Live and Let Die

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Project Bond has been a bit out of whack over the last month, initially due to holidays and then latterly thanks to tragic DVD player heartache. But now we are BACK and on schedule with the first of the Roger Moores!

Unknown-2Summary: in which James Bond takes an excruciatingly long time to deal with a voodoo-manipulating, heroin-dealing president of a fictional Caribbean island. There are not enough alligators, chases, or explosions.

Alex: it took us two nights to watch this film. After 80 minutes, with another 40 still to go, we cracked it: it was so boring. How does a film with probably the greatest theme song of the oeuvre, and Roger Moore’s introduction, get to be so dull?

You want to know the plot? OK. Three British agents have been killed and their deaths have all been connected to the island nation of San Monique. Bond is sent in to find out what’s going on. There’s clearly something weird going on with Kananga, the president, and it turns out that he is growing opium poppies… and somehow finding time to also be Mr Big, a drug boss in New Orleans. Bond steals Kananga’s Tarot-reading fortune-teller, Solitaire; foils all of his plans; and lives happily ever after the end.

It should not have been so boring. Why was it boring? Because the chase sequences – and there are some really awesome ones – like the boats! brilliant! – Just. Go. On. And on. The cinematography doesn’t help: the angles are weird and don’t create any tension whatsoever. It’s a quintessential villains-revealing-all-their-plans story, which is also boring. There is so much that could have been done with a discussion of politics – why would a foreign president want to flood the American market with free heroin, and then sell it when there are many more users? I can imagine this working in the 21st century: what a way to kickstart your economy after the GFC. But motivation never gets discussed; instead the villains are just… villains. And the dialogue is utterly lacking in zing. And and there’s a lot of dead air with girls.

Perhaps the most interesting moment from a Bond perspective is the opening: Bond is in bed with an Italian spy, then M arrives… because Bond is at home. At home. Bond has a home! This is the first time in any Bond movie that Bond is even vaguely domestic, which is rather exciting. In order to distract M from the woman, Bond makes M coffee. In his kitchen. With a really remarkable coffee machine – which makes M ask “is that all it does?” But the point is, Bond has a house and occasionally uses it. That’s cool.

Anyway. This movie is boring but it has a lot for discussing about gender, and about race. This starts with the credits, where there are remarkably nude black women doing some dance-y, vaguely white-version-of-voodoo, moves.

Let’s start with race. It must be said that I am white, so of course that makes my perception. Other readings are absolutely welcomed… because I think that Bond as a character is remarkably unracist. He’s a images-1condescending son of a gun, but he’s that way with (white) Leiter as well as, in this film, as well as the black CIA man and the black henchmen. And he has no problem with sleeping with non-white women, as has been demonstrated here and in previous movies. This is not to say that the film is not racist; it would have been hard pressed not to verge on racism: all of the villains are black, and it uses (a 1970s white version of) voodoo as a plot device. In some ways the black villains are actually egalitarian: Bond treats them in exactly the same way as he treats white villains (with contempt). And Kananga is certainly shown to be intelligent: he outwits the CIA eavesdropping with ease. There’s an interesting moment of the film being self-aware of what it’s doing: white tourists are shown watching a ‘voodoo’ show that’s being performed specifically for tourists. In much the same way that voodoo is being used by the film, for voyeuristic purposes, epitomising the fetishising of the Other. Also, just for a wee nod to continuity, Bond goes out on a fishing charter… with Quarrel Jr. There is no way this can actually be Quarrel-from-Dr No‘s son, but it’s a humorous Easter egg anyway. (Others are avoided; Bond order a bourbon, no ice, instead of a martini.)

On the topic of racism, the most revolting character in the film is white. A ludicrous, stereotyped, good ol’ southern boy sheriff, complete with chewin’ ‘baccy. He’s so awful it’s not even funny.

Unknown-1And then there’s the gender stuff. Bond sleeps with three women. The first is an Italian spy; I’m not even sure she’s named, and she barely speaks. Then
there’s the black, female CIA operative who turns out to be The Bad One (I feel I should be keeping score). It looks like she will hold out for at least 5 minutes – saying “Felix warned me there would be moments like these.” Bond replies: “What did good old Felix suggest?” “If all else fails, cyanide pills. I settled for two rooms” – which is GOLD. And is completely spoiled by freaking out about a (presumably) voodoo curse, and insisting “please don’t leave me alone tonight” (Bond replies “All right dear, if you insist.” There’s also a moment later where she tries to convince him not to kill her, because they’ve just had sex – “you wouldn’t, not after what we’ve just done” – to which Bond replies “well I certainly wouldn’t have done it before.” URGH.) However, this pales in comparison to the role of Solitaire. Solitaire is played by Jane Seymour, in her first big role, and I simply cannot see her as anything other than Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman (which means Roger Moore ought to have waaay more hair, and be wearing leather… I was SUCH a sucker for that show). Solitaire is a pawn, more than any other Bond girl to this point. Other women may have been passing fancies for UnknownBond; other women might have moved between the villain and Bond; but Solitaire is nothing but an object to both. Kananga is outraged that Solitaire sleeps with Bond partly because it means her Tarot ability is gone, but largely because, he says: “when the proper time came, I would have given you love – you knew that!” So not only did you remove your gift from my keeping, you also had sex with a man other than me. Bond is no better; he wants her simply for what she represents: a means of screwing with Kananga. He seduces her in the most disgusting, despicable manner: coldly manipulating her belief in the Tarot by making her pick the Lovers card… from a stack that was entirely Lovers cards. He thereby ruins her entire life, and makes her think that she had no choice because it’s what the cards willed – and they have never lied. I hated Bond in that moment, and it’s going to take me a while to get over it.

On an aesthetic level: I like Moore’s voice, but I Do Not Understand a cleft chin. And the lines are so so cheesy that I can’t ever take him seriously as either an action man or a romantic lead.

I wanted to embed this video, but it’s a bit dodgy so I’ll just give you a link. Yes, the Wings theme song is one of the best Bond songs ever; yes the Gunners cover is awesome. However, Chrissie Hynde (the UnknownPretenders) does THE best version, hands down. This is on the same compilation as the Iggy Pop covering “We have all the time in the world,” and if those two covers together don’t want you to go out and get Shaken and Stirred, you are not as big a fan of these songs as I am.

James: Awful.

0 Martinis. (Although you might need 4 or 5 to get through it.) You do get to see Bond run across some alligators like it’s a game of Frogger, though.


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