Saturday, March 31, 2012

Firing blanks? The Living Daylights

As I watched the title sequence of The Living Daylights, I had an epiphany. For the past 14 months I'd believed they were just the prelude to the action. Now I realise they're actually a depiction of Bond's subconscious. In Dr No, when Bond was a half-formed plot cipher, his id was just a series of geometric shapes glowing in the darkness. As we reached early maturity in Goldfinger, Bond was dreaming of a woman with a car license plate for a mouth. By A View To A Kill he was terrified by frigid women wearing neon. And as he reached The Living Daylights, he was concerned with firing blanks while a Scandinavian warbles. I'm not sure what it means, but then I'm no psychologist.

Although ... Much of Bond is obsessed with potency, or the lack of it. We had to endure successively less virile Bonds each time Roger came to the screen, and yet just as we reboot with a younger, keener Timothy Dalton, what do we get? A plot that seems filled with dud ammunition, whether it's Kara's decoy rifle, the disappointing payload they fire through the gas pipe to Vienna, or the faux-shooting of Pushkin. It's almost like John Glen was trying to tell us something.

Freudian subtexts aside, this is a film where Bond started being good again. I remember at the time being disappointed - where was Jaws? Where were the silly gadgets and the sub-par innuendo? Somehow I missed the supercharged madness that was blaring from the screen, from the moment the Land Rover flies off the rock of Gibraltar and dives into the sea, until the just-as-bonkers stunt out the back of the Russian cargo plane at the film's climax.1

Hmm. Climax. Can't get away from Freud.

There are still moments when you want to heckle. When Bond declares "We have an old saying, Gyorgi, and you're full of it" my immediate instinct was to yell "An elephant never forgets" at the screen and some part of me wished that after saying telling Kara "That's not human, that's an animal's heart", Dalton would have given a meaningful pause before saying "I spent my summer holidays working in an abbatoir".

Kara is dull, but it's difficult to find a Bond girl to get excited about after Grace Jones. The snow chase on the cello is ok, but not brilliant, but I suppose we're really hitting the point of diminishing returns with Bond on the slopes by now. At least there are no double-taking pigeons, hovercraft-gondolas or men cooking quiche to impress women.

I have precious little else to complain about. Yes, I see now that my deepseated fear of automatic doors can be traced directly back to this film. Yes, Necros is an awful name for a killer milkman - it is the name for a Greek Marilyn Manson wannabe, not an apparently Eastern bloc killing machine.

And yes, Joe Don Baker is criminally wasted in this film. In my memory, the enormous-faced actor had another half hour of screen time, to fully allow him to digest all the scenery he chews, but alas, he hardly has time to sneer before he "met his Waterloo". I blame watching Edge of Darkness when young and impressionable, but there isn't a film that couldn't be improved by another twenty minutes of Joe Don Baker. Luckily, he'll be reincarnated in a couple of film's time...

Dalton is a great Bond, although occasionally his face resembles Mr Punch from Punch and Judy. And when his stunt double and Necros' are having that fight, they have the most lamentable wigs I've seen in some time. And I live near the Lucky Wig Shop in Singapore.

The only odd thing for me now, looking at this film from 25 years away, is that the actor playing Felix Leiter this time round is John Terry, a name more firmly associated with football players and allegations of on-pitch abuse. Does that mean if we'd paid more attention to the cast list we'd have spotted a 'Ryan Giggs' playing Oddjob's stunt double, or a 'David Beckham' as one of Q's technicians in Octopussy?

To get a double dose of the 80s, I watched the Goonies. I know that's inappropriate, because it was released in the same year as A View To A Kill, but then last month I watched Overboard, the greatest film of 1987. The Goonies steals the Bond theme, while Data swings into the house at the start on his zipwire, but unlike The Living Daylights, the Goonies doesn't have a discernable plot for much of the film. It's just a bunch if whining children dicking around in a hole in the ground.

It would have been appropriate, then, if excruciating, to have watched the mess that was A View To A Kill alongside the overrated Goonies. It would have made it even clearer that every film from the 1980s seemed to include Joe Pantiolano as a minor evil character, and that he never showed up in a Bond film. If Joey P had been flinging exploding milk bottles around a country home, I never would have got confused and misremembered that as a scene from Never Say Never Again.

I'd managed to fail to watch The Goonies since its release 27 years ago. Everyone I've ever spoken to has raved about it, but it suffers from the 1980s problem of nothing much happening for the first twenty minutes. And it's full of annoying kids. Overboard, meanwhile, had annoying children, but it also has the fragrant Goldie Hawn and Snake Pliskin, and a case of amnesia brought on by a blow on the head.

Both films have golf courses in them (an obsession for the upwardly mobile as ever2) although in Overboard the crazy golf is a way for the yokels to escape poverty; in the Goonies it's an evil monster that destroys neighbourhoods and makes small children cry. And if you have a few cheap looking gems, you can avoid getting your house foreclosed on while standing on the beach.

Finally, the Goonies contains quite a few child actors who grew up to be significant later on. Whereas Bond films are more significant as the equivalent of hemlock to a young actress's career. Just ask Maryam d'Abo.
1 The sight of a man falling to his death, clutching a boot, has to be one of the greatest things in the 1980s.
2 Bond dealt with golf back in Goldfinger, and has happily avoided a good walk spoiled ever since.


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