About a month ago the brilliant FilmCritHulk published a series of columns on the Bond movies. In the four columns he provided fascinating analysis of Bond as a character and franchise. It was a lot to digest, but it’s filled with gold. I finally got through it about a week ago, and would like to share some of my favorites bits.
Here’s some great stuff from the first column:
IT KEEPS GOING BACK TO THE TOTAL INDULGENT CELEBRATION THING. BECAUSE IF WE WERE STUDYING ALL OF THESE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE BOND TRAITS IN FILMS THAT WERE CONSTRUCTED AS ANALYTICAL CHARACTER PIECES, THEN IT WOULD BE ALL WELL AND GOOD. MAYBE EVEN FASCINATING. BUT AGAIN, THE BASIC PROBLEM COMES DOWN TO THE FACT THAT WE ARE NOT STUDYING BOND IN THESE MOVIES, WE ARE INDULGING IN HIM. AND WE ARE INDULGING IN A VERY SPECIFIC, NON-DISTANT WAY. FOR…
RARELY DO WE SIT BACK AND THINK ABOUT JAMES BOND.
RARELY DO WE EVER REALLY EMPATHIZE WITH BOND.
INSTEAD, WE JUST WANT TO BE JAMES BOND.
This is all too true, and not just of Bond. It seems to be the case with the vast majority of modern blockbusters, not to mention that much broader category of crowd-pleaser, feel-good movies. Hulk goes on to diagnose this from a viewers standpoint:
THE PROBLEM IS THAT RIGHT NOW IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE MOST OF THE POPULATION CONSUMES MEDIA IN AN INDULGENT, PORNOGRAPHIC FASHION. THERE ARE ENTIRE SECTIONS OF THE POPULATION WHO ONLY WANT MOVIES TO DO WHAT THEY WANT. WHO VICARIOUSLY PLACE THEMSELVES INTO THE SITUATIONS AT PLAY AND WANT ONLY GRATIFICATION FROM THEM. FORGET ABOUT THIS EFFECT ON DRAMA OR STORY, IT’S ABOUT WHAT WE FEEL WE’RE OWED. AND IT’S HOW WE GET A SERIES OF IMPOSSIBLE AND UNSTOPPABLE BADASS HEROES. IT’S HOW WE GET HYPER-ATTRACTIVE LADY-PLACEHOLDERS TO LOOK AT. IT’S WHY WE HEAVILY REWARD EVERY DESIRABLE BEHAVIOR AND RENEGADE ATTITUDE.
BUT HEY, MAYBE THIS HAPPENS IN MOVIES/TV BECAUSE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THEM IS SO DAMN EASY. WE JUST SIT IN THE DARK AND LET THESE FILMS LIVE IN OUR BRAINS. BUT HULK CAN’T QUITE SAY THIS IS EVIL OR ANYTHING, BECAUSE HULK WILL ADMIT THAT CONSUMING MEDIA IN A PORNOGRAPHIC WAY CAN BE A FAIRLY INNOCUOUS ENDEAVOR IN AND OF ITSELF… BUT IT CAN STILL DEFINITELY LEAD TO PROBLEMS WHEN WE WORSHIP IT.
PUT IT LIKE THIS: ON THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, WE HAVE PURPOSEFUL ART. HULK’S TALKED ABOUT THE REFLEXIVE, EVASIVE NATURE OF TRYING TO DEFINE ART BEFORE, SO LET’S DO THE SHORT VERSION. YES ART CAN BE ANYTHING AS LONG WE CALL IT ART, BUT HULK IS TALKING ABOUT THE SPECIFIC FORM OF ART THAT IS AT THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING IN OUR LIVES. PURPOSEFUL ART IS THE REASON WE TELL STORIES AND ENGAGE IN THIS COMMON EXPERIENCE. IT’S HOW WE SHAPE THE STORIES OF OUR LIVES AND PROVIDE CONTEXT AND MEANING TO THOSE LIFE STORIES. AND THAT KIND OF ART ISN’T REALLY ABOUT WHAT WE WANT, BUT INSTEAD WHAT WE NEED. IT GIVES US CONFLICT, AND CHALLENGES OUR NOTIONS AND INFORMS LIFE’S GREATER NARRATIVE. IT MAY FIND ITS WAY INTO OUR HEARTS AND MINDS THROUGH AN EMOTIONAL AND VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE, BUT THEN ART HAS THE ABILITY TO ACTUALLY TRANSFORM US WITH ITS THOUGHTFUL WAYS. ART MAKES US AWARE AND IT NEVER OBLIGES US.
Studios constantly talk openly about including scenes, characters, and even entire plotlines to “please fans.” This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but when it comes to guide the filmmaking process we slip far away from the “purposeful art” Hulk talks about. Indulging like this must be kept in moderation.
Of course, this is how money is made: you give people what they want. Yet, amidst all the clamoring of studios racking up box office numbers, it’s critical that we appreciate the value of purposeful art. We need it as human beings and as society, for the betterment of both. It may not be as instantly gratifying, but it is far more rewarding in the long run.
Films have immense power to both good and ill. The impact of what is put on the screen is felt.
WE OVER-VALUE FILMS WITH INDULGENT PSYCHOLOGY AND THEN TRY TO CLAIM MOVIES DON’T INFLUENCE US, BUT FUCK THAT NOISE. OF COURSE THEY DO. WHY DO YOU THINK SO MANY PEOPLE ABHOR AWARENESS AND CEREBRAL MEDIA CONSUMPTION IN GENERAL AND COMPLAIN WHEN THINGS “TAKE THEM OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE”? WHY DO PEOPLE GET UP IN ARMS WHEN THEY WANTED CHARACTERS TO DO SOMETHING ELSE? WHY DO PEOPLE GET MAD AT THINGS WITH SAD ENDINGS? DAGNAMMIT, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT.
Movies matter. We can’t afford to pretend otherwise. I know not everyone is into film in the same way. Some people just go to the theater for entertainment. I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing, just that you have to be careful what you’re really looking for and getting.
At the beginning of the second column, while discussing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Hulk makes an essential distinction:
ACTING LIKE A REAL PERSON MAKES BOND A WORSE VEHICLE FOR INDULGENCE AND WANNA-BE-COOL FANTASY. A HUMAN BEING WHO SOMETIMES GETS SAD AND STUFF? WHO WANTS TO PRETEND TO BE THAT!?! AGAIN, THIS IS THE KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDULGENCE AND ESCAPISM. YOU CAN WATCH INDIANA JONES FALL AND FAIL AND BARELY CLIMB HIS WAY OUT OF DANGER AND DISASTER, AND YET YOU HAVE STILL ESCAPED FOR TWO HOURS INTO A LIFE FILLED WITH ADVENTURE AND EXCITEMENT. BUT WITH JAMES BOND? IT SEEMS THAT A LARGE AMOUNT OF VIEWERS ARE PUTTING THEMSELVES DIRECTLY IN BOND’S PLACE, AND THUS FOR TWO HOURS THEY GET TO BE KINGS OF THE MUTHAFUCKIN UNIVERSE AND GET ALL THE CHICKS OR WHATEVER.
There’s nothing wrong with escapism, and certainly not with having a good time at the movies. All that fun stuff can happen in the context of real, human characters that teach us things through their trials. What we have to be careful about is using movies as an outlet purely for our own flawed pleasures without consciously acknowledging what’s going on. Know what’s good for you and aim for that stuff.