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Revelator

Member Since 19 Sep 2003
Offline Last Active Today, 02:07 AM
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In Topic: Why James Bond books are still popular?

Yesterday, 10:48 PM

Shake and Dicks are still with us because they have - rightly - stood the test of time. ...Shake and Dicks are classics because they are classics. They really are that good - great even. That's why we get an endless succession of film and tv adaptations - well, that and the original works are in the popular domain. You're putting the horse in front of the cart. To prove my point, how many film/tv adaptations have any of us seen of "Two Gentlemen of Verona", "Two Noble Kinsmen", "King John", "Pericles", "Cymbeline", "Timon of Athens", and "Henry VIII"?

 

*Raises hand* I've seen the BBC adaptations of King John, Pericles, Cymbeline, and Henry VIII. Of course, with one exception they were also the only film/TV adaptations of those plays, which proves your point. On the other hand, I think it's universally agreed that not all the works of a prolific author will be equally good, no matter how brilliant he is, and the list of Shakespeare's esteemed and popular works is fairly long: Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer's Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. The fact that Cymbeline--a play even Shakespeare fans have a hard time loving--has been adapted at all is proof of Shakespeare's cultural cachet. Why can't we have adaptations of Middleton's Women Beware Women or Massinger's The Unnatural Combat instead? I love Jacobean/Caroline drama and sometimes get frustrated that Shakespeare overshadows his contemporaries and successors. But I also have to acknowledge that as a poet and dramatist Shakespeare really was the best of them all. So your point is ultimately true. And yes, people who say Shakespeare didn't write his own plays should be assaulted.

 

And no English teacher in his - or her - right mind will ever claim "that the only books which stay the distance are the ones which are designated classics." From time to time gems slip through the cracks.

 

More like all the time! It's surprising how many terrific but little-known books and authors there are. And there are even entire publishing houses, like New York Review Books (not to be confused with the the NY Review of Books) devoted to republishing neglected classics. And yet, popularity itself is no indication of lasting value either--a look at the bestseller lists of 70 or 60 years ago will reveal many books that are now completely obscure. Furthermore, for an author to survive over a hundred years, he often needs cultural validation--Dickens is still read, but how many other Victorian popular novelists enjoy equivalent readership?


 

And not just English teachers say that Fleming's books remain in print only because of the films. Lots of people say it, myself included. Because it's true.

 

That I'm not so sure of, as I'll explain later on. I also suspect that some of those hypothetical English teachers make that argument in order to belittle the books--perhaps they don't realize that the Bond films which put the character on the map were all closely based on Fleming.

 

Moving on to David Jones's comments:

 

Though I like Dickens and do believe his work has lived on due to merit, it's also due to name recognition which comes from TV and film adaptation. This is more true of Austen, perhaps.

We could look at Fleming's contemporaries and notice their mixed fortunes: Graham Greene is perhaps Fleming's most famous contemporary thriller writer, though this may also be due to his more literary works; Eric Ambler and Nevil Shute remained in popularity for a while, but have faded through the decades, though both, I think, are just about hanging in there. Other literary spies and their authors, such as Desmond Cory and his Johnny Fedora novels, and Manning Coles and his Tommy Hambledon series, have disappeared altogether.

 

There is a hole in that argument though--Austen enjoyed a hundred years of popularity before motion pictures were made from her books. But there's no denying that adaptations can immeasurably boost a novel or literary character's hold on the public. At one time the plays of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Raffles, and The Count of Monte Cristo were either more popular than the originals or just as popular. The Bela Lugosi film of Dracula is actually based on the stage play, not the novel. Doyle would still be read today, but Sherlock's popularity would have been far less than what it is without the combined efforts of Gillette, Rathbone, Brett, Cumberbatch, etc.

 

This non-conformist attitude has led me to dismiss Shakespeare repeatedly. His work may be good - he may be expressing an observation about human nature, but I cannot hear it as I don't understand the language. I've always thought that it should be performed in modern language. If something as hallowed as the Bible can do it, than so can a few plays. That's the only way it can reach a modern audience who aren't pretentiously forcing themselves to watch it/read it so they can say they have.

 

I don't think that's true, and I say that as someone who enjoys Shakespeare. An actor with a good command of blank verse can help audiences get the jist of obscure passages. The great literary critic Frank Kermode has suggested that some bits of Shakespeare were even obscure to Elizabethan/Jacobean audiences. And while I think it's a good idea to modernize or replace some words (as long as the meter of the original is preserved), performing Shakespeare entirely in modern English would destroy its poetry. You bring up the Bible, but there isn't a single modern translation that has a fraction of the poetry and beauty of the King James Version.

 

Moving onto Dustin's comment:

But without the constant reminder to Western pop culture that 'Bond is back' there would be a great deal less fuss about the books. There'd fans and fora and perhaps discussion about who would be fitting for a possible adaptation - but largely on the level of Matt Helm or Travis McGee i.e. an obscure pastime for hardcore fans.

 

That sounds like a very plausible scenario. I think a couple or a few of Fleming's books might have been still in print, or perhaps an anthology volume like The Blofeld Trilogy.

What guarantees popularity or longevity?  In the hard-boiled genre, Hammett is immortal for devising the genre, Chandler for perfecting its language, and MacDonald for carrying on the tradition while adding a sociological emphasis. With the spy novel, Buchan is famous for being one of the first inventor/practitioners, while Greene and Ambler are renown for adding psychological and sociological depth. Fleming's claim to fame--had the Bond films never arisen--would likely be for remodeling the spy novel for the jet age of consumerism, adding a greater emphasis on violence, sexuality, and lifestyle. Let's not forget that even without the films, the books were bestsellers that achieved fame and notoriety--Kennedy's endorsement  and Johnson/Bergozzi's attack appeared before the films, as did the comic strip. Taking that in mind, how could Fleming ever be forgotten, in his role as a genre innovator? And yet E. Phillips Oppenheim and Sax Rohmer--the mega-best-selling spy novelists who influenced Fleming--are today little-read and mostly forgotten. There are additional ironies--Le Carre owes his fame for having turned the spy novel genre away from Fleming, but would his fame be as great if the Bond films had not made Bond a super-super-bestseller and increased the demand for an alternative?

 

One final note--I think there comes a point when a book can no longer depend on the mass audience for its survival. That is proven by the vast number of forgotten bestsellers. True literary longevity depends on the cultural validation conferred by the intelligentsia--the literary critics and cultural arbiters who say this work or that is important and the academics who make young people read those works. Those young people go on to become and reinforce the intelligentsia. Cultural validation can either compensate for diminishing mass audience appeal or it can augment it, conferring validation to works once thought of as unimportant trash.

Fleming's work exists in a no-man's-land between mass audience appeal (held more by the Bond films, which have been sustained by the Broccolis) and cultural validation, which Fleming doesn't fully have. The intelligentsia's original objections to Fleming--based on "sex, violence, and snobbery"--are now irrelevant, but newer ones have arisen. Many academics and like-minded folk view Fleming's works as a toxic, right-wing cocktail of racism, imperialism, classicism, and misogyny--far worthier of cultural condemnation than validation. That is probably the greatest threat to Fleming's survival, since his mass audience appeal can't be permanently sustained. Those of us who believe that supposed toxicity to be grotesquely overstated are on the losing side at the moment. As for the future, very few works enjoy an increase of popularity after half a century. Bond will be no exception, but just how the films or books will fare is not for us to know. Predicting the future of a cultural work is even more difficult than predicting that of society.


In Topic: Moonraker - why such a bad rap?

03 February 2016 - 08:07 PM

Of course it's kind of ruined by the "pee" joke at the end, which leapfrogs over Moore into flat-out Benny Hill territory.

 

I have another confession to make--I quite like that gag. It works for me because it's plausible and slightly macabre and nasty. And hey, urine in the eyes is a pretty good weapon, no matter who belongs to. The fact that Bond and his bodily fluids team up to defeat Lippe is weirdly funny. It's also set up earlier in the film, when the nurse asks for a urine sample and Connery says something like "now?" (or was it "here?").


In Topic: Moonraker - why such a bad rap?

03 February 2016 - 03:04 AM

Again, I think opinions are shaped by factors outside of the films themselves.  I'd bet a lot of the disdain for NSNA today has to do with its "rogue" status: made by McClory in an effort to usurp -- or at least bloody -- the beloved Eon franchise, and forerunner of numerous attempts at a rival Bond series...surely a bad thing, right?  Whereas in 1983 the same pedigree gave it the heroic appeal of pirate radio.  It was David to Eon's Goliath; if the official series continued to deny us Connery, well then we'd just have to support an unofficial one, wouldn't we?

 

Good points. And NSNA certainly succumbs to lethargy by its climax. I'm slightly more optimistic that its reputation might slightly rise as sort of bootleg Bond. It has several great assets: Connery's warmest Bond performances, Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo, and the greatest evil Bond girl, Carrera's Fatima Blush. Though there are no great action sequences,the motorbike chase coupled with Fatima's death is highly memorable. And I must confess to liking the video game scene--it's a neat way of updating the usual sports/gambling duel between Bond and the villain and the game itself now has a wacky retro glamour. The rest of the casino scene, with Bond breaking the bad news to Domino during a tango, is another highlight, a true "Let's Face the Music and Dance" moment. Anyway, I'm starting to highjack the thread so I'll stop discussing NSNA.

 

You know, the laser battle never really impressed me that much, and it's not because it's "silly."  It's because Bond isn't in it.  It's like someone sat around thinking "How do we re-do the underwater fight from TB and make it even less involving for the viewer?"

 

That's certainly a defect, though it doesn't reduce the technical impressiveness of the scene. And perhaps the silliness--the thousands of "pew-pew" lasers--even works in its favor. I might even backtrack and say that the weird dissonance between Barry's somber music and the gonzo visuals creates a compelling frisson.


In Topic: What did critics think of Lazenby and OHMSS in 1969?

03 February 2016 - 02:34 AM

 

J. Marks? Forgotten journalist? Not on your life.

 

Oh alright, slightly infamous journalist/charlatan whose sometimes plagiarized books were once highly praised...unless the testimonials are also fake.
 

And your own accomplishments are...? :P

 

Not having written that NY Times article.

Joking aside, thank you for delving into the background of Mr. Marks. A true surprise!


In Topic: What did critics think of Lazenby and OHMSS in 1969?

01 February 2016 - 11:54 PM

This appeared in The New York Times on Jan. 1 1970. It's so wretched it almost makes me long for Canby:

 

What Sex! What Violence! So What Else Is New? (Feb 1, 1970)
By J. MARKS

Those of us who spent our most formative years during that decade which we already refer to with nostalgia as the sixties celebrated the New Year by jettisoning all kinds of paraphernalia. We unloaded all the great childhood gadgets and emotional trinkets which couldn't make it into the seventies without showing signs of appalling age.

Danish modern didn't make it, for instance. The hippie ideal of building a good life in the ghettos didn't make it either. Prop airplanes didn't make it; nor did railroads or cigarettes or the aspiration of making it and leasing an apartment in a luxury building with a doorman. Also on the list of things we thought we dug but ended up ditching are Brooks Brothers suits, booze, big new cars, haircuts, parlor pianos, opera subscriptions, spin the bottle, etiquette, cocktail parties, fountain pens, caviar, small talk, neckties, Peggy Lee, white linens, cuff links, corsages, calf-bound books, Broadway shows, dates, postcards, contraceptives. Monte Carlo, Fort Lauderdale, movie stars, heroes, chicken soup and mamma, buttoned-down shirts, underwear and James Bond.

Which brings us to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - the sixth and possibly final installment in the adventures of 007. Do you remember 007? Do you recall May of 1963 when "Dr. No" had lines around the block at your local movie house? And James Bond, played by that rough-cut sophisticate Sean Connery--the ultimate kitsch hero who could identify a woman's perfume at 50 feet and knew his caviars and wines from Provence all the way to the Caspian Sea! Wow, the epitome of chic! What every young man wanted to be when he grew up!

But of course in those days boys didn't grow up; they simply went from Christmas office party to office party. And today many boys don't get a chance to live long enough to grow up. But in 1963 popcorn still cost a dime at the movies and the world was beautiful. Ah, yes, the world of James Bond was the world of the early sixties. There he stood, Brooks Brothered to death in a dark blue serge or getting kinda gamey in a terry-cloth jumpsuit. Daredevil gentleman, with expertise in absolutely everything, even a nonchalance which permitted him to seduce superduper double spies on a whim. Ah, the world of 007! Where the enemy was either an exotic samurai with a lethal black derby or six dozen fold-outs from Playboy magazine. And people always died so beautifully in a James Bond movie. The explosions were the biggest darn explosions we had ever seen. The blood was redder and the sounds of fists in faces were crisper and crunchier than ever.

Even technology was fun in a Bond movie--the lethal gadgets killed with ultra-comic book flamboyancy. Death was always so intricate in the World of 007. That astonishing automobile with its deadly cargo of special effects. That attache case! What magic! What imagination! What spectacle! What violence! What a bore...

So, while I was standing in line on a recent weekend at the Waverly Theater to see the latest Bond bundle, I noticed that I was not the only die-hard 007 fan. It was a young crowd which went into the theater smiling and came out looking perplexed. The formula didn't make it any more. And it wasn't merely a question of whether the new Mr. Bond--George Lazenby--was as effective at his bits as Connery had been or whether the latest Bond thriller was as thrilling as its predecessors. It was essentially a matter of change. But the change was in us and not in 007. Like Superman and all other good super-heroes, James Bond had not changed. But since 1963, when all of us first caught sight of the dashing Mr. Bond, our heads had gone through more changes than you could shake a joint at. And it was astounding to realize how different we were at the start of the seventies!

I sat there during the movie recalling how incredible the sensation had been during "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love" and "Goldfinger" and '"Thunderball" and ''You Only Live Twice." All that karate and all those bloody noses had really been a thrill. Now, as the entrails of a "nameless" enemy geysered out of a snowplow and Bond quipped, "He sure had a lot of guts," I was roundly turned off. The fists smashing into faces were grotesque and vicious. The "baseball game" in which bodies were sent flying over a cliff was cruel and humorless.

Why was I so disturbed by the lavish violence--which had previously amused me so much? Was it possibly because I had
been in Chicago and seen real people and real friends bashed and battered? Was it because I had seen young Bob Kennedy cut down in the pantry of a Los Angeles hotel and the Hell's Angels brutalize a crowd at a rock festival in Altamont, Calif. or because. I was desperately sick of the useless obscenity of death in Vietnam? I don't know. I only know that the idea of seeing a Follies of sadism turned me off.

And what about James the man? Well, he seemed something of a drag. A rather pompous dirty old man who asserts his moribund concept of masculinity by cruising every chick who passes. The covey of allergic ladies in the film comes on as the ultimate male self-deception. A lady on the hour, every hour, is the phallic fantasy of the middle-aged man. He's not
up to the mere physical labor, let alone possessing the sexual prowess. What Bond used to do as our surrogate adulterer he can't do for us any more. We would rather do it ourselves because we do it so much better. 007 gets zero for sexual conduct. Bond is masculinity according to Madison Avenue.

Intellectually, he's also fraudulent. Spectre--that diabolical world organization of sin and corruption--seems less corrupt than Bond himself, not to mention his heartless superiors who license 007 to kill. Meanwhile, the enemy is an enigma. We aren't told why we must hate the enemy but only that we must at all costs HATE the enemy. But it doesn't work. We are enlightened young men and women who have learned the importance of knowing the enemy--and we have learned to know him well in real life. In fact, we are downright intellectual about the enemy. And we aren't buying any hate propaganda; so the evil that lurks behind the gullible shadows of childhood doesn't frighten the activist-oriented kids of the seventies. We don't get our jollies from sitting in dark theaters and hating prescribed enemies.

Bond is fighting a shadow in a shadow play. Ultimately it's all fake. However, it is not harmless because it's essentially sadistic and cruel and last-ditch expression of that confounded militant egotism which used to be the trademark of the normal middle-class male.

Rest in pieces. James Bond. Rest in PIECES!

 

Since one act of vituperation deserves another, Mr. Marks strikes me as a gigantic ninny and an insufferable prig. He's also a terrible writer--over-reliant on leaden sarcasm--and a terrible thinker, who relies on the old trick of deciding that the reactions of some (we never know how many) people in the audience are those of the entire mass audience. And like an egomaniac he decides the mass audience thinks exactly the same he does--wrongly. Audiences were not, after all, tired of James Bond, as the grosses for Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die demonstrated. And if some audience members "came out looking perplexed," it was probably because of something Marks never bothers mentioning, because it would capsize his argument about the film's supposed sadism.

Marks whines a good deal about "lavish violence" and confuses stylized violence with the real thing. He reminds me of those well-intentioned fools who complained about Horror comics in the 1950s and how their violence would lead to juvenile delinquency. In this case, sensitive Mr. Marks can no longer distinguish between Bond and Vietnam. But while he endlessly whines about the film's supposed sadism, he is completely silent when it comes to discussing the most significant act of violence in the entire film, an act no one could take pleasure in, aside from Blofeld himself. The end of OHMSS confronts the viewer with bloody violence that can't be laughed off or enjoyed. Marks's failure to not address that, even in a veiled form to avoid spoilers, shows that as a critic he is a fraud.

The rest of his screed is even more simpleminded and smug ("We would rather do it ourselves because we do it so much better"--sure). But it shows how distraught some people were by the end of the sixties--so distraught they projected onto Bond everything they hated about the world: Madison Avenue, the Vietnam War, middle-aged men, what-have-you. As it turned out, the rest of the country didn't share his opinions. Neither did his generation. Mr. Marks is now no more than a forgotten journalist (albeit briefly revived in this forum), while OHMSS enjoys a higher critical reputation than ever and is acclaimed as a classic even by people who aren't hard-core Bond fans.