The Iconography of James Bond – Skyfall & ‘That Car’

The Iconography of James Bond – Skyfall & ‘That Car’

Making A Scene

The Iconic Moments from Film & TV
Masters Of Sex DVD Box Set

‘Well I’m not hiding in there, if that’s your brilliant plan,’ M tells Bond as they stand outside the lock-up on a dark quiet backstreet somewhere in London.

‘We’re changing vehicles,’ replies Bond.

This is the pivotal moment in Skyfall, the 23rd and most recent of the James Bond series of films and the 3rd in which Daniel Craig has played the eponymous super spy.

The previous ten minutes has seen a spectacular and tense action sequence involving a deliberately evocative bomb and underground moment and an assassination attempt on Bond’s boss, M (Dame Judi Dench) during a Governmental hearing debating the relevance of her Secret Agent organisation (MI6) in the modern world.

It’s the underlying question that lurks behind the entire movie, up until that moment, and perhaps a question that has been hanging over the entire Craig era since he first earned his Double-O in the brilliantly stripped down Casino Royale.

Bond, with typically impeccable timing, saves M’s life at the hearing and ensures that she escapes from the scene unharmed – her would-be doer-inner Silva, however, gets away. The next task therefore is to get his boss hidden and protected.


He gets her away by commandeering one of the official vehicles which just so happens to be a sleek, ultra-modern looking Jaguar. For the sake of what will follow, of course, this is surely no coincidence.
The scene cuts to night and the lock-up in the dark and empty street in London.

Bond leans in, pulls open the locker door, a light flickers to life revealing, as we hear the deep bar of the opening theme music, an old Aston Martin DB5. And not, of course, any old Aston Martin DB5 – this is THE DB5 from Goldfinger, which became the ultimate Bond icon.

‘Get in,’ he tells M as the music segues into the equally iconic and quite wonderful guitar based 007 theme that takes us right back to the moment Connery looked across the baccarat table and announced himself to the world in Dr No – the first film of the series – in 1962.

Skyfall marked the 50th anniversary for the Bond of the movies and this scene is the less than subtle tribute to the franchise’s (don’t you hate that word?) heritage.

The scene shouldn’t work.

In the context of the film it borders on the silly and, in other less capable hands, would have had the audience removed from the tension that had been built up in the spectacular action which preceded it, taking the film into the realms of pastiche. It was the major flaw in the 20th Bond film Die Another Day (fun though it was), which marked the 40th anniversary (the last of the Pierce Brosnan era).

It doesn’t, of course, make any sense. This car is nearly fifty years old and the story arc we’ve been given for Bond is less than a decade in the making.

And yet, despite this, the scene plays out – as far as I am concerned – wonderfully. As out of context as the symbolism is we can forgive it momentarily (I confess to a little tingle of goosebumps as the car sped off into the night) because, for one, Craig and Dench remain unflinchingly in character and, secondly, the scene is short and not dwelt on for any great length.

Moreover, however, the scene works because it represents a major – and quite surprising, for a Bond movie – shift in the pace, tone and theme of the film as it moves towards a climax.

The moment Bond gets behind the wheel of that car is the culmination of a process which began right at the beginning of Casino Royale. The culmination of Bond’s reconstruction.

Bond? James Bond?

In Casino Royale we see Bond as a bit of maverick and, indeed a novice. It makes him tough, volatile and, furthermore, vulnerable and prone to error. He doesn’t care whether his drink is shaken or stirred and when he introduces himself it’s as:
‘James Bond,’
only using
‘Bond, James Bond’
as the end credits roll (the indication that he is on the path towards the character with whom we’ve grown familiar.)

By Skyfall however he’s the seasoned spy – a man who has seen all, done all and who, it is suggested, may be somewhat jaded by his many missions. Again the question of whether this is a man who’s time has passed. he’s still blessed with that arrogant coolness that we expect of the character – the cuff-links moment near the beginning a brilliant example. But Craig’s version of Bond is not that of some of the predecessors where the character became no more than a series of tics and catchphrases to run off ad nauseum to the delight of the hardcore fan. Craig has brought a harder edge, more in keeping with the Bond of Fleming’s novels, ruthless and occasionally reckless with strong sense of duty and right vs wrong. This is not a man of raised eyebrows and cheesy one-liners upon death – the one moment he does it in Skyfall is laced in pathos for a man trying to maintain an image in the face of a formidable foe.

So when we reach the moment with the DB5 it is new meeting old. Craig has developed the character through three films to this moment – the moment he embraces all of those Bond icons of the past half century, shakes away all the rough edges and becomes that smooth sophisticate with whom we’re all too familiar.

Except, of course, he doesn’t.

That’s the beauty of the scene and the reason we can allow some latitude for its lack of context.

You see, it goes back to that underlying question: Is Bond relevant in this modern world?

M, in the minutes before Silva’s attack at the hearing, makes an impassioned case for the defence – but not necessarily is she speaking on behalf of the type of spy Bond had become by the time Brosnan hung up his tuxedo. A new century, a new era and new version of an old model.

And it’s the scene at the lock-up which seems to give us the definitive answer, before pulling the rug from our feet.

Bond may have arrived in the new car and left in the old one but anyone thinking that this was the moment he reverted to type and headed off to Silva’s lair (possibly in a volcano) to win the day, were really quite mistaken.

In fact, from this moment onwards, the film goes in exactly the opposite direction – to which the director, Sam Mendes should be applauded.

Bond doesn’t hunt Silva, he waits for Silva to hunt him (and M) – stripping down to the bare, and somewhat primitive, minimum. Yes there’s a final battle but there’s a more visceral, survivalist edge to it that gives mind to Straw Dogs or First Blood. (Yes, you could also argue if you were feeling a little mean spirited that it’s not a million miles from Home Alone or Crocodile Dundee 2!) And the end, when it comes, is distinctly lacking in any kind of wit or indeed spectacle.

So yes, the ‘lock-up’ scene may be a little of the left field, a self-referential nod to get the nostalgic among us a trifle misty-eyed. Nevertheless, the scene also works as a turning point; it allows a film that was ramping up and up in its intensity and city-levelling carnage, to take a breath – give a moment of pause – and then to strip away all that went before it, leaving one man standing at the end. A man still, it would seem, with a place in the world.

Which I think may have been the point.

Masters of Sex | Pilot Episode 2013

Masters of Sex | Pilot Episode 2013

Making A Scene

The Iconic Moments from Film & TV
Masters Of Sex DVD Box Set

It starts with a man and a woman having sex.

You need a strong opening to tell a story – whether film, book, play or TV show. Something to set the scene, offer a hook with which to draw the reader or viewer in.

And nothing tends to draw someone in more than a bit of sex.

Which is exactly what we have in the opening to the excellent Masters of Sex, the new TV drama centred upon the controversial and groundbreaking research into the orgasm and female sexuality in 1950s America.

It starts with a man and a woman having sex – introducing us and telling us, without telling us, about the world we are entering.

Through the grunts, the creaking bed and the red light bathing the room in which the copulating couple reside we are immediately being told that this is a scene awash with seediness. This is not a soft-focus, tender moment of love. This is sex as a pleasure of the flesh. Animalistic and base.

Taking that animalistic theme further, the position of the couple is that of the man on his knees behind the woman on all fours. The man grunts and thrusts as the woman below and to the front of him, shakes and moans. The inference is that of the domineering man, the subservient woman.

But all is not as it seems.

 This is 1950s America and we are on the cusp of the sexual revolution and a challenge to old values.

The scene shifts, taking us into the wardrobe against the wall – another man, standing inside the wardrobe, peering out through a spy hole. This man is dressed in evening wear – respectable. He is holding a notepad and pen and is clumsily trying to write something within the restricted, dark space. As he loses balance and bumps against the inside of the wardrobe, the woman on the bed looks up, annoyed – a look that says, be careful, you’ll give the game away.

The man on the bed is not the dominant presence at all – he merely thinks he is. The woman, who we’ve been led to conclude is a prostitute, is offering cries of pleasure and words of encouragement, but ever more in a tone that suggests this is all an act. As the climax approaches her cries grow louder, her encouragement stronger – the man, lost in his own pleasure, oblivious and uncaring of the fact that his partner may well be ‘doing a Meg Ryan’.

We see again the man in the wardrobe, looking out. Is he being titillated by the scene before him, or is he an intrigued observer with a more clinical, dare one say, respectable motive? Possibly both?

Whatever his personal motives the wider implication seems clear. A world in which women can actually demonstrate some enjoyment from sex as much, if not more, than the man. A world which is ready to come, quite literally here, out of the closet.

Within minutes of the programme opening we have hit upon the heart of all that is to follow.

Masters of Sex is a show full of contrasts and contradictions. A man in a closet, restricted and in the dark (by his own conservatism?) peering into a world that is at once seedy and taboo and yet, at its core, the most natural of acts. A world in which, almost unthinkably, women can elicit pleasure, can demonstrate desires, every bit as much as the men. A direct challenge to the notion of lying back and thinking of England (or, in this cast, the good ole U.S. of A.).

Sex is not a topic of discussion, certainly not for research in the respectable, neo-puritan world of 1950s America – their post-war society adoptive of the ways perhaps of Victorian England. A world of staid values with an underlying current of sexual tension waiting to burst forth.

The scene is the classic set up – allowing us to find out in a matter of moments what kind of world we are entering and the ambiguities to follow. With its tone somewhere between lurid and Carry On style comedic we’re being told that we are looking at something still considered taboo whilst at the same time, perhaps, offering the notion that, you know what – it’s just 2 people having a bonk so stop being all coy about it and, well – enjoy the ride.

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