Agreed. And it is an important element–nothing worse than an under-motivated scenario (well maybe an over-determined one). Hitchcock is the master for me of giving just enough motivation without over-psychologizing his characters so that they become case studies–I think Ingmar Bergman is sometimes guilty of this).
I want to put it a little differently (and I am working it out as I go along, so please bear with me if you can). The ability to perform a socio-cultural critique is usually available with regard to any narrative film. Sometimes it is just a straight-up unpacking of the tropes/cultural associations of a particular film. The example I often cite is JEWEL ROBBERY, a 1932 film by director William Dieterle. The film’s tropes are the tropes of the cultural moment, and Dieterle does not examine, play with, subvert, or in any significant way engage with them. They exist in the film because they were part of the social milieu of the time of production, and needed to be present if people were to understand/follow the film.
Other filmmakers make awareness of this movie-making occurrence a more central concern of their art. For example, Joseph L. Mankiewicz films are rife with characters who are conscious of the fact that they are performing for the other characters in the film–living as performative act. His characters are also highly aware of the societal expectations of their worlds. Constantly in his films we are presented with characters–most often women–who are consciously going against the restraints which society is trying to put upon them. The first line Gene Tierney speaks in DRAGONWYCK–JLM’s first film as both writer and director–is: “Open the letter mother. It is addressed to you. You have the right.” 1946–Rosie the Riveter and WACs and WAVEs have helped to win the war, and this is the line Mankiewicz starts off his movie with. Of course, I argue that the hundreds of other instances I can point to where where something similar happens (a woman asserting her autonomy) in a Mankiewicz film justifies my reading of the action as more than just a line of dialogue to spur the opening/reading of a letter. Again, it is a matter of amassing examples from within the films themselves.
In regard to Bond films, I think Guy Hamilton is very aware of the cultural signifiers his films deal in, and while he is not an envelope pusher, he does play with the tropes more than most Bond directors. His approach is a kind of sly wink of quasi-endorsement/quasi-WTF at social conventions without the need to take a stand against them (LALD fails in part because he–along with Tom Mankiewicz–had an imperfect–if not non-existent–grasp of the cultural signifiers of blackness).
Here is where I take a different tack. I would say that such a deviation is significant–we may not know if it was an intentional act or just an intuitive creative response to the zeitgeist, but it is a clear fact about the film that the Union Jack is prominent to a greater degree than previously (we also get the British bulldog saved from M’s desk). Does this fact link up with any other facts we can establish about the film? I would say that it fits in with the list I enumerated earlier. Intentional or accidental? Who knows, and I do not think it is important since so many aesthetic elements are the result of instinctive creativity–it felt right to the makers of the film.
I would also cite the single shot of a waving Union Jack that comes at the end of SPECTRE–effective in terms of imagery as a transition from the bridge finale to Bond appearing before Q to request the Aston Martin–as answering the plethora of Union Jacks in SKYFALL. The shot jumps out at me every time I watch the film. (Guy Hamilton would probably have cut directly from the bridge to Q and Bond).
Which for me gets answered in SPECTRE–two non-blood brothers, but this time with regard to a father figure.
Maybe. But I would argue that at some point the accumulation of evidence legitimately invites a viewer response. The way I conceive it is that a response has two components–one part is the formal elements found in a film with which we can all agree, e.g., there are a lot of Union Jacks in SKYFALL. The other component is the response a viewer has to all these components. Ideally, it is a preponderance of the former that inspires a thoughtful instance of the latter. Here is an instance of where it doesn’t happen (in this case I think a negative example is helpful).
In the film LONGTIME COMPANION, there is a moment at the end when a gay man alone on a beach imagines all of the friends he has lost being there with him. Not particularly great mise-en-scene, and not an image that finds echo/support from many similar ones. But I am profoundly moved by it. Why? Because since the onset of AIDS, I have imagined that all the friends and lovers I have lost are watching me and will greet me when I die–just the age they were when I lost them. In this case, clearly it is my own fantasy/hope that provides my interpretation of the scene the preponderance of its meaning–a purely personal association dominates.
But in SKYFALL, it is the preponderance in the bucket of formal elements of the Union Jack and other symbols of the British Empire that gives the go ahead to contemplating what they could mean. This contemplation is not a search for the intentions of the makers–no Vulcan mind melds here. A tipping point was reached whereby such a reflections were authorized (if the viewer wishes to engage in them–it is not compulsory).
In this way, i seek a middle ground between “it-is-mostly-chance” and committing the intentional fallacy.