James Bond: The Legacy

by John Cork and Bruce Scivally

Published by Harry N Abrams

320 pages, 2002

The Bond Files

by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson

Published by Virgin Publishing

448 pages, 2002

Goldfinger

by Adrian Turner

Published by Bloomsbury USA

224 pages, 2001

 

The Rough Guide James Bond

Published by Rough Guides

272 pages, 2003

Bond On Set

by Greg Williams

Published by Boxtree

James Bond Movie Posters

by Tony Nourmand

Published by Chronicle Books

207 pages, 2002

 

 

 

Booking Time With James Bond

Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum

 

James Bond may be known farther and wider today for his movie adventures, but he was first a product of the written word. He got his start as a figment of journalist Ian Fleming's imagination in a series of novels that started in 1953 and continues to this day. Though Fleming died in 1964 after 12 novels and two books of short stories, the tradition was carried on by Kingsley Amis (under the name Robert Markham), John Gardner and Raymond Benson.

The Bond canon is filled with unforgettable names like Goldfinger, Blofeld, Pussy Galore, Mary Goodnight, Dr. No, Odd Job, Holly Goodhead and others. It's also wall-to-wall with classic titles that have become part of our global lexicon: From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die, to name just a few.

One would be hard-pressed not to find some manner of Bond influence in virtually every subset of our society today: music and books, certainly, plus advertising, movies and moviemaking, television, alcohol, cars, politics, social mores, even our definition of what constitutes "sexy" or "masculine." Once he arrived, James Bond was here to stay.

As part of the massive multimedia blitz that has accompanied the 20th Bond film, Die Another Day, many publishers have seen fit to put 007 into books aplenty. Here, I'll try and give you some guidance as to where to go, and which to avoid.

Getting the legacy down on paper.

By far the best of these is James Bond: The Legacy, written by longtime Bond enthusiast John Cork, with Bruce Scivally. For 320 extremely oversized pages, Cork and Scivally present everything there is to know about James Bond. I know a few things myself, some of them not so common, and every time I thought they'd go without mentioning one of them, they did, besting me at every turn. The book is filled with endless tales about Fleming, the Bond books and how they came to be written, the first inklings that Bond might be the stuff of movies, the development of each film -- and the worldwide response that followed it.

The Legacy takes its title seriously. In addition to providing encyclopedic information about the books and the films through Die Another Day -- with enough behind-the-scenes material and interviews with the filmmakers to keep you reading long into many nights -- the authors go to the considerable trouble of placing each and every Bond exploit into political and sociopolitical context. This is an amazing touch, for 007 has always been influenced, even steered, by world events -- certainly as much as he himself has steered them. While in the first few chapters this is fascinating, in later sections it explains why the Bond producers made the films they made. In all cases, it makes this book considerably more than just a fan-made lovefest. It's a treatise on a unique intersection between art and culture and politics.

In the end, the story behind Bond is as gripping as any of Bond's fictional adventures -- and it was certainly an adventure keeping the Bond franchise alive all these years.

No slouch when it comes to words, The Legacy is also generous with images, most of them never before published. There are publicity shots, poster art, lots of behind-the-scenes stuff. You name it, it's here -- and in the tradition of Abrams, the publisher, the book looks and feels as rich as anything that might be deemed worthy of the Bond imprimatur.

One of the book's highlights actually comes at the end, when virtually everyone who ever had a hand in making a Bond film is given a moment to talk about his or her experience. Sean Connery, original producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, film directors, screenwriters, actors and actresses, special effects people, composers, singers and on and on ... Each one has a point of view, a unique perspective and they're given a few lines to share it. It's a touch that made me smile -- and that was before I started reading them.

James Bond: The Legacy is a bargain at any price.

Smaller books with smaller scope.

The Bond Files, by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson, was originally published a few years back, and it's now been updated with material about Die Another Day. It includes a Bond timeline and a very organized look at each one of Bond's adventures in novels and stories, on screen, on television, in comic strips, in games, in spoofs and more. Each section provides an overview, and brief looks at the villains and gadgets and girls and such. Interesting? Sure. But with not one photograph, it pales in comparison to The Legacy. More important, though, I found the book's tone a little lacking; it's terribly cold. I got the feeling the authors had taken on this project as a school assignment and delivered something they never quite connected with.

Tone is something Goldfinger by Adrian Turner has in spades. After writing this, Turner's tongue is probably wedged into his cheek permanently. The book is an in-depth dictionary of sorts, with an intense focus on the 1964 movie (the third in the series), and it's not intended as a definitive history of the film as much as a peek into how and why it was made, who was involved and what its impact has been. In a way, it's just a perfunctory look behind the satin curtain, as it were. There's a lot of background, especially in interviews with director Guy Hamilton. There are biographical snippets about the actors, facts about the plot, the gadgets, the locales, and the famous Aston Martin. If Goldfinger is your passion, then by all means pick it up.

The Little Book of Bond is a fairly useless edition, comprised entirely of cheesy, 60s-style illustrations and lines of dialogue lifted from the films. It's certainly fun enough, but reading the great Bond lines isn't as great as watching the movies they come from.

Bond likes it rough.

If you want a pocket guide to everything Bond, then The Rough Guide to James Bond is ideal. Turning its pages, I was amazed at how much information was crammed into such a small space. While none of it is particularly brilliant or illuminating, I found the book compelling. There are chapters devoted to Bond's origins, the books, the movies, the five actors who've played Bond on-screen, the girls, the villains, the gadgets, the music and the give-and-take between Bond and the real world that's supported him all these decades. Even the locations are examined -- and so are some of the key memorabilia. Written in a light, breezy style, The Rough Guide to James Bond follows the many travel guides the Rough Guides people have published; they treat Bond as a world unto his own, and they tell you everything you'd ever want to know about it. While the book contains several photographs, all in black-and-white, in this case it's not the images that make the book; it's the obvious respect the writers have for their subject.

Photograph another day.

Bond On Set is a book that purports to be about the making of Die Another Day, told entirely through photographs. Instead, it's a book that will give you a sense of what it might have been like to be on-set every day. There's not much here in terms of moviemaking, but it excels at showing the interplay between the actors and the filmmakers. I actually had a great time with this book; the photographs are gorgeous, in crisp black and white, which gives them an elegance that Fleming, I think, would have loved. While documenting the Bond of the new millennium, the overall look of the book reminds one of his history and legacy as a classic.

The art of 007.

James Bond Movie Posters is just what it says it is: a book of reproductions of the poster art. No other film series has advanced or expanded the art of the movie poster as 007 has. In a grand sweep from almost casual illustration to photographs to a sharper illustration style, the posters are often beautiful.

In particular, I love the way the styles shift over the years, from the laid-back, almost sketchy designs of the 1960s to the collage-like efforts of the 70s, from the almost schizophrenic 80s, when posters fluctuated between Bond-as-hero and Bond as part of the collage, and into the 90s, when Bond became somewhat more photographic.

(Though not included in the book, the artwork for Die Another Day takes Bond to a new place. For the first time, Bond is equal on the poster to the Bond girl -- in this case, Halle Berry. Side by side, guns shoved out as far as possible, they're sort of twin erections of violence.)

Nor is the Movie Posters book a mere rehash of the posters you know. Also included are concept art, unused ideas, rare door panels, bus posters, teasers and more. My favorites? The three primary posters for You Only Live Twice, in which Bond is alternately being washed by several Japanese women, flying the Little Nellie gyrocopter and walking upside down inside the volcano lair of his nemesis Blofeld. I also love the teaser poster for The Man with the Golden Gun, which illustrates the gun disassembled into its component parts: a cigarette lighter, a cigarette case, a pen and a cufflink, all solid gold.

It all started with Fleming. Ian Fleming.

Of course, no feature about Bond books would be complete without offering Ian Fleming a seat at the table. Recently, Penguin has begun reissuing the original novels (though not in the original order of publication). Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Casino Royale are the first out, and each has new cover art that calls to mind book covers from the 1950s -- all sex and allure and suavity.

All the authors who have books mentioned above would agree that it was Fleming's unique creation that started it all. The sweep of his plotlines, the shameless dropping of name brands, the playful girls, the overdrawn villains, Bond's dark edge and almost inhuman determination to do honor to the business of spying -- Fleming started something in the early 1950s that hasn't been replicated since and likely never will be. He created an icon for whom being an icon meant nothing. He just wanted to do his job and enjoy life on his own terms. This would describe Fleming as well.

At the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, just after his wife Tracy is murdered by Blofeld, Bond mutters tearfully, "We have all the time in the world." Too bad Fleming didn't; he died in 1964, a few months before the release of Goldfinger, the film that made his hero a global sensation. | January 2003

 

Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.

 

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