Tag Archives: 007

Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #580: Burt Bacharach – ‘Casino Royale (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#580The stain on the James Bond film series for almost forty years before it was remade, Casino Royale began life as Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel. When EON producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli optioned the film series of the books, Casino Royale was the only existing novel that slipped through their fingers. After the owner of the rights to the novel, Charles K. Feldman, failed in his attempt to persuade Saltzman and Broccoli to film Casino Royale, he took it upon himself to produce the adaptation.

In 1967, two months prior to the release of You Only Live Twice, cinema goers around the world were confused by this alternative James Bond film, a spoof on spy thrillers with little or no relation to Saltzman and Broccoli’s films. It’s a huge compliment to refer to it as a James Bond film, when it is in fact one of the worst films ever produced within the parameters of a larger film franchise. It makes The Phantom Menace look like the work of Christopher Nolan.

Five (plus one uncredited) directors worked on the film, and given that this isn’t an anthology film, that just shows what a mess of a production it was. A 1967 film starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen at the height of their comedic powers should be great; instead it’s a disappointing headache of a film.

The only saving grace of the film is the soundtrack – a score by Burt Bacharach, featuring one of his all-time best collaborations with Dusty Springfield on The Look Of Love. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass kick things off with some nice trumpet jazz on the film’s main title, but the remainder of the soundtrack is composed by Bacharach. As a whole, the soundtrack is very much of its time – something Mike Myers and Jay Roach spoofed so well in Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery. One gets the idea that just twelve months following the release of Casino Royale, the soundtrack would have sounded old-hat already. Looking back, it’s a nice piece of swinging London brought to life through the speakers.

Hit: The Look Of Love Dusty Springfield

Hidden Gem: Casino Royale Theme – Herb Alpert & The Tijuan Brass

Rocks In The Attic #368: John Barry – ‘Thunderball (O.S.T.)’ (1965)

RITA#368We watched Thunderball a few weeks ago. It really is a mess of a film, oddly paced and the first real mis-step of the series. It’s only a dash over two hours long, but it feels like a three-hour epic. I have trouble enjoying it, and usually start wishing I’d put You Only Live Twice on instead.

There’s an unintentionally funny scene in Thunderball where Bond dances with Domino in a hotel resort. The band next to the dancefloor look frozen in time, while couples glide around. The audible music is John Barry’s score – an instrumental version of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but nothing matches! The band are supposed to be miming to it, but they’re just standing there, not moving; and Bond, Domino and the surrounding couples are all dancing at the wrong speed to the music. This scene itself is a microcosm of how messy the rest of the film is.

The story behind Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel of the same name is just as muddled as the resulting film turned out to be. Decamping from England to the Bahamas to take advantage of tax breaks, he started working on a screenplay with Kevin McLory, Jack Wittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernie Cuneo. In the prior novels, the enemy was SMERSH (a shortened version of Smert Shpionam – Russian for ‘Death to Spies’ – and eventually referred to in the film of The Living Daylights), but suspecting that the Cold War would end before the screenplay was filmed, Fleming changed the enemy to SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).

The screenplay went unfilmed, but Fleming recycled much of the story for the novel – the ninth in the series. Kevin McLory saw an advance copy and claimed it was based on their collaborative work for the original screenplay idea. Sued for breach of copyright, Fleming suffered a heart attack at the age of fifty three.

By the time the film appeared in 1965, Thunderball was the best selling of the Bond novels and McLory had been awarded the film rights as a result of his lawsuit against Fleming. To be able to shoot the film (and subsequently use the characters of SPECTRE and Blofeld in later films), EON Productions made McLory a co-producer on the proviso that he wouldn’t make his own version of the film for at least ten years. Never Say Never Again – a remake of Thunderball, starring an aging Sean Connery – hit cinemas in 1983, just four months after Roger Moore’s penultimate Bond film, Octopussy.

It’s hard to say which is the better film – Thunderball or Never Say Never Again. Thunderball has the effortless cool of the mid-‘60s in its favour, while Never Say Never Again feels a little more modern. While the films in the official run of films at that time – especially Octopussy – felt a little stuffy, Never Say Never Again has a bit of a harder edge. The later film still feels a little weighty, being of a similar running time and essentially telling the same story, but the action scenes pick up the pace better than in Thunderball. In particular, the motorcycle chase through Nice is as good as any of the stunts in the Moore films of the early ‘80s.

Claudine Auger plays Domino in Thunderball, and Kim Basinger plays the same role in Never Say Never Again, so at the end of the day it all boils down to what you prefer: blondes or brunettes.

Hit: Thunderball (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Switching The Body

Rocks In The Attic #354: John Barry – ‘You Only Live Twice (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#354I recently heard the news that the next Bond film – #24 in the official series – is to be titled SPECTRE.  I couldn’t be happier about this. Skyfall was such a crushing disappointment for me – I could write a blog post on just that alone – but suffice to say, there were several moments in the cinema that I covered my eyes, groaned aloud and tried to hide behind my wife’s shoulder. I haven’t seen the film since and I don’t have any plans to. It broke what could have been an untouchable run for the Daniel Craig years.

Titling the next film SPECTRE is a truly wonderful thing for a Bond fan to hear. Due to copyright issues, the name of the crime organisation has been off-bounds in the official films since Diamonds Are Forever. They turn up in 1983’s unofficial Never Say Never Again, but they don’t appear in any of the official films in Roger Moore’s, Timothy Dalton’s or Pierce Brosnan’s tenure.

SPECTRE is therefore a sole hallmark of the Connery films. The legal issues have now been resolved and the crime syndicate will be making a reappearance in the 21st century. This is a great fit with the Daniel Craig films returning to the gritty feel of the early Bonds. Other news like the casting of Cristoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci just make it sound even better. Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl? Not since Lana Wood’s role as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever have we seen a Bond Girl with – ahem – assets of that size.

You Only Live Twice really scared me growing up. Watching Bond “die” in the opening sequence was really confusing to a five year old. That sort of misdirection just doesn’t make sense to somebody that young. I guess it would be the same for kids these days seeing Bond “die” in the opening sequence of Skyfall.

You Only Live Twice is the last truly serious Connery Bond film. By the time he reappeared in the role four years later, the films had started down the slippery slope of high camp. Diamonds Are Forever has a great opening sequence – where Connery’s Bond is out for revenge – but this is at odds with the tone of the rest of the film.

Hopefully SPECTRE will live up to the legacy of those first five Connery films. Please, please, please…

Hit: You Only Live Twice

Hidden Gem: Capsule In Space

Rocks In The Attic #271: Stevie Wonder – ‘Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants’ (1979)

RITA#271A soundtrack album for a nature documentary that nobody saw, featuring music composed by a blind musician in an attempt to provide an aural accompaniment to the visuals on screen that he obviously couldn’t see, this album should be a dud.

It’s not – largely due to the fact that it was released just at the cusp of Stevie’s classic period, a year before Hotter Than July, which for me will always be the bookend to his great run of albums. A couple of years later and it would have been awash with horrible ‘80s synths.

Neither is the album a quickly rushed off piece of fluff. There’s a fair amount of instrumentals present – seven out of twenty tracks – but you’d expect this from a soundtrack to a nature documentary, wouldn’t you? And anyway, Stevie still likes the album and rates it as one of his three favourite albums.

A Seed’s A Star And Tree Medley, a track on the album’s fourth side, sounds musically very similar to what you’d expect from a James Bond theme, highlighting a lost opportunity. If Stevie had scored a Bond film instead of this documentary, this would have been around the time of Moonraker. Imagine that – “Balls, Q?”, “Bolas, 007!” – to the strains of Stevie’s funky synths. It’s actually not too much of a stretch considering that Marvin Hamlisch had just recorded a disco-tinted soundtrack to 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, states that Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants was an early digital recording, released just three months after Ry Cooder’s Bop Til You Drop (generally considered to be the first digitally recorded pop album). I guess that shows just how cutting edge Stevie Wonder was before the ‘80s came along and put all keyboard players on the same level. On paper, you’d expect a blind musician to struggle with the technology everybody else was using, but here he is cutting a new path (through the overgrown plants).

Hit: Power Flower

Hidden Gem: Venus’ Flytrap And The Bug