Monday, September 24, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "Octopussy" (1983)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

This far into the Moore films you have to decide where your focus is going to gravitate. The films are made with tongue firmly in cheek, but with that they are still terribly unbalanced. Here in “Octopussy” you can gravitate towards the compelling surreal imagery represented in the opener, with a clown running through the woods trying to escape East Germany, or the loony groaners like where Bond swings through the jungle on a vine with the old Tarzan yell from the 30s films playing on the soundtrack.

It seems that we have been for some time now in a third period of Bond. The early sixties version was a glamorous, exciting adventure. But there was an undercurrent of a misogynistic interpretation of the sexual revolution that audiences embraced because it reflected the culture at the time. Then, as the seventies came along and people became embarrassed by both the misogyny (as feminism gained momentum) AND the immature sexual attitudes (as the sexual revolution began to see the reality of their choices) the series went for a dark, gritty, realism that didn’t match the escapist nature of the stories.

Ever since “The Spy Who Loved Me” the film makers have taken a slightly different approach; one that came to summarize Moore’s time as Bond. Bond is seen as parody. The attempts to do this are hugely uneven. “Spy” mostly worked, whereas “Moonraker” absolutely didn’t. With “For Your Eyes” and now “Octopussy” they seem to come up with a mixture of adventurous humor and silly stupidity, but for the most part they work.

As with “For Your Eyes Only” we once again have a “down to earth” basic spy story within the trappings of the Cold War. Here, we get the best possible Cold War setting, in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain. However, as with “Goldfinger” we also get over-the-top adversaries and allies, including an all female militia that fight in lingerie using acrobatics. As pure, silly entertainment it nearly works.

Even this far into the series, though, we still have curious sexual conundrums. In earlier Bond films we have seen Bond outright rape women. At the time the culture apparently had little problem with that, or else it got mixed in with the problem of casual sex in general. However, over time the Bond women have been trying to be stronger and more feminist, although it should be argued that they have failed miserably. In “Octopussy” Bond is at it again, this time raping the titular character. At the time it was surely not seen as such, and even today many would have a hard time recognizing it as such. (Politicians using terms like “legitimate rape” spring to mind.) This case is a product of the sort of sexual revolution that Bond has always pushed. The idea is that Bond needs to force himself on Octopussy to give her what she really wants (sex), even though she has (for whatever reason) decided to say no to him. It is just as misogynistic as ever.

The other curious aspect of this story is the way that the Russians are presented. In “For Your Eyes Only” d├ętente was presented even though Reagan had already changed USA policy towards a more aggressive one. Here, Russians are shown to be rational and wanting to change the world through diplomacy, with a rogue general trying to force things militarily. They seem almost rational and human! Surely that was not accepted well in 1983?

What actually brought the Cold War to an end was the economic failure of Communist ideology. Strong leadership on America’s part was a key factor; but actual war was not required. Stories like this as well as getting to know people on the other side since the collapse of the USSR make one question a lot of the hard fear mongering that occurred on both sides during the Cold War. It was a war almost completely engaged through propaganda and espionage. Growing up in that atmosphere, and now living through a similar ideological conflict, one realizes just how scary those weapons can be.

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