Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
When at their first meeting in Skyfall a rather forwards Raul Silva, played by a bleached-blond Javier Bardem, takes caddish advantage of James Bond’s/Daniel Craig’s indisposition – tied as he is to a chair – running his hands over 007’s craggy face, ripped chest and powerful thighs, and flirtatiously-threatingly suggesting “Well, first time for everything, Bond…” you could feel the audience in my local cinema freeze.
And when Bond delivered the now-famous laconic retort “What makes you think it’s my first time?” you could hear the audience’s sharp intake of breath over the THX sound system. Wot?! James Bond a bender!?!
Oh bloody hell!, I wanted to shout out, at Raul, the audience and the world in general. Has ANYONE been paying attention? Of COURSE it’s not Bond’s first time! In Casino Royale Bond tried a spot of CBT with Mr Big and his knotted rope, while tied to a RIMCHAIR!!
Craig’s Bond proved a sensation on screen, one which finally realised the tarty promise of Sean Connery’s beefily glamorous, disturbing sexuality in 1962’s Dr No – long since forgotten in the sexless knitwear catalogue model Bonds of the 70s-90s. By reconnecting Bond to the metrosexy revolution in masculine aesthetics, the male desire to be desired, that the original Bond movies anticipated but which had been left to other movies to exploit, Casino delivered us Bond as a 21st Century fully-fledged, self-objectifying sex-object. Bond as his own Bond girl. Hence Craig’s Ursula Andress in Speedos moment.
So when Silva has a good feel of Bond’s pecs and thighs in Skyfall he’s just doing what pretty much everyone, male and female, has wanted to do since Casino Royale.
If Casino Royale outed Bond’s omnisexual tartiness, Skyfall, which is at least as good a movie – effacing the mortifying memory of Quantum of Solace – outs the queerness of the Bond villain. Someone who was often implicitly coded queer (those cats, those cigarette holders, those hulking goons), partly as a way of making unmarried, shaken-not-stirred Bond seem straighter. After all those decades of coding, Bardem’s openly flirtatious swishy villainy seems exhilirating. It’s certainly a great pleasure to watch.
Though, like Bond, Silva isn’t actually gay. As a result of the speculation surrounding Bond’s ‘shocking’ admission of his bi-curious past in Skyfall Craig was asked in an interview recently whether he thinks there could ever be a ‘gay James Bond’. “No,” he replied, “because he’s not gay. And I don’t think Javier [Bardem’s] character is either — I think he’d fuck anything.”
Much like Bond, then.
What’s ‘gay’ about Skyfall isn’t the thigh-squeezing, or even Daniel Craig’s circuit party tits (which I’m happy to report are regularly on display again) it’s the glorious camp excess. “Was that meant for me?” Bond asks Silva during an underground pursuit, after he detonates a bomb behind our hero by remote control, blowing a hole in the roof of the vault. “No,” deadpans Silva. “But this is.” Right on cue a tube train falls through the hole, headed for Bond, while Silva disappears up a ladder.
Some film critics complained that this scene is ‘over the top’. This makes me wonder: a) What kind of movie franchise they think Bond is, and b) Whether they have any sense of humour at all.
The whole premise of Skyfall is of course pretty camp: that Silva, a former ‘favourite’ agent of M’s is going to so much trouble – hacking MI6, stealing, decrypting and publishing lists of secret Nato agents, blowing up the MI6 building, personally storming the Houses of Parliament dressed as a David Walliams character – just to get his own back on M (played by gay icon Judi Dench) for dropping him.
That’s some hissy fit.
Fortunately camp isn’t code here for ‘crap’. It’s a testament to Bardem’s skill as an actor and Sam Mendes direction that he’s vividly, entrancingly menacing. He steals every scene he’s in. Actually, his hair steals every scene he’s in. What’s more, you really feel, perhaps for the first time, that this Bond villain has a point. After all, what kind of fucked up family is MI6? Particularly since in the opening scene of the movie Bond is betrayed too – badly wounded and nearly killed after M orders another MI6 agent to take a dodgy shot at the baddie Bond is battling (atop a moving train, of course). ‘M’ is for ‘Mother’ – bad Mother.
Skyfall is very queer psychodrama – delving deep into the twisted family romance of MI6 and the orphan Bond’s quasi incestuous devotion to M. Silva may be on a deliciously queenie rampage, but we all know that it’s Dame Judi who is the real (Virgin) Queen. When Craig appeared in that embarrassing clip for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics this Summer it was quite clear to everyone that constitutional monarch Elizabeth Windsor was Judi’s mere understudy. M has the power of life and death, after all.
Silva’s first scene with Bond – ‘Do you like my island Mr Bond?’ – is gripping, and not just in a groping sort of way. But the scene where he meets M and denounces her crimes and invites her to gaze upon her handiwork trumps it as a piece of pure theatre. Again, it’s deliberately overwrought – but then, so is any family romance. Even the ruthless, steely M is clearly affected by this confrontation with her aborted boy toy.
Perhaps because there’s not enough Bardem in it, the shoot-em up final reel is a bit of an anti-climax after the emotional tube-train crash of the first couple of hours. Even in a Bond film as Freudian as this one it is too symbolic for its own good. More like a bad dream than a finale, Bond and M – and an ancient Albert Finney – are holed up in his family estate in the Scottish Highlands, which he hasn’t visited since his father died when he was a boy. His buried past, in other words.
The Gothic, mouldering pile is called ‘Skyfall’ – a name which is possibly intended to bring to mind God’s favourite, Lucifer, being cast out of heaven. Sure enough, Silva, the agent who was cast out of MI6 by M, arrives with his goons and start shooting the place up in the kind of pyrotechnic assault we’ve seen in a hundred other movies.
Though as with the rest of Skyfall, the final reel is beautifully lit. The attack begins at dusk (Lucifer is the ‘evening star’) and the light progressively turns bluer until it is as dark as death, the only light the hellish orange of Bond’s ancestral home aflame. Like the family romance itself, Skyfall is suffused with nostalgia. Nostalgia for the Bond franchise (it’s a half century since Dr No was released). Nostalgia for 1960s aesthetics. Nostalgia for Britain and Britishness. For the Mother Country. And mother-love.
Heavily pregnant with symbolism, Bond and his Secret Service mother drive to their Highland honeymoon from hell in his Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 he’s kept in a London lock-up, presumably since the 1960s. On the way he displays what Freud would call his ‘ambivalence’ by jokingly threatening M with the ejector seat, fingering the red button on his gear stick. Of course, Bond never repudiates his mother-love and remains true to Judi.
However, it won’t be giving too much away to say that Skyfall does finally press that button on 007’s behalf.
This review was originally written for the adult site Nightcharm
The animated gif above will save you £8 and 109 minutes of disappointment.
Yes, I’ve done my invert duty and been to see Magic Mike. Which, according to The New York Times, gay men are ‘flocking’ to see in numbers not seen since Brokeback Mountain.
Even if they’re not all as jaded as me I think they’re going to be very disappointed. And not because in Magic Mike gay or bisexual men don’t exist, even as a famously generously tipping audience for male stripping – except as a punchline. In one ‘hilarious’ scene Alex Pettyfer’s uptight sister thinks for a hairy moment he might be gay because he’s shaving his legs. Phew! He’s not gay. He’s amale stripper!
No the betrayal is much, much worse than any of that. And judging by how quickly the mostly female audience in my cinema auditorium stopped giggling and having fun it’s not just The Gays who are going to feel betrayed.
Magic Mike just doesn’t deliver the goods. The junk stays in the trunks. It’s a 110 minute prick-tease without any pricks and very little tease. Most unforgivably of all, this male stripper movie – starring Channing Tatum – wants to be taken seriously. It thinks it has a plot.
And the plot is… another fucking Hollywood morality tale. Will Tatum manage to escape the sleazy, druggy, boys-together world of male stripping and Alex Pettyfer’s winsome grin and end up with his judgey, bossy sister, Cody Horn?
Especially since there’s not nearly enough sleaze on display. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored. Oh, yes, I remember now. Watching Brokeback Mountain.
Fatally, this stripper movie has no sense of timing. Not just in the literally pointless strip routines. Magic Mike suffers from perhaps the worst case of premature ejaculation in cinema history. Two minutes into the film you get the money shot – two seconds of Tatum’s smooth bubble-butt in all its firm, bouncy glory heading for his en-suite in digital Panavision. Which is very nice.
But that, as they say, is a wrap.
Except you’ve got another 108 minutes to go. Another 108 minutes in which as far as I can remember you never see Tatum’s ass properly again. In this movie about male stripping and the commodification of the male body. Given that you can see Tatum’s bouncy ass scene for free in a trailer for the movie it’s the con of Captain America all over again – but even more of rip off. The wrong kind of rip off.
It goes without saying that you never even glimpse his cock. Floppy or otherwise. Or even a dangly bollock. It is, after all, Hollywood, and while Tatum may have worked as a male stripper in the past and worked that past to get where he is, he is now a Proper Hollywood Star and Proper Hollywood Stars don’t show you their cocks. Because that would be low class. Especially in a move about male stripping.
And apart from a glimpse of a couple of silhouettes of clearly prosthetic penises you don’t see anyone else’s cock, either, floppy or otherwise. Magic Mike is essentially a movie about cockless male strippers. Male stripping with no stripping. Which could have been interesting in an avant-garde, sadistic sort of way. But of course, it’s really not that sort of movie.
Maybe I underestimate the director Steven Soderbergh. Maybe he decided to ruin his career by deliberately making a crowd-pleasing summer movie that didn’t please anyone.
A more likely explanation however is that Soderbergh was frantically trying not to scare straight male punters. And safely sublimated homoerotic sub-plots aside, he does work overtime in this movie to reassure that the male strippers are all a) straight and b) dudes. But if he was pandering to straight men he failed there too. Straight men search online for pictures of (big) dick as much as they do for pussy. They are going to be at least as disappointed as everyone else. Except maybe lesbians.
What’s going on here is yet another instance of the puritannical American Phalliban at work. Protecting the sanctity and power of the phallus by making sure the cock is never shown in public. After all, no matter how freakish, the cock never lives up to the promise of the phallus. Even if Magic Mike had the balls to show us… balls it would still have been something of an anti-climax. As I put it in Male Impersonators back in 1994 (which, let’s face it, is really the era when Magic Mike is set):
‘The myth of male stripping mesmerises precisely because it contradicts itself with every discarded item… No matter how freakish his genital attributes, no matter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no matter how frantically it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phallus: the climactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’
Femininity is traditionally seen and represented in Hollywood movies as ‘masquerade’. The clothes, the hair, the breasts, the heels, the make-up all stand in for the ‘missing’ phallus. Masculinity meanwhile is meant to just be there. Because men have the phallus. Women appear. Men act. Or so the traditional reasoning went.
But Magic Mike, because it’s a cockless movie about male stripping, is, inadvertently, a good if boring example of masculinity as masquerade. With thongs and leather and cop uniforms and oiled tanned pecs and really bad, unsexy dance routines standing in for the phallus. A kind of male Showgirls, without the camp or the fun. Or the ‘show’. There’s a scene where Tatum is dancing dressed in a thong, a SWAT cap and black webbing ammunition pouches over his torso. It looks like a butch basque.
Perhaps because it can’t show us dick, and because it’s trying to reassure an imagined straight male punter, Magic Mike does though keep ramming down our throats that the men have cocks and women don’t – and is mostly unable to negotiate women’s active, assertive sexuality, something that of course the commodification of cocks so characteristic of today’s culture is based on.
By way of a pep talk Matthew McConaughey, who plays (with real relish) the owner of the male strip club, likes to ask his male dancers: “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.”
Or as Tatum, dressed as a cop in the now famous opening scene of the main trailer says to a nervous sorority girl he’s about to frisk:
Mike: You don’t have anything sharp on you that I can stick myself with, do you? Kim: No. Mike: Good. ‘Cause I do!
[rips off pants, women scream]
But does he? After all, we only have his word for it. And anyway, those words are highly unreliable. Don’t his words actually tell a different story to the one the movie is telling us? Don’t they say either:
a) I have a penis large enough to fuck myself with — please allow me to demonstrate
b) Stand back ladies and watch me use my night stick on myself!
Sadly, he doesn’t do either, of course. That’s an entirely different and much more watchable movie. One that I suspect we might have been able to see if Channing Tatum hadn’t had the misfortune to become a Hollywood star, and instead of being condemned to theatrical releases on the big screen had graduated from stripping in South Florida clubs to live shows on our PC screens.
When I first saw the trailer for ‘Weekend’ it seemed to be a tale of two beards that meet in a gay club in Nottingham on a Friday night and then proceed fall for one another over the next couple of days in a council flat.
And then I watched it. Once I got past the beards, ‘Weekend’ was the first ‘gay film’ I’d seen in a long time that didn’t make me cringe. In fact, it was the first British film I’d seen in a long time that didn’t make me cringe.
It’s really rather good, with both Chris New as opinionated, apparently uninhibited Glen and Tom Cullen as shy, lonely Russell turning in fine performances. They have an on-screen chemistry which makes you feel you are watching something genuinely intimate and delicate unfold.
And while I still stick to my argument here that the era of the melodramatic genre of the Big Gay Movie ushered in by ‘Victim’ in which the drama is about homophobia (internalised and externalised) and the narrative is about coming out and acceptance, has drawn to a close – at least in a Western context – ‘Weekend’ does seem to point to a future in which charming ‘small gay movies’ have a place. If that doesn’t sound too patronising.
I particularly liked the way ‘Weekend’ refused to resort to homophobia as a dramatic device, with Glen being quite obnoxiously gay assertive with some beery straight males in a pub but not getting bashed – instead, they panic when he accuses them of homophobia. Russell’s best friend is a straight man who is hurt that Russell won’t talk to him about his dates. There is a suggestion that perhaps Russell might be a bit ashamed of being gay, or at least, not as comfortable as he should be. But then again, neither is in-your-face Glen. The problem, whatever it is, isn’t society’s any more – even if society isn’t and may never be entirely as accepting as it pretends.
Some of the dialogue was cracking, and it reminded me in its freshness of the early 60s New Realist Cinema – the so-called kitchen sink dramas. Though of course it’s 50 years on so it’s a lot fruitier: “EREYOULOT!” Glen yells from Russell’s window half way up a tower block at some delinquents down below. “STOPFUCKINGABOUTOR I’LLCOMEDOWNTHEREANDRAPEYOURHOLES!!”
This might have been deliberate since ‘Weekend’ was set in Nottingham, and sometimes seemed to be a kind of 21st Century gay update of the early 60s Neo Realist classic ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’ (there’s even footage of Russell riding around on his bike like Albert Finney). Or ‘A Taste of Honey’ in which Geoff (Murray Melvin) meets a kind of angry gay male version of Jo (Rita Tushingham).
My only criticism – and of course I would have one – would be that unlike those 60s Neo Realist films I don’t really believe the film or the actors have much to do with the city they’re supposed to be living in. Nottingham is just a (very nicely shot) extra in the film. New/Glen you can maybe buy as a provincial gay, but Tom/Russell is supposed to be a working class foster kid working as a lifeguard and living in a high rise council flat, but often sounded posh. Even the way his flat is decorated looks a bit like a Shoreditch hipster’s idea of how a ‘poor provincial persons’ flat would look.
And those beards too seemed more East London than East Midlands. But if ‘Weekend’ had been set in East London perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed quite so ‘real’.