Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Skyfall review

Then I understood that I am the world.
But the world - it isn’t me.
Although, at the same time, I am the world.
But the world isn’t me.
But I am the world.
But the world isn’t me.
But I am the world.
But the world isn’t me.
But I am the world.
And then I didn’t think any further.

(Daniil Charms, 1930)

I am the world

See my gun. Drive my car. Drink my beer. Wear these clothes.

My name is James Bond. I am a global brand. The least secretive of all secret agents, I always give my real name. It has been estimated that roughly one third of living human beings have seen at least one of my films. That’s as many people as there are Christians on Earth. And because I don’t belong to any one religion I am the closest thing there is to a universal global experience.

You can own things that belong to me. This suit. It’s by Tom ford. This watch. You ask if it’s a Rolex. I say: ‘Omega.’

I am a brand. I know my brands. England. That is one of my brands. That is the country that I identify with, and my country identifies with me. Bond is GREAT Britain. (They say Great Britain. I say England.) But I play equally well in China. Recently I spent time in Shanghai. Although it was also London. We used the streets of London for some of the action that took place in Shanghai. That’s okay because we made sure that you couldn’t tell the difference.

I travel the world but I always come back to England. We are cut from the same cloth, England and I. It is like the cloth of my Tom Ford suit. Underneath the cloth there is steel, like the steel of my Walther PKK. You too can own one. You too can own me. You too can kill.

But the world isn’t me

Skyfall nearly never got made. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, owner of the rights to the Bond franchise through its controlling interest in the long-since defunct United Artists brand, filed for bankruptcy in November 2010, months after halting production on the 23rd film of the series. Pre-production resumed in 2011 when the studio laboriously emerged from its financial troubles. For its part the film’s co-distributor, Columbia Pictures, is a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., which is a unit of – you guessed it – the Sony Corporation, whose bonds have recently been downgraded to just-above-junk status by Moody’s and S&P, and to actual junk status by Fitch. The global financial crisis may turn out to be Bond’s deadliest enemy yet. And who knows, perhaps there is an ulterior meaning in the choice of that title. An allusion to another kind of fall.

What seems certain is that the film’s relatively small budget – £93.7m compared to the £125m of Quantum of Solace – and the decision to set a much larger portion of the story than usual in the home country are connected to these crises. To this we must add that anything between a quarter and a third of the capital to cover the production costs of Skyfall was raised through product placement and other marketing arrangements – an approximate but nonetheless remarkable, possibly unprecedented figure. The most widely discussed of these deals was the one with Heineken, leading to two instances of placement of the product in the film, and an ad campaign starring Daniel Craig that reached a feverish intensity in the lead-up to the film’s release. MGM and Sony benefited from the deal twice: in terms of the money they received upfront and in terms of the free help in the marketing of the film. In exchange for that, Heineken got James Bond to hold a bottle of Heineken for about three seconds on screen.

But I am the world

I am lying on a bed somewhere in India, holding a bottle of Heineken. The bottle is half-empty. I am a global brand, therefore I must consume global brands. Or maybe this bland Dutch lager is a sign of my despair. I am no longer myself since I fell out of the sky. I am no longer myself since my betrayal.

But the world isn’t me

A Dries van Noten cardigan. A Pretty Green fishtail parka. Several Sony Vaio computers. Cartamundi Poker Cards and Chips. A pair of Acne Wall Street Shark Grey trousers. A Belstaff New Selsey jacket. An Interstuhl AirPad 3C42 chair. A pair of 3M Peltor H61FA British Army Ear Defender earmuffs. An N. Peal cashmere sweater. A John Smedley Bobby v-neck pullover. A pair of Adidas Gazelle 2. A pair of Dents unlined leather gloves. Cosmed fitness equipment. A Carine Gilson satin-silk robe. The AgustaWestland AW101 Helicopter. A pair of Tom Ford Marko TF144 sunglasses. A pair of Crockett & Jones Highbury shoes. A pair of Crockett & Jones Tetbury chukka boots. A Sony ECM-Z60 microphone. A pair of Puma Alexander McQueen Street Climb Mid sneakers. An Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Mid Size Chronometer. An Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean wristwatch. An Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Automatic wristwatch. A Land Rover Defender Double Cab. The latest Sony Xperia T smartphone. A Globe-Trotter Stabilist Case. The Macallan Whisky. A set of Swarovski SkyFall earrings, necklace and ring. An army PTI Training Jacket. A Billy Reid peacoat. The Pruva Regina yacht. An Anderson Wheeler 500 Nitro Express Double Rifle. A Barbour X To Ki To Beacon Heritage Sports Jacket. A Wild & Wolf Scrabble Q mug. A Polycom SoundStation2. A JBL On Tour XTB. An Artemide Tolomeo Basculante table lamp. A Royal Doulton Bulldog Union Jack. A Honda CRF250R motorcycle. A pair of Orlebar Brown Setter Sky swimming trunks.

A bottle of Heineken beer. (Two, actually.)

The Aston Martin DB5.

A Walther PPK handgun.

All of these products, and likely many more, are ‘placed’ within Skyfall. There are online forums devoted to identifying the ones that aren’t immediately obvious, and so the list is constantly updated and open-ended. Call it brand-spotting. It’s how we know that Daniel Craig wore Orlebar Brown Setter Sky swimming trunks.

That the process of naming the products is at times so elaborate and meticulous is enough to suggest that not all of them are placed in exchange for money. Some are just ‘there’, and few brands are willing to reveal whether they in fact paid for the privilege, or how much. But we know that it’s a major business, and that James Bond is one of the most profitable and costly franchises to be associated with.

And what does it say about capitalism and globalisation that the world’s most coveted advertising vehicle is an assassin?

But I am the world

‘Someone usually dies.’ It’s one of my favourite lines in the new film. I say with a wry smile it in front of this woman, who will also die.

I kill because it’s my job. I kill because it’s what sells. Of all the products that I endorse, the Walther PKK is second only to the Martinis I drink in defining me. In Skyfall, Q gives me this special Walther that only I can shoot. My gun and I have achieved symbiosis.

I drink to excess to drown the excess of death that surrounds me. I didn’t mean for the woman to die.

But the world’s isn’t me

‘Someone usually dies.’ The spectacle of global capitalism is marked by these deaths: as many as there are evildoers, plus half the women and an unspecified but not small number of extras. Are you a security guard working nights on the ground floor of a corporate building? Expect to be shot at point-blank range. The rule is that the shorter your screen-time is, the more clichéd your death will be. The security guards are but punctuation. Death commas. By contrast the villain-in-chief is destined to die a protracted, wretchedly painful, heavily symbolic death in which the process of consumption is both exorcised and sublimated.

The vast and capital-intensive edifice built around the villain crumbles in this final act, offering temporary reprieve and the semblance of resolution. But: ‘James Bond will return’. There will be a new issue, a new gallery of products, a new villain commanding impossibly vast human and financial resources. Bond will make more sales, more kills. This we know.


Jay Schiavone said...

Wouldn't condom brand be the "get" placement? Or is disposable merch too down-market?
Can you tell us who designed the powder-blue zip-front terri onesie Sean Connery sported in a private cabana by the pool at The Fountainebleau in Goldfinger?

Dan O. said...

Nice review Giovanni. I had a great time with this movie but I didn’t fall in love with it as much as I have with the older ones and Casino Royale as well. Still, a great Bond movie that has me excited for what’s to come next for Bond.

Unknown said...

Bond, the ultimate Public Servant. What is annoying is that Bond films appeal to the split within, the resulting guilt, then the need to go do something for coin.

Jeff Sparrow said...

What struck me most about Skyfall was the re-imagining of Bond as a figure of decline. In most of the films, he'd defined by his capacity: Bond is the best shot, the best fighter, the one who understands how everything works. In Skyfall, the emphasis is on his inability. He can't do the physical exercises. He can't hit anything. He's addicted to alcohol and drugs. The scene with Q is symptomatic. For most of the films, Q is an old man, worried that Bond is too juvenile to understand the high-tech equipment being provided. 'Oh, grow up, 007!', he quips.
In Skyfall, Q is practically a teenager, and he emphasises his skills with an IT world Bond doesn't comprehend.
Yet, even though Bond is portrayed as an old man (cf Moore's Bond who was a twenty something playboy, even when the actor himself was nearly sixty), his age is ultimately shown as a strength.
The obvious and explicit parallel is with England itself. The empire is in decline, the country is no longer what it was. The nationalism in Skyfall isn't then Blair's Cool Britannia but rather a nostalgic evocation of the spirit of the Blitz, as recently popularised in those stupid Stay Calm and Carry On posters.
The Bond in Skyfall, then, is not a suave playboy -- he is, quite explicitly, Winston Churchill. That's the basis of his ultimate victory. He might be old, he might not understand the modern world and its new fangled gadgets, but he possesses an indomitable bulldog spirit.
As I said, it's quite an extraordinary re-presentation of Bond -- like Churchill, he's old and ugly and drunk but he has the heart of a true born Englishman, so huzzah.

Giovanni Tiso said...

“Bond, the ultimate Public Servant. What is annoying is that Bond films appeal to the split within, the resulting guilt, then the need to go do something for coin.”

Yes, the contradiction between Bond’s psychotic idealism and the hyper-commercial ethos of the film is rather disenchanting if you think about it, and one of the most unfortunate surface effects of the product placement – especially Heineken, which is done really badly – is to make you think about it.

Philip said...

"Death commas" deserves to be a book title.

Giovanni Tiso said...

“What struck me most about Skyfall was the re-imagining of Bond as a figure of decline.”

Coincidentally I saw The Dark Knight Rises over the same weekend and the parallels are quite striking. I think Stephen Wright mentioned them too – there are extended sequences that are about Wayne and Bond’s physical failings and they cast long brooding psychological shadows. Interestingly, too, in both films the thematic coherence is privileged over the coherence of the plot. The entire third act of Skyfall doesn’t make a lick of logical sense – where the hell is the cavalry? – and the last Batman is even worse. But it’s okay because pathos and because mother England and so forth. It is a fairly explicit trade-off.

(Philip just reminded me that he had pre-satirized this: ‘at last we have a Bond who verges on the tragic’.)

Megan Clayton said...

Suits you, sir. I am the world.
The product is not enough.

A magpie eye, a shining edge.
Agon. Agon. A gun.