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. I'm so glad it's finally out there.

Man, it's her hair. I love her hair in this film, beyond words. After seeing it in the theater back in 1999, I almost broke up with my girlfriend because I knew I could never love any woman other than Marceau's delectably evil oil baroness, Elektra King. My real-life girl's hair was too curly; it made me sneeze at night in spoon position. This is what comes from years of falling in love with the backs of girls' heads instead of paying attention in class.

World is Not Enough is the film that came out after Tomorrow Never Dies, which I also rewatched recently. I find it has lost a lot of its once gossamer shimmer through the discerning new filter of post-King 2008. TV's Lois and Clark star Terri Hatcher is the first babe--the one who always dies early--is the way-too-fussed-over lavender trophy 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. Sometimes being on a show popular with moms who used to watch it on upstairs TV is not enough!

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 Never's "this one's for the boys" ante is its perfume shop dependence on 90s blue neon and of course Pryce's Calvin Kleinesche uber-henchmen, played by Gotz Otto. With his posh nightclub bouncer physique and tight black T-shirt attire, Otto's actually the prettiest young thing in the cast. When Pryce orders him around it's in the same endearing faux-angry tone older rich gay men use when giving their young buck arm candy just enough public chastising to warrant their 'personal assistant' paycheck. A marked step up from the raging homophobia in Diamonds Are Forever, but this is James Bond and they're the bad guys in both instances. Aren't they, Mr. Wind?

It's all okay, the 90s was a forgiving time. The dawn of the metrosexual, when even straight boys read Details and kissed each other hello on their 3 day-stubble. Looking back at how far we've come from even then, (we don't kiss each other hello anymore, and grew our beards out - cuz we proved our points), the hissy fits of the villains are cute, and it's their need to seem straight by slapping around broads to expensively coiffed to actually desire that seems offensive.

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. Which wouldn't surprise me.

Then recently, Casino Royale showed us what we'd been missing after 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 horniness required by 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. No woman wants to see that, not really. 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 back around to Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough. Sweet... sweet Sophie. She's got the sense of nymphonic entitlement we need for a Bond girl, down pat, but then she widens the aperture even farther, becoming more complex than the rest of the cast combined all without breaking the stride of the film or becoming a bore. When Marceau lounges in her gold-trimmed oil rich Turkish-Persian-Uzbekistanian finery and palatial luxuriance, she not only fits the Vogue fantasia mold, she transcends it. Being French surely helps; she acts like she grew up with this sort of stuff. By contrast, Hatcher looks like she'll start stealing the designer shot glasses as soon as Bond steps into the bathroom.

Representing the Americans in 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 the way she goes marching around the abandoned Russian missile silo in sexy khaki shorts and all rudderless qualms slip their hoses. Richard's not a great actress, barely even good, 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 without ever trying to be sexy. She's the archetypal transcendental, slightly-blank, uber-babe - she's the fantasy while King is the fantastic. Together in one film? Mon dieu!

Richards' 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, that's why the very 90s capsule-ish THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH has always been unusual. Its villain, Elektra King is one of only a few femme fatale villains of the series, beginning as an innocent victim of a maniac and becoming a ruthless evil manipulator of a miscast Scotsman. Ah there's the rub: clearly hired because he was so good at being a terrifying Glasgow hooligan in TRAINSPOTTING, another quintessential 90s curio, alongside drum and bass star Goldie as a thug baring his gold teeth in a stoner Bristol patois.

But King's seduction of Bond is so brilliant it redeems the lame dudes around her as well as contextualizes Bond's overall trite condescensions, i.e. where every woman in the world is supposed to fall for him, give up her life for his, and 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 bossy and concerned, even provincial. She can barely refrain from laughing the harder he tries to look paternal.

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 Bond here 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,  with the right director to really guide her, 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 only to stand alone in the corner by the shelves, sneering in contempt at the Hef's collection of X-rated figurines and telling every man who approaches to get lost.

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.

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. 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!" Far more effective would be if she just knocked back a shot of whiskey and said "I'd like you to mosey over there and convince him of our seriousness," when Bond knows she means kill him. What women in the workplace (as seen in movies)  so often fail to grasp is the importance of underplaying. 

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...  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
Miss Taro

Taking it Bond by Bond
Delusion of Competence: Complete Acidemic Review Guide


  1. Priceless review, or recap, or whatever it is. When exactly DID the 90s become dated? All I know is that a few years ago, I thought it was still too soon for VH1's "I Love the 90s" but now I can suddenly recognize, like you, just how dated even the late 90s feel.

    Having been too young to experience the 80s AS the 80s, this is the first decade (unless you count the differently-vibed early 90s) that I've seen slip into "datedness" so it's a little spooky. Plus, the 90s were so post-history it seemed like they existed in a kind of vacuum, immune from the ravages of time. Guess not.

  2. Thanks for your interesting comments, Movieman. You raise an interesting point about the ravages of time on post-history. What it shows, perhaps, is that archness has a shelf-life. "The New Sincerity" is emerging, and just as one era becomes campy and painful, another seems suddenly relevant and revealing. Right now I'd say that era is the early 1960s... "We Can Overcome" and "High Hopes" tempered by the always possible threat of conspiracy-paid snipers.

  3. Agreed...Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Americans played with their iPhones and made smirking jokes on VH1 (while digesting the idea of torture quickly enough to make a pothead movie about it and simultaneously applaud themselves for being "edgy"...yet 7 years later most movies still strenuously avoid any real grappling with 9/11 or Iraq - save through the prism of a WW2 mentality and a Vietnam mentality, respectively). Viva Obama and the New Sincerity! Change may not come in the form of dried-over Clintonistas, but I suspect it will arrive inadvertently at any rate).

  4. There's no need to defend Halle Berry by saying "she can act," cos I'm pretty sure she doesn't know how. Notice how editing was the biggest enhancement for her Oscar-winning role, and notice how that film is pretty much the only defense anyone has for her credibility.

    Give me Denise Richards any day over Berry! Unlike James, I knew Christmas could come more than once a year.

  5. elektra king ...the most beautiful women i have ever seen


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