Friday, October 5, 2012

Today in History: 50th Anniversary of James Bond

A group of my friends were sitting around talking the other day and discussing movies that defined our generation. Since we are all on the back side of Generation X or the front side of Generation Y movies such as “Tommy Boy”, “Dumb and Dumber”, and “Billy Madison” came to mind. Teenagers and young adults may think immediately of “Harry Potter” or movies with Will Ferrell. Even back in the 80's you had generational defining movies such as “Back to the Future” and “The Breakfast Club” that connected peoples’ memories to a time period of their lives. Yet there is no movie franchise that crosses every generation over the last 50 years like those that star the one and only Bond, James Bond.

The mastermind behind this character, Ian Fleming, actually developed his characters name from the ornithologist James Bond whose book “Birds of the West Indies” was a favorite of Fleming’s. Fleming developed the idea of a British spy from various people he came across as a member of the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. From the perspective of a post-world war, pre-Cold War era, Fleming finished his first Bond book in 1953 titled “Casino Royale.” The popularity of his books slowly grew and the appeal of a movie adaptation was apparent. Then on October 5, 1962 “Dr. No” was released in Britain, the first in a long standing continual series about the British secret agent James Bond.

But the real question we need to ask ourselves is what historical influence has James Bond had on society. You first have to see the importance James Bond played on the British people. He was a hero, a hero during a time in which the British Empire was waning. Bond helped make Britain a major player during the Cold War era in a fictional world when Great Britain was far from it now in the real world. James Chapman, a professor of the history of art and film, is a leading expert on James Bond. His book “License to Thrill” highlights the importance of Bond on the British people especially during the Cold War. To go beyond that idea is the notion of America’s role in the series. The United States seemed to always be involved in some way but as the second hand or the fool to the superior British MI6 agent but it never seemed to matter to American audiences. The widespread popularity of the films is thanks in no part to the American audience that runs to go see the newest Bond films that emerge. This is why the Bond series is second only to the Harry Potter series in gross international sales. Does anyone else find it interesting that the top two films series of all-time are both of British origin?

Chapman also explored in his book the changing tied in society, especially when it comes to women. This affected the way in which Bond interacted with the opposite sex. Just look at how women were portrayed in the Sean Connery and the Roger Moore movies, compared to that of the women in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films. Instead of sexual objects the Bond girls become more as Bond’s equal. Other more obvious changes occurred in the films such as technology and the problems in which Bond encountered. We see Sean Connery dealing directly with Cold War era problems and then we see Pierce Brosnan’s first movie, “GoldenEye”, directly addressing the idea that the Cold War is over and his old-fashion way of doing things might not work in this modern era, how wrong ‘M’ was. However one thing Chapman points out is that the basic formula of the Bond films is something that has not changed and does not seem to need fixed in any way. The popularity of James Bond is still high around the world. The BBC did an excellent story on the influence and significance of James Bond over the last 50 years. I highly recommend watching it.

I have been watching James Bond films since I was very young. I once owned them all on VHS and probably seen each of them at least five times if not more and the appeal for me has always been the way in which Bond carries himself in every situation. It’s probably why I love John Wayne movies as well. There is a sense of watching what it means to be a real man, handling everything that comes his way with poise and class. Allowing nothing to get in his way no matter the obstacle and every time he comes out ahead. Bond is a man’s man, every man wants to be him and every woman wants to be with him. 

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