Monday, November 19, 2012

Daniel Craig and the Modern Bond

            I hereby dedicate this post to stating how much I love Daniel Craig.
            So yes, I am moving from The Pilgrim's Progress and discussions of reformation Christianity to James Bond, beautiful blond men, and movies in general.
            This past weekend I saw the new Bond movie, Skyfall, with the *sigh* gorgeous Daniel Craig.  I have seen a number of Bond movies, including all three of the Craig films, as well as most of those which Sean Connery starred in.  I haven't been keeping up on my internet reading, but I know I am not the first to draw comparisons between Craig and Connery's versions of Bond.  Sean Connery was always my favorite, until Daniel Craig came along, and I admit to having been somewhat surprised at Craig's casting and unsure as to how it would work out.
            This brings me to the first quality Craig brings to Bond which initially struck me as perplexing, but which ultimately I find much more satisfying to modern audiences:  brutality.
            Connery as Bond was always and forever suave and in control.  He moved with elegance, and seduced women with absurd ease.  Daniel Craig, however, is an entirely different man.  I suspect a great deal of Craig's brutal aspect has to do with his physical appearance.  He is stocky, extremely muscular, and while he does clean up nice in a tuxedo, his shortened and springy gait belies the surface of smooth decorum.  Certainly this is part of his appeal, in particular sexually.  Sean Connery appears to be the sort of man who makes love.  But a woman feels quite certain that Craig would (please excuse me, but I can't think of any other way to say it) fuck her silly.
            But as any person who has seen Craig's Bond will know, he also brings a vulnerability to the character which is at strange odds to Bond's necessary callousness about killing.  While there is a great deal of casual sex, Craig's bond seems to occasionally make the mistake of caring about some of the women he sleeps with.  And while I know I'm confusing fact and fiction here, I cannot help but see the fact that Craig sliced off the tip of his finger while shooting Quantum of Solace as symbolic.  To me, Craig is intent on making Bond both darker and more believable, a combination which almost always results in a far deeper connection between character and audience.  I never for a moment believed Sean Connery's Bond would get an owie; Craig, one worries, might well end up dead.  Christian Bale in The Dark Knight also comes to mind here.
            The weird juxtaposition of these aspects is brought out, in Skyfall, with Bond's brief encounter (and requisite shower-scene) with Sévérine.  When Bond meets her, he notes her tattoo, showing her long-ago abuse in the Macau sex trade.  He points out she must have been forced into the sex trade young, perhaps twelve or so, and that in seeking to free herself from one oppressive system she has made herself the victim of a sadistic man, Raoul Silva.  Bond offers to kill her employer if she can get him to the man.  All of this seems to indicate that Bond feels at least some sympathy for Sévérine.
            Later, however, Bond's empathy seems to have been false.  Silva has Sévérine beaten by his henchmen, and then carefully places a glass of 64-year Macallan on her head and invites Bond to shoot it off.  Bond misses the shot glass (and her head), after which Silva intentionally kills Sévérine; but Bond's only response is that it was a waste of good scotch.
            For me, the fascinating aspect here is that the contradiction within Craig's Bond is lodged there by necessity.  His brutality fits perfectly with our forever-escalating political violence, which itself belies our supposed concern for abused women.  Even now, drones are killing women who might very well be every bit as beautiful as Bérénice Marlohe, and even some less attractive ones we might be able to find it in our hearts to care about.  This is the world we live in, and it is the world of espionage which the modern Bond films try to inhabit.  Craig has, in my opinion, been instrumental in situating them here, and not in an imaginary world where the greatest threat is the disruption of a rocket taking off into outer space for safely unbelievable reasons.
            Craig's vulnerability also seems to bring him more into the modern world.  But then again, the Bond movies clearly depend upon tropes and clichés to convey meaning:  the unreachable heights of wealth; the gorgeous and exotic locations; even Bond's insistent egotism and somewhat tired jokes are needed.  And right along with these tropes are the women, who are themselves a kind of cliché.  But there is a problem here for modern audiences; on the surface, we find it less acceptable to dispose of women without any sense of empathy or justice.  Hence the modern touch about the sex trade, Marlohe's highly believable portrayal of a trapped and terrified woman, and Bond's eventual capture of her killer.
            Still, Bond is essentially a hired assassin, though he might be hired by a nation we currently have as an ally.  But Daniel Craig's interpretation of Bond, and the clichés upon which the Bond movies depend, hold a fascination which I look forward to seeing for two more films.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dark Clouds

Okay, okay.  I swear after this I'm really done with The Pilgrim's Progress.  I was too charmed by Bunyan's "Author's Apology for his Book" to not include just a tiny little excerpt here.  The next few posts will probably center around movies and maybe an opera, and then onward to Swift or Plato (not sure which yet).  For fun, note the definitions of oldish words at the bottom.

Dark Clouds bring Waters, when the bright bring none.
Yea, dark or bright, if they their Silver drops
Cause to descend; the Earth, by yielding Crops,
Gives praise to both, and carpeth not at either,
But treasures up the Fruit they yield together;
Yea, so commixes both, that in her Fruit
None can distinguish this from that; they suit
Her well, when hungry:  but if she be full,
She spues out both, and makes their blessings null.
    You see the ways the Fisher-man doth take
To catch the Fish; when Engines doth he make?
Behold how he engageth all his Wits;
Also his Snares, Lines, Angles, Hooks, and Nets:
Yet Fish there be, that neither Hook, nor Line,
Nor Snare, nor Net, nor Engine can make thine;
They must be grop't for, and be tickled too,
Or they will not be catch't, what e're you do.
    How doth the Fowler seek to catch his Game
By divers means, all which one cannot name?
His Gun, his Nets, his Lime-twigs, light and bell:
He creeps, he goes, he stands; yea, who can tell
Of all his postures, Yet there's none of these
Will make him master of what Fowls he please.
Yea, he must Pipe and Whistle, to catch this,
Yet if he does so, that Bird he will miss.
If that a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell,
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing, do contain
What better is than Gold; who will disdain,
(That have an Inkling of it,) there to look,
That they may find it?  Now my little Book,
(Though void of all those paintings that may make
It with this or the other Man to take)
Is not without those things that do excel
What do in brave, but empty, notions dwell.

                     from "The Author's Apology for his Book"The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan

carpeth:  to "carp" is to find fault and complain constantly, to harp on petty grievances; or nag or fuss.
Yea:  Yay!  Actually, you probably already knew it meant "yes."
spues:  old spelling of "spew"; to vomit or cast out through the mouth.
divers:  old spelling of "diverse"; often used where we might say "various" or, if you want to sound really glamourous, "sundry."
a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell:  a toadstone was a stone believed to be formed in the body of a toad and worn as a charm; believed to be an antidote to poisons.

            All definitions from my good old American Heritage Dictionary, with a detail about toadstones from Wikipedia.