You might have gotten wind that this year marks 007’s 50th anniversary. Under the ceaseless barrage of Bond-branded tie-ins, you might have simply gotten wind. Still, as Skyfall fills multiplex stalls from Eton to Scunthorpe, so a convoy of books has been issued to illustrate, pontificate, and above all, celebrate the agent’s vaunted history keeping the British end up.
Taschen, never knowingly underpublished, have assembled The James Bond Archives, a tome so bulky it would rival the residence of an over-schooled megalomaniac clad in a dun-coloured safari suit plotting world domination over his built-in piranha pond. Pictorially this snake-skinned epic is as adorable as Kissy Suzuki, traversing five decades of Bondian glamour and robust shop-floor manufacture from Dr. No to Skyfall, manfully including Sean Connery’s unwelcome comeback in Never Say Never Again (if not the gimcrack dottiness of the original Casino Royale).
Granted full access to the Eon archives, we can only drool over the extraordinary (and much of it unseen) evidence of the series’ languid brand of escapism — however self-aware they have become, these remain films offering ordinary lives a dream of impossible beauty, tireless thrill and iceberg cool. Here is Honey Ryder menaced by crabs in a scene cut from Dr. No; here is screenwriter Roald Dahl, clenching his pipe while consulting with Broccoli and Saltzman like a pair of scowling Goldfingers; and here is Daniel Craig cracking up between takes in Casino Royale. Such a list could run forever, and editor Paul Duncan’s rhythm of mixing movie stills over lavish space with behind-the-scenes detail (how is it model shots are so beguiling?) moves adoringly from film to film.
And amid the world-spanning splendour, there is something electric in glancing over the agreement drawn up between Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in June 1961 to cement their joint venture, to read, “I am negotiating to acquire all the motion picture and television rights, or options thereon, of all the James Bond stories by Ian Fleming.” Still, such eye-catching particulars prove thin on the ground. Compared to the prolific minutiae of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, there are only dribs and drabs of script pages, designs and personal notes — the telling scribbles in the Bondian margins.
Meanwhile, the accompanying text errs to the conventional: no more than standard-issue interviews (many of them lifted from the DVDs), and long-in-the-tooth testimony as to each film’s complex creation and the series’ endurance. As a visual gallery of what Bond has given to movies, glossy and rather unwieldy (bedtime reading for Oddjobs alone), it is peerless, but it goes no further than that.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan