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About three months ago, my brother told me he had taken his daughters, Xanthe, age 12, and Helena, age 8, to see Skyfall (2012), the latest James Bond movie.
“They had never seen a Bond movie before,” he told me, “and they were blown away by it.”
Never seen a Bond, I thought, what could that be like? It just so happened that on Christmas I had gotten a nice present: the 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray collection of all the "official" 007 epics, excluding the final Sean Connery installment, Never Say Never Again (1983) and the comic caper Casino Royale (1967).
It seemed to be fate. Regretfully, I had not spent a lot of time with my nieces over the years, so I thought, "This is a good way to bond with them" (if you'll pardon the appropriate pun) – and also give me an excuse to revisit the movies in their new Blu-Ray incarnations (they look terrific, as my father might have said).
A few people offered me unsolicited advice, all well-intentioned. “You should have popcorn for them,” said my sister-in-law. “There are certain expectations with a movie.” My boss, who disapproves of Bond, was thrilled that I was spending time with them and suggested I listen to them and let them share their movies with me. “You can learn something from them.” My long-time friend, Alan, who had raised two girls of his own, warned me about showing them Doctor No (1962) and Thunderball (1965). “Those movies are too cold and violent for kids. You should show them the Roger Moore films, like Live and Let Die (1973). Those are aimed at kids.”
I didn’t realize that showing a movie could be so complicated. Nonetheless, I proceeded full steam ahead to the first screening. I figured I’d start with what I consider to be the best Bond, Goldfinger (1964) and see what happened. They might not like it. After all, Skyfall’s somber tone and gritty action were light years away from Connery’s tough but slightly tongue-in-cheek sexist spy.
I needn’t have worried. The kids were delighted to be visiting their (probably to them) aloof and slightly eccentric uncle, who would give them videos of obscure comedies, bring them on stage at his improv comedy show, and see them occasionally at family gatherings.
But now we were one on one. I provided them with dinner from The Kitchenette (the next two visits brought us Chinese food from Ollie’s; the fourth visit saw me making spaghetti for them – the least popular meal of the bunch).
They came to the first evening with great excitement, fascinated by my Bond memorabilia (a vintage Thunderball poster framed above my desk; a Sean Connery as Bond sculpture), and at evening’s end, I gave them a signed copy of my book, Bond and Beyond: 007 and Other Special Agents (1993).
Since then, we've watched four Connery 007s, with the common consensus among us being that Goldfinger has been the best so far (it was educational, too: Helena learned not to paint her body gold – unless she left a small bare patch at the base of the spine to allow the body to breathe), with You Only Live Twice (1967) a close second (they loved the volcano headquarters of the bald villain – whom they thought resembled Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers series). We all agreed that Doctor No looked the cheapest, though Connery was lean and mean (and Xanthe wouldn't agree that there was anything wrong with Bond shooting a bad guy in cold blood), and that the best moment in Thunderball was when Bond leaves the dance floor with a newly minted corpse, deposits her at a table of guests, and explains: "Do you mind if my partner sits this one out? She's just dead."
March 17, 2013