I’ve already referenced Taschen’s massive love letter to the franchise, The James Bond Archives: Spectre Edition (2015, Paul Duncan, Taschen) on this blog. At that point, a little over a month ago, I had finished reading the introductory chapter dedicated to 007 creator Ian Fleming, an interview he had accorded Playboy magazine a few months prior to his untimely passing. Compelling, revelatory, insightful, it was a wonderful starting point to what I anticipated would be a stunning adventure into the history of the franchise.
Here we are, some weeks later, and I have read the titanic volume cover to cover, with curiously mixed feelings, much to my chagrin. Please don’t mistake me, the book is really quite good, and some respects, extraordinary, a worthy inclusion in the long line of lavish Taschen art-related books and an obvious choice for any Bond fan’s personal library. Nevertheless, there are some less than satisfactory feelings that cannot be shaken away, even a couple of weeks after finishing it. To be fair, the book is not entirely to blame. Some reasons speak more to one’s obsession and self-ordained mission to learn as much as possible about the film franchise, one of this blog’s many raisons d’être.
I would be remiss to overlook the many positives I take away from my experience with The James Bond Archives. Paul Duncan, the editor tasked with compiling a collection of images and stories from what must have been an ungodly number of archival references, is to be applauded for giving each and every film its due. There is no scenario in which the CR chapter is 30 pages longer than DAF because CR is widely considered to be an overwhelmingly superior film. Nay, every chapter’s page length stretches from about 20-25 pages. Whereas many are quick to dismiss certain installments, the Archives shine a bright light on all 24 official films, and even a little on NSNA and CR 1967, although the texts for the latter two are vintage magazine articles published the shortly before their respective theatrical releases rather than a collection of interviews from the creative minds involved in their production.
Secondly, the images themselves are just as effective, if not more so, than the actual text at relating the stories about the making of these magnificent films. While publicity stills are always fun to behold, it is the behind the scenes photographs capturing brief moments of respite during takes (Timothy Dalton, relaxing on a chair, smoking a cigarette while his head is covered in a pink scarf is fantastic) and the production crews hard at work (I do not envy the fellow that pretended to wrestle the python under water for MR) that speak volumes about both how much fun and how arduous making these movies was. Truth be told, even if reading hundreds of pages of interviews is not one’s cup of tea, acquire the book for the photographs. They aren’t simply beautiful; they are informative, as are the captions that provide additional insight.
Thirdly, I’d be lying if I wrote that I didn’t learn anything. All in all, The James Bond Archives shed some light on the franchise’s history. There are tidbits that were entirely unknown to me before cracking open this chest of treasures. Tatiana Bianchi’s car accident that left a significant scar on her cheek, Timothy Dalton who, after having been asked twice already to play Bond prior to TLD, initially balked at partaking in screen tests, the fact that OP was originally intended to feature the return of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., Blofeld, and have M assassinated, the number of aquatic-themes moments shot in the Bahamas for films in which no scenes in the story actually take place there, etc. My mind was indeed blown on more than a few occasions. It would therefore be disingenuous for me to conclude that the book was uninformative.
Despite that, I am still hungry for more. On the one hand, there are a fair amount of stories that most Bond fans are more than familiar which are repeated in the Archives. The argument between John Glen and Roger Moore about kicking Emile Locque’s car over the cliff in FYEO, how George Lazenby got the role of James Bond for OHMSS, the recasting of Blofeld in YOLT, the bargaining involved to lure Connery back for one more film (DAF), there is a lot of material that has been broached by several other sources, including DVD and blu-ray supplements. One supposes that is the nature of the beast. When attempting to tell as big a story as that of the entire 007 film franchise, some episodes simply cannot be exempt from mention, regardless of how many times they have been told and retold before.
Even so, there are stories that are either only skimmed or not referenced at all. A lot has been said about what and who might have led DAD to becoming the disappointment it is, but nothing in the Archives. The Spectre chapter, probably because it was prepared in conjunction with the movie’s actual production, is mute on really juicy behind the scenes information. It is unquestionably the most bland, matter-of-fact chapter in the entire book, but every 007 aficionado knows that movie’s behind the curtains tales are delicious for their notoriety. The endlessly debated on-set love-hate relationship between George Lazenby and Diana Rigg is given lip service at best, despite almost 50 years of hindsight.
I don’t blame the book, really. Paul Duncan was hired for an almost impossible task and, to be fair, he almost pulled it off. None of that changes the fact that the adventure shall continue to better understand the ins and outs of the Bond franchise. It’s a terrifically exciting, geek-orgasmic ride for anyone with a fondness for this beloved property. Many other sources of information, some of which have been incredibly well received, will have to be studied. Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdury is sitting on my shelf. I’ve been eyeing Charles Helfenstein’s OHMSS and TLD books on Amazon for a while already. I only need to pull the trigger, so to speak. At some I’ll get around to finally reading For My Eyes Only, written by director John Glenn, one of the franchise’s unsung heroes in my opinion and a very underappreciated filmmaker.
Learning about Bond is a lot like being Bond. When one mission ends (James Bond Archives), another begins that might hold even more thrills than the last.