June 06, 2013

EVERYTHING OR NOTHING Gives A Biased History Of Bond...James Bond

"That's when Bond became a national treasure."
I love a good spy movie.

In the world of cinematic espionage, James Bond is pretty much the gold standard.  Granted the franchise has had it's lean times over the years, but that's to be expected after half a century and somehow even the sillier efforts are charming in their own way.  Granted I am in no way a Bond expert and there are a handful of his adventures I've yet to catch up with (they're on my list) but I'm fascinated by any series of films which is not only able to demonstrate remarkable longevity, but still remains just as culturally relevant as ever.

So when I stumbled upon the documentary Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007, I was more than a little bit excited.  Plenty of movies have interesting stories behind their production and the Bond films are no different.  For instance, did you know that the first onscreen incarnation of James Bond was actually for American television in 1954?  Bond was an American agent who went by Jimmy and Le Chiffre was played by Peter Lorre!  Or how about the fact that Pierce Brosnan was offered the role in  1986 but was forced to walk away when Remington Steele was renewed at the eleventh hour?  And what of George Lazenby, the one-and-done Bond?  The history of 007 is littered with these kinds of fascinating side stories, not to mention the very relevant history of Bond creator Ian Fleming, who was himself an actual British intelligence officer with a proclivity for women and alcohol.  And let's not forget Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, the producers who were instrumental in shaping the very fabric of the franchise.  They rightfully deserve the lion's share of the credit for bringing Bond to the big screen and protecting the character's legacy over the years.

However, here's where the issue of perspective comes into play.  Despite getting a limited theatrical run in the U.K., Everything Or Nothing was produced for television, primarily as a marketing tool for Bond's 50th anniversary as well as the (at the time) soon-to-be-released Skyfall.  As a result, there's a bit of rose-colored nostalgia permeating the entire film.  While she doesn't have a producing credit, I suspect that Barbara Broccoli, who continues to produce the Bond films today, had a hand in shaping this documentary.  (She, as well as Saltzman's daughter, appears as a talking head throughout the film.)  Cubby Broccoli had a number of contentious dust-ups over the years with the likes of Saltzman, star Sean Connery and writer Kevin McClory but there's rarely ever any indication that Broccoli might have ever been in the wrong.  Serious Bond fans know McClory as the "co-creator" of Thunderball and architect of the infamous Never Say Never Again, the rogue Bond film that is not considered canon despite Sean Connery's second return to the role.  (The movie also stars Kim Basinger and Mr. Bean, which should pretty much tell you all you need to know.)  Again, I'm hardly a Bond expert and I might be talking out of my ass, but there doesn't appear to be any real investigation going on here.  McClory is broadly portrayed as a villain for his legal disputes over his apparent contributions, and even Connery, who is not interviewed, is painted as kind of a dick for leaving the franchise over a financial dispute and then doing McClory's film just to spite Broccoli and Saltzman.*  With a title like The Untold Story Of 007, I was really hoping that director Stevan Riley was going to kick over some rocks and present some conflicting viewpoints.  However, as the movie wears on it becomes clear that Everything Or Nothing is really just a puff piece, a feel good collection of stories intended put audiences in the mood to plunk down money for tickets to Bond's latest adventure.  It's a glorified DVD extra.

That's not to say it's not entertaining.  All of the Fleming material is pretty interesting, as is Bond's initial meteoric rise to pop-culture icon.  While Connery and Craig are nowhere to be seen, all the Bonds between appear and speak pretty frankly about their experiences as 007.  The most compelling stuff comes from the least successful Bonds: Lazenby has some pretty great stories about how he got the role (he essentially bluffed his way into it) as well as why he felt he was sent packing, while Dalton makes a very good case for why his take on the character was no only tragically misunderstood, but also very ahead of its time.  (You can pretty much draw a straight line from License To Kill to Skyfall.)  But best of all, Riley not only uses old BTS clips and stills, but he also utilizes a lot of scenes (and of course all the great music) from the various films to illustrate whatever story is being told in voiceover.  For example, when they talk about Harry Saltzman running out of time to produce a film before the rights expired, we get a montage of various time bombs ticking down; when Brosnan talks about his disappointment over initially losing out on the role we get every pretty much every shot of Bond looking pensive from his era of films.  It's very a very clever strategy that not only engages the viewer, but keeps the film moving at a fairly brisk pace.

Everything Or Nothing is enjoyable enough, but it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.  It's not fair to criticize Stevan Riley, since I think he delivered exactly the product that he was charged to create, but it also left me wanting to know more.  I think there are other points of view (like anyone who didn't think Kevin McClory was an outright bastard) that remain unexplored and could make for a far more complex and interesting story.  I'd kill to hear Connery's version of events, both good and bad.  Besides, black and white stories are boring, and that's why the very concept of "everything or nothing" feels fundamentally flawed.

All the best stuff happens in between.

*Connery will always be my favorite Bond, but there's a clip where he goes The Tonight Show and, during a sort of quiz segment, Carson asks him, "Who was the first Bond villain?"  Connery's clever but mean-spirited reply: "Cubby Broccoli."

Title: Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007
Director: Stevan Riley
Starring: Albert R. Broccoli, Barbara Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Ian Fleming, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby, Roger Moore
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

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