, but the Cold War. In service to that Britain Bond was no longer a gentleman of leisure with too much time on his hands, but inserted in the bureaucratic reality of a modern security state, while reflecting a more egalitarian era, the element of luxury is a "semi-aristocratness" smuggled in by the back door (in Kingsley Amis' phrasing). And conservative that he is, Bond cannot be so content with that earlier international standing, or entirely at ease with the post-war order he is defending; and perhaps not wholly untouched by changed attitudes toward nationalism, empire and the rest; his conservatism is both reactionary on the one hand, and carries it with a certain freight of ambivalence and irony on the other (such that while one can see Bulldog Drummond here, one can see Maugham, Ambler, Greene too).

The Bond films updated the concept yet again, while broadening its appeal, playing down the politics, embracing the Playboy era, loading up on gadgets and gimmicks. In the process it did much to define, or redefine, the spy as an updated clubland hero for a new, and global, generation of filmgoers.

Even more consequentially, they invented the action film (its particular structure and pacing, its use of set pieces, their essential range of types and scales, the techniques for editing and photographing them), and the blockbuster as we know it (not only making franchises out of such successes, but using massive publicity and wide initial releases to front-load the grosses, while raking in additional dollars through shameless merchandising). Hollywood did not really master, let alone improve, on the practice until the mid-to-late '70s, with Barry Diller-Don Simpson-Michael Eisner high concept, with the TV ad blitz that preceded the release of Jaws, with Spielberg and Lucas' stream of adrenaline-oriented hits (Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones).

But at this point, not only has the novels' update of clubland become a historical curiosity, but so has the update of the update by the films. Additionally, if the Bond films, even after ceasing to be really innovative (this ended with the '60s), remained relatively unique (until Star Wars), this was decreasingly the case. Instead the Bond movies, with more or less competence, traded on brand name and past good will, while sporadically reinventing themselves after the fashions set by others. There has been enough money in the game to keep it going up until now. Yet, that is a far cry from there being a point to it all for anyone but those who collect the profits.

What do you think? Do you look forward to new Fleming-era Bond novels and the continuation of the reboot? Or, defying the poptimist fashion, do you agree with Stuart Heritage that the best next James Bond would be no James Bond at all?

You are cordially invited to get in your two cents here.

Steven Poole Reviews the New Bond Novel
My Posts on Anthony Horowitz's Trigger Mortis
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
The Post-Ian Fleming James Bond Novels
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on James Bond

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