Friday, 4 September 2015

007 Sean Connery Part One: International Man of Misogyny

Bond. James Bond. That's all you have to say really. The most simple and yet most enigmatic of introductions. Surname. First name, surname.

But those three words carry so much weight due to the innumerable connotations they bring to mind when uttered in that order, usually in a ridiculously suave manner. Espionage and action, brassy spy music, beautiful women, British stuff, gadgets, tuxedos, explosions, tuxedos surrounded by explosions, explosions in tuxedos...

"Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you over the sound of my tuxedo exploding."

James Bond is such an iconic character with such a clear set of who he is and what he represents, that he is more than merely a character, he is an archetype. As an archetype, he presents as a certain idealization of the male action hero, one which instantly recognisable and endlessly imitated or referenced.

Everyone knows who Bond is, right? How could you not? His influence on the popular consciousness is inescapable. Every women wants him and every man wants to be him. And perhaps the most iconic depiction of the Bond archetype is by the man who played him first (sorta).

Connery. Sean Connery.

Ah, Sean Connery. For many people, Connery IS James Bond. As the man who originated the role for the vast majority of people and the actor who is probably most closely associated with the character, it's rather understandable. Often the person who did it first or popularised it is the person people attach to the thing, rightly or wrongly. When people do Bond impressions, more often than not, they're actually doing Sean Connery impressions.

Connery made six official Bond films and one non-canon Bond film over the course of 21 years from 1962 to 1983. Since that's quite a bit to get to, I'm going to split my take on Connery's Bond over the course of two posts. The first, this one, will focus on the first four Bond films he made, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. The second post coming next week will focus on the remaining three films, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, and Never Say Never Again.

Connery is one of the most famous actors in film history, with a screen presence rarely matched conveyed through his sheer physicality and all encompassing charisma. Often voted the Sexiest Man Alive well into his GILF years, he is the embodiment of charm. When discussing Connery's immense appeal, I love to quote Cracked's esteemed John Cheese, "he's so fucking suave... his accent wears a tuxedo"

He didn't actually put on that tuxedo. It just materialised when he opened his mouth. 

What is it about his voice that is so captivating? It's deep and soothing which helps, with a slight lisp and that roguish yet utterly charming Scottish accent, which is somehow uniquely his. But it's more than that. It's the weight behind that voice. There is real gravitas there, something in his manner of speaking, the timbre and tone, the cadence of his voice that conveys supreme confidence and subsequently demands your attention.

Perhaps demands is the wrong word. It compels your attention. There is something undeniably attractive about that voice which draws you in. While Connery was undoubtedly an handsome man with his rugged yet somehow debonair looks, I honestly think he wouldn't have been thought as attractive he was without that voice.

This is from 1989 when he was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People magaine at age 59.
To put it in context, that was the same year he played Indiana Jones' father and the year I was born.

Now, I'm not trying to engage in age-shaming or anything like that. He obvious was still a good-looking man well into his 60s but honestly, it's not often a bald grandfather with an admittedly great moustache is considered the sexiest man alive.

Out of all the men then currently alive that year he was considered the sexiest. This is despite the fact he was no longer in the peak physical condition he was in his youth since his only physical activity at that stage was to wave his arm in frustration when kids went on his lawn.

Fun Fact: Connery wore a toupee throughout his tenure as James Bond. Connery's hair started thinning in his early-twenties, so in each and every Bond film he starred in, he wore a toupee to cover up his increasingly thinning hair. As a man currently suffering the same fate, I appreciate the fact that the sexiest man of the last century wore a toupee for his most famous role.

Again, still the sexiest man of the last century.. 

So it must be the voice then. It has to be. That voice. So suave you don't even realise it not only charmed your sock offs but also put them away in your drawer until you look at your bare feet. It is also immensely fun to imitate and do an impression of.

Which is why it is such a tragedy to know that he said the following words in his I'm-sorry-I-didn't-hear-what-you-were-saying-over-all-the-suave voice,
I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman--although I don't recommend doing it in the same way that you'd hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified--if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I'd do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do--by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else.
Goddamn-fucking-it. I heard that in his voice as I read it and it's still charming.

Goddammit Sean. Just stop it with the charm already you sexy devil.

That quote comes from a 1965 Playboy interview with Sean Connery as part of the promotion for that year's Thunderball. Now, I'll talk about Thunderball since it's probably the rapiest movie of all time but we'll get there.

Connery's problematic ideas about women have been well documented elsewhere online and I'll try not rehash what has already been said. Essentially in a gun-shell, the man has no problem with hitting a woman if, you know, she deserves it.

Usually because she's arguing a point you no longer want to argue and you just want her to shut up. But only after you've given fair warning, of course.

"But of course."

Yeeeaaah, that seems completely legit.

Of course there are arguments, which if they aren't necessarily defending Connery, do serve to at least contextualise his comments as a product of the time in which they were made, since it would seem that he was indeed a man of his time.

Just like when your grandfather makes that sorta kinda totally racist comment at Christmas dinner and everyone laughs it off awkwardly rather than call him out on it. Oh, he's just old and back then people had antiquated ideas about how you treat anyone who wasn't white, male, and/or straight.

And that's kinda how I want to frame the first four Connery Bond films. As architects from a different time. A time where it apparently was totally normal to dismiss a girl by slapping her on the ass and saying "man-talk" when you wanted to bro down with another man as Connery does in Goldfinger.

"She seems happy to see you, almost as though she'll be allowed to talk. Don't worry, I'll spank her and send her on her way.
It is a Tuesday after all"

But I'm getting ahead of misogyny, sorry, I mean of myself. The first proper James Bond film is Dr. No from 1962. What's interesting watching it from the lofty position of retrospect and progress in 2015 is just how most of the things we associate with Bond are there and how so many aren't.

For example, the character of James Bond is there right from the start. Although he will change somewhat over the years as he portrayed by different actors in different decades with different sensibilities, it's kinda striking how much Connery's Bond is recognisable as James Bond.

He's gruff but sophisticated, a killer with a mean streak but suave and oh so charming. A bit of a scoundrel and a booze-hound with a romantic feel who is nevertheless at times dismissive of, or at worst callous towards, his romantic partners.

"You're still here? It's time-for-my-next-conquest-followed-by-routine-afternoon-STD-test o'clock."

There are exotic locations (Jamaica) and extravagant action sequences, although nothing on the scale of later movies. Bond is all spy-y and does espionage things, occasionally in a tuxedo, sometimes not. The bad guy is a little over-the-top but again, nothing like later films in the franchise, although he does have a decent gimmick with the robot(?) hands which struggle to grasp metal poles [spoiler, I guess].

But there is also so much to indicate how drastically things have changed in the 50 odd years since the film's release. For example, as they discuss in the first James Bonding podcast, although it is neat to watch Bond set up the traps to tick him off if someone has broken into his room, like putting the hair across to the door, they show everything in real time. Whereas today this would be shown in a short montage, if shown at all, there is a whole scene dedicated to James Bond just putting powder on his suitcase for prints and so on.

However, let's stick to Bond's (mis)treatment of women since if we get into how pacing and editing have changed over the past 50 years of filmmaking, we'll never finish. Now, why I had brought up Connery's own problematic opinion of women earlier since it's rather interesting in light of Bond's undeniably sexist attitudes towards women, far beyond the cavalier manner in which the films treat women as disposable eye candy.

"Oh no, my dear. I'm sure you'll survive for the next film. You seem overly dressed though.
Say, what was your name, again?"

Again, I know that I'm not saying anything particularly new since the misogynous aspect of the Bond franchise is well documented but I still think it bears repeating. These movies have become classics of cinema in many cases, feeding a certain vision of ideal masculinity, and also of femininity.

For example, there is a girl-on-girl catfight in the middle of From Russia with Love just because. And not any girl-on-girl catfight but a gypsy catfight since might as well make it a bit racist in addition to being sexist. No sense in half-arsing it when you're being offensive.

Once again, this was not too unusual for the attitudes towards women at the time, however it does seem to predate the trope of saucy girl fighting which would become vogue in the 1970s, particularly with the rise of exploitation films and the short-lived women-in-prison genre.

Naturally, they end up doting on James Bond the next morning as his personalised sex slaves because patriarchy or something.

The entire plot of From Russia with Love is centred around a woman pretending to be in love with James Bond to set a trap for him with the promise of some decoder machine, only to actually fall in love with him after they meet because the power of boners is strong in this one. He's not even nice or romantic to her, constantly humping her for information rather than whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

MI6 and Bond are well aware that it is a trap right from the get-go, just like SPECTRE knows they will know but will be unable to resist the trap, so he never once falls for Tatiana's flirtations. Which is why he never treats with anything more that the impatient indignation a parent bestows a petulant child.

But that voice though. And he's just so masculine and dominant, how could any woman resist? Tatiana, the Russian operative unknowingly made turncoat by a SPECTRE wasn't even on board with the whole seduce Bond to trap him thing. She is forced to under threat of death.

Thank goodness for the magic of Sean Connery's penis then, right? Otherwise she might *gasp* not enjoyed the seduction and then it might be forced sexual coercion or rape.

"Remember when I said I think my mouth is too big and you said you think it's just the right size for you?
What did you mean by that excatly?"

And so we come to Goldfinger. I won't spend too much time on Goldfinger since I do really want to get to Thunderball but there are a number of things worth noting about Goldfinger. Firstly, this is the Bond film often cited by most people and critics as the best film in the franchise.

While I haven't seen every movie in the Bond series, I don't really agree with that opinion, preferring the film's predecessor, From Russia with Love. The former just has a more solid script where Goldfinger feels like a bunch of awesome scenes in search of a narrative.

From Russia with Love also includes the sheer awesomeness of Robert Shaw's performance as Red Grant and the fantastically terse, tight claustrophobic fight scene between Bond and Red Grant in the train compartment, which is, to quote John Kenneth Muir,
one of the cinema’s greatest fight scenes: the claustrophobic brawl between Bond and Grant inside a cramped train compartment. Today the fight scene remains incredibly impressive in terms of stunt choreography and editing. It still plays as absolutely brutal.
But I can see why Goldfinger is considered the best Bond film. It was the first in the series to really solidify the formula and iconography which is instantaneously identifiable as being James Bond. While From Russia has an exotic location in Turkey with some gadgetry like the spy case and spy stuff, Goldfinger took those elements to their natural conclusion, perfecting them in a sense.

Like the now standard golf scene.

Goldfinger sends Bond to Miami, Switzerland, and Fort Knox in Kentucky, he finally gets a full arsenal of gadgets in a briefing scene with Q, the henchman has an unique gimmick which makes him memorable, while the villain's plan is elaborate compared to the relatively pedestrian schemes of the previous two films.

Later films would take these elements to gross extremes, falling very quickly into highly camp extravagances, but in Goldfinger the ridiculous nature of the film is just kept in check, although it verges on the cartoony at points.

However, another Bond trope that the film introduced was that the first girl Bond sleeps with in the film will die in first act. For quite a long time, the first girl we're introduced as having a romantic relationship with Bond will die quite quickly so he can move on to the main girl. The film also hints at the later trope of three girls per Bond film, the doomed quickie, the main Bond girl, and the femme fatale.

The marketing really wanted people to know there would, despite rumours to the contrary, be girls in the movie.

The first girl we see with Bond in the film is Dink, who is immediately chased off by James when Felix Leiter comes round to brief him. Just to remind everyone, I already mentioned how Bond dismisses her by spanking her on the bum and telling her he and Felix are having man-talk. No further comment.

I would like to state that this is a film with a lesbian pilot captain called Pussy Galore who is turned straight by the power of James Bond's boner. Which really sucks since Pussy is a real kick ass character who initially takes no nonsense from Bond, telling him to turn off the charm since she is immune. I mean that is like telling the sun to turn off nuclear fusion, but still.

It's obvious that Ian Flemming had some issues with lesbianism since he really believed a good man would be able to set a lady who also like ladies straight with a forced kiss and wrestling in the hay. While that is terrible in its own right, it also diminishes Pussy as a character, even more that you could after naming your character Pussy.

Since her early stance that she is immune to Bond's charms isn't because she's a strong female character who won't succumb to the suave seduction that is Sean Connery saying hello, but because she has a different preference for genitalia and doesn't care for his manbits. They discuss this in some depth on the James Bonding episode on Goldfinger but the point bears repeating.

This is the look she gives him when he turns on the charm, which is the closet I've seen to a yeah-nah-just-stop-you're-embarrassing-yourself look, I've ever seen on screen.

And this leads us finally to Thunderball. There are some things about Thunderball that just make no sense, like the plot. Or why he uses a goddamn jetpack to only fly about 10 feet. Or why is so much of the film shot underwater. Or why does everyone keeps saying the word 'underwater' as an adjective. Or why the underwater love scene is a thing that exists.

But the part I really want to touch on here is the early scenes in the resort clinic where Bond is recuperating following a back injury after using the jetpack, again to fly 10 feet. While at the clinic, Bond flirts with his nurse, who really can't be bothered with his bullshit and tells him to behave.

At some point James is in a spinal traction machine which is supposed to sooth his back but is turned up to the highest setting by a bad guy and starts sex stretching Bond to death. He passes out but is saved by the nurse who came back in time to turn off the machine. She apologises profusely and hopes the doctor won't find out.

And immediately James extorts her into having sex with him in exchange for his silence...

"Uh no. Bad James, bad."

That is literally rape. He is coercing her to have sex with him against her will by blackmailing her. Of course immediately after they have sex it's all good since she now wants him because of that magic Bond genitalia but seriously, how was this okay?

However I must give the movie due credit. Later in the film, after femme fatale Fiona Volpe and Bond have had sex and then the villains goons trap him, they essentially have an one-off match of who cared less about having sex with the other. Bond gets in some dig of not enjoying it and doing it for King and country but Fiona gets in the most damning and critical jab,
But of course, I forgot your ego, Mister Bond. James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, then immediately returns to the side of right and virtue. But not this one. What a blow it must have been - you having a failure.
That is some brutal analysis right there, and rather self aware for such an early Bond film.

"What's the matter, Mister Bond? Can't take biting critique of your attitudes towards women and sexual prowess?"

Fiona Volpe accomplishes what Pussy Galore doesn't in the previous film, she actually rejects James Bond. She isn't turned from being on the wrong side (of the law or sexuality) but rather uses Bond as much as he uses her. Also, her analysis is so frank and point on, it's actually seems like a feminist critique years before such films were examined in that way.

But here's the thing. I like these films, I really do. I enjoy the early Bond films despite their filmmaking flaws and sexism. They're really enjoyable spy flicks with a great sense of adventure and sophistication. I even really like Connery as Bond, despite his rapiness.

That's right, despite his rapiness, I can see why Connery is often seen as the best Bond. He's captivating and has a presence on screen bar none. He's not a fabulous actor in the sense that he really gets to the emotional core of the character and lays it bare but he projects such an effortless sense of cool and debonair confidence that he really is James Bond.

Despite all the rape.

Stay tuned next week, for the second chapter in this two-parter on Sean Connery's James Bond where we will examine that last three films in which he played the character and why he really hated being James Bond.

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