Act II of “The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay” begins with a continuation of the episode’s “B” story, as Hank and Dean seek adventure while stuck in a hotel room in New York City. Their father, Dr. Venture, has forbidden them to leave. Dr. Venture was a boy adventurer when he was their age (younger even), but the grown Rusty aggressively denies the boys their own adventures. This is his trip, to exorcize his demons, the boys don’t enter into his plans. One guesses he’d rather not have the boys on the trip at all. One guesses, in fact, that he’d rather not have the boys, period.
So the boys play astronaut with a paper cup in the bidet, then, when that gets boring, they move on to playing submarine in the bathtub with the case that Rusty’s invention came in.
My analysis of The Venture Bros fell behind with Season 4. As Season 5 gears up, I’m going to rectify that, but I’m also going to go back and look at Season 1, starting with the pilot, “The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay.”
A pilot episode is a tricky thing. The intent is to introduce the viewer to the world of the show, but too many pilots err too far on the side of introduction. The narrative of a pilot script often pauses too many times to introduce a character or an element, slowing things down and feeling, essentially, too much like a movie and not enough like a TV show. The desired effect of a pilot is have it feel like a mid-season episode: that’s when television works best, when the world has already been established and characters can groove on each other instead of introducing themselves.
A Southern Gothic Musical Hairball by Reuben Saunders. Produced and directed by Holly Golden, shot and edited by yours truly.
It’s my intention to take up analyzing the Venture Bros episodes as they are aired, so I found this especially helpful.
Keen readers of this journal will recall that, a couple of years ago, I wrote and directed a low-budget horror movie called Blood Relative. Things being as they are in the world of low-budget horror, it took a while to finish the thing and then it took another while to get a distributor. Now it has one, and boy are they doing their job! They’ve changed the title (which I like) and they’re taking it to Cannes! You can watch the sales trailer here!
Finally, a key scene from Walt Disney’s classic is presented, filling in the missing piece of “the fairest movie of them all.”
Spielberg is in India at the moment, talking about things Indian (India, like China, is becoming increasingly important to international financing for movies), but took a moment to talk about his ambitions to direct a Bond movie:
Spielberg waxed on his earlier ambitions to make a James Bond movie. According to The Times, Spielberg said he twice offered to direct a 007 pic, but was turned down by producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli. “I spoke to him after making Jaws, which was a huge hit, but Cubby said I wasn’t experienced enough and they’d call me if they did a Bond film on water. After Close Encounters, I told him that by now I had two Oscar nominations. And he asked ‘Did you win’? And I hadn’t. So that was that.”
In case the reflective nature of Skyfall were not already apparent, the “preparation montage” begins with a shot of Bond revealed in a full-length mirror. The mirror will later be used in a trap, the classic “fooling the bad guys with a full-length mirror” trick. As Kincade says, “Sometimes the old ways are the best.” We see some traps laid out, others are merely hinted at. All of them (spoiler alert) work exactly as planned.
I watched Live and Let Die with my son Sam (11) this evening. It was his first Roger Moore Bond movie. Moore, for me, is charming and light, but Sam, quite rightly I think, greatly prefers Daniel Craig. Watching Moore pretend to kick and karate-chop bad guys in the streets of Harlem and the bayous of Louisiana is thoroughly unconvincing, it doesn’t look like Moore would care to ruin the drape of his slacks. Although we both got a healthy laugh out of his expertly delivered line: “Don’t worry darling, its just a small hat, belonging to a man of limited means, who lost a fight with a chicken.” I had also forgotten that the bad-guy plot of Live and Let Die was, at the time, a ripped-from-the-headlines adaptation of the story of Frank Lucas, the real-life Harlem drug lord who really did take over the heroin trade from the Mafia, a tale well-told in the movie American Gangster.
Nevertheless, Sam is of an age enough to want to know the facts of life — by which I mean “How did the movie do?” For this, I turn to Box Office Mojo, which not only keeps track of these things but also goes so far as to adjust grosses for inflation. (Their list of all-time grosses, adjusted for inflation, is particularly edifying.)
I’m shocked to find that Live and Let Die is one of the least popular of the Moore years. The Looney Tunes cartoon Moonraker is number 1, and the truly bizarre Octopussy is number 2! (No pun intended.) The trajectory seems to be: People weren’t ready to embrace Moore when Live and Let Die came out, then there was the unfortunate Man with the Golden Gun, which would turn anyone off of the series, but then there was the going-all-out Spy Who Loved Me, which saved the franchise and allowed Moore to do five more of them. It’s hard to imagine a studio today saying “Well, the grosses were way down on the first movie, but let’s let the guy do two more and see if things pick up.” Which of course goes back to the Bond movies being producer’s movies, the Broccolis own the property and no studio can tell them what to do. At this point, the Bond movies could justify their production on ancillary rights alone, it’s not like people are going to suddenly stop watching James Bond movies in endless rotation on cable networks.
As for the superior You Only Live Twice doing less than half of the turgid, bloated Thunderball, YOLT had the misfortune of splitting the Bond dollar in 1967 with the ersatz Bond parody Casino Royale, which was a huge hit that year but is not listed here for some reason.
Act IV of Skyfall begins at 1:45:49 and opens with a stunning shot of Bond, with his Goldfinger car, as a tiny figure in a huge landscape, fitting as Skyfall‘s primary goal is to place the Craig Bond in context, not just in the Bond-verse but in the cultural landscape. The narrative asks “How does James Bond fit into the modern world of espionage?” but what it’s really asking is how he fits into the modern world at all. And I don’t think I’m “bringing this” to the movie, I think it’s quite intentional. The Bond movies have never, ever seriously asked us to consider the world of real-life espionage at all, they’ve always been colorful, absurd, high-flown escapist spectacles, the Batman of espionage thrillers. They didn’t offer a solution to the Cold War, they offered escape from it, they goofed on it.
And so, as with Batman, Bond must now be re-imagined, brought to earth, scaled back and made a resonant character. I’m not a grade-A cultural analyst, but one thing I’ve noticed in the past decade is that everyone has an opinion on Bond, and must have an opinion on Bond, and must be prepared to discuss and defend those opinions, and must be prepared to offer logical reasons why they prefer Dalton to Brosnan or why The Spy Who Loved Me is better than Thunderball or why Nick Nack is better than Tee Hee, all in spite of the fact that it’s all quite silly. James Bond, for some bizarre reason, bless his heart, matters to us as a culture. He obviously means something.
I think the cultural shift regarding Bond is the same shift that has presented itself to straight white men everywhere: he’s no longer in charge of everything, and the world is no longer his red carpet. Watching You Only Live Twice the other day, I was struck by how the whole narrative just unrolls for Bond to step into. There’s a scene where Japanese super-spy Tiger Tanaka takes Bond to his gigantic Ninja Training Camp, an idea silly enough by itself, but sillier still is the way it’s presented to Bond: here is a gigantic ninja training camp, we are all here to help you, do what you like with us. Guns, gadgets, vehicles, women, travel are all thrust toward the Connery Bond with the flourish of a fruit basket in a penthouse suite for a VIP. ”Right this way, Mr. Bond, your fantasy adventure awaits you for you to partake.”
With rare exceptions, the Bond movies are nothing but fantasy comedies for middle-aged men with adolescent minds (which is why Roger Moore kept being cast long past his sell-by date – Bond on paper may be a young man, but Moore was the audience). The typical Bond plot falls apart with only a cursory glance and has the visual panache of a 50s Batman story: giant props, garish villains, shark tanks, volcano strongholds, indestructible henchmen. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Bond leads a chase into a stock-car race and no one bats an eye. The climax of You Only Live Twice hinges on a self-destruct device called “The Exploder Button.” They are movies made to entertain Don Draper, and, lest we forget, Don Drapers used to run the world.
Now the president is a black man and Bond’s boss is a woman and the Bond brand of leering sexism and casual misogyny is repugnant and off-putting. That’s why the Craig Bond has been re-imagined, brilliantly, as an underdog, a shadow living in a shadow, a grown child who dreads a trip home: he can’t escape his past, he must go home — in order to burn it to the ground. In fact, we could say that the plot of Skyfall exists as an excuse for Bond to go home and destroy it, to shed his past. Like Silva, he wants to finally be his own man.