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Navel Maneuvers: Pierce Brosnan discusses global economics with Halle Berry in 'Die Another Day.'

In Spectre Gadgets

James Bond: a child's introduction to globalization

By Richard von Busack

ONLY THOSE whose love has been tested by suffering can really know what love means. Over the last 40 years, the James Bond series has presumed on its fans' love more roughly than any other franchise this side of the Chicago Cubs. Remember the smoldering sensuality of Roger Moore, togged in his powder-blue suits and bell-bottom trousers? Fortunately, the series has recovered, thanks in part to the alert, drily funny Pierce Brosnan, whose previous three outings have been among the best of the 20 official adventures of James Bond.

Some love the props; some, the female arm-candy. Those women are usually a fiberglassy crew, though, with a few exceptions, like Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Sophie Marceau--and, of course, in the newest Bond, Die Another Day (which opens Friday), the impertinent Halle Berry.

What draws me back is the villains. If the big news story of the last 25 years is globalization, the Bond movies were there first. In 1962, the world was sunk deep in the Cold War. But the first Bond film, Dr. No, brushed aside the U.S./Soviet rivalry and went to the heart of the trouble. The real disturber of the peace was a criminal organization called SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

SPECTRE was like an al Qaeda unhampered by religious scruples. In the fifth chapter of Ian Fleming's novel Thunderball, SPECTRE is introduced in as shiny a passage of fake Balzac as you might ever read. Mastermind Blofeld is a "man of almost mimosaic sensitivity when it came to matters of security" who made a dirty fortune selling secrets. This prototype for Dr. Evil pitted the Allied and the Axis forces against each other during World War II. He is later to do the same to the West and the East in the Cold War.

One thing I'd forgotten is that the book Thunderball gives SPECTRE's address, where it does business disguised as a nonprofit: 136bis Boulevard Haussmann in the eighth arrondissement. Damn, I could have dropped off my résumé last time I was there. Of course, SPECTRE is an unstable organization--you wouldn't believe what happens at layoff time. As Balzac would, Fleming makes sure that you understand SPECTRE's business from the neighborhood. SPECTRE's street is dull and respectable: "Here are the seats of gros industriels from Lille, Lyons, Bordeaux ... the gros légumes [we'd say "big cheeses"] in cotton, artificial silk, coal, wine, steel." Like Balzac, Fleming winces with amusement at grasping businesses displacing the old aristocracy.

Except for an appearance in Never Say Never Again, SPECTRE retired from the screen after Diamonds Are Forever (1971). But the Communists didn't take up the slack. In 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, we meet Walter Gotell's recurring character, the avuncular head of the USSR secret service. Gotell's General Gogol is as sympathetic a Russian as had been onscreen since World War II. The thrifty producers--one Canadian (Harry Salzman) and one American (Albert "Cubby" Broccoli)--figured the Bond films could eventually be sold to the Russians. Thus the 007 films are years ahead of their time as détente adventures. Thus also, the Bond villains are almost always malefactors of great wealth--like Blofeld, less interested in world domination than in accumulating megafortunes.

It's a paradox that the four best Bond films are the most like Fleming's books--From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and For Your Eyes Only (1981). Too often, Fleming's bred-in-the-bone English snobbery was clipped when the books were transformed into movies. And here's a statistic I know you need: Bond is played by an Englishman in only nine out of 20 of the official 007 films.

In his last Bond novel, Fleming outed Bond as being half-Scot, half-Swiss. The Scottishness was probably a gesture toward Sean Connery. In the movies, Bond shows this Swiss half clearly: he's neutral, a naval commander attached to military intelligence--a gunman assigned to deal with problems in the British Empire. But his real job is to police the worst excesses of the global economy.

And Die Another Day is another glittering toy about a rogue capitalist: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), considered a citizen above suspicion and knighted by the British government. Wouldn't it have been irresistible bad taste to have this new Bond villain explain that Osama bin Laden is only a No. 6 or 7 in a much bigger scheme, a SPECTRE reborn?

The 007 movies are escapist, but they have warned against press monopoly (Tomorrow Never Dies) and predicted trouble along the Central Asian oil regions (The World Is Not Enough). Before that, they envisioned the wealthy, stateless megalomaniac terrorist of today and figured that such figures would be disguised as ruthless international businessman. In a cinema that ignores the perilous effects of globalization, the Bond films have often anticipated what Noam Chomsky says--and done so much more entertainingly.


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From the November 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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