Obsessive: Who Me?

Here’s a few snapshots of my James Bond paperbacks (there’s a few hardbacks at the end of the row). Believe it or not there are quite a few gaps in the collection, mostly American editions and I am missing a few of the Triad Panther / Granada girls on guns series. These days it’s hard to keep up with all the new releases. About a month ago I was in a book shop and they had three different Bond series for sale. Of course, I am not made of money – so I didn’t buy them. Maybe I will pick them up in second hand shops in a couple of years.


Obsessive: Who Me?

You Only Live Twice (1967)

YOLT002Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dor, Mie Hama, Charles Gray, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell.
Music: John Barry
Title song: performed by Nancy Sinatra
Loosely based on the novel by Ian Fleming

After the passing of Ken Wallis last week (on September 1st), I thought it was fitting, and high time, I had a look at You Only Live Twice. Wallis was a leading exponent of Autogyros, and flew Little Nellie in the film.


You Only Live Twice is the fifth film in the James Bond series, and while not the best of the early films, it is one of the most popular. When you mention the James Bond movie series most people think of this film and the final climatic battle inside a volcano. Sean Connery returns as secret agent 007 and is gunned down in bed during the pre-credit sequence. After his resurrection (hence the title) he is sent to Japan to find out who has been stealing spaceships. Throw stunning location photgraphy, ninjas, and a deadly pool of piranha fish, and they all add up to an exotic cocktail.

One of the highlights of the film is that we finally get to see Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of über evil organisation S.P.E.C.T.R.E. After several films of just seeing his hands stroking a white cat, Blofeld’s face is finally revealed. And he looks like Donald Pleasance, albeit with a giant facially scar down the right hand side of his face. For the younger generation who have grown up on Austin Powers, Dr. Evil’s appearance is clearly based on Pleasance and his depiction of Blofeld.

You Only Live Twice - by Ian Fleming

You Only Live Twice is also the Bond series first excursion into outer space science fiction. Ian Fleming’s original novel, there are no hollowed out volcanoes or space ships. Blofeld’s villainous lair was a Castle Of Death. The fanciful screenplay for the movie was written by Roald Dahl, the prominent children’s author – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and many others. After a suitable castle couldn’t be found, the script was changed to feature a hollowed out volcano.

Two other differences between the book and the film are caused by chronology of the films. The films were not filmed in the order of the books and some of the cliff-hangers from the novels have had to be jettisoned for continuity sake. For example, in the book of You Only Live Twice, Bond is a complete nervous wreck at the start, because his wife was killed at the end on the previous book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But the films were made in reverse order. You Only Live Twice came first, then On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Also the ending has had to be changed, because at the end of the book of You Only Live Twice, Bond has lost his memory and heads to Russia to fit together the pieces of the past. This is only resolved in the opening of the next book,The Man With The Golden Gun. This whole subplot has been jettisoned.

One of the most divisive features of You Only Live Twice is the pull out all stops approach adopted by the film makers. If you like your Bond stories grounded in reality, this is not the film for you. But if you like everything BIGGER and BETTER than what had proceeded it, then you’ll find this to be thoroughly entertaining. One reason for the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach, was possibly a response to the competing rogue production of Casino Royale, starring David Niven and Peter Sellers. EON Productions had to go all out to protect their franchise. Another reason is Thunderball was such a huge, huge success, expectations were high for the next film, and they clearly didn’t want let the audience down.

Now, let’s look at the Bond girls. You Only Live Twice is a festival of flesh for Sean Connery. The first Bond girl he encounters is Tsai Chin, who plays the scheming woman who tries to do away with 007 in the pre-title sequence. During the late sixties, Tsai Chin was a busy actress. Her most prominent role was that in Fu Manchu’s cruel daughter Lin Tang in Harry Alan Towers five film, Fu Manchu series. Then she disappeared from the screen for twenty years only to resurface again in the early nineties. She was worked solidly ever since including a cameo as Madame Wu in 2006 version of Casino Royale. But back to You Only Live Twice – Bond’s next contact and conquest is sprightly Japanese agent, Aki, played by Akiko Wakabayashi. Another Japanese Secret Service agent that Bond gets along well with is Kissy Suzuki played by Mie Hama. As the story progresses, as a cover story, Bond has to take a wife and Kissy is the lucky girl chosen to perform this duty. That brings us to the bad girl. The best Bond films all have a good bad girl (if that makes sense) – and You Only Live Twice has one of the better ones in Helga Brandt, who is played by popular German actress Karin Dor.

While, as I stated earlier, You Only Live Twice may not be one of the strongest Bond films, it is pure eye candy from first frame till last, and many of the gimmicks used in the film would appear in countless imitators. Little Nellie, piloted by Ken Wallis is a great example. You can find another Wallis autogyro in the Eurospy flick, Dick Smart 2.007. Anyway, here’s to Mr. Wallis – who’s work in this film ignited the imagination of many a young boy and girl.

If you haven’t seen You Only Live Twice for a while – or dare I suggest, never seen it at all – maybe now’s the perfect time to revisit it.

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Rogue Royale

Rogue RoyaleFor those interested in the history of the James Bond movies, and what may have been, Jeremy Duns (author of the Paul Dark trilogy and Dead Drop) has expanded an article he wrote for The Sunday Telegraph and released it as an eBook.

In the mid-Sixties, the James Bond films became a global phenomenon as the world thrilled to their spectacular action sequences and cool gadgets. But the films nearly went in a very different direction, with a much darker treatment of Ian Fleming’s first novel by Hollywood’s most acclaimed screenwriter. In this short ebook, spy novelist and journalist Jeremy Duns unearths Ben Hecht’s drafts of Casino Royale. Rogue Royale is around 11,000 words long, and builds on a 3,400-word article originally published in The Sunday Telegraph in March 2011.

Rogue Royale is available from Amazon.

Rogue Royale

Skyfall – Pretitle Sequence

Skyfall was released on DVD and Bluray in Australia, just a few weeks ago, and naturally in that time I have had an opportunity to watch it a few times. And I have to say, it is one of the most enjoyable of all Bond films. But films and books are very different things – and the illogical plot points you can get away with in a movie, are just clunky on the written page – or simply do not make sense.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the pre-title sequence of Skyfall. A brief warning, if you have not seen the film, major SPOILERS to follow. You may want to come back, once you’ve watched the movie.

So, the film opens in Istanbul. James Bond (Daniel Craig) enters a building, where a covert operation is taking place. Sensing something is wrong, Bond draws his weapon and upon entering another room, sees a dead man lying in a pool of blood, and a fellow agent, Ronson, on a chair with a severe stomach wound.

At that point, M (Judi Dench), who is in London, but communicating through a earpiece, asks Bond “Is it there?” She is referring to a list of agents, who are working undercover in various terrorist organisations. This list was on a computer. Bond spies the computer, but the hard drive had been removed.

Now, I am going to pause it here.

First, let’s look at this operation. It is clearly a very important operation as both M and her Chief of Staff, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and linked to the agents in the field. Bond and another operative (who we are introduced to later), Eve (Naomie Harris) are backup for Ronson.

The fact that Bond is backup for Ronson means one of two things. Either, Ronson is a better agent than Bond, or the mission is Ronson’s baby, and he is meeting his contact. Now, Ronson’s mission is either to receive the list of agents, or to share that list with an ally (such as the CIA). Therefore, if he is sharing the list with an ally, then it wouldn’t have to be Ronson at the exchange – since he is, we would assume he is better than Bond. If he was meeting his contact, then he’d be getting the list back, which would imply that it had been stolen (and was already out it the open), which would negate the next half of the film.

So Ronson must be a better agent than Bond, and be sharing the list with an ally.

As Ronson is better than Bond, and the meeting is with an ally, there would be no reason that he wouldn’t be wired up to M, Tanner, Bond and Eve too. Now we have to assume the exchange was interrupted by Patrice (Ola Rapace), who must have burst into the building (without Bond and Eve seeing – and notifying Ronson, that an intruder had just entered the building). Patrice then shot Ronson first – so he is unable to communicate. Then he shot the ally agent, killing him, then removed the hard drive.

As an adjunct, in this day an age, there must be a better way to exchange information like this than a physical meeting between two agents – surely encrypted information can be sent over the internet? However, knowing that the villain of the piece will later be revealed to be a computer genius, negating an internet option, could I suggest that a flash drive, SD card or portable hard drive would still be a more practical (and discreet) way to transport the information.

If Ronson was wired up, then M would want to know why he was not responding. Bond and Eve would hear this too, and perhaps, that is why Bond entered the building. He would have instructed Eve, to watch the other exits.

Bond enters the building, initially without a drawn weapon. That seems strange, but he is Bond, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. The scene plays out as described above.

Upon discovery that the hard-drive is missing, Bond is instructed to go after the thief / murderer. It just so happens, that Eve has seen Patrice leave the building but has neglected to tell anyone over the comlink. As Bond leaves the building she pulls over in a four-wheel-drive, in which she has been sitting. He gets in. The pursuit begins.

The car chase culminates with both vehicles, Bond and Eve, and Patrice, crashing. Patrice produces a machine pistol, with an impossibly large magazine and starts spraying lead everywhere. We later find out, that this lead is not actually lead at all, but depleted uranium core. But none-the-less, Patrice shoots up the place, before escaping on a motorcycle.

Bond follows Patrice on another motorcycle. Eve follows in her bullet riddled four-wheel-drive. Both Bond and Patrice end up on the roof of a train, sans bikes. During the ensuing running roof-top battle, Patrice shoots Bond in the right shoulder. The bullet appears to have gone right through, as later, the viewer can see exit wound blood (although no hole) on the back of Bond’s jacket

As an adjunct here, I’d like to quote from Jeffery Deaver’s 2011 James Bond novel, Carte Blanche – Hodder & Stoughton Hardback edition – page 11.

‘Now I’m ninety per cent sure he’ll believe you,’ Bond said. ‘But if not, and he engages, remember that under no circumstances is he to be killed. I need him alive. Aim to wound him in the arm he favours, near the elbow, not the shoulder.’ Despite what one saw in the movies, a shoulder wound was usually as fatal as one to the abdomen or chest.

So Bond is injured, and if we are to take Mr. Deaver’s words on board, quite seriously too. The roof-top chase on the train continues, until both men are squaring off, mano a mano. Eve, has kept up the pursuit in the four-wheel-drive, but has run out of road. She gets out of the vehicle, with what looks like a sniper’s rifle.

The train is crossing a river, and a tunnel looms ahead. If Bond and Patrice go into the tunnel, then Eve can no longer provide any backup. But, she has to ensure that Patrice and the list, do not escape. M instructs her to fire, “Take the bloody shot!”. Eve shoots, and ….

… Bond is hit and falls from the train, down in the the river below.

Title sequence begins.

Now, I am not sure where Eve’s bullet struck Bond. The title sequence, with a stylized stream of blood issuing from Bond’s shoulder would indicate she hit him in the exact same shoulder as Patrice. The scars displayed, later in the movie (set only three months later), would suggest my guess is correct. So, Bond has been shot twice in the same shoulder. Once with a bullet made from a depleted uranium core, and the other from a sniper’s rifle. I know very little about weapons, but I would guess sniper’s rifles are a high-powered weapon. I would also guess that after being hit, Bond would not have any shoulder left to heal – but that is all supposition. I do not intend to test my theory by shooting somebody. However, once again, I would draw your attention to Mr. Deaver’s words above. Mmmm!

But this is Bond, so we figure he can shrug off a couple of potentially fatal bullet wounds.

Let’s look at how the events of the pre-title sequence influence the rest of the story. Firstly, as you’d be aware, Bond is in a self-imposed exile for three months, recuperating from his wounds. Over those months, MI6 do not, and cannot retrieve the stolen list of undercover agents. Later, only when Bond cuts open his shoulder to retrieve shrapnel fragments from Patrice’s bullet – does the story start moving. The depleted uranium core bullets are only used by three people, and Bond recognizes Patrice’s face. Bond is sent to Shanghai – essentially starting the story afresh.

But hang on! Didn’t Patrice fire literally hundreds of these rounds at Bond and Eve. They struck the four-wheel-drive. Surely, someone – even the most lowly policeman – collected one of the bullets and analyzed it. Upon discovery of the unique uranium bullet type, Eve could have recognized Patrice as easily as Bond.

The mission should have been up and running. Patrice should have been picked up, gagged, blindfolded, and shipped to some black rendition site, where he was waterboard tortured until he gave up Silva’s name. Well, at least that’s how I’d run MI6 (I jest, of course).

But, I am sure you get my point. MI6 has ceased to function without Bond. No wonder Gareth Mallory wants M to resign. The whole opening to Skyfall is poorly plotted, and barely makes sense. If I served the same story up in a spy novel, my readers would, after the first chapter, hurl the book at the wall. Then possibly track me down, break my fingers, so I couldn’t tap out such a load of piffle ever again.

But film and novels are very different mediums. As I said at the top, I loved Skyfall, and will gladly watch it again – with a healthy, and much needed, suspension of disbelief.

Skyfall – Pretitle Sequence

From Hong Kong With Love

From Hong Kong With Love (Original Title: Bon Baisers De Hong Kong) is a film I have been trying to track down for years. It is naturally enough, a Bond spoof, and it features Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell (which makes it an interesting curio for Bond fans).

I have never found an English version of it – but on Youtube, there is this French version. I have only watched the first five minutes (I have to hit the road today, and return to Melbourne), but the set up at least, is very easy to follow. Enjoy.

From Hong Kong With Love

OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

George Lazenby: Astor Theatre, Melbourne Australia (13th October 2012)

On Saturday night, the Astor Theatre, in Melbourne had a rare screening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth James Bond film. As it is one of the few Bond movies that I had never seen on the big screen (I still haven’t seen Diamonds Are Forever), I had to go along. The sealer was that George Lazenby, himself was going to be introducing the film, followed by a Q & A.

The Astor is (and has always been) an amazing venue. It’s a old, art deco single screen movie palace. I remember when I first moved to Melbourne (all those years ago – before movies were available on sell-through), the Astor was the only place you could see many cult and classic films. The venue was crowded – I am guessing around 500 people (maybe more) – without being packed.

George was generous with his time, talking for over an hour, about everything from Bond, to his time working in Hong Kong, and much more – sharing many anecdotes about the mischief he got up to. My one complaint about the evening, and it must be said that George handled himself very professionally, is that somebody decided to bring their terrible two year old kid along. The kid kept jumping up and down on the seat and yelling out. George joked about it, but on a couple of occasions, his train of thought was interrupted.

At one point, as George was interrupted, the crowd actually turned on the family, yelling at them to take the kid outside. But the parents didn’t, steadfastly refusing to leave the auditorium. The kid kept interrupting. As a parent, I love my son more than anything, and yes, I would love for him to experience any ‘once in a lifetime’ event, but really the child was too young to appreciate where he was or who George was. Ultimately it was a rather selfish act on their behalf, and only George’s professionalism stopped it from ruining the night for the five hundred odd patrons who attended the event.

For a person of my age, it’s funny looking back at On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I am too young to have seen it on it’s original release at the movies, and by the time I saw it on television many years later, I was very confused by the negative reaction by the adults around me. I watched the film and wondered what all the fuss was about. Sure, George Lazenby was no Roger Moore – the incumbent Bond at the time – but the film was still highly entertaining. In fact, it was better than that – it was bloody good with some amazing scenes – but still the film seemed to have this stigma attached to it – especially for the older generation who grew up with Sean Connery as their James Bond. As an example of this, recently I watched a repeat of Parkinson, the UK talk show hosted by – who else – Michael Parkinson, and one of his guests was comedian Eddie Izzard. During their conversation, the topic of ‘Bond’ came up and Izzard was asked his favorite film. He said On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Parkinson, who is quite a bit older, was visibly shocked at Izzard’s response and screwed up his nose. It seems that as time has gone by, the younger generation who grew up with a multitude of different Bonds are a lot more willing to embrace On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and see it as simply a part in the Bond series, rather than George Lazenby’s failed attempt to replace Sean Connery in the hearts and minds on Bond fans all around the world.

One of the big differences between On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and some of the preceding Bond films is that it is almost gadget free. Goldfinger had a tricked up Aston Martin, Thunderball had every underwater device imaginable, and You Only Live Twice had an aggressive gyrocopter called ‘Little Nellie’, but this film has ‘radioactive lint’. Q’s grand moment comes early in the film where he presents his new tracking device for ‘double O’ agents, which lines the agent’s pockets. I am sure gadget lovers were disappointed. It’s hardly the kind of exciting espionage gadget we are used to from the highly inventive Quartermaster. Later in the film, Bond uses an elaborate safe cracking and photocopying device. As I mentioned earlier, the first version of this film that I saw was on television, and the version shown happened to be an extended version. Apparently, the original theatrical version didn’t have the safe cracking sequence – so it could be argued that ‘lint’ is all that this film has to offer. These days though, on video, DVD and Blu-ray the film is the extended version, so we get the extra gadget. But however you look at the film, it is still very light on for gadgets.

Among On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s many strengths is the score by John Barry. It is undoubtedly his best score (although Thunderball is pretty hard to beat), and provides pounding excitement for the action scenes and the passion for the romantic scenes. The title tune is unusual as it is an instrumental, but this is countered by the song, ‘We Have All The Time In The World’, performed by Louis Armstrong at a pivotal point in the film.

A frequent supposition among Bond fans is, if On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Sean Connery it, it would have been one of the greatest films of all time. I like the basis of the argument – that being that Connery was the best Bond, and that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service contained the best Bond story. Combined, they would have been a sure fire winner. But in reality, had Connery made himself available to do On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I doubt we would have got the film that we did. Connery had a very set style, which involved quite a bit of humour and his films featured quite a few gadgets. With Connery in the lead, undoubtedly the formula would have continued and we would have ended up with a very different Bond film, and in my mind at least, I do not feel it would have been as strong.

In all in all, it was an enjoyable evening, and it was great to finally see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on the big screen after all these years.

OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

Liner Notes: Jason Whiton

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Jason Whiton from the sixties spy style website, Spy Vibe, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

* * * * *

1. The 10th Victim
There must be some things that one falls in love with because of the timing or the context. I saw this film when I was a little kid, and it immediately became a template for me that defined a kind of height in futuristic, erotic, spy-vibe. The sound of the organ, the women and their orgasmic vocalizations, it was just immensely thrilling to me. It wasn’t until Crippled Dick Hotwax put out their compilations of Italian soundtracks that I realized that the 10th Victim was part of a larger scene. And although I enjoyed hearing more music in that style, I always stayed true to this score. I love the main phrases. I love its avant-garde quality at times. And it captures the aesthetic of the film. I was grateful that I got to contribute to the Blu-ray edition!

2. Planet of the Apes
Goldsmith made some genius decisions to use the primal nature of percussion to define the sound of this score. Again, it has an avant-garde quality that I like a lot. It reminds me of Kontakte by Stockhausen. And the pacing of the sounds, I think, echo beautifully the emotional journey of the story. After loving this for years, I have finally started to explore Dame Evelyn Glennie, a contemporary classical percussionist, who is experimental (and deaf!). Check out her amazing documentary with Fred Frith called Touch the Sound.

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
By far the best Bond score, in my opinion. Just the theme alone encapsulates the emotions of the story. You have a main theme, representing Bond, that is constantly trying to push forward. And in a call and response structure, you have a variety of phrases and instruments that are constantly challenging him, pushing him to the breaking point. There is even a wonderful use of brass in moments that paint the character with a dash of traditional honor and duty. Listen to the theme again and you will see what I’m talking about. In addition, there are cool electronic sounds introduced in the score, which give it a non-cartoony futuristic vibe.

4. Tohru Takemistu
I’m a huge fan of this Japanese composer. He scored things like Rising Sun and the new wave films by Oshima and Teshigahara. Takemitsu is known for his use of negative space and traditional instruments, and also experimenting with unusual sounds. His scores are often quite haunting and surprising, which is why I like them. Nothing cliche going on there! Also, the minimalistic nature supports the Japanese film within its own tradition of aesthetic principles. Having lived there for many years, it rings truer to me than almost any other style.

5. In Like Flint/Our Man Flint
Although there are many fun spy soundtracks I like, not to mention John Williams and Star Wars, I find myself most often listening to this score. I think that it is for no other reason that I find the main phrase soothing and interesting, and I enjoy how they find so many ways to repeat it throughout. Maybe for that reason, it starts to play like one long piece with separate movements. And like OHMSS, there are fun examples of early electronic sounds. If I was to choose on the concept alone, I would also have to mention the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Doctor Who) as a fascinating time capsule into experimental music made for mainstream narrative work.

It’s hard to leave some out.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence
The soundtrack that defined my twenties. A brilliant score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (YMO), which was also recorded as a single with vocalist David Sylvian (Japan). I discovered this score when I was twenty and probably played it constantly for almost ten years. The main hook is just incredible, and the score progresses with a contrast of two themes to mirror the two pairs in the story. Sakamoto also recorded a rare piano-solo version, which is worth tracking down.

Jason Whiton is the creator of Spy Vibe. Jason composes the soundtracks to his short films, which have been awarded and recognized by Sundance, Park City Film Music Festival, and other major festivals and museums. A life-long musician, Jason recently composed a contest-winning song re-mix for the artist, Yoko Ono. More info at www.jasonwhiton.com.

Liner Notes: Jason Whiton