Here’s an obvious statement: James Bond ﬁlms are some of the most patently offensive, profoundly anti-feminist vehicles around. When women aren’t being drop-shipped into the plots, like so many perfumed rose petals scattered across a satin bed sheet, they’re being escorted swiftly into safe hiding places. Meanwhile, the menfolk unhatch villainous plots, then share a cocktail, a wink and a nudge as they congratulate each other on their bravado and suavity. When a polite shush won’t shut the broad up, it’s OK to get a little rough with her. Bond has never met a dame who didn’t understand a slap in the face or a slug from a Walther PPK. Or one who was immune to his charms.
And yet, given the dearth of good solid female roles in the action movies out this summer, it’s surprising that revisiting this batch of retrograde romps—playing each weekend through Aug. 4 at The Belcourt—unearths a rare treasure trove of fascinating and damn-near complex women. Make no mistake: The women of these early ﬁlms are sex objects. Early Bond seems to have taken one look at the feminist movement, shrugged nonchalantly, then seduced the pantsuit off of it.
But everything is fetishized in the world of Bondage: guns, gadgets, martinis, cars. And no fetish object is given a bigger visual feel-up than Bond himself—represented in the Belcourt series, at the height of his studly, furry-chested virility, by Sean Connery, a beefcake who’s repeatedly served up with minimal garnish: bathing suits in the series’ ﬁrst ﬁlm, 1962’s Dr. No (showing July 5-7), and the wet dream Thunderball (July 26-28); a towel in 1964’s Goldﬁnger (July 19-21). To be sure, the sexual availability of women is just smirky amusement to this conquistador of Camelot-era machismo. Upon meeting Honor Blackman’s aptly named vixen in Goldﬁnger—Pussy Galore—Connery’s response is pure cocked-eyebrow delight: “I must be dreaming.”
If you can say anything positive of the gender dynamics present in Bond ﬁlms, though, it’s that Bond is a complicated man who likes complicated women, and the Bond girls are complicated women who like complicated men. What usually goes unnoticed about the early Bonds is how much 007 exists as a woman’s plaything, a to-do item in her own agenda. Women in the Bond universe, especially the “bad” ones (like Luciana Paluzzi’s femme fatale in Thunderball), assert the same right to no-strings-attached sex as the protagonist. Perhaps more tantalizing are their unexplained backstories. Just the mystery of whatever brought them into James Bond’s orbit suggests a job, a role and a life beyond what tradition would dictate. Even before James Bond entered her universe, even before she arose from the surf in soaking-wet splendor, Dr. No’s ur-Bond girl Ursula Andress had to have a reason she kept that dagger stashed in her bikini.
Best of all, the Bond franchise genuinely cherishes the company of women—even allowing them, within its he-man fairyland, a small piece of the action. What sensible modern woman could possibly choose the wallﬂowery devotion of Iron Man’s Pepper Potts over the secret spy mission of Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love (July 12-14)? The problem isn’t the secretarial desk job; it’s having to play the fawning administrative assistant, holding out for my man to notice me in a backless evening gown—and even if he does, he’ll still retreat to his ofﬁce of supertoys. (The difference between Bond and his protégé Tony Stark is that Bond seeks women out, and he doesn’t forget their names.)
Adventure, exotic locales and international intrigue—and the possibility of honest-to-God lusty romance—beat hand-wringing, doe-eyed devotion any day. You’ll even see the occasional Bond woman hold her own in a game of high-stakes cards, wield a dagger or pistol, or pilot a plane. Viewed in the context of the aforementioned cult-of-the-isolated-man superhero ﬁlms, or Judd Apatow’s retrogressive manchild comedies, it’s novel that women are active presences at all.
But what really makes Bond women such a rarity, particularly by today’s standards, is that they’re capital-W Women: worldly, curvaceous and sensual. They’re a refreshing change from the current obsession with stick-thin, WASPy, barely post-pubescent women gracing movie screens—or worse, the antiseptic ass-kicking machismo of female characters who are merely men in disguise. Their weapons may mostly be their breasts—literally: not just because they entice, but because they’re hoisted into the sharply pointed cone-shaped brassieres of the day—but they wield them spectacularly. Nearly every Bond girl is a real pill in some form or another: vampy, untrustworthy, difﬁcult and unreliable—the true cult of femininity, in the sense that they personify the unknowable. Their loyalties often remain suspect until nearly the end: Will they choose man over country, or betray them both? And though the typical Bond girl is a decade his junior, these women still look shockingly mature by today’s standards. Unapologetically sexual beings, they boldly sneak into bedchambers and pursue Bond as much as they’re pursued.
True, it took years before Bond girls like Tomorrow Never Dies’ Michelle Yeoh or Die Another Day’s Halle Berry truly fought on the frontlines with the same gusto and skill as Bond himself. Too bad it would take nearly 20 before they (mostly) stopped sailing away happily with him in the end. Later ﬁlms are littered with satisfying betrayals from female double agents and vixens with their own world-domination agendas—even if Bond has to, you know, murder them for it. But who believed we could really have it all?
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