Bond and Beyond

The recent James Bond blogathon made me think immediately of a book I return to frequently: Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott's Bond and Beyond. It's a study very much part of its 1980s intellectual moment, yet one, I think, that has aged very well.

A key work in British cultural studies, the book examines "the Bond phenomenon" across the novels and the films, up to the mid-1980s, both situating the texts ideologically and opening them up to their receptive contexts. Bennett and Woollacott's notion of reading formations is, perhaps, their most noted contribution to the field. In this instance, they examine two distinct reading formations, the first initial reception of the Bond novels in the British imperialist spy novel, the second the accommodation to spectacle and irony by force of the film adaptations.

Bond and Beyond makes some interventions in 70s film theory approaches (e.g. a critique of Mulvey), but one part that I think is particularly worth revisiting is their production case study. Written without much consideration of the film history work by Gomery, Bordwell, et al., it nonetheless calls for a closer examination of production history. Worthwhile, from my vantage, it its exploration of "occupational ideologies" of producers, directors, writers, etc. It's an issue I'm increasingly hopeful to apply to the house style of 1940s Hollywood.

In their postscript (from the vantage of 1987), the authors try to speculate what has happened to the Bond franchise and what will happen:
While A View to a Kill attests to a further attenuation in the ideological currency of Bond and, we would guess, a consequent narrowing in the scope of his appeal, his personal qualities are not appreciably enhanced in the process. For all that... it will not doubt make a reasonable profit. It will do so, however, less because of the cultural and ideological resonances of the hero or because of the Bond formula than because it is, simply, a Bond film. James Bond, well past the twilight of his career, is now, more than anything else, a trademark which , having established a certain degree of brand loyalty among certain sections of the cinema-going public, remains a viable investment in the film industry. (294).
In other words, by the 1980s, the Bond phenomenon went from being a first-order phenomenon (it reflected contemporary ideologies) to being a second-order phenomenon (it served merely as "Bond movie" event). From what I gather reading the Blog-a-thon entries, one might see emerging a third-order reading formation of the Bond films, a diagnosis and celebration of the particular spectatorial experience associated with 1980s multiplex cinema.


Popular Posts