My Name Is

I have a paternally inherited urge to see action movies.

It’s perhaps the same compeller that drove David Foster Wallace to read every sports person’s biography he could put his hands on, knowing beforehand of his inevitable disappointment at the silly, boring prose that comes out of the physically exciting but otherwise mentally mundane athlete.

I go to see action movies in the theatre, certain I’ll grow bored as we get closer to the unveiling of the plot’s secrets, uncomfortable with the volume of the explosions, irritated at the stale manner some of the exotic cities I visited are portrayed in glossy, epoxy grit.

Last Sunday it was Skyfall’s turn.

I had no special expectations from this trip to the cinema other than trying to, for a couple of hours, artificially extend the weekend, trying to postpone the thoughts about the cliff that is Monday.

As I remembered, James Bond movies are supposed to be like Thai food: varied ingredients, very similar taste.

Some noodle gadgets that come in the whole-wheat variety of guns or stringy rice flour type of GPS transponders with Spicy Red Curry girls or blond kaffir lime babes topped with fish sauce casinos and shitake mushroom tuxedos.

A pleasing, falsely exotic mixture to shake up your diet (one man’s rice and beans is the other man’s rice and beans).

This one from the start felt like heavier, simpler food.

It’s still a Bond flick, don’t get too excited, but I’ll try to explain what I felt was interesting and worthy of a post. Since I was seven years old and attempted a critique of “The Great Mouse Detective”, I have never again written about a film, so bear with me.

I think it is a film about place, and that is what intrigued me. Not real place, I guess, but more of a “meta-place”, a recognizable place of movie culture, not exactly its own.

The plot circles the globe, as it should, but two places stuck out for me: an office tower in Shanghai and the estate in Scotland.

The Shanghai tower is a reference to the Sci-Fi obsession with deadly reflection. In this night scene Bond grabs the edge of speeding elevator to chase a hit man around an empty office space. Every glass surface reflects the lights and signage of the surrounding buildings in an implied continuum between street and interior. It is nostalgic for a certain 80s “enhanced urban” à la “Blade Runner”. Nothing is really high technology; nothing is present that would be unexpected in the headquarters of Barclay’s Bank. Still there is a feeling of multiplication, of the optic qualities that can arise from normal materials that seems to say, that if not used carefully, contemporary standard office architecture can kill you.

skyfall-set

Bond navigates this world without comfort but in the end gets to use the building’s height to make gravity act in a negative way towards his opponent’s vital organs (he throws the bad guy through the window). This scenario is all about vectors, kill shots, rays of green light, piercing looks across the glass. There is still time for a glance at the girl across the street with the intimacy only the highest floors of towers allow.

skyfall-james-bond-daniel-craig-shanghai

Jump to the final scenes of the movie, Bond is back to his ancestral home is Scotland. Finally, we understand where the generic flu pill name Skyfall comes from.

The house is great because it’s a prefab ruin. Just by looking at it in its splendid autumn isolation, one can figure out that this house was made to be destroyed.

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Bond can expect this house to be an ally in the same proportion the office tower’s reflections almost killed him. His worn down manor collaborates by being a helpful albeit sacrificial ruin. Like an adult version of “Home Alone”, the defenders know there keep much better than the invaders and are able to turn space to their advantage. The cracking floorboards conceal homemade explosives, the seigniorial chandelier is a deadly fragment grenade.

In the end the house goes up in flames and we are left to imagine it settles into the moss covered artifact it was always meant to be.

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Skyfall might not present any durable addition to the “film space” I was referring to, but it acknowledges its existence and pays homage, which for a Sunday night action flick, is more than I could ask.

P.S. – While I was writing this post I came a across this scholarly revue of the films scenography written in a very interesting blog that I’ll be following closely.

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31 comments

  1. Liliana Rocha

    great post! it’s very interesting to think about this concept of “film space”- and in the end of the day maybe skyfall will not be a durable addition to the “film space” but i was thinking that probably it will be more “lived” by the millions of people that watch the movie than most of the “real space” architectures – and that is quite amazing!

  2. DLA

    That’s true. “Film space” and “real space” have a troubled marriage, since they are both real. I’m thinking now about Ennis House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s late masterpieces (that American architect, what’s his name…) that was used for the interior shots of Rick Deckard/ Harrison Ford’s house in Blade Runner. The movie gave the house a lot of publicity. A couple of years ago it was falling appart and for sale. I dare to say that all amazing buildings live in a space of their own, film or otherwise. Thanks for posting and following.

  3. Ana Menezes

    Great post! I like the way you look at the most “common” things in life.

  4. You should write more movie reviews. I loved reading this one. I thought Skyfall was the best Bond film in over 40 years. Since it’s a birth story for Bond I’m not sure how they’ll top it. My wife and I just traveled around the world for a year and had been to all the locations in the film which made it even more special. Here’s a story about Shanghai’s burgeoning skyline as seen in Skyfall: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/world-tallest-buildings-shanghai-world-financial-center-jin-mao-tower/

    Speaking of film space, since the movie opens in Istanbul, did you notice how in the opening montage they paid tribute to that city’s Basilica Cistern, which was a setting in From Russia With Love? Pretty cool.

    • DLA

      Thanks Michael, glad you enjoyed! I am also not sure how the Bond series will go from here. Hopefully with some more solid movies like this one. I’ve been to the Basilica Cistern and it’s one of the best, albeit most crowded sites in Istanbul. I’ll have to revisit it in From Russia With Love. Congrats on your blog and Keep stopping by!

  5. What I thought was interesting about this Bond film was that it could’ve done well without going to China. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes in China were awesome, but it would still be awesome if they were set all in the United Kingdom at varying locales.

    • DLA

      Hi Rami. Bond not globetrotting? That would be a radical departure from the usual script. I like my Bond all over the place…Shaken, not stirred.

      • sometimes radical departures can do wonders. look at “Batman Begins”; that was the first time a superhero film was super-serious with not even an ounce of camp, and look how it paid off! Now everybody loves superhero films, not just kids.

  6. Bernardo Sulzbach

    “As I remembered, James Bond movies are supposed to be like Thai food: varied ingredients, very similar taste.”
    Yup.
    And all the movies, from Dr. No all the way to Skyfall are like Thai Food, even if some get a bit more acceptable (not really an action fan), they’re just more and more of the same.

  7. I like how you address your interest in the action genre. “I have a paternally inherited urge to see action movies.” I wonder if that’s a typical inheritance. I’m honestly not sure. I’d wager that it typically is, but not always. I’m fairly certain that neither of my parents are huge action movie fans, but I love them. Great post. I love the analysis of the shanghai tower and the comparison to Blade Runner.

    • DLA

      Thanks Bro. When I was a kid I loved seeing my otherwise refined and deep father kick back in the sofa and watch a movie where things exploded. It must have spilled into my genes. It’s an urge, not necessarily something I’m proud of.

  8. I haven’t seen the latest Bond yet so I skimmed this post not to spoil any potential plot points. I want to see New Zealand after watching LOTR movies.

  9. We were debating whether or not to see the movie. Still on the fence…afterall, Bond is meant to be seen on the big screen, not the small….plot is less important that the action and escapism of the theatre!

  10. It really hurt my feelings when Bond’s childhood home in Scotland burned down. Yeah, I knew it was going to happen but it just was sad. That particular Bond movie was a good solid movie. It wasn’t as great as the critics were saying, but it was solid.

  11. Great take on so many of the film’s pivotal shots! I thought the flick was beautifully shot, as if they were trying to have Bond retain a bit of that saturation and arthouse look that the recent re-up of Girl with Dragon Tattoo boasted.

  12. Is it just me or i did not understand the point of your article. I mean sure i loved the comparison between Thai food and bond but did not get the point of it. Maybe to vague for my taste. Either way you are a great writer.

  13. A pleasure to read. Your time spent writing is worth all that and more.
    Kudos.
    I will follow.
    Rob

  14. G

    When it comes to Bond… even Shakespeare fails…

    What’s in a name?

    Yes. There is something in a name. It’s Bond…James Bond.
    :)

  15. indoetnix

    but the fact that movie is pretty good on the response and the outcome, at least I think

  16. I hadn’t thought about the ‘film space’ like that before.

    I have just started my own blog and if you are interested, you can read my take on the film here:

    http://ryesofthegeek.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/skyfall-film-review/

  17. Great post. I like Bond films (not all of them) and I enjoyed reading your review. A friend of mine saw Skyfall a week before me and, careful not to give out spoilers, she described it as a combination of “Golden Eye, Mr & Mrs Smith, Batman Begins and towards the end Home Alone.” It really made me laugh, but I liked the film. I also didn’t have any expectations, so that’s probably why I liked it. It’s not the greatest Bond film ever made. I just found it a good “anniversary film”, with funny little references to many of the previous films. A sort of homage to the home Bond Circus.
    “As I remembered, James Bond movies are supposed to be like Thai food: varied ingredients, very similar taste.” This is priceless. And SO true!

  18. Why on earth did I write “…home Bond Circus.”?? Home was supposed to be “whole”.
    Oh well… :-)

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