Hasslein Blog: Titles... Bond Titles, Part Two—Featuring Guest Blogger Ed Erdelac


Hasslein Blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Titles... Bond Titles, Part Two—Featuring Guest Blogger Ed Erdelac

We present the second part of novelist Ed Erdelac's three-part retrospective about the James Bond films' opening title sequences. You can check out Part One here, and stay tuned for Part Three later this week. —Rich Handley

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The James Bond Title Sequences as a Genre of Short Film
Part Two: From Live and Let Die to License to Kill

by Ed Erdelac

My review of the James Bond title sequences continues with the Roger Moore years—and, I have to note, a noticeable dip in quality. If Sean Connery and George Lazenby were the Golden Age of Bond, then Moore was the Dark Ages, with Timothy Dalton's outings as a kind of light at the end of the tunnel...

Bonds... James Bonds

Live and Let Die
In the same vein as Diamonds Are Forever, title designer Maurice Binder phones it in once more for the titles of Live and Let Die. This was the second Bond film to feature an entirely new actor playing Bond, but it's almost as if Binder put everything into On Her Majesty's Secret Service and had nothing left. John Barry doesn't provide the music here, but we do have Paul McCartney and Wings, singing one of the most recognizable Bond songs outside the series (#9 on the charts in the United Kingdom). The titles are notable for featuring African-American women, nude and painted up with Vodoun veve symbols (alluding to the Baron Samedi character and Dr. Kananga's belief in Vodoun—the snake lwa Damballah is prominently displayed on one woman's arm). These are the second non-Caucasian women to appear after You Only Live Twice's geishas. The women's arms, dancing along with the flickering fires, make a cool effect that we'll see repeated later, and the flashing of a woman's fearful face into a flaming skull is kind of neat. But overall, it's not the most memorable sequence.

The Man With the Golden Gun
Another underwhelming title sequence, coupled with a somewhat cacophonous song by Lulu, leaves much to be desired. Here, the main motif is water, apparently in reference to the island on which Christopher Lee's Francisco Scaramanga makes his home. Maybe—I'm not entirely sure, but we see a lot of submerged beauties highly distorted by a rippling effect. Highlights include shots of the inspired and somewhat phallic golden-gun prop being suggestively toyed with by a woman (somewhat matching Lulu's innuendo-filled lyrics: "His eyes may be on you or me / Who will he bang? / We shall see").

The Spy Who Loved Me
I've got to break with the format just a bit here, and mention that the wisdom of an espionage agent who uses a Union Jack parachute on a mission is dubious at best... but the titles shift nicely from the shot of Bond parachuting to a woman's hands enveloping him as he falls. I wish this sequence had been used for Roger Moore's first appearance as Bond, because it would've been much more apropos. As in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond himself appears in the titles, in partial and full-on silhouette, doing a lot of capering with a female figure (very likely Barbara Bach) to the light-hearted, silky singing of Carly Simon, who really delivers a great song here. It's not a groundbreaking sequence, but I do like the bit when Bond leads the girl by the hand and spins to shoot, at about 2:30 or so. The figures are multiplied, and somehow it's very dreamlike and pleasant combined with the romantic music. I also give this one a lot of points for the female gymnast swinging from the barrel of the pistol at 2:39. The Spy Who Loved Me is, as an aside, one of the more memorable of the James Bond novels, being told from the viewpoint of the imperiled girl—a neat narrative break by Ian Fleming.

There are some interesting visuals in the titles for Moonraker, like the smoke billowing across the moon, the close-up of the girl's hair blowing at 1:50, and the falling objects and soaring women in orbit. These elements all go nicely with the cascading violins of the song (performed with ethereal splendor by Shirley Bassey, in her last Bond tune), combining to give the viewer a general feeling of slow falling, or weightlessness. I wish they hadn't used the Buck Rogers effect at 1:14, though, because I keep expecting to see Gil Gerard or Cartman appear.

For Your Eyes Only
The lovely Sheena Easton actually appears throughout the titles, giving this one a music video feel. The constant liquid element gives the impression of a champagne glass until the aquarium fish show up at 2:11, spoiling the mood a bit. The song is nice, but there's an ineffectual trend to most of the Moore outings, as the titles and themes emphasize Bond's romantic side, somewhat neglecting the dangerous angle of 007. When I was a kid, these were the Bond songs I heard, and combined with the suggestive titles, I honestly thought Bond was some kind of romance series for girls. Yes, even with a title like Octopussy.

This film's titles refer back to the classics, with lounging, stunning, Disco-y girls, but the spinning, bouncing trapeze ladies in silhouette, introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me, are wearing a bit thin here. Then there's the recurring laser effect, showing first the outline of Bond, then the number "007," then an octopus, and zapping all over the place (memorably expelling a veritable tide of females from the end of a gun, perhaps representing the nameless, forgettable cavalcade of beauties Bond has conquered?). But again, can you see what I'm talking about with the theme song? Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" just didn't appeal to me as a kid, and still feels a bit like false advertising with its mellow, ultra-romantic delivery, even as a gun "blasts" 007 past the lips of a reclining woman. Ha ha. It's pretty goofy, and lends fuel to the misogynist label many critics have leveled at the series over the years.

A View to a Kill
Oh yeahhh... the Bond series reaches the height of the big '80s with a big '80s group, a big '80s song and big '80s visuals. Duran Duran provides a slamming, intense hit single (the biggest hit of the Bond themes, scoring #1 in America and #2 in the U.K.), which begins as a black-lit girl with glow-in-the-dark lipstick and fingernails unzips the front of her snowsuit to uncover the number "007." The rest is licking flames and '80s club-scene stuff, with an interesting sequence of Bond's gun apparently freezing a bikini-clad skier and turning her into an ice sculpture, which once again thaws. It's fluff, but fun to watch, with a great song, and caps a kind of pedestrian run of title sequences.

The Living Daylights
1987 brought a brand-new Bond, Timothy Dalton, and this sequence is very much a product of the '80s, beginning with a red velvet-gloved woman's hand firing a pistol, each report announcing the film's title, much like the opening credits of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Gone are the breezy romantic ballads that commanded Moore's run. Riding high on the success of Duran Duran's hit single, the producers chose Norwegian pop band A-Ha to deliver the flashy titular song here, and while it didn't fare as well as A View to a Kill, it's one of my favorites of the '80s Bond songs, almost perfectly complimenting the slim, Patrick Nagel-esque girls on display. An image that totally encapsulates the Bond "feel" is the slow tilt up the bubbling champagne glass as a tall, lovely blonde in a white one-piece emerges with a silvery automatic and lays her cheek on her arm. This was composer John Barry's last Bond film.

License to Kill
The string of killer Bond songs continues with Michael Kamen scoring and Gladys Knight belting out a knockout tune whose refrain masterfully incorporates the classic Goldfinger brass. The imagery does its fair share, with a camera shutter and film motif, as well as shots of a spinning roulette wheel and a green felt betting table reinforcing the high-society, high-class feel of the vocals. A moving rifle sight that seems to seek the curves of an artistic dancer reminds us what the 00 prefix is all about. The opening sequence of License to Kill marks the end of title designer Maurice Binder's long-running contribution to the series, as he passed away in 1991. After the underperformance of much of the Moore title sequences, I think Mr. Binder managed to pull up at the end, in true Bond fashion, and go out on a high note.

Next up: The Modern Era—Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

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