Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"her body, a twisted black potato crisp amongst a million others"

We watched The Saint last night on DVD after the kids were asleep. Such a weird movie. What with all the rather violent tongue-kissing, and Elisabeth Shue's socks-with-pumps, and, you know, the wiggy Val Kilmer wearing multiple wigs... it's quite the self-referential crazyhouse. Elisabeth Shue looks like she's trying to get to brilliant and innocent by way of breathless and quirky, but the wide eyes and the chimpanzee grin just makes her look like she's really really scared of Our Val, the man who had me at Real Genius but lost me about a minute later.

They spent real money on filming in actual European cities, and they kept showing The Saint's deus ex machina little gizmos, but, in marked contrast to more recent action-adventure movies, there was very little in the way of exposition. If it weren't for the architecture, you would be hard-pressed to figure out whether the action was taking place in Moscow or Oxford or friggin' Berkeley for that matter.

Not like a James Bond film. (This is not a random segue, and not an indication that when I'm not thinking of anything else pressing, I'm probably thinking of James Bond, which, ok, is more or less true, but this is not one of those times. You got a loner guy in great locations with techie gizmos and a pretty girl - I am not the only one who's going to think Bond here, am I right? And besides, the original Saint in the TV series was Roger Moore, which is how he got the Bond job.)

There's exposition in a Bond film. When you watch Bond, somebody tells you, usually very authoritatively, where Bond is off to. "James, you're to go to Tokyo." "The ship is anchored in Malta." "You don't want to go to Crab Key, boss!" And when there's a gizmo, there's usually an explanation, a demonstration, and some loving close-ups.

"Perhaps because he was an Englishman, there was a round of handshaking"

Recently our friend Tim (who is married to The Talented Cousin Rachel, so I guess that makes him The Equally-Talented-But-In-Different-Ways Cousin Tim) spotted my stack of vintage Ian Fleming paperbacks in the upstairs hall. Coming back down to the dinner table, he said, "You know, you have a couple of James Bonds that I've never read. Could I borrow your copies of Casino Royale and Doctor No?"

I took a breath. I felt terrible. I knew right off the bat I was not going to let those books out of my house, and I couldn't think of a way to refuse him without sounding like a jerk and a freak. So I said something about how they're very old and very fragile, and Talented Cousin Rachel backed me up, and I sounded like a jerk and also a freak.

I mean, for Christ's sake, I'm a librarian. Lending books is what I do! So I went on the bookfinder and bought near-cheap copies of the two books, sight unseen. Whatever, they were like $3 apiece and they're very hard to find in used bookstores. I got mine in Cleveland in the late 1980's, and I might have stolen them from ex-boyfriend Lance.

Casino Royale arrived in the mail yesterday. Hmmph. I am a nice cousin, I hope, but I am sorely tempted by the situation I find myself in.

This is the cover of my copy of Casino Royale, printed sometime between 1964 and 1967:

And this is the cover of the copy that I bought for Tim:

Oh, man! Those colors! That hair! That - what is that? Body paint? And it's tighter and less brittle (the book, you dirty-minded geek!). It's a later edition, published concurrent with the 1967 Peter Sellers / David Niven movie.

I'm going to keep my own, of course. Most of the rest of my Bonds are from the same fifty-cent Signet paperback edition and I like the continuity. Here's the Doctor No:

But I have a 1980's edition of For Your Eyes Only. Roger Moore (cough, splutter) was by then playing Bond in the movies, so the Bond on the cover looks like he's modeling that sportcoat for a department store catalog.

I scanned all my old Fleming paperbacks, they're on Flickr.

"When it's quiet if you're lucky you can hear the aristocracy whining
- Jazz Butcher
I recently read most of The Man Who Saved Britain by Simon Winder (worth a look for the cover alone). Subtitled "A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond," it covers the political and economic landscape of Britain during Fleming's lifetime, profiles the absolutely repellent Ian Fleming in some depth, and by and large confirmed most of what I'd always thought about Bond.

The misogyny; the fetishistic treatment of food, liquor and cigarettes; the unbelievable luck that factors into Bond's professional successes... it's all attributable to lazy writing, upper-class British entitlement coupled with the post-war British inferiority complex and sense of loss, plus private-school sadism and a serious latent gay thing thrown in.

However, I suspect that nobody can adequately explain how Fleming comes up with his random imagery and tortured syntax. Unless you want to blame it all on the gin.

I have a copy of Fleming's travelogue Thrilling Cities , and the guy comes off as this unbelievably prissy tight-fisted snob. He tells would-be playboys how to work the angles at gambling, getting a taxi, and ordering a steak. But he hates New York, and the book is fun for that alone. You know it's sour grapes.

There's one James Bond book that I don't have and can't seem to lay my hands on. The great English writer Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim and winner of the Booker prize for The Old Devils, who also produced a Bond novel of his own, wrote The Book of Bond, or: Every Man his Own 007. Given Amis's wit and self-awareness, his avowed consumption of manly garbage like the Flashman books coupled with his evident erudition, I am betting this book embraces and ridicules Bond in equal measure. I'll have myself a copy someday, and if it doesn't live up to my expectations, well maybe I'll have to write a version of my own.

"Of all the doom-fraught graffiti a woman can write upon a wall, those are the most insidious, the most deadly.
Upon reflection, I am wondering about
The Equally-Talented-But-In-Different-Ways Cousin Tim's request. Our Tim is something of a sly little Chinese-speaking law-school cousin-in-law, and he has a wicked sense of humor. There is every possibility that he knew I wouldn't lend those books to anyone short of Daniel Craig, and that he asked me just to get a kick out of watching me squirm.

If that's the case, Tim, my friend, you must remember: Revenge is not hard to fathom for a man who believes in nothing. Cue theme.