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Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (Cinema and Society) Paperback – March 15, 2008
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'Chapman offers a thorough and lucid account of the Bond phenomenon.' - Alexander Star, 'Civilization' 'There are two kinds of academic texts: the kind that contains photographs of Ursula Andress wearing a bikini, and the kind that do not. 'Licence to Thrill' falls, fortunately, into the first category.' - Giles Coren, 'The Times'
Chapman expertly traces the development of the Bond films and argues that the enormous popularity of the series represents more than just the sum total of the films' box-office receipts and involves questions of film culture in a wider sense. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The films themselves are presented as formulaic spectacles, especially the obligatory extended chase scenes from which Bond invariably emerges with nary a scratch. Another repetitive theme are the Bond women – those whom are on the side of good are sexual accessories, and those who work for the villain are most often “repositioned” by 007's male charm and then killed off about 2/3rds of the way through. Add to that the stylized torture scenes, threatening but never too graphic, from which Bond inevitably escapes or is saved by the heroine. The McGuffins are earth shattering conspiracies including toppling missiles, cornering world markets, global extinctions and setting off WW III. The Baddies are likely rogue capitalist offshoots of totalitarian regimes or more recently representatives of the so called “Deep State”.
What makes this book worthwhile, aside from production details, are Chapman's observations as to how the movies mirrored world events as the Cuban Missile Crisis (Dr. No), Detente (Spy Who Loved Me) , the energy crisis of the 1970s (Scaramanga's Solex device, Man with the Golden Gun), concerns over China (Goldfinger, Golden Gun), North Korea (Die Another Day) and corporate power (Tomorrow Never Dies). Also interesting were the links made to other films such as Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Lady from Shanghai and the Blaxpoitationa and Kung Fu/Martial arts genre of the 1970s (Live and Let Die, Golden Gun). Octopussy largely in India, was made at the same time as Ghandi and The Jewel in the Crown. Covert US operations against the Russians in Afghanistan are the basis of Bond #16 (The Living Daylights) replete with an Oxford educated Mujaheddin, and Judy Dench ascends to the post of M (Goldeneye, 1995) when MI5 has its first female director, Stella Rimmington
Additionally Chapman points out a number of examples where the series pokes fun at itself. Fans will find this book a delight, and film students looking for a literary analysis of the Bond oevre will not be disappointed.
From the start, Chapman's meticulous, comprehensive study of these films is presented in an objective and refreshing manner. Chapman immediately sets the tone for the book, arguing that the viewer needs to look beyond the fantastic scenarios and hedonistic nature of Bond's life in order to grasp the real meanings of these films -- that is, that they nostalgically represent Great Britain's global strength during an actual period of decline. Chapman goes on to discuss the various film genres (spy thrillers, cliffhangers, action movies) that have been hybridized into the "Bondian" formula, and goes on to show that the Bond films themselves, despite borrowing upon other formulas, have actually developed their own ideology.
The most impressive aspect of Licence to Thrill is its comprehensiveness. Chapman places the Bond films in the context of film history, and by doing so, provides a larger framework by which to assess their cultural impact. He also examines the influence of other film genres on the Bond series; for example, the influence of the "blaxploitation" movement of the early 70's on 1972's Live and Let Die, which features an unusually high proportion of black characters for a Bond film. The rest of the book concentrates on the Bond films themselves, grouping them according to theme and charting the development and evolution of the franchise.
Although Chapman clearly illustrates that the generic formula of these films is virtually designed to change with the British political climate, he also maintains that Bond's adventures are representative works of nostalgia for British imperialism and nationalism. For example, in discussing 1983's Octopussy, which is set largely in India, Chapman notes the numerous television series in Britain during the 1980's devoted to the former British colony and the abundance of works at the time analyzing Anglo-Indian relations. Other films are set against the contemporary British political mindset, such as 1981's For Your Eyes Only, which strongly references Thatcherism, and the end result is that we see the films in an entirely new light.
Enlightening, entertaining and thought provoking, this book is highly recommended for anyone who is serious about film. For the rabid Bond fan, it is simply indispensable.