Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The death of my Bond

For the average viewer unencumbered by sentimentality -- if such a person can be said to exist -- the argument about who was the best James Bond seems to come down to a battle between the first and the most recent, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig.

For my generation, though, the answer was obvious: Roger Moore, who left us yesterday at age 89.

Sure, there were even some in my generation who were immune to Moore’s charms and gave all the credit to Connery, perhaps to curry favor with other cinephiles or perhaps just because they really believed it. (Their parents might have shown them Dr. No and Goldfinger before they showed them For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.) But I can’t ever give my heart to one of these other Bonds, because Moore always had it and always will.

So it saddened me considerably when I woke up to the news that my Bond was no more, even though he lived nearly 90 years and that is plenty of time.

The praise for Moore, especially from people like me, is surely spidering across the internet today, and I don’t expect to be able to add much unique to the conversation. I owe it to him to share a few words about the impression I always had of the man, though, even if it repeats what everyone else has already said about him.

The people who say they didn’t like Moore argued that he wasn’t taking the role seriously, though I think his sense of humor was one of the keys to what made him so great. I don’t want to say he was fully winking at the audience, but he was definitely attuned to the absurdity of the whole enterprise in a way not equalled outside of Woody Allen’s Casino Royale. (Which I have not actually seen, I’m only guessing.) The ribald way he made sexual innuendos gave him such a loveable sense of kookiness. He was charming and rakish and just plain goofy sometimes, and that was a lot of fun.

But don’t ever say that he was incapable of being serious. His earnest commitment to stopping the bomb at the circus in Octopussy, far and away my favorite Bond movie and the only one I’ve seen more than once, is equally memorable to me – in part because he plays the moment with deadly seriousness while wearing a clown outfit. In that moment where nuclear catastrophe was close at hand, he did not wink.

My love for Moore stems almost entirely from this one movie, as I’ve only seen three other Moore Bond movies, none of which I remember very well or fondly. I could seriously pick apart both Moonraker and A View to a Kill, slightly less so For Your Eyes Only. And Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me have all eluded me to this point. Maybe I’ll watch one this weekend.

But my love for Octopussy is strong. It was in the rotation of VHS tapes that I wore out when I was a kid. If I’d had one of these other movies on VHS, it might have been that movie I loved rather than Octopussy. But I like to think of Octopussy as rising above the mere convenience of its proximity to me, and being an underrated Bond movie in the grand scheme of things.

And because I watched it so much, I really loved and appreciated the way Moore had made that character his own. I can’t imagine any other Bond doing as funny a job of sliding down a bannister with a machine gun, and madly shooting away the ball-shaped ornament at the bottom before it crushed his own balls.

Moore was sometimes a goofy Bond, but that’s why I loved him. I’ll take it over Daniel Craig’s brooding, I’ll take it over Sean Connery’s suaveness, I’ll take it over Timothy Dalton’s weird kind of anger, I’ll take it over Pierce Brosnan’s breeziness, and I’ll definitely take it over George Lazenby’s ????. (I haven’t seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.)

Moore also becomes the first Bond to die, shepherding in an era of probable Bond death that might soon include Lazenby (77) and Connery (86). So something about that is also sad, as Bond – the longest running hero in film – was always thought to be immortal.

But Moore is no longer with us, and I will miss that wry presence he brought, that twinkle of mischief, that signal that he was just happy to be here and having a good time.

I’ll miss my Bond. 


thevoid99 said...

Though I'm more in that camp that prefers Connery, Craig, and Dalton. Roger Moore was the man that introduced me to James Bond as a kid and he holds a very special place in my heart. I just love the way he handles his business where he plays it cool and with a smile. He's not smug about it as he isn't afraid to display some humility. He was also very funny as I just loved how relax he was in his approach and would also provide little moments that makes him so endearing.

He is someone that I think in what a spy should be in some ways as someone who just plays it cool. My mother is a big Roger Moore fan. Not because he was Bond but also because he was Simon Templar. She and her family in Honduras LOVED The Saint as it was a show she grew up on and they were ecstatic when he became James Bond as she loved him more than Connery and everyone else that followed. The Spy Who Loved Me is her favorite Bond movie.

Reading all of the things about him yesterday were great but it's this personal story about this guy who met him at an airport as a kid that really touched me about what kind of a man Moore was. A man that was very humble and gracious towards his fans. He is a saint and will be missed.

Travis McClain said...

Roger Moore wasn't my favorite Bond, but he has long been the one that I've admired most as a human being. I remember reading an interview with him ages ago where he was asked yet again about how he felt being forever associated with that role.

He said that Audrey Hepburn had recruited him as a UNICEF ambassador, which was something that had become terribly important to him. There was some event or project or whatever that UNICEF wanted to have somewhere in Latin America, I think it was. They initially weren't getting anywhere, but when he started calling people, the doors opened up. He said something to the effect of, "They may not be interested in UNICEF, but they're always interest in James Bond, and as long as it gets us in the door, I'm fine with that."

I thought that was a noble use of celebrity. And it wasn't just something he did for a short time and moved on from, as often happens. He worked with UNICEF for decades, and it was one of the pieces of his legacy his family made sure to emphasize mattered most to him when they made their public statement about his passing.

I would certainly encourage you to go back through all seven of his Bond films at some point (go ahead and revisit the ones you've already seen, there's always a gag that plays better this time than last). If at all possible, track them down on Blu-ray Discs; they gorgeous. At the very least, one of the more recent DVD releases, because about ten years ago, he recorded commentary tracks for each of them.

What makes those tracks worth playing is that he frequently strayed from whatever was happening on-screen in the film to any number of personal anecdotes and reminisces of his personal and professional lives. There are whole scenes and sequences that pass where whatever he's talking about has nothing whatsoever to do with Bond, and it's delightful. His speaking voice was a bit monotonous (in the literal sense; very little in the way of different aural tones) and there were, through the course of seven two-hour commentary tracks, certain things that he thought of more than once and repeated. Obviously, committing to all seven is a bit much, but at least make time for one. Who knows? It might even take you on an all time high.

Derek Armstrong said...

Thanks, Travis and Void, for your lovely thoughts, and for turning me on to some future viewing material (not to mention new perspectives on Moore the man). Not only must I see his other Bond movies (of course) with the commentary (OF COURSE!!), but I'd like to familiarize myself with The Saint, since my only Saint so far has been (ahem) Val Kilmer. Appreciate the comments and don't know how I didn't see this before now to comment earlier -- my email notifications have been a bit screwed up lately. Thanks for reading!