Monday, November 3, 2008

Bond and Nostalgia

Part of the James Bond Blogathon

Following Will's post on his own autobiographical approach to the series, I thought I would tell the story of my own life in Bond.

Among other things, my dissertation on Song of the South attempts to document how affective attachments to certain franchises and brands (Disney) are dependent less on content and more on what gets generated over the years through longevity, difference and repetition. Disney is perhaps the best example of this because they are so predicated on generational developments, and on parents' nostalgia at least as much, if not more so, than children's enjoyment of the texts.

My parents were big Bond fans. They were the children of Connery's phenomenon in the 60s. This sustained itself through the 70s and 80s, when I came into the picture. Living Daylights (1987) may not have been the first Bond film I saw in theatres, but its the one first one I remember seeing, at the age of 9. I was obsessed with it, and by the time Licence to Kill came out two years later, I was the one dragging my parents to Bond, even though my mother resisted taking me because I was 11 and it was the first Bond movie rated PG-13!

But it wasn't only Timothy Dalton in the theatres. Around the same time (before or after, I don't remember), I watched all the old Bond films during the ABC "Sunday Night Movie"--remember those? There was a time when the networks didn't think anyone watched on Sundays, except for football and so old movies got recirculated there. "Sunday Night Movie" was also where I saw movies like Lethal Weapon and Commando for the first time. Edited for television, of course.

Perhaps my earliest memory of Bond was not Living Daylights, but living in my parents' home outside Madison, WI, watching You Only Live Twice (1967) on ABC. It was past my bed time, so I pretended to be hungry to buy time, so my Mom would keep feeding me while I watched the movie. I watched most of You Only Live Twice from the dining room table. Finally, mom gave up and let me watch the rest of the movie, knowing I was apparently riveted.

After Licence to Kill tanked at the box office, I was convinced for about three or four years there would never be another Bond film. The franchise had run its course, and I moved on. I was genuinely surprised and excited by the news that Goldeneye would be made (1995), but I didn't have the same investment by my late teen years and into my twenties. I enjoyed the Brosnan Bond films well enough, but I didn't obsess over them. My cinematic tastes had gravitated elsewhere by then and it was mostly ritual and nostalgia that kept me engaged with the franchise's newest developments.

During that time (late 90s), I was more invested in rediscovering the older films. It was during this time that I really discovered and began to appreciate the 60s Bond films, and began to see the Moore ones more critically than I had during my childhood. My old favorites as a kid--Living Daylights, Thunderball, Spy Who Loved Me--were gradually replaced by others--On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, Licence to Kill.

There's no question that Casino Royale reinvigorated my interest in the franchise--but it was probably the co-presence of my past love for the franchise with my present awareness of the quality of the film. If I had been approaching the film fresh, I would probably have thought it was an interesting movie, maybe a quality action film, and given it little more thought.

I'm not sure why? in all that I came to like the Bond films. The faults others find in its sexist, imperial ideology, and in its predictable formulas, are not things I would particularly dispute. I think my initial fascination with films was probably rooted in my childhood interest in spies, a fascination that transcended a wide range of both Cold War and World War II films and television shows. When I was young, I was quite the history buff. I think the cold war fantasies of Bond tapped into that.

But I don't really find myself gravitating to that stuff anymore (I think in retrospect it was mostly my father's influence as a kid), and in fact I find a lot of it deeply reactionary. Conservatives love history because it allows them to change the script, to think life is simple, because the complexities, the unknowns, of the present are too much for them (at the same time, progressives like myself are often guilty of looking too much to the future). At its worst, Bond feeds this reactionary impulse, too.

But I don't think its history anymore that attracts me to the Bond films, but a sort of ritualistic impulse, rooted in not only nostalgia, but in the possibility that even beloved texts can evolve into something new and different. That all films, have all fans, have several lives.

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