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
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‘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.

James Bond & Me

James Bond & Me

I was born in 1973, the same year that Live & Let Die was released. This officially makes me, of the Moore era. Now, to say that I was a huge fan of James Bond as a young child would be stretching it – I really wasn’t because, to be honest, the films aren’t really aimed at five year olds and, more significantly, this was the age of Star Wars.

That said however, James Bond was always there, a presence I was aware of – not least because I had a cousin who was ten years older than me and who really was into Bond and he used to tell me about the cool spy with super-cool gadgets. Not least when, and here I can relate to Alan Partridge, in 1977 The Spy Who Loved Me came out and my cousin told me all about the man with metal teeth, the gadget adorned watch and, most amazingly of all, a sports car that could turn into a submarine. Star Wars may well have been dominating my four year old thoughts at this point but there was still room for thoughts that a car-cum-submarine was something that I simply a) had to see and b) needed as a toy from Father Christmas.

And thus, my first ever bit of Bond memorabilia was a toy Lotus Esprit with retractable fins for under-water action. This made bath-time that bit cooler, as I would drive the car along the bath’s edge, then have it leap from the taps, submerging below the froth of Matey into the warm depths.

The Connery / Moore Debate – Let’s Call It A Draw

As to the first Bond film that I ever saw I cannot say for absolute certain. Like buses of cliché, many seemed to arrive all at once. What I do know for sure is that my first few encounters with Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, were via the television. The likelihood is that Live & Let Die was my first film, a Christmas TV premier – most likely sandwiched between the Queen’s Speech and Morcambe & Wise. Although it might just have easily have been Goldfinger as both films come readily to mind as I try to recall.

Of course, these two movies have 2 different actors in the lead role. Live & Let Die was Roger Moore’s first outing as 007, having taken over from Sean Connery, the star of Goldfinger. As a kid I loved both films equally and, although vaguely aware that there was a marked difference between the two, it was some years later before I realised that James Bond was a different person in both.

People have their favourite Bond actor. Most seem to herald Sean Connery as the archetypal and therefore best of the lot although the Moore incarnation is of fond remembrance for those who grew up in the 70’s and 80s, even those of us who recognise that as films they did not necessarily stand up to some of their contemporaries. Personally, the Connery era is unquestionably the better of the two – the films are better, the characterisations are better, the acting is certainly better and they are made with a blend of sophistication, grit and indeed wit, that some of its successors failed to live up to.

However, that’s not to say that Moore’s version of the spy is lacking for popularity or for that matter, enjoyment. In fact, I retain a great fondness for the films; even the latter ones, Octopussy and View to a Kill, where Moore has quite clearly gone beyond the age of credibility for the role. Live & Let Die is a terrific film in my opinion – if not altogether on the side of political correctness. It set the template for the next decade of the franchise as it moved further from Connery and the Dr No prototype, further still from the 007 of Fleming’s novels.

From Page to Screen and Back Again

I began to read the novels when I was in high school, the mid-80s, around about the time that Moore’s tenure in the tuxedo was coming to an end, the pervading view that, in a decade of Indiana Jones and Die Hard, the gadgets and cheap gags were lost somewhere in the no-man’s land of the middle ground. An argument that, despite continuing to draw in an audience, is not without merit.

So reading the books was something of a refreshing revelation. In many ways there’s a cross-over from page to screen – notably the fetishisation of high value goods, of fast cars, of women. Indeed the opening of Live & Let Die openly revels in it, proclaiming how, in the life of a secret agent, there are sometimes great pleasures to be had enjoying the finer things – first class travel, fine food and drink.

However, there was more to Bond than I’d grown accustomed to through the more recent films. A more rounded character, certainly more torn, more flawed. A man with a seriously hard edge and yet not invulnerable; more than once do we see him hurt, properly hurt. A man though, prone to acting on impulse and occasionally allowing personal emotion cloud his judgement. Genre fiction and common sense suggests that the hero will always win and yet, in the gradual warts and all drawing of the character there’s always the possibility in the pages, similar to Sherlock Holmes before him, that he might actually crash and burn.

It was clear – as much as I enjoyed the Moore films, as much as I really, really liked the Connery ones (yes, he’s always been my favourite) I was actually enjoying the novels more.

Gadgets, Gadgets and More Gadgets. But What’s the Story?

Timothy Dalton was in Flash Gordon, another film that the inner geek has always enjoyed. It’s the only thing I’d ever seen him in before and, until they announced him as the new Bond, I didn’t know his name. When the Living Daylights came out I had a strange ambivalence towards the release. Having read the novels I was more inclined towards the literary side of the stories as well as the fact that, having grown up knowing only Roger Moore and the Connery flicks from before I was born (I have omitted George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service because, at this stage of my life, I hadn’t seen it) I was wary of the change.

Actually I thought Dalton was a good Bond at a bad time for the secret agent. The films were a mess and instantly forgotten, which is a shame given that Dalton brought a steel and a gravitas to the character that appealed to me as it was closer to the person I was reading about in the novels. Unfortunately, it seemed the writers weren’t on the same page and there was the awkward mix of a man trying to demonstrate the loner, cold-hearted assassin with the gadget laden, one-liner spouting super-spy.

Goldeneye was the first time I’d gone to the cinema to see a James Bond film since I’d gone to see For Your Eyes Only for my friends birthday more than a decade earlier. I was in University in Liverpool and went to a local cinema in Allerton. There was a sense of anticipation about this movie, more than I could remember about a Bond film for a long time. There was a new Bond, Pierce Brosnan and a whole new raft of marketing, product placement and well, a bit more marketing.

Brosnan looked the way people wanted Bond to look. Immaculate hair, looked good in a suit, more than hint of mischief behind the eyes. In Goldeneye the film makers went right back to basics – the opening sequence was duly spectacular, the gadgets off the scale, the villain suitably tough and the locations typically visual. They even put Gold in the title, a winner from its heritage. Goldeneye was great for everyone looking for pure Bond movie staples. Unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember what it was about.

Which more or less the entirety of the Brosnan period. I enjoyed everyone of the films, even as they got ever more batty, as they descended ever closer to self-parody, requiring ever more disbelief suspension.

James Bond Re-Bourne – Nobody Does It Better.

Casino Royale is the first James Bond novel ever written. It’s one of the best books in the series – tight and character driven, a suspense set around a card game at a posh European casino. The only film version of it was a spoof starring David Niven and Peter Sellers.

In 2002, Die Another Day (Brosnan’s fourth and final outing) was the 6th highest grossing film of the year. It was a year that was dominated by Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, of Spiderman and Star Wars. It was also a year that another secret agent franchise was, if you’ll excuse the pun, Bourne.

The Bourne Identity might not have taken as much money as DAD but it was a much better film. Putting the lead character right into sharp focus, not distracted by super villains or gadgetry, with a story, an actual story that is told very well, acted very well and with a new, visceral style of action. If you read film magazines and websites, as I have a tendency to do, you would have read that Bourne was the death of Bond and, to keep the B theme running, Brosnan was not the man to breathe new life into the franchise.

I love that Casino Royale was used to re-boot Bond. I love that they gave the responsibility to Daniel Craig and more than that, I loved that it was brilliant.

The film told a story through the character, it dispensed with the clichés while wonderfully building up all of those old traits that we loved about Bond in the first place. And, more importantly, here was human version of James Bond – like the one in from Fleming’s mind. The brilliant, ruthless, killer spy; morally guided but deeply flawed. A Bond who feels pain, who doesn’t always win and yet still retains a tough, fearless cool. Bourne hadn’t killed Bond, it had given it the kick start it needed.

Ok, so Quantum of Solace was a bit of a dud, but at least it stayed true to the new, or perhaps, old persona with Craig every bit as convincing.

I’ve yet to see Skyfall. It’s a situation I plan to remedy very soon.

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