Finding Forrester

Sean Connery in Finding Forrester

 

 

A young ghetto kid (Rob Brown) breaks into the local recluse’s house only to discover it’s his literary hero, an author whose one novel has been followed by nothing except a mysterious silence for 40 years. The gruff old codger doesn’t bark at the kid and send him on his way. Nor does he shoot him with the gun he keeps on his bedside table. He doesn’t do either of these things because we’re in master-and-protégé territory, a fact which director Gus Van Sant cunningly seems to have made us fully aware of before the film has announced that that’s what it is. And he’s done that maybe to dial down our expectations.

This is not an action movie, not a plot-driven film either, it’s an exercise in gentle elegiac storytelling, a soul-warming stew concocted from muted visuals, a plaintive jazz soundtrack (lots of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman), bucketloads of Americana and as much sentiment as the body can tolerate. It’s also, like Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, the story of a gifted young person being encouraged to let their light shine. Speaking of which, Matt Damon turns up in a small role, part of a useful and eclectic cast including F Murray Abraham, Busta Rhymes, Anna Paquin and Michael Pitt. In the role of the aged writer is Sean Connery, who gives it all the leather and walnut of a stately civic library. He’d only make one more film after this before retiring, and that was the relatively disastrous The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here, playing what everyone fancies is a crypto JD Salinger, is late-era Connery at his best.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 Finding Forrester – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

James Bond: The Omega Man


007 first strapped on an Omega watch in 1997. Since then the once-ailing franchise has gone from strength to strength. Coincidence?

Every human being on the planet, even those in Bhutan, or out in the rainforest distilling poison from tree frogs, knows who James Bond is. So ubiquitous is he that even people who haven’t yet been born have a favourite James Bond actor, a favourite Bond girl, a favourite Bond movie, Bond song, car or baddie. In fact even as I write these words images of Louis Armstrong, Daniel Craig, an Aston Martin Vanquish, Jaws and Denise Richards (wrong, I know) are flashing across my cerebral cortex. But, now that Adele has belted out the theme song to Skyfall, the 23rd “official” Bond movie, here’s a question that’s rarely asked. What’s your favourite Bond watch?

It’s not as dumb a question as it might at first seem, either. As Daniel Craig pulled on a Tom Ford shirt and suit – again – to play 007 for the third time, he also slipped on the John Lobb shoes and an Omega Seamaster, as might befit a Royal Naval Commander and a spy who’s licensed to kill. Perhaps it’s the self-winding co-axial escapement, the silicone balance spring, the power reserve of 50 hours. Perhaps it’s simply because it’s easy to take off – let’s not forget Bond’s reputation with the ladies.

This puts Bond in interesting company – Mao Zedong, who was called Mao Tse Tung when Sean Connery first played Bond 50 years ago – wore an Omega. Prince William wears an Omega. Buzz Aldrin wore one when he went to the moon. So, for that matter did Neil Armstrong, but he left his back in the lunar module when he made his first “one small step” moonwalk (some malfunction in the onboard computer meant a proper timepiece was suddenly required) so it was Aldrin’s that became the first watch actually on the moon.

It’s a cool looking watch, the Seamaster, rugged, masculine, dark of dial and stout of hand. Good for up to 600 metres below the waves. Which makes it ideal if you’re trying to escape from a flooding submarine with, say, only Denise Richards to help you.

But it hasn’t always been Omega. “He could not just wear a watch. It had to be a Rolex,” is how Ian Fleming put it in the book Casino Royale. But that was quite a long time ago now and the Rolex wasn’t quite the name it is today. It was a bit more niche. “Sean Connery wore a Rolex, but we thought they’d become a bit ordinary,” is how Lindy Hemming, costume designer on the first three Brosnan Bonds put it, explaining the switch to Omega.

Ordinary? Now this is not the place and I’m not the man to referee a handbags-at-dawn Omega/Rolex stand-off. So let’s look instead at that first Bond movie, Dr No, when Rolex were approached to supply a timepiece – nice bit of product placement – and declined to offer one to a going-nowhere British film based on the sort of paperbacks you’d buy from a railway station. So the Submariner you see on Sean Connery’s wrist is the one that belonged to the film’s producer, Cubby Broccoli.

Rolex Submariner 6538, with regimental stripe band, on Sean Connery's wrist in Goldfinger
Rolex Submariner 6538, with regimental stripe band, on Sean Connery’s wrist in Goldfinger

Connery’s borrowing didn’t end there though. A working class lad by birth who’d spent time in the Navy, worked as a milkman, done a fair bit of bodybuilding, he certainly filled out that Lanvin shirt and that single-button Anthony Price dinner suit (Brits were resistant to the term “tuxedo”) he is first seen in. The one he’s wearing when utters the “Bond. James Bond” line for the first time ever. As for the rest of his performance, it’s a beautifully wrought almost-impersonation of the film’s ladykiller director, Terence Young – a son of the Empire, public school, Cambridge, Irish Guards – the drawl, the semi-smirk, the whole effortless entitlement-shtick of the born to rule.

“Terence Young was James Bond” is how Bond expert Robert Cotton once put it. But it’s also true that Connery internalised an awful lot of Bond’s (ie Young’s) mannerisms. Then the wind changed and they stuck. Through Connery’s long career if you looked at him to catch a reminder of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, he was hard to see. If you looked for traces of James Bond, there he was – in The Untouchables, The Rock or playing Indiana Jones’s dad – greyer, balder but still 007.

Successive Bonds have done something similar, absorbing enough of Connery’s original reinterpretation of Terence Young and adding their own twist. So did Bond’s dressers. George Lazenby’s dinner suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is by Dimi Major and, like Connery’s in Dr No it’s in midnight blue – black being a bit, you know, common. Single breasted with a single button fastening and with peak lapels, it’s such a classic suit that Pierce Brosnan is wearing something incredibly similar 30 years later. As is Daniel Craig in Skyfall, another ten years further down the road. Connery might have given us the archetypal Bond but that shawl collar on his tux in Dr No is not archetypal Bond style. Nor is his homburg hat or chesterfield coat. George Lazenby may only have played Bond once but he did leave a legacy, and that dinner suit is it.

Roger Moore, Stitchcraft
Licensed to pill: Roger Moore in his days as a knitwear model

Roger Moore’s time as a model for knitwear seems to have primed him for a career in bad outfits. But with his big barrel chest and narrow waist, Moore just didn’t look good in the same sort of clothes as Connery or Lazenby. Which helps explain the wide lapels, flared trousers, the blouson jackets and all those many variations on the safari suit which he wore while he was James Bond. Though nothing, I’m afraid, excuses the powder blue leisure suit from Live and Let Die. However when things got really serious (a rare thing in a Bond film at the time) even Moore would default back to classic Bond attire – a one button dinner suit. Moore’s version in For Your Eyes Only had a notched lapel (sloppy), a trouser with a silk stripe down the side (naff) and was worn with a cummerbund (a bit paunchy, old Rog).

There’s no escaping the fact that Timothy Dalton’s Bond wore horrible clothes. Flappy overpadded jackets made with acres of material. It was the 1980s and clothes were about as untimeless as you can get. Which is a surprise because in many respects Dalton’s Bond is a clearing-the-decks figure, an attempt by a now old Cubby Broccoli to get Bond back on track. But how? Broccoli decided on realism. Enter gritty Tim in his chinos, and in suits that looked like they were off the peg. The argument probably went that a real British spy would be shopping at Man at C&A rather than Turnbull & Asser. But without glamour, what is James Bond? Answer: not very much at all. Dalton’s two Bond movies are joined by Roger Moore’s A View to a Kill as the three lowest grossing Bonds ever.

So we come to Pierce Brosnan, the “caring sharing” Bond. But though we see him suffer and struggle with his conscience – gentlemen, Mr Bond also grows a beard – Pierce Brosnan does manage to dress properly, in well structured suits, often from the Italian tailor Brioni, with the lean, strong, faintly military look you might expect from a Naval commander. Brosnan’s Bond also wears the classic dinner suit with peak lapels and one button. Daniel Craig sticks with Brioni in his first outing as Bond, before shifting to Tom Ford for Quantum of Solace, during the making of which he destroyed 40 bespoke Ford suits – “It really is a crime. It makes me weep every time. They’re great suits,” said Craig.

Sartorially, thematically and financially, Dalton’s Bond signals the shifting of the Bond engine into neutral, before Brosnan’s 007 puts it back into gear, after which Craig’s accelerates off with the spoils. Which makes Craig’s choice of dinner suit in Quantum of Solace all the more interesting – one-button midnight blue with a shawl collar, almost an exact copy of Connery’s.

So, for those of you wondering where I’m going with all this, and how Omega fits in, the simple answer is: seamlessly. In Bond’s first outing as Sean Connery, he wore a Rolex Submariner. It didn’t do much apart from look good. In From Russia with Love it was again the Submariner. No gadgets, just a watch. There was a gadgety watch in this film, but it wasn’t worn by Bond but by the other guy, Red Grant (Robert Shaw). It dispensed piano wire. Handy if you fancy garrotting someone. Which Mr Grant did like to do, being a murderous Soviet assassin.

Connery wore the Submariner in all his Bond films, though we did get glimpses of other watches – a Breitling with a Geiger counter in Thunderball, for instance. George Lazenby wore a Submariner too, and we even got a glimpse of Red Grant’s watch again in a drawer 007 had filled with memorabilia (the sentimental old fool).

Something interesting happens when Roger Moore takes over. Bond gradually goes from being a Submariner kind of guy to being a Seiko Quartz kind of guy. And with it the purity of hand-to-hand combat, hard logic and ruthlessness gave way to a raised eyebrow, an arch comment and as many gadgets as can be squeezed into a watchcase. Suddenly it’s all teleprinter tape (how quaint), explosives, digital message displays, direction finders. The sort of thing an iPhone now does without too much fuss, apart from the explosives (now that would be a killer app).

Look for watches in the Dalton era and it’s the same as the clothes. There’s a glimpse of a Submariner 16800 but no one really seems to be bothering with the “small stuff”. Forgetting that the “small stuff” is what Bond is actually all about. Dalton’s Bonds are a rudderless ship. It’s only with Brosnan, Goldeneye and the beginning of the modern Bond era that rigour returns, in the shape of the Omega Seamaster – a quartz 2541.80 model that comes with laser cutter and remote detonator, though you won’t find those extras in the catalogue. As befits a ship that’s back on course, the gadgets are simple, stylish and effective. That fabulous vault out of the window that Brosnan’s Bond does in The World Is Not Enough, his death on the pavement below prevented by the 50 metres of microfilament contained in his Seamaster – now that’s what we’re talking about.

Which brings us up to date with Daniel Craig’s 007, who also wears a Seamaster. And his does… nothing. Just as in Mr Connery’s era the watch just looks good, it tells the time. It might have a chronometer but that’s about it. The stripped-back ethic of the film, the style of clothes and the functionality of his timepieces all tell the same story. What Craig is doing is bringing Connery’s Bond back to life and laying claim to the 007 heritage in a way that no one has dared do before.

Incidentally, and bringing us properly full circle, when Mr Craig is off duty, he actually wears a Rolex, the Submariner 6538 with regimental stripe band to be precise. Which means he really is taking this Connery thing more seriously than he’s possibly letting on. Somewhere out on a golf course in the Bahamas, a retired Scottish body-builder is smiling.



© Steve Morrissey 2012



For research I am indebted to Matt Spaiser’s website thesuitsofjamesbond.com – hugely informative, written with style and wit and with more information about cocktail cuffs, trilbys, grenadine ties and other 007 apparel than most mortals will ever need.

Build Your Own Bond

Tired of waiting for the next 007 movie to open? Here’s a solution that even Q would find fiendishly ingenious

His name might be Bond, James Bond but at the beginning of 2011 the studio responsible for the most successful franchise in spy movie history found itself in dire straits. It was broke, dead broke.

It looked like the mighty roar of the MGM lion was about to be silenced forever. In the event last minute refinancing bailed the studio out and, to the joy of fans everywhere, Bond 23 returned from an enforced layover and went back into production.

But for diehards who’d been expecting Daniel Craig back in 2011, the news that it’s going to be November 2012 before the world’s most famous spy is on the big screen again is very bad indeed.

Here at Aqua Vitae’s secret lair we decided to take matters into our own hands and kill time by assembling a DIY superspy. But where to start? All the Bonds to date have something to offer. There’s Brosnan’s hair. Craig’s pecs. Dalton’s grit. Lazenby’s up-yours attitude. Moore’s raised eyebrow.

Then we realised we could stop messing about and just use all of Sean Connery, and the best Bond film of them all, 007’s second outing, From Russia with Love. As Bond producer Michael G. Wilson put it in 2008 – and this was after Daniel Craig’s excellent 2006 debut – “We always start out trying to make another From Russia with Love and end up with another Thunderball.

Ah, 1965’s Thunderball. Only the fourth Bond film and already the slide into Austin Powers parody is complete. Bond may be played by Connery but he’s less your lethal agent licensed to kill more your smartmouthed quipster. There are girls, there are gadgets. Lots of them. What there isn’t is a plot. And the film is way too long. Even worse, worst of all when it comes to Bond in fact, the film has underwater sequences.

Using the almost prehistoric From Russia with Love as some sort of template might seem surprising. But FRWL is current co-producer Barbara Broccoli’s preferred Bond too. And Timothy Dalton’s, Daniel Craig’s and, we rest our case, Sean Connery’s. “It was with this film that the Bond style and formula were perfected,” said Barbara Broccoli’s dad Cubby, the producer who started it all with Dr No in 1962.

So we’ve found our lead character, using a time machine to nab a 33-year-old Sean Connery, the former milkman, bodybuilder and coffin polisher. Now let’s build a film.

First there’s that simple gun-barrel sequence. Now there are many wonderful things to be found on Youtube but montages of all the gun-barrel opening sequences from all the Bond films are not on that list – even when guitarist Vic Flick is twanging out the Bond theme as they play. To all the geeks and freaks who are posting this stuff – please stop. In spite of what the film says, you only live once.

Then we’re on to the thrilling pre-title sequence. An innovation in From Russia with Love and one that’s stuck, it’s notable for having almost nothing to do with the rest of the film, is often wordless, and frequently features body doubles, either overtly (in FRWL we see Bond being killed by an assassin – except it’s not Bond). Or on the sly – Roger Moore might be a decent skier, but he’s not that good.

Moving, in Bond-honoured fashion, swiftly on, we then get a title sequence of gyrating lovelies (or a gyrating Daniel Craig in Casino Royale), which leads to the introduction of the “Bond song”, some of which have been great (Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey). Some not (everything since A-ha did The Living Daylights – don’t write in).

Moving even more swiftly on we then have Bond’s Briefing By M, at which point 007 is confusingly addressed as Commander Bond, a Flirt With Moneypenny, a Rendezvous With Q for some wacky gadgetry, the most useless-looking gadget being the lifesaver later on. Before audiences start checking their watches it’s a sprint on to An Exotic Location, where Bond meets A Henchman or two (in FRWL it’s Robert Shaw with obviously evil bleach-blond hair and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, the knife in her shoe only outdone in deadliness by her hatchet face.

There’s just time for a teasing meeting with The Villain (Ernst Stavro Blofeld in FRWL), then a Bad Bond Girl, a CIA Buddy and a Good Bond Girl before Bond heads back to the Villain’s Secret Hideaway and, doh!, immediate capture. Here, instead of shooting Bond on the spot, the Villain tells Bond his Evil Plan before popping out for a second (to let the White Cat out, presumably), leaving Bad Bond Girl to free the otherwise completely bolloxed Bond. Cue ticktock countdown, sirens, lots of running around, The Villain’s attempted escape, his death and a big post-climactic finish featuring Bond and Bond Girl on a boat. Here sex is alluded to in time-honoured British comedy fashion, perhaps most groanworthily in the line delivered by Brosnan’s 007 to Denise Richards’ Dr Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough – “I thought that Christmas only came once a year”.

Apart from the Christmas gag, almost everything else just mentioned is in From Russia with Love. And if you look hard enough you’ll see that even in the Daniel Craig Bonds most of the elements from the Best Bond Film Ever are there too; all the canny producers have done is juggle them about a bit, and hidden Q and Moneypenny backstage the easier to sell the “reboot” idea.

You now have the ingredients to build your own Bond. Which elements will Bond 23’s director Sam Mendes – of American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road fame – select? The rumour mill is suggesting a “classic Bond”, the return of Moneypenny and a character not unlike Blofeld. Diamonds might be forever. But so, it would seem, is From Russia with Love.


Daniel Craig in Skyfall
No time to die: Daniel Craig in Skyfall



Live and Let DIY


Other bits you might need to build your own Bond


Villains

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger: “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die?” Whether it’s Goldfinger, Blofeld, Zorin, Dr No, Scaramanga, Le Chiffre, your standard issue Bond villain does love to talk. So much so you’d swear his dastardly secret weapon was his tongue.

Bond Girls

Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, Xenia Onatopp, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead – they’re not so much names, more invitations. But the ones 007 gets serious about – Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Quantum of Solace – never make it to the end credits.

Henchmen

Oddjob, Jaws, Mr Kid and Mr Wint, Baron Samedi, Nick Nack and Rosa Klebb. Most henchmen are forgettable; a few are not. Either way they all end up dead. Fried, stabbed, crushed, dry-roasted, you name it, allowing 007 to make one of his appalling quips.

Martinis

Bond’s own Martini recipe, now called a Vesper, is three shots Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a shot of Kina Lillet, shake over ice, add lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred, of course. Unless it’s Casino Royale, when Daniel Craig’s 007 is asked how he wants his prepared and replies “Do I look like I give a damn.”

Q

Though a supporting character, Q, played for many years by Desmond Llewellyn, often got the best laughs in the film. His memorable “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir” from Moonraker is a standout, but Llewellyn’s advantage was that the most banal line – “Now pay attention 007” – could come with an explosive payoff, literally.


© Steve Morrissey 2011, updated 2021




Update April 2021: This piece was first published in Aqua Vitae magazine, Dubai. Since then Daniel Craig has played James Bond twice more, in Skyfall (referred to as Bond 23 in this piece) and Spectre, both of which re-asserted the classic Bond formula, down to a return of a Blofeld type (Javier Bardem’s Silva) and Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). And very good they both were too. Blofeld himself (now played by Christoph Waltz) resurfaced in Spectre. Who knows where No Time to Die will take us, later in 2021?

Until then, there’s this very smart collection of ALL the Bond movies (apart from Never Say Never Again, which is not an “official” Bond movie) – Connery to Craig by way of Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan – all the way from Dr No to Spectre.


You can buy it here at Amazon

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