Their Best of Bond


Richard Schickel’s well-researched biography of Griffith chronicles his racism.

There is little evidence that Griffith had non-racist intentions, and evidence that he did. One sample title card from TBOAN (he co-wrote the film): “The Ku Klux Klan, the organization that saved the South from the anarchy of black rule.” The meaning seems as clear as the Bruce Springsteen lyrics you quoted earlier in this thread.

This is why I consider original intentions an aesthetic straitjacket: “I am pretty sure they never tried to be anything more than entertainment.” Besides the fact that one can not be 100% certain about intentions (and I agree that there are degrees of certainty), I would maintain that it is possible that once in a while (maybe more often) the final artwork exceeds the intention(s) of its maker(s)–that the components they have assembled into an entertainment can also be read/seen as something else. But (if I am understanding you correctly) to read the components as “something else” is not a valid reading (no matter how well-supported by formal elements) if that “something else” was not intended by the makers. Hence the aesthetic straitjacket–the only valid readings are those which can be confirmed by extrafilmic reference to records of artistic intention.

Okay–now you seem to be gesturing toward my understanding–that there are additional understandings and arrangements possible beyond those indicated by stated artistic intentions.

I do not understand the distinction you are drawing between “hidden messages” about the zeitgeist and “reflections” of the zeitgeist. I have a vague idea, but I will hold off for the moment.

I agree with the additional stipulation that four of the Bond films show their directors shaping the en vogue (beyond merely making them fit into their films’ overall design), while also exhibiting (albeit mildly) an attitude toward them. I think Orion’s comment is pertinent here:

Mendes clearly dialed back his auteurist tendencies which I think helps make his films successful since the Bond franchise formula is not amenable to full-bore auteurist treatment. SKYFALL was Mendes’ first rough pass at getting the alchemy correct, and SPECTRE his subsequent successful conjuring (after which he wisely gave Bond up in my opinion, though I am interested to see how he will apply the lessons he learned on future films since I would bet that the Bond experience left him a better filmmaker). Hamilton reaches a similar position, but from the opposite direction: a metteur-en-scene who kept tight rein on his auteurist tendencies, though some did leak through as he acknowledged. In both cases, an auteur-lite approach was achieved which served the franchise better than those of other directors.

Agreed, but whether or not that scene reflects Young’s views does not alter a judgment about whether the scene is racist or not. Even if it turned out that Young were an ardent anti-racist who marched with Dr. King, the fact is that the scene is in the movie.

True, but at that time such attitudes were not universally accepted and practiced, and in some precincts they were condemned (TBOAN was criticized as racist even in 1915).

I agree that the films employed elements of their zeitgeists, but they selected among these elements, and in this instance DN could have selected an alternate depiction of race relations–the zeitgeist at the time had more than one. I am not saying that Young picked this one as a reflection of his own values or as an example of what he thought were proper race relations, but he put it in his film, and it must be dealt with as what you refer to as “examples based on what everyone can see or read” (if your intentionality argument is to be maintained).

For me, the scene is objectively racist, and even if we knew definitively that a) Young was anti-racist and did not include the scene in an approving way (which is probably true); and b) such relations were prevalent at the time of the making of the film, such knowledge does not mitigate the objective racism of the scene. In the same way, knowing that Griffith was a racist does not make the title card I quoted above any more racist than it objectively is.

Agreed, but there were people in 1962 who had the same outlook you possess in 2019–there may not have been as many as today, but it was not an unknown understanding. In fact, it was well-known and widespread enough to be fiercely opposed.

I agree it would be wrong. I do not think the films are intended as “pamphlets of white supremacist ideas” (just based on the internal evidence of their formal elements). However, the films do contain on occasion representations that align with white supremacist ideas about race and culture.

But if there is no firm perspective, how can one determine intentionality? If the measure of an interpretation’s validity is how it matches up to artistic intentions, but the intention is not to be firm, then either no interpretation is valid or they all are.

If the artists’ intentions were nothing more than to entertain, then the elements of the film were chosen on the basis of their entertainment value. But if the artists are merely reflecting and eschewing any firm perspective, then they are not choosing on the basis of wanting to entertain, and such passive mirroring can as likely result in incorporating elements that offend as those which entertain.

I agree; it is a huge problem.

Again, I agree. I believe that I have supported my reading of DAF by citing numerous formal elements from the film itself (which is the controlling document so to speak and available to all). Extrafilmic sources such as interviews and production histories are nice, but they are not among the formal elements of a work of art. They can be useful in providing guidance on what to look for and where, and even suggest possible avenues of interpretation, but a reading’s validity is–as you note–based on what everyone can see or read, and the only thing that everyone can see and read is the artwork itself.

Update: an additional thought. Different viewers will use different critical prisms (and not all prisms will be to an individual’s taste). Dustin employed a psychological one in his writing on SKYFALL. I use a queer theory lens (with a soupcon of late modernism). Many approaches are valid, but the interpretations that result from their being brought to bear on an artwork can only be valid if a significant number of formal elements are examined and put to use. If the elements are cherry-picked and few in number, then the interpretation will most often be weak and invalid.


I did not know. Thank you for that information!


You are most welcome. And thank you for this wonderful conversation; I am greatly enjoying it, and your thoughts are both challenging and stimulating.


I see. And I also do not think that extra filmic reference would be more important than the film itself. The film is the base for every interpretation.

My take is: Bond films are not made to achieve anything but entertainment. If any message seems to be detected it is most certainly a coincidence, an unintended result of the usual chaos of film production during which many elements can be controlled, many, however, cannot.

I don´t know if one can give such a blanket statement: the scene is racist. Bond´s attitude towards Quarrel seems to be informed by the understanding that Quarrel, as his servant, should gather Bond´s belongings so they can all continue to flee from Dr. No´s guards. On the other hand, Bond does not exhibit any other racist behavior towards Quarrel in the film. I would even believe that they are friends. He trusts and likes Quarrel. Would it be possible that Bond just is too much of an alpha male and would order anyone to fetch his shoes? I actually would think so. Therefore I would hold off on the reflex to call that scene racist and Young allowing that line to stay in the film as a reflection of his thoughts on race.

Yes - but as you point out by using the word “universally”: a majority did accept those viewpoints, and that is what Bond films reflect. They will never go against the tide or give a voice to minorities. They are designed to appeal strictly to the masses.

I would say the firm perspective of Bond films is “we have the perspective of the mainstream”. The lowest common denominator. Therefore, that perspective is the intention, and that intention can be measured by the film itself and the effect it has.

I would like to point out one major aspect: you argue very intelligently in everything you say - but on the basis of a movie critic. I don’t see that as a contradiction, of course. I actually worked for many years a s a movie critic and also argued based on formal elements and abstract notions. But when I switched to making movies I soon found out that so many aspects of that process cannot be pinned down so easily. Too many people are involved, too many coincidences are occurring during shooting. The end result is NEVER what the director absolutely wanted or was able to control. Just the opposite. And the pressure to deliver the final product is so huge that compromises are made over and over.

That is why so often intentions are not conveyed as they should have been - and why interpretations completely fail. Why did that character wear those socks on that day? The critic: Oh, that must have been a signifier for this or that! The reality: the actor forgot to put on the right ones or threw a tantrum because he liked those socks and wanted to keep them on - or the costume designer could not find any others on that day or complained about the budget not allowing for a better choice - or simply nobody noticed because they had to fight off so many other problems.


I have to search your DAF review again. But I believe I remember that you argued for Wint and Kidd to be a positive example for the film´s views on homosexuality. Do I remember that right? If I do I really disagree. :wink:


This aspect of film making - the “life’s a bitch” element - does happen on every film, yet somehow is always ignored when the film is talked about. The Daniel Craig era of Bond is actually a good signifier of how much those elements outside of the productions control will shape the final film, given QOS, Skyfall and Spectre had well known issues that had to be accounted for (writers strike, MGM financial problems and Craig seriously injuring himself) - Skyfall’s problems obviously ended up playing in their favour - they had to make a Britain centric film to save costs, but as the delays meant they coincided with the London Olympics, that worked, despite none of it being the ideal.


First, sorry for the delay. I work for an LGBTQ organization and we have a huge youth event tomorrow which is taking up much of my time and brain capacity.

My qualification/addition to your statement would be that when two criteria are met, there is the possibility that a message/motif/theme may not be the result of coincidence: 1) when a throw-weight of formal elements is reached whereby a poetics arises; and 2) when this throw-weight occurs in a film made by a director whose other films haves evinced similar throw-weights. Orson Welles said that a film director is a person who presides over happy accidents. Such an artist can bring a poetics out of chaos, and they are rare people.

It is possible. For me, the film reflects too many racial stereotypes and yellow face practices which work against that reading. I have no idea what Young thought–all that can be said is that these elements are in the film he made.

True, but a Bond film is not like a mirror which reflects whatever is placed in front of it, has no option not to do so, and is not implicated in what it reflects. As you note, the Bond films are “designed to appeal strictly to the masses,” and to do so the designers eschew minority voices, and amplify majority ones. The designers may not originate the racist/sexist/homophobic voices of the majority, but they are implicated in the choice to reflect them. The designers’ personal beliefs cannot be discerned since they purchase plausible deniability by saying “We are just reflecting what is in the world, and take no stance on it. We are just trying to please as many people as possible and make money.”

Makes sense. What I would add is that in working to achieve “the perspective of the mainstream” the makers include the good, the bad, and the ugly–they do not differentiate. But going for the–as you note–lowest common denominator, can bring its own troubles–especially when it succeeds. Also, if the intention of the makers of the Bond films were to achieve the perspective of the mainstream, they achieved it, but such an intention might be more economic than aesthetic.

Thanks for the compliment and the same to you.

I agree that in most cases this is true. But then I watch films by Orson Welles or Joseph L. Mankiewicz–both of whom had to make many compromises and suffered great interference in their careers, and yet they directed/produced films that possess a vision and poetics that extend across the entire body of their work.

I think it is important to talk about that element, but what purpose does it serve when making an aesthetic judgment? These facts are extrafilmic (and valuable for production histories). In fact, I wonder if knowing these facts might hinder aesthetic evaluation. For example: I have loved Jackson Pollock’s work since grammar school. Finally, after decades, when MoMA did a Pollock retrospective, I was able to see “Blue Poles,” which had been sold to Australia in 1973 and very rarely lent (only twice since its purchase).

The blue poles of the title were added late in the painting process, and there are different stories about how they came about. One writer noted that so much attention is paid to the blue poles that people risk not seeing the whole work because of the focus on this one aspect and how it came about.

With reference to Bond films: it was only after joining this community that I learned that there were major changes in the ending of SPECTRE during production. On a subsequent viewing, I kept this fact in mind as I watched, yet nothing changed. The ending still worked for me as it had done the first time. But I wonder for some people, if this knowledge taints how they receive the film aesthetically.

Alain Resnais said that a filmmaker does not get to make the films he wants to, but the films he is allowed to. With this statement he acknowledges what SAF and Orion aver about chance, circumstances, and non-filmic events shaping the final product. Ultimately, all anyone can respond to is the film which was allowed to be made. And since what is allowed to a director never matches what she intends, one should avoid using intentions to measure success because–if intentions are never achieved–then every film is thus a failure.