Sunday, October 15, 2006
I almost don't know where to begin in talking about Live and Let Die. This movie is so fucking awesome in just about every way that a movie can be awesome. I haven't seen it for a very long time. I remember seeing it on television in the 1970s and I remember thinking it was pretty neat. I remember Jane Seymour (as Solitaire) and I remember all the wiggy supernatural shit. But I haven't seen it for close to thirty years and I didn't realize just how good this movie is until I watched it a few days ago.
I did not see Live and Let Die in the theater when it first came out. It was 1973 and I was nine years old. My parents didn't think my brother and I were old enough for Bond movies just yet, I guess. But I do remember my Dad making a big deal out of it the next day. (And I don't remember my Dad making a big deal out of anything when I was a kid.) I specifically remember one scene that really impressed him, the scene that, to me, defines this film. It's later in the film, when Bond has been captured and the bad guys take him to a remote alligator farm in Louisiana and they leave him on a little island in a swamp that's full of alligators! Eeeek!
And James Bond just runs across the alligators' backs and escapes.
Wow! I thought it was PRETTY AWESOME just from my Dad's description. And it was pretty awesome when I saw it on TV as a kid.
And it was pretty awesome when I watched Live and Let Die a few days ago.
All any movie needs is just one scene like that to be a good movie. And I will be saying a little more about that scene later on. Of course, that's not all there is to like about Live and Let Die. This is just a totally awesome James Bond Experience. Lots of action, Roger Moore (his first James Bond film), great Bond girls (Jane Seymour and Gloria Hendry), Yaphet Kotto as the villain, voodoo, great music, Paul McCartney and Wings, alligators, Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a big mean black man with a hook, jazz funerals, a big chase in the bayou, tarot cards, unbelievable oufits for Jane Seymour. (I mean, how the hell did she even move dressed like that? WTF?)
You may recall that I was kind of hard on the original 1954 novel, but it's amazing how just a slight adjustment in attitude can make all the difference in an intellectual property. The novel had done quite well for its time, but it was unfortunately profusely decorated with Ian Fleming's repulsive and condescending attitude towards blacks. Despite a number of exciting plot elements, some of which ended up in other films (see For Your Eyes Only and License to Kill), the novel was a bit of an embarrassment, and its easy to see why the filmmakers put off making a film of it. Dr. No came out in 1962 and the decade passed, and Live and Let Die was passed over for filming repeatedly.
But things had changed by 1973. As noted, there was a new James Bond. Roger Moore would define Bond for the next 15 years. As much as I like Sean Connery, there is something about Roger Moore's portrayal that I find very compelling. His James Bond really enjoys being James Bond. Every minute of it. Blow him up, shoot him, throw him out of an airplane, he smiles, smiles, smiles, the whole way. Now be a good chap and bring on the birds already.
Roger Moore's James Bond seems to realize that he is a fictional character. He's more like Bugs Bunny than anybody else. Nothing flusters him because he can do whatever he wants, he never gets hurt, it always works out for him. (And I'm not sure who would win in the epic battle between James Bond and Bugs Bunny. My money's on Bugs. 6-5.)
Live and Let Die was Moore's first Bond film, and it really set the tone for James Bond in the 1970s. The major fountain of inspiration came from a very unlikely source: blaxploitation film. It was like Simon Templar had stumbled onto the set of Coffy or Dolemite, and everybody decided to just go along with it.
This is the difference in attitude I discussed earlier. The blacks that inhabit Live and Let Die – the movie - are not the shiftless sharecroppers just off the plantation as Ian Fleming imagines them in the book version. They are smart and strong and tough. Nobody in this move is saying words like "perzackly." And nobody in this movie is talking about his "natural affinity for the Negroes."
It makes for a much more entertaining evening. Bond seems to be almost color blind, just a British secret service agent doing his job, and his job just happens to take him to Harlem, New Orleans, the Caribbean and a number of voodoo ceremonies. He's fighting Negroes, but he is not obsessed with race. "I say, old chap, I hardly noticed."
Bond jumps in a cab and asks the (black) cab driver to follow a specific car. The driver asks him if he knows what part of town he is going to. Bond offers him $20 and the driver says he'd go to a "KKK cookout" for that kind of money. Then black dudes with walkie-talkies are saying stuff like, "You got a honky on your tail," and "It's like following a cue ball."
This movie is so AWESOME!
Think of it! They made a movie about blacks and harlem and voodoo and New Orleans with wit and cleverness and understanding without making fun of the negroes and making it into a minstrel show to entertain whitey.
Bond is just about to get a special Harlem welcome from various henchmen and he is rescued by a black CIA agent. The agent lauds Bond for "the clever disguise you were wearing."
It's not necessarily politically correct (whatever that concept means after the conservatives get done abusing and manipulating and defining it for the reptilian brains of Republican voters), but it's not insulting either. It's just fun, fun, fun.
The plot, briefly, has Bond investigating the deaths of three British agents, (one each at the U.N., in New Orleans, and in the fictional Caribbean country of San Monique). The investigation centers on the president of San Monique, Kananga, played by Yaphet Kotto. Part of his entourage is the seer, Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour, who looks at tarot cards and wears weird oufits stolen from the Chinese opera and tells Kananga the future. But she loses her power if she loses her virginity and Bond sees to that about halfway through the movie.
So Bond goes to New York and San Monique and New Orleans and a bunch of stuff happens and he meets Solitaite and then he meets a black CIA agent named Rosie Carver (played by blaxploitation player Gloria Hendry) and they eventually find out that Kananga is growing enough heroin to put the major heroin producers out of business and then he's going to take over heroin operations in the US and use the money to ... take over the world or something.
Jane Seymour is totally awesome! Totally hot, no matter what weird Cirque de Soleil nonsense she is wearing. (Jane Seymour, by the way, is still a stunning-looking woman in 2006.)
Of course, the highlight of the film is the end chase scene that starts with Bond's little sprint over the backs of the alligators. The documentary on the DVD says that the sign that says "Trespassers will be eaten" is a real sign at the alligator farm. The place was run by a fellow named Ross Kananga who left such an impression on the filmmakers that they named the main villain after him. Kananga was also the only guy who would do the stunt with the alligators. Those alligators are tied down, but still pretty dangerous. The shot, with Ross Kananga as Roger Moore as James Bond running over the backs of the alligators, took five takes and they are all shown on the documentary. It's pretty neat! He keeps slipping on their backs and falling in the water. In one take, he falls and gets his shoe stuck on an alligator's teeth and it takes him a few minutes before he can get away! Eeeeek! It's fun to watch how they set this up. James Bond running across the backs of the alligators should be one of the defining moments of 1970s cinema.
And that's just the first few seconds of a chase that goes on for twenty or thirty minutes as Bond steals a motor boat and evades Kananga's men in various boats and cars. And the Louisiana State Police get involved and they chase him all over the dang state and it lasts forever. It's pretty awesome! Just like the rest of the movie!
For more information on Live and Let Die, check out the wikipedia entry.
Next: Goldeneye gets very high ratings!
Also, Titan Books is collecting the James Bond comic strips from the 1950s and 1960s and my local library has the Goldfinger collection! So I'll be reviewing that soon.
Also also, there is only one more James Bond film left after Goldeneye! So soon we will be finishing up the James Bond movie reviews with Diamonds Are Forever! Remember: Sean Connery IS James Bond, no matter how good Live and Let Die or Goldeneye is!
And, also also ALSO, the new version of Casino Royale is opening November 17 and I will be reviewing that. (I have a sinking feeling that Daniel Craig will be the LEAST of this movie's problems.)
And, also also also ALSO, I still haven't read the collection Octopussy/The Living Daylights. So I hope to get to that soon.