Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Elektra King Hair Complex
Now it can be told: My favorite Bond girl is Sophie Marceau in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.
World is Not Enough was the film that came out after Tomorrow Never Dies, which used to be one of my favorites. Last night I re-watched Never and I find it has lost a lot of shimmer through the discerning lens of 2008. For one thing, there's almost no female hotness: TV's Lois and Clark star Terri Hatcher is the first babe--the one who always dies early--as the way-too-fussed-over rich bitch wife of Jonathan Pryce's hissy media mogul villain. She's sexy if you think Modern Bride magazine is sexy, where all the beautiful hair is hidden behind gossamer white veils or pulled back into sharp buns, or in her case cut to shoulder length in a moussed-up tussle. Michelle Yeoh makes up for the damage as the second babe, but she's an action star, not a buxom love machine; when she rubs noses with Pierce Brosnan, there's no question who spent the longest time in hair and makeup.
Upping the party boy ante in Never is the way-too-perfume ad-like set design: lots of 90s blue neon, and then there's Calvin Kleinesche henchmen, played by Gotz Otto. With his posh nightclub bouncer physique and attire, Otto's actually the prettiest young thing in the cast. When Pryce orders him around it's in the same tone older rich gay men use with their young buck arm candy. It's a marked step up from the raging homophobia in Diamonds Are Forever, but this is James Bond and they're the bad guys.
Back in the late 1990s, the whole chillbient-loungecore ennui trip hop aesthetic was only beginning its downtempo slide into ecstasy-warped history. I had been right in the thick of it and thought Never was just marvelous. Of course you couldn't find loads of better Michelle Yeoh action films on DVD back then... or DVDs at all for that matter. Now it's strange to see Tomorrow Never Dies appearing so dated. It's like coming home for Christmas to find your mom rocking out to the Sneaker Pimps. Then Casino Royale showed us what we'd been missing spending decades with a Roger Moore smirk keeping real life at arm's length. It seems we'd been giving away our gritty maturity by the bucketful since back in 1971, when Sean Connery first endured the strident yammering of Jill St. John in Diamonds. We'd been losing our way and taking the abuse of our backseat driver spouses until we emerged eunuchs in the flames of Tomorrow Never Dies, the first Bond film shot entirely inside a product placement-enriched Vogue spread. Not only were all the designer hotel products lovingly displayed (and presumably available for purchase while on board the aircraft) but we were supposed to believe that OUR Bond would actually get misty-eyed with regret over losing a flagrantly materialistic trollop like Hatcher. I've nothing against her as an actress in general, but her thing is that small screen comedic drama acting, not the vacantly larger than life archetyping of Bond.
Thus we see the sad result of our collective capitulation to the ever-shifting desires of third wave feminism: even Bond believes he should apologize for being a man. What Never needs more than Michelle Yeoh is Camille Paglia. Yeoh's got the high kicks, but Paglia could have trounced Jonathan Pryce's media pundit with a single trenchant pop culture essay.
Which brings me to Sophie Marceau, sweet... sweet Sophie. She's got the sense of nymphonic entitlement we ned for a Bond girl, down pat. When Marceau lounges in gold-trimmed Middle Eastern richness, she not only fits the Vogue fantasia mold, she transcends it. Being French surely helps; she acts like she grew up in this sort of stuff, as opposed to Hatcher who looks like she'll start stealing the designer shot glasses as soon as Bond steps into the bathroom.
World is the much more age-inappropriate Denise Richards (left) as an atomic physicist named Christmas Jones. One of the best pieces of stunt casting in the history of cinema, one look at her marching around the abandoned Russian missile silo in sexy khaki shorts and all your worries slip away. Richard's not a great actress but she doesn't need to be, maybe even shouldn't be. Like all the best Bond beauties she acts from her hips, sexual in her every gesture, the archetypal transcendental, slightly-blank, uber-babe.
That kind of sexiness wouldn't last though. Just as it did in the Connery to Moore transition, genuine sexual heat lost ground to double entendre smirking of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, that's why the very 90s capsule-ish THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH has always been unusual. It's villain, Elektra King is the first true femme fatale of the series, beginning as an innocent victim of a maniac and becoming a ruthless evil manipulator of a miscast Scotsman, clearly hired because he was so good at being a terrifying Glasgow hooligan in TRAINSPOTTING, another quintessential 90s curio. The curios here: drum and bass star Goldie as a thug baring his gold teeth in a stoner Bristol patois.
King's seduction of Bond is so brilliant it redeems his overall trite condescensions, where every woman in the world is supposed to fall for him, give up her life on his whim, and just forgive him while he wanders off with nary a word of thanks. In this case all Elektra has to do is shed a tear and Bond gets all paternal, even provincial. She's the one manipulating him, and everyone else.
The contrast between the two babes is pretty spectacular, since Marceau is so stunning and young she could be Christmas Jones' little sister, but she's French, so worlds worldlier, dignified. She'll be 80 and still eternally beautiful, like Adjani and Huppert. Bond thinks by getting paternal and genuinely caring about her Elektra she will automatically just fall for him and be aswoosh.... he deserves all he gets and for her; it must suck to be the only mature one in a world run through of stock stereotype snickering and the naive idea guys have where they can sleep with you and still think you'll look up to them. In fact, if anything Bons reminds me of Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder's DOUBLE IDEMNITY, that same kind louche overly confident swine vibe.
Next up in the series was Die Another Day, with Halle Berry one of my least favorite of all Bond actresses (I'm not even going to post a pic of her!). When are audiences going to wise up to this little tyro? She's hot, she can act... sometimes, but she's got no "presence." She's a wisp with a little mouse voice -- she can be vulnerable and sexy and smart but she's even less believable as a super spy than she is as Storm in X-Men. Granted it's not always easy to mouth the immature dialogue of Bond films, but Berry seems uncomfortable and nervous every step of the way. She's like the girl who accepts the invitation to the Playboy mansion just to stand alone in the corner by the shelves, sneering in contempt at the Hef's collection of X-rated figurines. And let's not even mention her 'hair' - which is nonexistent. Far better is Rosamund Pike as the tricky British double agent Miranda Frost. I always root for Miranda in Die's climactic cat fight. But she never wins. She should.
Meanwhile, Judi Dench is all well and good as M, but the scenes of high level meetings and board rooms all lack the camaraderie of the old Connery days wherein fraternal English upper class types smoked cigars and knocked back tumblers of whiskey as they clued Bond in on the latest super villain. When men are alone they can deal with big issues without losing their cool, like it's all in a day's work. Once M shows up, everyone has to act serious and freaked out as she utters tired stiff upper lip oaths like "This will not stand!" What women in the workplace so often fail to grasp is the importance of underplaying. Rosa Krebb and Dench should take each other on sometime, with chainsaws in the dead of night, in a spot chosen by a neutral third party. Then we could call all women equal!
Speaking of which, when will there be another decent Bond supervillain? The last good one was Christopher Walken in the otherwise tiresome A View to a Kill! And that one also had Tanya Roberts, sigh, talk about great hair... well, for the 80s.
MY OTHER BOND WRITINGS (From Film Experience and Bright Lights):
The Amnesiac Bond
Bond Rides the Moebius Strip
Olga Kurylenko's House of Pain