The new blond Bond has a surprising amount in common with the brunette original – precisely for the reasons he’s been bashed, says Mark Simpson
(Out, November, 2006)
BOND IS BLOND! He’s smooth! He works out! He doesn’t have any eyebrows! He kissed a guy!
Ever since English actor Daniel Craig was cast last year as the U.K.’s most famous spy—and the face of the world’s most successful, longest-running blockbuster brand—the British popular press and Bond fanboys have been up in arms, shrieking about his unsuitability for the role.
They complain about all sorts of supposed failings, including that he required coaching to handle a gun and play poker, and that he snogged another male on film (as Francis Bacon’s lover in Love Is the Devil and also in Infamous). Apparently, you see, he’s “not manly enough” to play cinema’s most famous action hero. Essentially, they’ve got their off-white tighty whities in a twist because Bond has gone metrosexual.
However, there is something that needs to be pointed out here, like the pleasing bulge of a Walther PKK semiautomatic in a Savile Row trouser pocket: The early Bond movies were thrillingly perverse, shockingly sexy, and not a little queer. This will traumatize millions, but the original James Bond, by the dingy, stringy-vested, “no sex please it’s bath night” standards of early 1960s Britain was something of a metrosexual, albeit a latent one (he’s a secret agent, after all).
Watching again the very first Bond film, Dr. No—released 44 years ago and played a zillion times on TV and cable but nevertheless still something of a revelation—I’m struck by a number of things about the original Mr. Bond, supposedly the gold standard of authentic masculinity and virility in an increasingly sissified world:
(1) His fake tan
(2) His full, glossy, pink lips, much more luscious than Ursula Andress’s (or even Tom’s in the Missy Impossible franchise)
(3) His worked-out body (Connery represented Scotland in the Mr. Universe contest in 1953.)
(4) His fine tailoring, careful grooming, and manicured hands
(5) His fetish for gadgets and gizmos
(6) His taste for fussy cocktails (shaken, not stirred)
(7) His wigs (Connery went bald in his early 20s.)
(8)His overacting in the famous big-hairy-spider-in-bed scene….
Add to this damning list of charges his fondness for exotic locations, the company of high-fashion models, and all those gorgeous, exquisite interiors-not to mention his incurable bachelorhood-and Bond is practically a blackmail target (male homosexuality remained illegal in England until 1967).
Perhaps this is why the evil-genius villains always had to be so camp and fussy, with their cats, cigarette holders, leather gloves, comically butch factotums, and makeover plans for the world. And perhaps also why Bond has to be so nasty to the ladies-though his sadism merely makes him all the more perverse and kinky. Even his ferociously, frequently fatal (for the ladies) hetero promiscuity is deviant by the buttoned-up standards of the era: As the trailers put it at the time, “He’s licensed to kill-when he likes, whom he likes, where he likes.”
Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 (Connery was one of them) were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made — although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.
Connery’s Bond, by contrast, is a vain single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual — a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.
But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.
With the possible and very brief exception of George “legs” Lazenby (he made only one Bond movie in 1969; he has spent much of his subsequent career playing a lothario in a different franchise-the soft-porn Emmanuelle series), none of the other Bonds that came after have the charge, the sexiness, the perversity, the prophecy of Connery’s ‘60s Bond. Ironically, it has been left to anyone other than Bond to realize the latent metrosexuality of the original, or even just maintain its charge. Bond has gone backwards toward the wall while the world’s males have leaned over forwards. Pretty boys Matt Damon and Tom Cruise in their respective Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible Bond knockoff incarnations are closer to the real spirit of Bond than, well, Bond.
For starters, neither Roger Moore nor Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan even have bodies. They’re clotheshorses embalmed in hair spray - 1950s knitwear catalog models. In fact, this is exactly what Roger Moore was before his TV career took off. By the time of his last outing in Die Another Day, Brosnan looked like a 1950s knitwear model trapped inside a computer game. And as for the sex scenes… well, they look like abuse. Of Brosnan. After Connery’s bit of polished ‘60s rough, James Bond seemed to be frightened of his own sexuality, of giving away too much.
Yes, post-‘80s, feminism may have finally been acknowledged: Brosnan’s boss is female. And the Bond girls may have become less, well, girly (e.g., Halle Berry in Die Another Day as the high-kicking sidekick), but this just makes Bond’s own masculinity all the more unconvincing. Worse, it makes it extremely unappealing.
Paradoxically, we now live in a world where England’s sweaty soccer team can be captained by the most metrosexual male alive, but England’s imaginary spy of the silver screen, who helped make Beckham’s generation what it is, has to be more retro than metro.
Until now. The makers of the Bond films seem to have finally woken up to the problem. They have not renewed hairy brunet Brosnan’s contract and have instead cast smooth, blond Craig in the role for the next three films-the first Bond actor who was born after Fleming’s death. Underlining this overdue remodeling, the makers have announced that Casino Royale is a “reboot” of the brand that will wipe out the previous cinematic time line. Bond is being reborn. Perhaps as what he promised us he could be 44 years ago.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2009