Bondage with Baldwin: Bond & Me

I have always loved action movies. I have been watching them since before I can remember, often alongside my father. My early years were spent watching the explosive exploits of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, among others. Occasionally I would catch an older swashbuckling adventure with my father or a war movie on television with my grandfather, but my experience with action cinema was largely shaped by the genres ‘80s stars and their output. I believe I had a very hazy awareness of James Bond, but the franchise was this incredibly vague thing that I was unfamiliar with outside of a few VHS covers at the local rental stores and the short-lived “James Bond Jr.” animated series.

The all changed in November of 1995 when GoldenEye arrived in theaters. I cannot recall whether or not I saw the film opening weekend. I only remember that my best friend Will and his father Bill were going to see it and I tagged along. Bill was a huge Bond fan and had passed that on to Will. Normally that might mean such an interest would have been passed on to me as well by association, but it wasn’t. Why? Because Bond was an absent action hero for most of our lives at that point. The previous film, 1989’s Licence to Kill, came out when we were only 5 and then the series went dormant for the next 6 years.

None of that mattered, however, once the end credits rolled. I had just witnessed a rollicking pulp action flick that had a music video at the front of it. Not only that, but it was filled with stunts, explosions, awesome matte paintings, and kickass model work! Where had these movies been all my life?! I was in love.

My exact feelings in the wake of having seen my first Bond film are now lost to time, but I know I was left with an extreme sense of excitement and curiosity. The ride back from the theater involved loads of questions on my part, with Bill happily answering them all, even though I probably got annoying after a while. I’m glad he did. After all, it’s not like I had the internet available to me to easily seek out loads of information on the subject.

Luckily for me, MGM had begun reissuing the original 16 films on VHS around that time. If memory serves, they reissued them in two batches of 8. One in Fall 1995 and the other during spring of the next year. While they did reissue them chronologically, that’s not how I ultimately consumed them. There are two reasons for this. One, because I simply watched them as I found and purchased the tapes in stores. Two, because they were also playing a lot of them on TV over the 1995 holiday season. So instead of experiencing Bond from start to finish, Connery to Dalton, I initially watched them all out of order.

This is the best way I could have possibly seen them.

Most Bond fans I know came to the series as the result of a close family member sharing their own love of the series with them at an early age. Usually when this happens, the newcomer’s initial opinions end up reflecting those of the one doing the sharing. That never happened for me. I didn’t have anyone sitting me down and telling me that “Connery was the best and the rest suck” or that Lazenby was terrible or pushing Roger Moore on me as the “best”. Sure, Bill had his own favorite (Connery) and when pressed my father offered up his take (he’s more of a Lazenby & Dalton fan), but there was enough of a disconnect that none of it really informed how I personally felt about any of it.

Since I was sitting there as an 11 to 12-year-old boy watching Connery, Lazenby, Moore, and Dalton Bond films in tandem (and in the wake of Brosnan), I had no singular example of what was or wasn’t James Bond. To me, they were all James Bond and James Bond was many things. He could be ruthless, cold, and cruel. He could be charming, silly, and fun. He could rely on insane gadgetry or merely on his skills and wits alone. He was all of these things. And, for the most part, I discovered him on my own.

Indiana Jones, Alien, Predator, Halloween, Terminator, Star Wars, Evil Dead, Phantasm, etc. were all franchises handed to me by others. With each of those, someone sat me down and said, “Ok, you HAVE to see this! You’re going to love it!”. But not with Bond. Bond is mine.

That insane versatility might just be what I love about Bond the most. That said, the thrill of the hunt also informed my love and obsession. Sure, the original 16 EON films were easy to get ahold of in the wake of all those reissues, but I didn’t stop there. I wanted the books as well and that was no easy feet in the mid-‘90s, as both the Ian Fleming and the older John Gardner novels weren’t easy to come by.

It took me YEARS to track down copies of them all and much of that time was spent scouring used book stores. The thrill of finally get my hands on another one from time to time was intoxicating, like a nerdy version of finding a four-leafed clover in the middle of a vast field of grass. That goes double for the random day that I stumbled across a VHS of Never Say Never Again. I had no idea at the time that non-EON Bond films were a thing, so finding a 1980s Connery Bond flick just sitting on a store shelf was like momentarily sliding over to an alternate dimension by accident. It shook me to my core in the best way.

Now it’s 2020 and I sit here still obsessed with Bond after 25 years. I’ve watched each film countless times. I’ve played the video games. I keep up with the books as best I can, while also harboring a desire to re-read them all from the start. Naturally, I am beyond excited to see No Time to Die. Not only because it’s a new 007 movie, but also because it will be the capper of Craig’s run in the role and because it leaves the door open for a new interpretation in a few years. Like I said, I love that versatility and variance!

In the coming week, I plan on reviewing all existing Bond movies, as well as doing a few extra pieces here and there. Now that I have unloaded my personal history with the series here, I am going to do my best to keep that stuff out of those pieces. Sure, they will be filled with my opinions…they’re reviews after all…but no one needs to hear how I came to each specific movie or how it took me years to find a copy of John Gardner’s Death is Forever or what I had for breakfast the day Daniel Craig got cast as 007. Instead you’ll simply be left with my wonky positions on each movie, some of which fly in the face of traditional opinion. Hey, you are the one who clicked over to my site! Take it or leave it!

(Spoilers: I’m a big Diamonds Are Forever fan.)

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