The new James Bond movie opens tomorrow, and I’m excited to see it. I’ve been watching these movies (and reading the books) since I was a kid. I have heard that the new film is visually stylized, which really is intriguing to me. (I speak as a photography critic, you understand.) The last Bond movie that was visually compelling, to my way of thinking, was “Goldfinger” (1964). I know some people who admire “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), which was indeed some fairly radical filmmaking. But it didn’t have any defining single images that shaped the world of Bond.
In anticipation of the new film, the web has been loaded with all sorts of “Top 10 Bond…” stories. I though I would put forward my choices of the defining visual moments in the Bond series. After thinking hard about it, I narrowed the choices down to two, and only two.
1. Honey Rider Emerges from the Sea
The first Bond girl, Ursula Andress, set a standard for screen impact that has not been equaled in all these years. She makes her appearance in the very first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), emerging from the Caribbean like Botticelli’s Venus, except that she’s wearing a white bikini equipped with a knife.
The sight of her strong body is shocking, for Bond and the audience—a kind of apparition that completes what was essentially a school-boy adventure film, not a spy movie. The scene plays out in the film much as it does in Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel, with one major exception: In the book, Rider is topless and self-conscious—not about her body, but about her broken nose. She covers it with her hands, leaving everything else exposed, to Bond’s astonishment.
In a later Bond film, Die Another Day, Halle Berry recreates the moment, but it didn’t work. She just didn’t seem dangerous.
2. Jill Masterton Goes for the Gold
Being a Bond girl is a really good way to dies in some astounding way. The most memorable death in the entire Bond saga—film and book—came in Goldinger, when his blond henchwoman, played by stunning Brit actress Shirley Eaton, dies in a Miami Beach hotel after trysting with Bond. You see, her boss, Auric Goldfinger, didn’t spend all his time plotting to set off a nuke in Fort Knox. He also likeed to cheat at gin rummy, and she helped him do it. Bond discovers this and lures her back to his hotel room, whereupon he is knocked unconscious by Goldfinger’s other henchperson, Odd Job, who then kills poor Jill by covering her in gold paint.
This awesome moment marked the point in the Bond series in which the “realism” of the earlier films is energized by a jolt of surrealism. I’m afraid that as the Bond movie’s went on, the filmmakers found it increasingly hard to balance the spine-tingling thrills and self-parody that Goldfinger achieved at this moment.
Spoiler alert: the new film apparently pays homage to this defining moment, showing the death of another Bond girl, this one covered in oil. Given the state of the economy, perhaps director Marc Foster should have stuck with gold.—David Schonauer