As Bond 23, Skyfall, draws closer and closer, and James had his cinematic 50th birthday last week, and I celebrate my birthday today, I thought it would be a little fun to look back on my own history with the world’s most famous secret agent.
I’d like to say that I got introduced to 007 at a young age, that my parents were hip and with it enough to think that I would enjoy the films, and the original source material by Ian Fleming.
Not the case I’m afraid.
I’m sure I heard a lot of the songs as I grew up, most of the James Bond theme songs made it on the pop charts, but my first real awareness of the James Bond phenomena was brought to me when I was 11ish living at CFB Kingston. This was back in the 80s, and there were two pay channels available for cable subscribers, First Choice and Super Channel.
We had neither.
However, on Channel 11(?) or one of those lower double digits on the dial, it was well under 30, as those numbers didn’t exist on television in those days, they would show advertisements for the films and shows that were being screened on the pay channels. And THAT is where I had my first visual encounter with Commander Bond, in the form of Roger Moore, skiing about, running up stairs, and being suave in the trailer for For Your Eyes Only (which as a plus had the sexy Sheena Easton singing the opening title song).
I was immediately intrigued and fascinated. This guy just seemed awesome! There were chases, explosions, girls, cars, and this James Bond fellow just seemed so cool! I was so drawn in by it, that I had to hold my tape recorder up to the television’s speaker to record the familiar Bond theme by Monty Norman, updated for this film by Bill Conti, and all the sound effects and dialogue that the minute long advertisement had.
I wanted to know more about him. But this of course, was pre-google, pre-internet, and our school library didn’t seem to know anything about him.
So I was left to prowl the shelves in frustration.
I wasn’t a big fan of newspapers at that age, though I would ransack the entertainment section of the Whig Standard on a fairly regular basis. However, it seems Never Say Never Again (though not a canon Bond film) and Octopussy (though with a name like that my parents would probably never have given me the ok to see it) somehow got by me.
As spring came around, and there was word that we were to be posted off the base, to warmer climes in fact… CFS Bermuda, my parents began to arrange for the fairly regular trip out east to New Brunswick to see their own parents, and family before the big move, and as a bonus, we were always allowed to buy a book to read on our trip.
So away I went to the Canex, clutching a $5 bill, more than enough to buy a brand new paperback in those days, and be left with some coin in pocket afterwards…
And there on one end of the 4 sided rectangular wire rack that served as the book section of the Canadian Exchange on the base, was a red covered book, with a fearsome looking snake head (not a good sign, cause you know, snakes… ugh) but above it was the name James Bond, and below it, a very spy sounding title – For Special Services. And I learned two things there and then, the original creator of the character Ian Fleming, and that they were still writing James Bond books, and some guy named John Gardner was doing it!
I walked home, quite content with my purchase. I had my first James Bond book.
Or so I thought…
I walked in the door, and my Dad asked me what book I had gotten. That in itself was unusual, because even at that age, I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to reading, I could read whatever I chose, not because my parents were lax in their parenting, it’s just my day wasn’t a big reader, so he didn’t seem to get how voraciously I, my sister and my Mom could devour books.
But today, for some reason was different.
I was quite happy to have gotten a James Bond book.
My Dad however wasn’t so impressed. He didn’t like the idea of me reading about spies, and love scenes, and the like – though he had never to my knowledge read one, he was only pre-judging but what he thought the movies (he’d never seen one of those either) and books were filled with – breasts and guns.
Completely unacceptable for me apparently.
So he told me right then and there to take it back and get something else. Well, here’s the thing about books, that I learned that day, though I’ve never had to find out if it still exists. Despite the fact that I had the receipt that was not only dated, but had the time on it as well, I was told that one could not exchange books after they were purchased. Perhaps I had read it all in the 30 minutes since I had purchased it.
I was 11, so I wasn’t going to really fight with an adult. Yes, we still respected our elders in that day. However…
I wandered back into the store and looked at the books again, with my unreturnable copy of For Special Services in hand. I browsed, I checked, and then, when nothing else even remotely caught my interest, I swapped this James Bond book, which I really wanted, for a copy of that year’s Guinness Book of World Records (yup, that would hold my interest for a 10 hour drive!). So I left Mr. Bond on the shelf, and walked out with Guinness (they were the same price, and I had simply swapped one for the other, so I didn’t see it as shoplifting it was just an exchange).
My dad thought I was an idiot though, because, of course, that book would not keep me busy for 10 hours. I did do my best to prove him wrong though!
Then we relocated to sunny Bermuda.
I could go swimming everyday!
There was also a tiny one room library in the Junior Officers’ quarters and lo and behold! Ian Fleming James Bond books, with images from the movies plastered all over the covers! COOL!
One of the things my parents finally did, after settling into Bermuda was buy a VCR, there wasn’t even a television channel to watch at that point (the idea being that people didn’t come to Bermuda to watch television (none of the hotels had them in their rooms)).
My family became frequent renters at a little place called Vision Video… and at some point they finally broke, and allowed me to rent a James Bond movie (they were only $2 a rental or 3 for $5 for the weekend – they were closed Sunday – remember those days?).
My very first James Bond film was The Spy Who Loved Me with Roger Moore, and Barbara Bach (who looked amazingly hot in that movie – just saying). The film, for me, was the epitome of super-spy cool, there were cool gadgets, giant sets and set pieces (the sub bay set is amazing!!), a giant threatening nemesis in Jaws (Richard Kiel) and Naomi (Caroline Munro! WOW!), awesome locations, and just a general sense of fun and excitement.
I was hooked.
It was thanks to my friend Trevor that I learned about the another 007! We’d spent an afternoon at his place where his family had rented a James Bond movie for us… Dr. No! This one was a little different, there were no gadgets, it was just a secret agent trying to stop a mad man with weird hands from blowing up rockets! This guy was a little more rough and tumble than Roger Moore. I started to think that this Sean Connery guy was pretty damned cool.
With the meager money I made babysitting I would rent movies and buy whatever soundtracks I could come across at the American base in St. George’s, the Annex, something else my father didn’t quite get either. But I love film scores, and in 1985, I got my hands on my first James Bond soundtrack, and it featured a title track by Duran Duran… A View To A Kill!
That tape seemed to be on permanent loop on my ghetto blaster for the longest time, and served me well until 1987.
It was finally time for me to see a Bond film on the big screen (and I haven’t missed one since). Perhaps that is why The Living Daylights is one of my personal favorite Bond films. I liked that Timothy Dalton’s Bond was a little more serious than Moore’s harkening back to the early Connery films.
It also had a great title song by a-Ha, and John Barry brought me another soundtrack that got played to death on my walkman and stereo, Ice Chase was always my favorite cut.
It was right around this time, that I met my friend Steve who owed all the Bond films on videocassette and allowed me to borrow them, working through them one at a time, in order, so I could see the development of the series, the transition of the years, and the actors. (I still contend that if Connery had starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it may very well have been his best Bond ever! Instead George Lazenby took over the role, and while not terrible by any means, he wasn’t suited for the role).
I quickly had my list organized of favorite Bonds, Connery first of course, and despite only having the one film at that time, Dalton was my second, followed by Moore and Lazenby.
In 1989, after I graduated high school, and was romancing my first girlfriend Tracey. Though I think I would often annoy her by stopping whatever we were doing to watch the music video for Licence To Kill by Gladys Knight every time it came on the television.
Before summer’s end I had to leave Tracey behind on the island, where she spent the rest of her summer before returning to England, and slowly vanished from my life, while we returned to Canada. Dalton returned to the screen in his last foray as Bond, but people simply weren’t ready for a Bond/revenge film, and it definitely isn’t the strongest entry in the series, though I still rate it a lot higher than Moonraker!
From Licence to Kill through to 2006, I saw each Bond film as they came along in Kingston, Ontario, at the Capitol Theater, and then finally the brand new revamped Cineplex.
But it was a long wait until 1995, when news that a man, seemingly long-destined to be James took on the role for four films, Pierce Brosnan. Goldeneye was simply good escapist fun, and of course the Nintendo 64 game caused my friends and I to lose countless days and hours to the accompanying game. Goldeneye is no doubt my favourite of Brosnan’s Bonds, though he fills out more fittingly by the time Tomorrow Never Dies rolls around (which has some truly enjoyable sequences, especially the pre-title opener). His third film, The World Is Not Enough, didn’t really catch me the first time around, it may have had something to do with the worst Bond Girl ever, Denise Richards as the vapid, poorly acted and terribly named Christmas Jones.
By the time Die Another Day came around, Brosnan was obviously comfortable in the role, and while it had some awesome callbacks to the previous 19 films, it was time for a different kind of 007.
Even I, a huge fan, could see that.
So with 2006 came Casino Royale, and introduced Daniel Craig as Bond, rougher around the edges, but undeniably human. Within moments of the opening sequence, this became my favourite Bond film ever!
Gone are most of the gadgets, 007 has just been issued his licence to kill, and at this point he’s more of a blunt hammer than a surgical knife, but he’s tenacious and stubborn and won’t be stopped, no matter the risk to himself.
Finally finding a home in Toronto, I was ready to care my own space and was ready for the next Bond…
Quantum of Solace was the follow-up film, and the shortest running Bond since the early Connery films, I personally like a good solid 2 hours (and change) for my Bond films, so this was a bit of a let-down in that department.
Viewed by itself it doesn’t have the same punch as Casino, but watched back to back, and they’re a lot of fun together.
Now, as I draw closer to my birthday, I can help but get excited about what happens next…
What are your favourite Bond films? Who’s your fave 007? And in case you’re wondering… my fave Bond Girl… Claudine Auger as Domino in Thunderball, just wow.