Tuesday, November 10, 2015

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is not unsophisticated. You are.

Press Play By Matt Zoller Seitz | Press Play
Bond Connery
From Russia With Love was released almost 50 years ago.
I point that out not to make anyone reading this feel old (or young), but because I revisited the second James Bond picture on a big screen recently, in a small but packed Manhattan theater, and it made me painfully aware that for a good many people, movies aren’t art or experience, they’re product. And products date.
Some of the patrons seemed truly, deeply, un-ironically into the film, but many more seemed to be treating it as a nostalgia trip. The very qualities that made the film seem modern and exciting when it came out amused them. The film’s lack of newness prevented connection with the audience.
Scratch that. It wasn’t the film’s fault. It was the audience’s.
I hate to be the guy who says “You’re watching it wrong,” but these people definitely were.
There might be a lot of factors contributing to the viewers' failure to engage (surely including lack of film literacy), but ultimately, that’s their decision and their loss.
It’s up to the individual viewer to decide to connect or not connect with a creative work. By "connect,” I mean connect emotionally and imaginatively—giving yourself to the movie for as long as you can, and trying to see the world through its eyes and feel things on its wavelength.
That wasn’t happening here.
I heard constant tittering and guffawing, all with the same message: “Can you believe people once thought this film was daring? It’s so old-fashioned.” The arch double-entendres; the bloodless violence, long takes, and longer scenes; the alpha male attitudes toward women and sex; John Barry’s jazzy, brassy, borderline-hysterical score: all these things elicited gentle mockery. They laughed at Sean Connery’s hairy chest. They laughed at some obvious stunt-double work. When Bond flirted with the secretary Moneypenny and put his face close to hers, a guy a couple of rows in front of me stage-whispered to his friend, “Sexual harassment!”
I saw From Russia With Love with my good friend Stephen Neave. He’s a huge James Bond fan. The audience pissed him off. Afterward he told me the two young men in front of us were snickering and joking so much that he wanted to smack them across the backs of their heads.
“Why pay twelve bucks to see an old movie in a theater, then sit there the whole time and act superior to it?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. If you act that way, you’re wasting your money. You’re not getting everything out of the movie. You’re not experiencing it. Plus, this is not a black-and-white subtitled movie about sheepherders. It’s James Bond!”
I know what he meant.
I don’t think highly of many of the Bond pictures as movies. With few exceptions, they don’t have much in the way of emotional content, and they don’t knock themselves out trying to create nuanced characters or tell coherent stories. They’re pure escapism—action scenes strung together by cheesecake, gadgets, and banter.
But if you meet them on their own terms, even the worst Bonds are, or ought to be, watchable, if only for their surface pleasures: the clothes, the cars, the explosions, the scenery, the hero’s brawny chest and cruel smile, the curves on the women. From Russia With Love has two of the sexiest images I’ve ever seen: the opening credits with the names projected on belly dancers’ writhing, whirling bodies, and the scene where a bare-chested, towel-clad Bond enters his bedroom and finds Tatiana Romanova in his bed. Images like that aren’t cute. They’re primordial. The Jean-Luc Godard quote “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun” sums up the franchise in twelve words. Films like this are cheeky erotic daydreams. The idea of somebody sitting through a cheeky erotic daydream with a smirk is just sad. Why not engage in some daydreams of your own?

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