Silva’s Great Guess-My-Kink Discussion

I would not have thought so either, and the hot, homophobic mess that was SF made me believe I was right.

But SPECTRE changed my mind. I think one of the keys was Mendes working with Christopher Nolan’s editor and cinematographer. There was a visual capaciousness that worked very well–allowing for both a mythic Bond (who time hops through the franchise) and a realistic one. The mise en scene was also appropriate for the scenes set in Italy which captured/played with the strains of both Classicism and Fascism in Rome’s architecture.


What part of it did you find homophobic? I mean Silva was camp, but his making a move on Bond wasn’t portrayed as a sign of his villainous nature, on the contrary, it was used as an opportunity to show that Bond, as a character in the 21st century, was at least bi-curious.

Exactly, and Bond didn’t react to it in a homophobic way, even slightly acknowledging that Silva was incorrect in thinking Bond would be averse to it.

I thought the bi-curious aspect was done subtlety/brilliantly in SPECTRE when Q comes to help Bond and says: “I hate you sometimes” (from memory). At that moment during my first screening, I wanted to shout: “Bond had sex with Q!!” I was dazzled. But for me this is another advantage of Mendes technique in SPECTRE–he creates room–visually and narratively–for these meaning to emerge–he is not just whooshing a viewer along as in a Bourne movie.

As for camp, depending on how it is used, it can be pro-queer or homophobic. I would argue that Christopher Isherwood’s notion of camp is pro-queer and Susan Sontag’s is homophobic (followig D.A. Miller 's lead here). For me, it is less Silva’s making a move on Bond, than the entire conception of the character which is problematic.

Below is a short piece I published at the time of the film’s release. It was a first impression and I have had more thoughts since, but not pulled them together yet (I actually find it difficult to watch the film straight through). Also, as noted in the piece it was written immediately after Obama’s re-election so it mixes aesthetic and political analysis.

In some ways, watching SKYFALL a few days after the re-election of Barack Obama (and the vote percentages that won for him) is an odd experience. Here is a film that proudly asserts the need for white men after an election that showed definitively that they can no longer dictate outcomes. [2018: Boy was I wrong about that one!] When at the end of the movie, Bond tells M that they are going “into the past where we will have an advantage,” he seems to be echoing Bill O’Reilly in his lament: “The white establishment is now the minority.” Now, O’Reilly has been using this “end of white civilization” meme since last autumn, but it has been picked up by others subsequent to the results of the recent American election, and SKYFALL is an urgent please-come-back-Shane beseeching to white male control and power. M, the first female the series has had, loses the list of agents embedded in terrorist organizations (women are always losing things in those big purses of theirs). When M is brought before a Parliamentary committee, the film cleverly has a woman lead the attack (having a man do it would just seem sexist, so have a talkative viper-woman do it as M is resolutely stiffer than any British lip in history). Even Miss Moneypenny comes back – and she is black this time! But alas, she is also the one who fires the shot (taken on M’s orders, of course) that misses the assassin and hits Bond – not only do girls lose things, they can’t shoot straight either. Moneypenny has decided that the field is not the place for her (Whew!), and settles in behind a desk to be a dutiful amanuensis. And wouldn’t you know – her first name is Eve (we know all about the trouble her namesake started; fortunately her descendant has been securely secretarialized).

And then there is the super villain – Rosa Klebb resurrected as a gay man with a bad dye job. Silva’s (real name Tiago Rodriguez – those damn Latinos! – traitors to the nation who expose agents so they can be killed and, more importantly, do not vote Republican) entrance is lifted from SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, and when he begins to speak I was tempted to think that Cousin Sebastian did not die at Cabeza de Lobo after all. Once again we have the queer male killer – ruthless, heartless, turned out in the fashionable way heterosexuals think gay villains would dress. All he wants is revenge on M(other) for her sins (yes, SKYFALL brings back Momism with a vengeance – the 1950’s never seemed so near). Made me wish I could have Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd back!

But do not worry – once Bond and M(other) get back to the past, they are able to defeat Silva (who even tosses hand grenades like a girl). M(other) dies looking at her good son, who takes up the cause again from the new M (who is white and male, of course). The film then ends with the resurrection (which is what Bond claims he wants at one point) of the classic gun barrel shot (denied to the audience at the start of the film) of James Bond turning, aiming, firing and killing. As red pours down from the top of the screen, the old order has been restored and a new beginning announced. As I said: a most odd experience.


Overinterpreted for my taste.

Movie characters are not automatically a stand in for every group they share traits with.

With Silva I am not even sure what sexual preference he has. He rather appears to me as a joker and a trickster who playacts and provokes, never letting his real personality show.

Also, all the heterosexual posing of other Bond villains for me is not a reason to hate heterosexual men, just to hate that one particular villain for his evil ways.


Agreed, but that rendering of Silva combined with the other politics of the film–especially its longing/need for a het male savior–nullifies the argument (at least for me) that Silva is a villain who happens to be gay. Bond’s not reacting in a homophobic way doesn’t dent SKYFALL’s overwhelming cry for things to go back to the way they used to be. In some ways, SPECTRE is the answer film to this cry (thinking of Keats and negative capability).

So you’re a firm believer in films have their own (somehow entirely individual despite being made by a very large group) social and political views that the audience “sap in like a sponge”, as I recall that theory oh so flatteringly describes it. Thing is, I think you’re reading that into it in many a case, rather than the film aiming for that, for example, Silva being dressed well because it how gay men are portrayed - it’s a Bond movie, EVERYONE is well dressed.

I’m not saying you’re wrong - it’s the crux of English as academia to read meanings into works of art, regardless if it was the writers intent. I know the M as mother Thing WAS intentional (Mendes has discussed it…a lot) but the white man ruling the world interpretation is, I’m afraid, coincidence. Silva was only had a Spanish real name AFTER casting, so as to justify Javier Bardem. Mark Strong was considered for the role first. Similarly the reason Mallory doesn’t say his first name much, simply refer to him as Mallory, is they where looking at actors of both sexes for the role, only later settling on Fiennes.

I could go on (I had a different, more meta textual take on the “back to the past” and the paintings for example) but I won’t as it does seem slightly treterous to say that there is very rarely symbolism and metaphor in literature and confess that we are far more at the mercy of random chance and luck than we’d like to admit.

For me, Silva fits nealty into film history’s long line of villains whose villainy is indicated by their queerness.

Historically, queerness has been used as shorthand for villainy/evil (Mrs. Danvers anybody?). So if a film maker is going to present a queer villain, she invokes this history. A viewer can choose not to engage this history, but that does not mean it is not there.

Heterosexuality was not used in a similar fashion–a heterosexual villain was bad for how he (mis)treated women, not for the fact that it was women he was (mis)treating.

Quickly: thanks for this great discussion. I will respond, but I have to go into my office; my silence is neither disinterest nor rudeness (besides I sometimes have great thoughts on the subway ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan).

This more than anything; it’s the writer trying to create a new situation.

That may have subconscious roots in the writer’s psyche and the culture’s undercurrent or trend, or even it’s ancient foundations.

But if it had been done before in Bond i doubt it would’ve found it’s way into the Bond vs. Silva dynamic, regardless of the writer and culture. Hope that makes sense, i’m in a rush :grimacing:

Me too on the london underground, like “Why can’t i breath? Oh yeah, because we’re crammed in like sardines”, “Who’s hand is that - which pocket is my wallet in?” “Am i standing in the least vulnerable part of the carriage if a bomb goes off?”

I usually get off dehydrated, violated and grateful to be alive. Very inspiring.

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I am a believer that films contain (not quite sure there is ownership involved since that implies intentionality which may not exist) social and political elements–often contradictory ones (see Robin Wood’s "The Incoherent Text). As for the audience, it depends on the viewer. Some viewers are partisans of the It’s-Got-a-Good-Beat-I-Can-Dance-to-It School of Appreciation. Social/cultural meanings are not important for them. My husband cares about two things: plot and performance. Whenever I say a film is good, he asks is it good for everyone or just Brian-good. He gets interested in the cultural side when it comes to a film’s portrayal of black characters (he is African-American), and sometimes Southern characters (he is from rural South Carolina). Otherwise, he is all about story and acting.

Sometimes a film (or any work of art) hits something it was not aiming at. The question is how does/doesn’t Silva fit into the history of villains whose villainy was signified by their being queer.

Exactly, and after acknowledging the trope, a viewer will respond to it in his fashion. The critical act (roughly said) has two parts: the recognition of the formal element (in this case the Oedipal shadings) and then the response of the viewer to that formal element.

What did Goldfinger say: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

Throughout the course of the film, the signifiers add up–the sumptuous wood-paneled/leather interior of M’s office; M’s old school attire; a black women accepting that sitting behind a desk is where she belongs; the resurrection theme; the nostalgia trope; etc. This amassing moves things beyond coincidence for me.

Part of the ongoing pleasure of Bond films is how their narratives amass cultural signifiers–would MOONRAKER be MOONRAKER if not for STAR WARS? Want to have a window on 1960’s culture regarding masculinity? Look at the Bond films. Want to be exposed to the Tory understanding of/response to the death of the British Empire after WWII? Read Fleming’s novels.

But once they settled on a white man for the role, it brought history in–franchise history; cultural history. Then there are the choices that Fiennes makes in playing the role.

Same thing here–once they cast a Spanish actor in the role–cultural meanings come into play. Unless an artist goes the Stan Brakhage route, these associations occur. Part of the success of a work of art is how well it navigates the cultural associations it swims amongst.

Of course there is–and some artists are much more conscious of deploying symbols than others–a menagerie of glass animals anyone?

I think great artists do admit that. John Ashbery in his great poem “Flow Chart” would incorporate sentences that come across his radio as he was writing–just dropped them in.

But once the artistic choice is made, rafts of associations are brought in–both intentionally and unintentionally. Great art and artists manage this reality best.

It may have not been their intention, but audience reception matters. Saying this can also be a CYA job when they realize that the character came across as gay to some viewers and not in a good way. Should they have recognized the possibility? I would say yes–the history of queerness signifying evil is too long and rich to be ignored in my opinion.

The problem is that certain audience members were not made uncomfortable in the way they thought they would (once again the problem of authorial intention arises).

Also a possible reading. I never thought of it. Thank you.

Thanks for an interesting take on SKYFALL from its day - though I’m afraid you are giving it much more credit than it actually earned. In my experience they are mostly struggling to come up with a decent thriller script that gives its characters proper purpose and motivation throughout the romp. Deeper socio-cultural meaning may creep in from time to time, but probably rather by accident than intent. (I keep wondering if it has significance or import that SKYFALL features more Union flags than a dozen Bond films combined - probably not, though there may have been something in the air)

SKYFALL has this Mommy motif, something that doesn’t reflect favourably on M in view of her treatment of Silva. By default this also includes a lost son (both Silva and Bond are disowned/abandoned) and a competing brother motif. And while the bad brother isn’t able to kill his mother, the good brother isn’t able to save her.

All that is inside the film - but in my view none of it is meant as a commentary, at least not in the sense that there’d be a moral to be learnt from it other than that persistence, braveness and steadfast loyalty will prevail.


I am fortunate in that I work slightly odd hours so I usually get a seat. But during rush hours I have the same thoughts, especially when the train is under the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan–definitely have had bomb thoughts and that there is no good part of the car to be in (also on Manhattan Bridge–if the bomb goes and the car falls into the river, do I push out the emergency windows immediately?).

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I don’t think Skyfall is homophobic per say (though the character of Silva is borderline and not a good example regardless of their intent) but it deals in the usual nasty stereotypes (effeminate, gay, depraved villains while any homosexual sexual content is dealt with as a joke) that have run rampant in Hollywood since forever -

interestingly both Mendes films’ villains are Bond’s brothers (from different mothers) that he was both superior to for whatever reason.

Mod note: split this discussion from the News thread.

On Silva: there is a villain who really has an important and somewhat more detailed backstory, with his fixation on M as a mother figure - possibly another orphan she recruited early on? - with his being disowned and tortured, yet being faithful to his mother figure to the point of (failed) suicide. Disfigured on body and mind, a specialist for manipulation and destruction by keyboard out on his own - which of all these traits is Silva’s most defining one? Is it really homosexuality that’s sticking out there?

I can only give my own impression; I wasn’t bothered whether Silva was supposed to be gay or not. For me his defining moments are when M reneged him for the second time, face to face. This guy was tortured to a heartbeat from losing his mind - and then they told him his handler, his boss and sole person of authority has betrayed him so that he may rot in the enemy’s prison. He decided to die but failed. And now the creature that came out the other side of this nightmare wanted revenge.

Or did he?

The moment he’s back in London, safely packed into the Silence-of-the-Lambs dungeon facility SIS keep for their more unconventional retirees, he’s still craving M’s attention. Maybe even her forgiveness and approval. It may sound far fetched - and is probably overanalysing the film - but there in these scenes I got the impression if M had acknowledged her own “sins”, if she had begged Silva to forgive her, then he’d just handed over his entire operation and the film could have ended there and then.

For me, Silva’s dominating trait, amid all his crazy schemes and actions, is that he loves M to the point of destruction.

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Well I’d ceratinaly open the Champaign before the east river muddied the vintage.

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.