Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Plainly, the Name is Bond, James Bond

Vol. 12, No.17 of LIFE, a registered trademark of TIME Inc.

James Bond is back.

 “50 Years of James Bond” was published on September 14th, 2012, and the 112 page special will be on the stands until 12/14/12.  As an avid fan of the film series, having started watching Bond at 13 during the Spike TV holiday marathon, I of course snatched up one of these bad boys when they came out, the oh-so-classic image of Sean Connery encouraging me to be “On the Run with 007, from Dr. No to Skyfall.”  I was curious as to what I would find in terms of prose style for this adventure.  The Ian Fleming novels were dense, intense, description-rich blocks of text; the films ranged from Roger Moore’s one-liners to Daniel Craig’s cold blooded, unsmiling license to kill.  In this featurette on the world’s favorite spy, you can relish plain style prose that narrates the epic history of the world’s favorite spy.  With glossy pictures, bullet-pointed facts, “Life Magazine’s traditional journalistic style,” (quoted from http://borg.com/2012/09/26/life-magazine-looks-at-50-years-of-james-bond-from-dr-no-to-skyfall/), and trivia aplenty, this Pussy Galore style romp is a display of the simple sophistication that is the Bond legacy. 

The viewers of James Bond movies are typically of a male majority, old and young, and tend to be fans of spy/action films, the occasional classic film buff taking a seat in the audience.  As this quote from page 184 of The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader by Christoph Lindner reveals, though, defining the viewing demographic of the Bond films is not as simple as it seems. 

“...in the 1960s, the audience for the Bond films had consisted, in the main, of adolescents and young adults’, whereas by 1979, ‘the audience consisted mainly of parents and pre-adolescent children.’  While this may well be true, that parenthetical ‘in the main’ covers a multitude of exceptions.”

The Bond audience is far-reaching, not just in terms of viewer demographics, but also in terms of geographic and generational expanse.  Opening worldwide, celebrating its 50th year, and dividing its release between MGM and Sony, James Bond needs to be prepared for the entire world to take a peek inside of this magazine. 

LIFE also has a readership to be aware of.  Life magazine was one of the most important magazines published in the United States. One study revealed that in a given thirteen-week period in 1950, ‘about half of all Americans, ten years and older, had seen one or more copies’ of the magazine” (http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=7096).   

“James Bond is back.  It’s a slogan as old as 1963, when the second film in the famous series, From Russia with Love, opened, and it is being voiced again to welcome Skyfall to your neighborhood IMAX.  Bond fans, of which you are one, exult, and others marvel that the superspy is still with us; 50 years after Dr. No opened, 23 moves in all.  (Well, not quite all, as will be explained in our pages: There were two “unofficial” feature films made, plus a television adaptation of a Bond novel, Casino Royale, that aired way back in 1954.)”

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 76.6
Average Grade Level: 7.0
Word Count: 100
Words per Sentence: 16.7

At precisely the average reading level of the United States, the first paragraph of “50 Years of James Bond” presents itself as clear and concise, using metabasis to encourage readers to move past the first page.  There’s no wordy introduction, there is no skirting around the facts; there is just cold blooded statement.  The first sentence  “James Bond is back” is aschematiston in Bond fashion.  In terms of Bond trivia, it’s important to know that “James Bond will be back in...” was the screen flashed at the end of (almost) every Bond film (that, or “James Bond will return in...”)  So, this simple opening plays directly into the activity system this article was written for.   Another important reason to put it out there and lead with the fact that “James Bond is back” is because 2012 saw the release of Skyfall.  MGM needed the world to know that “James Bond is back” so that they could sell enough tickets to pay for their multi-million dollar movie. 

The article promptly shifts into a informal “you,” addressing the readers directly.  “...Bond fans, of which you are one...”  The article uses Skyfall and IMAX theaters as exemplum of how and where you, yes you, will find yourself being a Bond fan.  This shameless promotion is effective in getting the reader to visualize themselves heading to that theater, buying a large popcorn, reclining in their IMAX seat, and living the newest Bond installment, and it also familiarizes the reader, making the reader feel chummy with the LIFE featurette and comfortable with the publication’s plain prose. 

In terms of punctuation, there appears to be some looser construction within this opening paragraph.  “Bond fans, of which you are one, exult, and others marvel that the superspy is still with us; 50 years after Dr. No opened, 23 moves in all.”  The semicolon usage in this sentence does not connect two independent clauses, and it is is not serving as a “super comma” within a list.  But will LIFE readers and Bond fans notice?  Probably not.  (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon).  This semicolon sentence is swiftly followed by parenthesis.  Both of these things contribute to the plain style of the piece, and cater to the audience’s desire for a fast, entertaining read akin to the gritty, frothy Bond flicks they love. 

Concluding the parenthesis is the phrase “way back.”   For younger readers and Bond fans, this serves as casual language; for older readers and Bond fans, this serves as hyperbole and sarcasm.  Waaaay back in 1954.”  Some Bond fans were becoming parents in 1954; 1954 feels like yesterday.  “Way back” is a reminder of where Bond has been, but also an emphasis on how present Bond still is in today’s life.

All of these things add up to create an opening paragraph that is conversational, accessible, and tends to the old and young readers alike, mimicking the style of the Bond films themselves.

“If the movie was, ummm, stupid--and it surely was--many of its lead actors and other personnel were anything but.  One of its five credited directors was John Huston, who back in the early 1960s had wondered about making a Bond movie starring Cary Grant.  Woody Allen not only acted as one of the ersatz Bonds, he also contributed some (uncredited) writing, as did Huston and Orson Welles, who also costarred.  Niven, at left with Angela Scoular and above in the white suit with Joanna Pettet in the foreground, was an Oscar winner.  We have mentioned Deborah Kerr, and then there was Peter Sellers and Jacqueline Bisset as Giovanna Goodthighs and William Holden and Burt Bacharach’s music and...”

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 54
Average Grade Level: 10
Word Count: 120
Words per Sentence: 20

Flush with exemplum, this excerpt explores the celebrity attached with the Bond films--even that of the unloved bastard parody.  I chose this part of the magazine to look at almost explicitly for the line “...the move was, ummm, stupid...” which for Bond fans is a bit of apodixis.  It is unlikely that anyone watching the 1960s Casino Royale walked away thinking, “Now there was a great Hollywood classic!”  Following the “ummm, stupid,” the writer launches into the film’s extensive cast, intimating that the film should have been better, yet somehow tripped and tumbled down a hill, coming to a stop in the land of poorly executed parody.  I think this excerpt is important in catering to the older Bond fans and LIFE readers, because it explores an event from “way back”  in the 1960s, and lists celebrities from an older generation. 

“Was Q quitting?  It seemed he might be when the MI6 quartermaster, played for the 17th time by Desmond Llewelyn, introduced Bond to a somewhat younger man he was training, played by John Cleese.  ‘If you're Q, does that make him R?’  The question is never answered, but Llewelyn was killed in the aforementioned automobile accident shortly after wrapping the film, and Cleese played the Q--or R-- role in the final Brosnan film.”

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 68.2
Average Grade Level: 9.1
Word Count: 75
Words per Sentence: 18.8

This blurb opens with the anthypophora of “Was Q quitting?” It then jumps into the Bond archives to discuss the nuances of Q (or R) and the death of Desmond Llewelyn.  The notion that Cleese was “R” is a bit of assumptio on the writer’s part.  Who qualifies as Q?  Was John Cleese allowed to be Q officially, or was Desmond Llewellyn the one, true Q, yet to have a successor?  I chose to look at this passage because the presence of Q within the film is vital to this year’s Skyfall; not only “James Bond is back,” but “Q is back” too.  The sentence “a somewhat younger man...played by John Cleese” caters to the Bond culture as well; in the newest film, Q is played by an actor in his 30s, and is presented throughout the film as perhaps even younger than that. (Here it’s suggested that “Bond purists” will be upsetted by the introduction of a Q younger than Bond, a deviation from the original Fleming works: http://screenrant.com/james-bond-skyfall-cast-ben-whishaw-kofi-141185/). The prose in this passage subtly hints at the discussions within the Bond community about Q and Q’s role within the franchise.  It’s things like this that delight the Bond fan in me.  The reference is simple and simply put, but the allusion to the fact that Skyfall is debuting the first “official” Q since the Brosnan era is important and relevant to the fact that “James Bond is back.”

50 years and 23 films later, I think this LIFE featurette is doing a fair job of appealing to the established audiences at play, Bond fans and LIFE readers, while drumming up interest in the newest installment.  As I had hoped going into it, the prose is like the films: simple, fast-paced, and direct.  The piece is effective at introducing nuances of the Bond franchise in an understated way, and it doesn’t crowd the piece with unnecessary words and explanation.  Ultimately, the prose used within “50 Years of James Bond” is like the man himself: a blunt instrument.  James Bond is back.

~Kali Brokaw

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