Sunday, July 29, 2012

East is East But The World Is Not Enough

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Which makes 1999 a bit like France, I think; we think it was cool and sexy, but they turn out to have a really strange sense of humour, and sometimes they smell funny. (Or have bits of one of their ears missing.)

They look odd to us too. I remember the pneumatic Denise Richards being the pinnacle of feminine achievement in 1999 - she'd got huge boobs and she'd been in Starship Troopers - what more could you want? - yet when we first see her outside the nuclear repository, she looks a bit drawn, almost haggard.  Perhaps The World Is Not Enough is her Dorian Grey portrait, gradually decaying as she goes through marriage and divorce to Charlie Sheen. Brosnan just looks a little bit soft and flabby.  He did in Goldeneye too - perhaps as we get ever closer to the roid-rage Bond of Daniel Craig, we become more critical of the Irishman's physique.

But I'm jumping ahead here.  We don't meet Denise Richards for an awfully long time.  First, we have the longest pre-credit sequence of any Bond film, as we get a tour of Bilbao and the London Docklands, in which Bond gets to drive a speedboat through a fish market and a restaurant.  I think that's a call-back to For Your Eyes Only.  Bond is a normal person just like you or me: he hates poncy people who can afford to eat in fancy-schmancy restaurants, whether they are apres-ski or just overpriced fish, and will do his best to disrupt any meal by skiing/boating through it.  Is that a third-time around Bond trait?  I don't remember Connery getting up to any restaurant-wrecking shenanigans, but I'm worried we'll have to watch in Skyfall as Daniel Craig storms into a children's party at McDonalds and punches out a clown.  Wait and see, everybody...

It turns out that the boat was something Q was building for his retirement.  Because when you retire from MI6 and want to spend the rest of your days fishing, of course you're going to need torpedoes.

We're at Bond #19 now, and there's an awful lot of cliche.  Even M is phoning a few things in, saying "I will not tolerate insubordination" - but she always does. At least she comes up with the zinger "Shadows stay in front or behind - never on top" to remind Bond to behave himself.  Then he's off to Azerbaijan.

When I watched this, I wasn't sure whether that really was Azerbaijan, because it looked an awful lot like Surrey to me. I was wrong; IMDB tells us that they did film in Azerbaijan.  And Swindon. So that may have been an authentic oil pipeline through Wiltshire.  We don't spend too much time there, because (thankfully) it's soon time to go skiing.  Brosnan is incapable of resisting the awful one-liner "I came prepared for a cold reception" but hey, there's snow.  Snow, that guarantee that things will look good in almost every Bond film since OHMSS.  (OK, For Your Eyes Only was disappointing, but I'd still be happy if Skyfall turned out to be three hours of Daniel Craig in salopettes falling down a nursery slope.  And then punching out a clown at a McDonald's children's party.)  It's a shame that the chase between the comedy wind-up parasending quad bikes and Bond is a bit rubbish, and it's also a shame that it doesn't make much sense when you think about the plot, but never mind.  What kind of loser pays attention to the plot in these things anyway?

The World Is Not Enough just feels flabby for most of its run time.  Maybe Robbie Coltrane's casting was a plan to distract from this.  Look at the fat man!  Look how fat he is!  Compared to him, our plot is sinewy and tight!  It doesn't involve not much happening for quite a while at all!  Despite Ms Richards and her assets, I was growing quite bored with the whole thing, until for a couple of minutes Begbie and Dame Judi are in a room together, without anyone else, and actually properly act for a bit.  The tension in the film ramps up ... and then dribbles away again once M is on her own, fishing about with a broom handle to try and catch a clock.

Other oddities: there's continued Oxbridge revisionism.  Bond himself says that he studied at Oxford, but we know from way back that he had his degree in Oriental Studies from Cambridge, and although they're basically the same place (sets from Hogwarts masquerading as an educational facility) they are slightly different. I think Bond has been a bit too busy killing people to do two degrees.  Poor old Sophie Marceau is an even less diligent scholar, though.  She thought Bond wouldn't shoot a woman in cold blood - well, as he's been slapping them around and locking them in wardrobes for decades, bumping one off was never going to be much of a challenge for him.

What is a challenge is getting up.  Every time Bond falls over (and the 'plot' demands that quite a lot) he gurns like a frustrated pensioner - I was glad to see that Brosnan's acting is finally rising to the quality of the writing.  By the time he's in the submarine, yelling 'Hold on!  Hold on!" like Victor Meldrew with a PPK, I began to wonder if this whole film was a bid to keep Bond popular with old folks. That would explain the whole film apparently being built just to service the hoary old line that closes the whole shooting match; it's not really worthy of fireworks, now is it?

But like I said at the start, 1999 is a different country, and in a plea for sensitivity to other nations, other customs, I watched East Is East.

East Is East is a comedy. It has all the ingredients for comedy: a Great Dane that tries to impregnate people, a patriarch who knocks the crap out of his wife and kids, a scene where he struggles not to eviscerate his son with a bloody huge knife ... hang on.  I'm all for dogs trying to hump people, but I don't think I was around when slapstick was being defined as people being seriously injured.

Was that just part of the tail end of Cool Britannia?  Did we think that was acceptable in 1999 because it portrayed domestic violence in the 70s?  Or rather, did we think that a man giving his wife a black eye was funny, rather than horrible?  I put East Is East on after a hard day when I wanted to be cheered up, and after a happy half hour where the kitsch of Times Past was explored, it juddering and changed into this grim depiction of arranged marriages and beatings.  Yes, there's a happy ending where a woman has a rubber vagina thrown into her lap, and the dog gets to have sex with the same woman a few minutes later, but it doesn't really address the whole battering issue, and I'm trying not to make a pun about the chip shop here.  Instead, George and his wife have a cup of tea, and that's that.  It might be written from life, but I'm baffled how that was labelled a comedy.

Still, Roger Moore was labelled suave while knocking the ladies about in The Man With The Golden Gun, and that was in the 1970s.  Maybe when they made East Is East they were trying to reproduce the Golden Age Of Seventies Humour.  And Thumping People.

That aside, the contrast between the two films I've chosen randomly to combine has never seemed so huge.  Not even when I watched a Ridley Scott horrorshow with David Carridine and Harvey Keitel cutting lumps off each other.  There's plot, there's reference to important bits of history (like Enoch Powell and his 'rivers of blood' speech) and there are nuances of character, and real relationships, and frustrations and confusions in East Is East; I know The World Is Not Enough is just a confection, meant to be mostly crash-bang-wallop, without much in the way of characterisation, but it's also got a lot of soggy nothing much happening; at least East Is East feels honest, rather than just another rote exercise in by the book Bond.

And yet at the time I thought The World Is Not Enough was quite good.  Not as good as Goldeneye, mind, but with 13 years perspective it now seems dreadful. So that's the real problem with the past - sometimes you go back, and the tourists have ruined everything.  Er.  Fleming would probably say the problem with foreign countries is they're full of foreigners.  I wonder what he'd have thought of East Is East.  Somehow, I don't think I would want to find out.

One last point - there are hardly any Indian villains in Bond films (save for Octopussy) whereas there are loads of Oriental types.  Unless you take Blofeld's Nehru jacket to be a hint that the sub-continent is Full of Evil, I wonder if that's going to change, or if Dr No is always going to be a blueprint for who's going to be the bad guy.


Post a Comment