Thursday, November 30, 2006

Slapped, Not Stirred.

I've watched each of the twenty-one films in the James Bond series, in chronological order, over the last nine months. Thus I can say with authority that Casino Royale is hands-down the best movie in over a score of otherwise boorish action flicks, and Daniel Craig is easily the most dynamic, nuanced, intriguing, vulnerable, and skilled actor to portray the titular double-O. And guess what? He's sexier than all the five previous bonds. Guess what number two? He makes Sean Connery look like a flabby, balding, slimy, antiquated, meat-headed Neanderthal in comparison.

After viewing about fifty hours of Bond flicks, I've grown to appreciate exactly how misogynistic the first twenty (and, to a lesser extent, the twenty-first) movies are in their portrayal of women, men, and sex. Women are passive objects, men are violent saviors, and sex exists for male pleasure (or as a way to wrangle top-secret information from naive women). You know, the usual afflictions of any popular cultural output largely informed by male priviledge.

/Commence plot spoilers/ But Casino Royale paints a slightly different picture, much to some viewers' shagrin. Bond seems more interested in playing good poker than bedding a good partner. He only definitively sleeps with one woman, Vesper, whom he eventually falls in love with, and who is clearly the secret agent's intellectual equal. Rather than spending 150 minutes rescuing Vesper from improbable situations, Bond proves to actually be quite bad at rescuing anyone, including himself. If Vesper is a damsel in distress, she can't count on James being her knight in shining armor. Eva Green's character even enjoys the distinction of nearly double-crossing Bond, and only failed deliberately. One disturbing element of the movie, though, was in complying with the theme that the only good woman is a dead woman; the underlying violence toward women is a little hard to swallow, but necessary for the future of the Bond franchise. Far be it from me to choose between a married James Bond and the production of more 007 movies. /Conclude plot spoilers/

Casino Royale
critics having been falling back on the "Sean Connery is the quintessential Bond" argument when defaming Daniel Craig. Maybe this is because Connery helped sculpt Bond's anti-woman demanor over the course of his six films as the character, and the other fourteen pre-Craig* movies took that misogyny and ran with it, thus establishing Bond as necesssarily an anti-woman character. Connery is the definitive Bond specifically because Bond is the asshole Connery made him into. Daniel Craig does not portray a misogynist douchebag version of Bond, so he inherently cannot be what we expect of 007. To which I say, thank goodness.

But why listen to my analysis? Let's let Craig and Sean speak for themselves. Yes, the two men's Bonds aren't clones of the actors behind the tuxedo, but the actors' personal beliefs certainly shine through. Here, Sean Connery explains that it's okay to slap a woman if she's talking too much.** (Not only is that sexist, tasteless, and morally wrong, it's also illegal. Jesus.) Daniel Craig on the other hand, as if to prove how un-Sean Connery he can be, welcomes the idea of having James engage in a gay-themed scene in an upcoming Bond movie. How far in advance can I buy my tickets?

* Or B.C., as I like to say.

** For some reason the anti-feminist propogandists have fooled dullards into thinking that feminists should think that slapping women is acceptable because hitting men is also acceptable and, hey, you wouldn't want women and men to receive unequal treatment! There are so many things wrong with that argument that I'll have to address them in a later post.

7 comments:

Aaron said...

For some reason the anti-feminist propogandists have fooled dullards into thinking that feminists should think that slapping women is acceptable because hitting men is also acceptable and, hey, you wouldn't want women and men to receive unequal treatment! There are so many things wrong with that argument that I'll have to address them in a later post.

This got me thinking... did you think that Kill Bill was misogynistic?

Rebecca C. Brown said...

I never saw either Kill Bill movie, mostly because Quentin Tarantino is a hack, but even more mostly because I don't like watching violence for violence's sake.

Did anyone think those movies were empowering because they portray a woman fighting and killing and cutting people's heads off? Ew.

On the other hand, there's nothing inherently misgynistic about making a movie about super-violent women. It's just disappointing that the only way women are allowed to be on equal footing with men is for them to replicate the worst of male behavior.*

* Not that violence is a "male behavior," nor is male violence more acceptable than female violence. I just mean that cultural prejudices associate violence with men more than with women. (Of course it's hard to reconcile the ideal that violence shouldn't correspond to men with the reality that most violent crime is committed by men. It can't entirely be a cultural construct that makes more men than women violent.)

Aaron said...

A hack? Really? Jackie Brown is one of my all-time favorite films.

As somebody who does enjoy watching violent movies, especially cartoonishly violent genre films like Kill Bill, I don't think that I would argue that the movie was "empowering" per se. I would, however, argue that Uma Thurman's performance in that movie is at least as good as any male lead in any action film.

Also, I thought about it some more and there is a difference between how the male -> female violence makes you feel and how the female -> male violence does; I guess that sort of underscores your point. It's weird to consider, but I'm more comfortable with watching a movie like Audition (if "comfortable" is the right word here) than I am watching men picking on women. I was also going to say that The Shining may be an exception to this rule, except that I realized that all of the good-old-boy-isms in that movie are meant to be pretty repulsive.

Anonymous said...

I saw Casino Royale and was very much impressed for many of the same reasons. Past Bonds (including pretty-boy Pierce "Remington Steele" Brosnan) have been bumbling fools with too many gadgets. Sean Connery certainly portrayed a more misogynistic Bond that is anachronistic now (and probably was then).

Craig, however, plays a Bond for the 21st Century. Ironically, this film shows the early days of 007. If the new Bond continues along this path, I would expect him to beat out his predecessors to be the ultimate Bond.

I find it interesting, though, that Daniel Craig has expressed interest in a Gay scene in his next Bond role. My first impression of Casino Royale is that this is the Gayest Bond film ever (and I mean that as a very high compliment). Maybe it was the tight little blue swim trunk, the lack of a character named Pussy Galore, and the almost complete lack of sensual female images in the title sequence, but I immediately got the feeling that Casino Royale is attempting to draw the Gay male crowd.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Well we should be clear what it means to be "interested" in doing a gay scene. The quote I keep reading in the papers has Daniel Craig saying something like "Why not?". That doesn't sound like he's making a big deal out of it.

I don't think it would work well with the character. Unless he was trying to use a gay guy to get information, and I suppose that's just weird.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

"I would, however, argue that Uma Thurman's performance in that movie is at least as good as any male lead in any action film."

You have to see the male-centric perspective implicit in that statement, right? "Look, she can kill people just as well as any man can!" You throw great for a girl.

I oppose violence committed by any sex against any other sex. For some reason, though, female -> male violence doesn't make it to the bigscreen much, unless it's in a sexual context (which has its own problems).

I pictured Bond using a gay man the same way he'd use a straight woman ("using" being the operative infinitive verb).

Aaron said...

Well, I thought that it was pretty obvious that my sentence was meant more to acknowledge that the genre has long been dominated by men than it was to suggest any inherent handicap. I take your point that people who don't care about action as a genre aren't going to rate "Kill Bill," but except for extreme examples (especially where it substitutes for quality), I'm not much for rejecting art on ideological grounds alone.