I watched James Bond: Spectre yesterday. The intro was lovely, a nice tribute to death, madness and fear. It reminded me of my psychedelic trips a bit, with the tentacles and arrangements of eyes. Quite intense. The song in the intro unfortunately was very weird and seemed to lack the typical Bond chords. Probably an overly eager wish to innovate. Well, so what.
About a week back, I saw the movie 13 Assassins, which left me mesmerized. So did the movie Ghost Dog. Both share one commonality: They look forward to death, each in his own way. Samurai Shinzaemon in 13 Assassins smiles in existential joy as the cruel result of torture of the corrupt lord Naritsugu is revealed. He in no way fears death; quite the opposite: He is glad to finally face an opportunity to die honorably, in the battle against a worthy monster. This is not accompanied by orchestral soundtracks, no, it is just laid out as what it is. The honest warrior likes his enemy, because he needs him. Despising the enemy is to despise fighting itself.
A kind of maturity that can not be expected from Hollywood.
James Bond Spectre is not a bad film per se. It is actually quite fun. But I will use it as an example of a pattern that I notice in Hollywood. It is the crude reliance on the audience’s ingrained fear and alienation from death. This creates dread and puts the viewer into a mode of dissociation, waiting for the terror to stop, yearning for that final release when the evil boss is killed. There is no room for the hero to fail; it would be emotionally unacceptable for the audience.
The self-pity and alienation from death is only underscored by the orchestral score of today’s movies, as it is in the score of James Bond: Spectre. Whenever the hero is in danger, sad music makes sure that you understand that death is shameful and . As is failure.
The whole process of putting people under tension is of course well studied in Hollywood. I read quite a few books about editing and I used to create videos myself.
The dread is similar to the dread that you put a girl under when you game her and deliberately take your time to respond to her. Such a banal emotion. But of course, it works. Make the audience afraid of something that must not happen and they will just sit there in , hoping for the big release. A bit similar to Western politics, is it not? The great changes and revolutions and ah, the meaningful protests that mark some kinds of historical moments. Speech riddled with extremes and drama, first demonstrating the unbearable hell to come, then contrasting it with an equally crude image of elated catharsis.
In 13 Assassins, everything happens in the moment. Everybody knows they are on a death mission. Nobody worries about it. It is hard not to get immersed in the immense calmness and sense of peace in the warriors. It does not even matter if they will kill the evil enemy; that is beyond the point. The only thing that is relevant is that they have been given a purpose and that they can fulfill their cravings for vengeful violence. No illusions are made about it. No we are the better people. Just 13 guys happy to find meaning through a violent death against the armies of a monster.
When James Bond – at the beginning of Spectre – fights his foe on a helicopter, the music underscores how dramatic and important the whole thing is. What terrible danger James is in. Oh god, let us hope he will live! Oh god, he cannot die! He must be our hero!
We imagine James as the hero who – like us – wants to impress the whole world with his deeds. To impress is more important than to act.
Such a shame, really. When I saw the fight, I thought to myself that there are two ways to approach such a fight:
- Expect to live. Feel victimized by the foe who forces you into the fight. Be torn apart by emotions of anguish, and self-pity. See the enemy as the devil who must be beaten.
- Look into your opponent’s eyes like into the eyes of a friend. Say – and mean: I am ready to die. Are you? I am glad we are having this fight. If this is my last moment on earth, I am honored to share it with you, monster. You are worthy of being fought. This is our intimate moment.
But can you remember a Hollywood movie that would allow for such emotional nuances?
I can hardly. Western movies, with their anti-dialectical approach always portray a fight of good vs. evil. Likely a remnant of Christian culture. The light and the dark side of the force. Good and evil. Et cetera.
The funny thing, of course, is that through repetition of this pattern, it becomes predictable. Since the hero always survives, the audience actually stops to expect anything else. So you need to push further and further to convince the audience that the hero may actually be in danger. More dramatic music, more violent scenes, bigger explosions. In the end, even an exploding world could not possibly excite the audience anymore, because: The hero will always win.
A hero that always wins is not exciting. I remember reading about Game of Thrones and the death of beloved characters. Now, that is a recipe for real excitement and success. Why? Because it shows the audience: Everything can happen. You can never rely on your knowledge of storytelling patterns. We are willing to shock you, to surprise you. And thus you better be in the moment instead of boredly expecting the inevitable.
Thus Hollywood’s sensationalism may really be just a series of attempts to interrupt boredom; boredom rooted in the always satisfied expectation of a happy end. The alternative, of course, is emotional subtlety,, experiencing the moment, embracing all shades of emotions. Even death.
When the real James Bond in the Casino Royale book got captured and awaited torture, what did he think of death? Did he desperately hope to escape? No, that is the way Hollywood makes us feel. The real James Bond knew that that would be futile and stress him too much. The real James Bond did not live in denial, hoping for the real reality to come save him. He was in the moment. Here is what he thought:
Bond closed his eyes and waited for the pain. He knew that the beginning of torture is the worst. There is a parabola of agony. A crescendo leading up to a peak and then the nerves are blunted and react progressively less until unconsciousness and death. All he could do was to pray for the peak, pray that his spirit would hold out so long and then accept the long free-wheel down to the final black-out.
So that was the score, thought Bond, with a final sinking of the heart. The ‘unknown destination’ would be under the ground or under the sea, or perhaps, more simply, under the crashed Bentley. Well, if he had to die anyway, he might as well try it the hard way.
There is something mythical, exciting, unknown and very intimate about death. So intimate that it puts at rest all the thoughts of evil oppressors, if you let it. It becomes an ultimately personal experience. Maybe that is why meditating about it actually brings you closer to your self, makes you less caring about other people’s ideas about you.
Hollywood misses this intimacy with death. It seems ignorant of it. Death in Hollywood seems to be only something to be dreaded, feared, avoided, not contemplated.
The dishonesty and hypocrisy finds its expression in the ending of the movie. For those who saw the ending of the movie, here is my commentary on that:
What I want to see in a movie is a man who embraces what is to come. Who looks into the eyes of madness and suffering and says: Hello, my old friend. Who is not distraught by matters of life and death.
“Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master lttei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.”
– Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo
The feminine imperative
I do not like to use buzzwords, but maybe this will help in Google. Well, who cares.
James Bond: Spectre naturally incorporates a female love and sex interest.
Unlike older Bond movies, the new ones are obssessed with having James obsess over women. It is ridiculous.
I encourage you to read the original Casino Royale book. Remember one-itis Vesper? The one that James fawns over in the new movies to the point where it makes him extremely manipulable? Here is what the original Bond did when Vesper died and after he read her goodbye letter:
For a moment he looked out towards the quiet sea, then he cursed aloud, one harsh obscenity.
His eyes were wet and he dried them.
He saw her now only as a spy. Their love and his grief were relegated to the boxroom of his mind. Later, perhaps they would be dragged out, dispassionately examined, and then bitterly thrust back with other sentimental baggage he would rather forget. Now he could only think of her treachery to the Service and to her country and of the damage it had done. His professional mind was completely absorbed with the consequences – the covers which must have been blown over the years, the codes which the enemy must have broken, the secrets which must have leaked from the centre of the very section devoted to penetrating the Soviet Union.
The telephone rang and Bond snatched up the receiver.
He spoke quietly into the receiver.
‘This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It’s an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this on at once. 3030 was a double agent, working for Redland.’
‘Yes, dammit, I said “was”. The bitch is dead now.’
What a clear expression of concern towards his fellow agents and the organization. Yet in today’s movie, it seems that James is quick to abandon any loyalty and reason for random bitches. Take Spectre. The girl he meets, he knows for hardly two days, and yet there are multiple occassions on which he is being manipulated over his concern for her life.
Here is another passage from the original Casino Royale book, just after Vesper has been kidnapped after a dinner with James where he hoped to get at her:
Bond boiled at the thought of the fix he was in.
Of course. The idea was a straight swop. The girl against his cheque for forty million. Well, he wouldn’t play: wouldn’t think of playing. She was in the Service and knew what she was up against. He wouldn’t even ask M. This job was more important than her. It was just too bad. She was a fine girl, but he wasn’t going to fall for this childish trick.
[…] but if he didn’t catch up with them he would get back to his hotel and go to sleep and say no more about it.
If Le Chiffre put the touch on Bond for the money in exchange for the girl, Bond would do nothing and tell no one. The girl would just have to take it.
Or can you imagine an old Sean Connery type Bond fawning over a girl? Just look at the old movies. What he did there – just going for it – many would consider rape today. But what did the girl say back then in amusement and a little arousal? Mr. Bond, please behave!
Hollywood’s sentimentality finds just another expression in this naive and unsophisticated dramatization of the audience’s emotions.
The modern Bond is a Bond whose only underlying motivation is a bitch. A dead bitch, at that. He can think of nothing else. He has no place for loyalty. No place for friendship. Right. But place for bitches, all the fucking time.
And what the fuck was that old woman all about? Monica Bellucci? It is fucking ridiculous. And they all cajole about how she defies her age and stuns with her performance. I mean, seriously, look at this article and her pictures. She oozes sex appeal? Are you fucking blind? You moronic lickspittles disgust me! All I could think the whole time was: Yuck, she is really old. It is really hard to buy Craig’s attraction to her. They just fucking press this shit down your throat: Old women are great options for a fling and more!
Instead of letting the audience relish the moment and the emotional nuances, Hollywood drowns them in extremes. This of course serves to – through dread and anguish – mask the fact that the movie offers little narrative depth and surprise otherwise. Practically the only excitement of the movie comes either from action sequences or the fear that James may die. Which is ridiculous in itself, because James has a job that confronts him with death all the time. What is the big deal?
Mystifying death is what Hollywood is good at. Being afraid of death. The only fucking sensation in most of today’s movies seem to be one of three banalities:
- Being afraid that the protagonist may die.
- Being afraid that the protagonist may not get the girl.
- Being afraid that the evil antagonist may not get punished.
They have little to offer beneath that. Why is that? Well, because that is what works.
How fucking boring and trite. And childish. How little emotional endurance such an audience must have. And at the same time, how desensitized the audience must be to need this extreme form of stimulation through visual and aural extremes.
And thus it is the only thing that stays as motivation. The audience never really does identify with James, as James must be ice cold in his mind. Ice cold and in the moment. But that is not what the audience experiences. The audience is being distraught on purpose, letting James solve the problem for them while they float in a delirium of unconscious dread.. Victims of their emotions. Somebody has gotta solve it for them. James Bond.
James Bond: Spectre teaches to be a sheep while admiring heroes, like citizens admire politicians. I want a movie that encourages to become a hero instead. By daring to expose the hero’s emotional world, in all its proposed .
As I wrote in a comment on Return Of Kings once, I consider the modern James Bond movies to be the female perspective on the books. Seeing James from the outside and admiring him and worrying about him and hoping he will get the girl and worry about her even after 3 fucking movies (the female audience) instead of identifying with him and embracing death in every single fight and giving a fuck about the girl (the male audience). Oh, she was such a darling, was she not. Left such a beautiful scar in his life. Oh, this one important woman. Oh, what drama!
Mother is the only one-itis any man will ever have.
Hollywood literally turns you into a bitch for the time you watch a movie. The dramaturgy, the music, the visual stimulation make you experience a painful emotional chaos.
I read a word some time ago that may describe the thing I am missing in Spectre: The sublime. .
Go watch it, though, it is fun. And the intro is great. The ending sucks balls including pubic hair, though.