I finally watched the latest James Bond film Casino Royale, and, surprisingly, I enjoyed it very much.
Watching ‘blockbuster’-type movies is an odd experience for me: it’s hard to separate out the pretence from the façade when you know half the film crew. Add on the occasional brief on-screen cameo by someone you recognise and it’s difficult not to giggle. So, unlike most of the cinema-going public, when I see a special effect happening, I know whose finger was on the trigger button; when I watch a fight scene I know which stunt-men were likely to be taking the punches; when I see 300 people in a big crowd shot, I know who would have been wrangling them in the background, and with all that, it does kind of ruin the magic.
And yet, sitting in a cinema, the lights dimmed, the screen flickering to life as the opening credits begin – is there anything in life more exciting (bar two sexy men simultaneously pleasuring me)? No, I think not: I adore movies, always have; always will. But it seems to me that Bond films repeatedly portray a dull, sluggish, formulaic approach to narrative cinema. There’s a typical quota of cheesy lines; and evil baddies divulging exactly what they plan on doing when they have Bond by the balls (literally, as it turns out); there's loud bangs; and shoot-em-ups; and that’s pretty much it.
It’s not the genre I find tiresome: I like action films; I enjoy a good thriller; I take delight in adrenalin-fuelled cinema. Explosions? Bring them on. Car chases? I’m on the edge of my seat. Fighting? Makes my heart pound. But bring in a little sexual frisson with a meaningless female character whose sole existence is as an accessory to Bond? Oh please, don’t fucking patronise me. If I wanted to see cheesy, unrealistic gender interplay, I’d watch a romantic comedy – and you will almost never find me (voluntarily) viewing one of those, because I don’t really enjoy having my intelligence insulted… So watching a ‘romantic’ interlude involving a disposable love-interest makes me yawn. Emancipation for women? Sorry, this is still the 1950’s, darling: female empowerment is represented by sexist conservatism tarted up with a cleavage-enhancing bra. Sure, a woman can be an interesting baddie, especially if she’s seduced Bond, but that can only mean one thing: she will need to atone for her ‘sins’, inevitably by dying.
Of course women are supposed to, on the whole, only enjoy rom-coms, so it’s no surprise that Bond’s aren’t really made with them in mind. They’re marketed as ‘Boys’ Films’: big, noisy, action-packed, and with a hero who always gets the girl. Bond is an aspirational character, rather than a true representation of maleness: it is men who are supposed to want to emulate him, or live vicariously through him (I’m not denying this is insulting to guys). This Bond is different: it hasn’t been made for men. Of course it’ll always appeal to them: barely any publicity is necessary to bring in the hairy bums on seats. But this time, the film seems geared towards women, rather than men.
We’ve still got all the big bangs and car chases and action – and thank god: it wouldn’t be Bond without it. But now we’ve got a female co-lead who’s not just a dim-witted temporary shag, or an evil minx who needs to die (after being shagged); the character is strong and intelligent.
We’ve also got a Bond who is introspective, who displays emotion and thoughts and pain and fear; in other words, a real man. Rather than make Bond weaker, or less masculine, the opposite is true: here we have a man who realises that to be a real person - to be more than just a killer - he has to truly feel. And so the scenes which are the most realistic, profoundly affecting, and thought-provoking, are the ones where Bond is reaching out to a woman, and offering her his emotional support. Compassion as a Bond trait? Wow, this is a first. Added to which, Bond has finally been given a brain; his dialogue reflects a man who thinks, rather than just performs; what woman would deny that intelligence is an attractive trait in a guy? Not many, I think.
All of this combines to create a more rounded representation of Bond – the man – than ever before; it’s as if the screenwriters have at long last fleshed him out. But what strikes me most about the movie is this: finally, like every female actress over the last 20 films, Bond has been sexually objectified onscreen, but this time for the benefit of the female* viewer.
We all know it’s bollocks that men are supposedly ‘visual’ and women aren’t; we all know it’s narrow-minded to think that it’s only men who get off on looking at the human form; we all know that given the opportunity, women will use visual stimuli as much as men to get off. The only difference being that
Very little on the market is directed towards women or seen from a female perspective
The imagery available is shit/sexist/objectionable/offensive
It is deemed unacceptable in society for women to say that they like looking at naked bodies and, god forbid, using the image to masturbate with
So it’s no surprise that many women won’t ‘admit’ to using porn: when you take all the above into consideration, it’s probably not a lie. But give us something we like (Playgirl? Please, who the fuck wants to see a soft penis when we're horny and want to wank?) and we will flock to it – and use it for ‘material’. So for the last few weeks, I’ve had emails, phone-calls, overheard discussions on buses, all saying the same thing: “Daniel Craig: phwoar! I’d do him!” And I bet in bedrooms all over the land, women are busy frigging themselves into oblivion fantasising about him...
Of course much has been said of the actor Daniel Craig’s pecs - and his arse for that matter: he does indeed have a fine body and of course, given the opportunity, I would, like any other woman, want to get my hands on it. He is fit, comes across as being very sexy, and is incredibly fuck-worthy. But I don’t put this attractiveness down to the training he went through in order to obtain his hard-body (worthwhile though it was); instead I place the credit in the hands of the director and cinematographer. With a camera focused on outlining Bond’s curves at every moment, panning upwards and across his torso, highlighting his every ripple, the audience is treated to a stimulating visual delight, where his body and form are treated as an object of pleasure. Delicious, if I say so myself; and very considerate of the filmmakers to keep ensuring his shirt got ripped, or fell off repeatedly throughout the film – not to mention the delectable fully nude shots. Is it any wonder women are lapping Bond up? I think not.
Perhaps the first time since, ooh, American Gigolo, we finally, properly, get a male character that is represented as a sexual object, a desirous being, purely for the benefit of the viewer. And you know what? I approve. I’m a feminist who gets frustrated by the continual sexual objectification of women across the media, but censorship is not what will create a level-playing field for us. Equality on screen (and of course, behind the scenes) will help to balance things. So for that, I say bring it on. We hope more men will get their kit off on camera; we want to see lots of close-up slow-motion shots of their shoulders, abs and arses; we demand the right to drool over men’s bodies, just as men have done with ours for so long.
So if the filmmakers could just re-shoot that beach scene where Bond walks out of the water in his swimming trunks, but this time ensure he has at least a semi hard-on in them, I’d be a very happy woman. And I’m certain I wouldn’t be the only one. Any takers? *I’m sure alongside heterosexual women, some gay men - and open-minded straight blokes - might appreciate the onscreen sexual objectification of men too.