Saturday, October 27, 2012

Skyfall

Skyfall - The Latest Bond
Premieres 11/9/12 in USA

In an earlier post (Commander Bond in London, 2/23/12) I wrote that the James Bond "movies are, while more PC than the books, to the right of most Hollywood productions--a key to their long-standing success."  Does Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, validate that thesis or contradict it?

The role of the intelligence services has, of course, become highly controversial in our own day and age.  We all recall George Tenet's unfortunate assurance to President George W. Bush that finding WMD in Iraq would be a "slam dunk" and the disastrous and tragic consequences of poor intelligence ("Don't worry, it's a slam-dunk" according to Bob Woodward's book, Plan of Attack, (www.amzn.com/0743255488).

The Jason Bourne movies, which play off of cynicism aroused by real-life intelligence failures, are essentially "James Bond for liberals".  The equivalent(s) of the "M" character in the Bourne films is/are clearly deranged.  The intelligence chiefs in these movies have run amok.  They are sinister forces who do not merely make mistakes, but have become malignant forces for evil in our midst.  The Bourne films suggest that those in the highest levels of the Shadow world of intelligence are utterly corrupt betraying the interest of their nation for their own selfish ends.

The Bond movies, on the other hand, suggest an entirely different narrative in regard to the world of intelligence.  The principal reason for this has less to do with James Bond who is, after all,  a mere policy tool (a "blunt instrument") and much more to do with Bond's boss -- "M".

Rear Admiral John Godfrey, 1888 - 1970
The Original "M"
Ian Fleming based the "M" character in his novels on his boss during World War II the Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral John Henry Godfrey.  He was a competent and conscientious public servant.  "The Naval Intelligence Division was responsible for collecting analyzing and distributing intelligence for the Admiralty, and providing security and counter-intelligence to the Royal Navy for the war at sea." (For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, Ben Macintyre, 2008 www.amzn.com/1596915447).  At the NID, Fleming essentially played "Bond" to Godfrey's "M" (see earlier post Ian Fleming's Commandos, 10/14/12).  Fleming's father Valentine had been killed in the trenches in World War I and Godfrey became something of a father figure for Ian.

Judi Dench, "M" for Magnificent
SkyFall, the most recent addition to the Bond series, places the "M" character, portrayed by Judy Dench at the very center and heart of this film.  Is her record perfect?  No.  Does she and MI6 make mistakes?  Unquestionably the answer is, "yes".  Nevertheless, she is like Admiral Godfrey -- a conscientious selfless and caring servant of the state.  She is, in fact, invaluable in the face of a threatening Shadow world of evil that lurks.  Politicians prattle on about "transparency" while the the real world of terrorist threats becomes increasingly opaque.  In spite of the influence of technology with its vast array of satellites and cell phone tracking the value of accurate human intelligence has never been greater than today.  We desperately need gifted devoted professionals like "M" and, of course James Bond -- because sometimes as Skyfall reminds us  "a trigger does need to be pulled" (see earlier post, Yvonne Fletcher RIP and Commander Bond?, 3/6/12).

Judy Dench is superlative as "M" or the "Bond-mommy."  Just as Admiral Godfrey was a surrogate father for Ian Fleming, she becomes the surrogate parents for the orphaned James Bond.

Next year will mark the official "Diamond Jubilee" of James Bond as Ian Fleming's Casino Royale (www.amzn.com/1612185436) was the first published in 1953 sixty years ago.  The 2006 film Casino Royale (www.amzn.com/B000MRA5NS) introduced Daniel Craig, the blonde Bond, as a new MI6 agent making his very first "licensed" kills in the opening scene.  In 2012's Skyfall, Bond is no longer a novice, but rather an aging middle-aged single man with a shaky employment record and severe health challenges.  Bond is now "an old dog learning new tricks".

Turner's Fighting Temeraire, 1838, National Gallery, London
Early in the movie, Bond meets his new callow Quartermaster, "Q", in the National Gallery in front of a painting of the most popular painting in England--Turner's the Fighting Temeraire (see earlier post, The Fighting Temeraire, 1/16/12).  The choice of this particular painting near Trafalgar square to provide the backdrop for James Bond's own professional challenges is inspired.  The full title of Turner's painting is The Fighting Temeraire Tugged To Her Last Berth To Be Broken Up.    The Temeraire fought under Nelson in the Royal Navy's decisive victory over the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805.  Now in 1838, when Turner observed her, she is headed for the scrap heap pulled by a satanic-looking steamboat that is belching black smoke.  Is Bond too destined for early retirement?  Is the Aston Martin headed for the wrecking yard?

It is remarkable to note that Skyfall debuted in the UK the very same week that the President of the United States disparaged the use of "horses and bayonets" in modern warfare -- in spite of the fact that the US Marine Corps still trains with and uses bayonets in the field -- Semper Fi  (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/10/23/bayonets-still-standard-issue-despite-obama-debate-jab/).  The demise of Skyfall's villain, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem (the fortunate husband of Penelope Cruz), is a powerful argument for the continued relevance of "cold steel".  The traditional, conservative message is clear -- "Old ways (gun, knife, radio) are often the best ways."

Ian Fleming famously said, "Everything I write has a precedent in Truth."  Does Skyfall remain true to its Fleming heritage by having a "precedent in truth"?  I believe that its gritty portrayals of the London Underground, its use of glossy settings in contemporary China (see earlier post, China Today, 9/11/12), its depiction of feckless politicians and even its use of the favorite weapon of the US Marine Corps allows us to answer happily in the affirmative.  President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, acting on the best Western intelligence available at the time, "took the bloody shot" on Iraq; we live with the consequences.

Skyfall ultimately advances the traditional and, ultimately, Conservative notion that public service undertaken by our military and intelligence forces at great personal risk is 1) necessary in a dangerous world 2) highly honorable and, at times, even 3) heroic.


Commander Kelly says, "Three Cheers for Skyfall, sailing ships, MI6, the Royal Navy and cold steel!"




You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.