Good news for ITV4’s schedulers. A new James Bond film, called No Time To Die, is due in cinemas this year. Not that the channel ever previously needed a tie-in or excuse to show the entire Bond canon in twice-weekly screenings, but they’ve gone through all the Rocky films already and it’s still only January. Back to business as usual, then.
At the time of writing, details of this latest James Bond product have come mainly from one trailer showing Daniel Craig ploughing on with his ‘grumpy asshole’ interpretation of the role. So far, so-so. It also looks like No Time To Die will again, like the last few, be made with 100% pure notions: back stories; character arcs; arty photography; distinguished female actors being cast as ‘Bond girls’ as if this addresses the 007 franchise’s awkwardly fundamental sexism, rather than simply no longer having a shag-fodder dolly-bird role as a key trope at all. (A major plot point of No Time To Die is that the arch-sexist Bond is teamed up with a fellow double-o agent who’s not a fellow at all, but an actual woman. Maybe this will be a reboot of the mismatched-cops genre of yore: Bobby Riggs and Murtaugh, if you will.)
And yet despite all that, like many film fans I have a degree of fondness for the classic action-packed silliness of James Bond. The set-piece stunts are always re-watchable. Sean Connery in his prime was mesmeric on screen, and both Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan played the part with an infectious sense of fun. Fire in a charismatic villain like Christopher Lee or Mads Mikkelsen, both of whom steal their respective films from Bond, and you occasionally get a Fort Knox-worth of cinema gold. Ironically, the overbearing seriousness of Spectre comes across as far more ridiculous than, say, Moonraker’s pigeon double-taking at the sight of a hover-gondola. (I was in Venice, Italy a few years ago and all the pigeons were doing double-takes. It must be a Venice thing.)
So No Time To Die, the film, may turn out to be more of the recent same. It’ll be interesting, though, to hear its title song by Billie Eilish. Her idiosyncratic, nervy electronica will certainly make a nice change from the typical high-end brass n’ bluster of the genre (as in the most recent two, by Adele and Sam Smith); this is an artist whose biggest hit, ‘Bad Guy’, builds its hook on a field recording of the bleeping alert made by a Sydney pedestrian crossing.
We think of the archetypal James Bond title song as Shirley Bassey (or her most available equivalent) bellowing along to the strains of a buttoned-up orchestra, but there is a history of the franchise dipping its toe into the bubble-bath of contemporary chart sounds — with varying results. A-ha’s ‘The Living Daylights’, synth-pop shot through with Scandi-noir bleakness, still sounds tense and exciting. Madonna’s ‘Die Another Day’ was horrible, part of a disastrous 2002–03 triptych with the movie Swept Away and the album American Life that saw her relegated from icon to punchline. Sixties stars like Tom Jones (for Thunderball) and Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice) made memorable Bond title songs in their heyday. In particular, ‘You Only Live Twice’ never gets mentioned among the best singles of that decade, but John Barry’s swooning orchestration and Sinatra’s world-weary vocals are sensational. (Never mind that Barry pieced together Sinatra’s final vocal line-by-line from over a dozen takes.)
The gold standard of poppier James Bond songs, though, is Duran Duran’s wonderfully OTT title track for A View To A Kill. Band and film were a perfect match for the Roger Moore era— playboy lifestyle, Playboy attitudes. Duran Duran’s stock-in-trade of cinematic videos, supermodel consorts and gibberishly portentous lyrics meant the thing virtually wrote itself, shouting “DANCE! INTO THE FI-YER!” right out of the womb. Each stab of brass is the delivery mechanism for a cheesy grin. Plus, “the name’s Bon, Simon Le Bon!” was a pun too good not to happen, which it did at the end of the surprisingly awful video for the song. (The band were breaking up sourly at the time, which is one reason why the video features them all trying to kill each other. This was also the track where at Live Aid that same year, for a global TV audience of millions, Simon Le Bon hit the bum note heard around the world. It’s a wonder they haven’t disowned it.)
Added to that, I have a soft spot for this song, as admittedly I do for most ‘80s chart pop. In particular, the Eiffel Tower action sequence of the movie, which featured in the Duran Duran video too, fascinated me when I was small. I also had a jigsaw of the Eiffel Tower around this time. Little did I know that when I grew up I’d be living in Paris and passing the Eiffel Tower nearly every day. And guess what song lyric I heard in my mind’s ear every single time.
Go on — you know you love it:
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