Reviews: The Other Fellow

The Other Fellow,
Directed by Matthew Bauer

The name’s Bond, James Bond...”

Possibly one of the best character introductions in cinema, Connery’s first appearance in Dr No, at a late-night casino table, has become not only memorable, but iconic, and that particular phrasing of the name has informed this long-lived character ever since; even those who don’t care for the films know that line. But what of the other James Bonds? No, despite the title of Bauer’s documentary, we’re not talking about George Lazenby. Rather Bauer looks into regular people in the real world who happen to share that now-famous name, from the respected ornithologist whose name Fleming cheerfully purloined (he had his book on the Birds of The West Indies by James Bond on his shelf in Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica) to people today who have grown up with this name, and all the baggage it brings with it, from an avid superfan to a man wanted by the police in Indiana.

Obviously to people today, the name James Bond comes with weighted with a lot of baggage, but of course this was not always the case. In the mid-twentieth century it was just another name – unless you had a keen interest in nature and had read the books and essays of the highly-regarded ornithologist, James Bond. In some archive interview footage, we see Ian Fleming being asked about the creation of his Bond novels, and how he selects a name for a character, whereupon he reveals he had Bond’s book on birds on his shelves and thought oh, that’s a good solid but not too flashy name, perfect.

Anyone who has ever tried penning a story will know that naming characters is often quite difficult, and inspiration for names – be it from strolling an old graveyard and noting the names on tombs to picking names from older books or journal articles. And in the normal run of things this is rarely a big problem for others further down the line – unless you have that rare thing, lightning in a bottle, a work that just grows and grows, crosses various mass media and becomes a global phenomenon. Bond – the nature-writing Bond, that is – and his wife are blissfully unaware of the existence of the superspy for the first few years of his existence. It’s only as the books become much more popular and are reprinted in America, and then along comes that first film, Dr No, that they really become aware of it. Uncomfortably aware of it.

Suddenly this respected scientist who has had this name for decades, find that people attach new meaning to it, especially those meeting him for the first time, or attending a public lecture by “James Bond”. I’m reminded of the Scottish lawyer and history writer who has the name Harry Potter, and also would have had no problem with that moniker for most of his life, then suddenly find that his name, through no action of his own, has suddenly become associated with far more. Bond and his wife, on a trip to Jamaica, decide to make an unannounced call at Goldeneye; when asked who is calling for Mr Fleming, they reply “Mr and Mrs James Bond”. After some discussion, and realising there was no malice here, they become friendly, Fleming telling Bond if he ever finds an especially silly looking new species, he is free to use his name for it as it would be only fair, before inscribing a copy of one of his Bond books “to the original James Bond” (it sold many decades later for tens of thousands of dollars).

What, however of all the James Bonds since then? Bauer selects quite a few, of different ages, from an elderly man who, like the ornithologist, predates the existence of the fictional spy, and has little care for or interest in the films, to much younger men who have had to deal with the fact that every single time they introduce themselves to someone new, they get that look and almost always some sort of joke (all of which they have heard many, many, many times before, as you can imagine).

One young African American man finds it even more troublesome when the police take an interest in him – being black in America and pulled over by the police is, as we’ve seen all too often in the news, a dangerous moment. Throw in that name when asked to identify yourself, and the officers deciding you are being cheeky to them, making them angrier… In a later moment the African-American Bond is wanted by the police, and the cache of that name means his case is spread all over the media. Astonishingly there is another man with the same name in the same area, and it’s not long before he gets people asking if it is him, and he has to explain no, it just happens to be another James Bond in their part of the world! (later the two get to meet and share stories about living with that name).

Bauer also introduces us to a number of other Bonds, including a theatre director in the US, who makes it clear how much he hates being stuck with this name, and all the expectation and connotations that come with it – and yet he accepts offers to appear in advertisements to trade on that name (we see him introducing himself as James Bond then endorsing a betting service for TV ads). Bauer asks him if this is a little hypocritical that he says how much he hates the name and yet here he is trading on it for advertising money, but he comments that unlike the name and what comes with it, doing the ads is his free choice. Another chap in Sweden, whose ex-Nazi father had vanished decades before, has become a Bond superfan, with his own Bond museum, trying to live the lifestyle, and perhaps partially substituting Fleming as a sort of spiritual step-father figure.

I have to admit, while I was intrigued when I was first offered a chance to see this film, I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this documentary, but I have to tip my hat to Bauer and his crew – they have crafted a fascinating, human-interest story here, which ties together everyday life (in all its complexities and variations) with mass pop culture.

The Other Fellow is released in theatres and on demand from February 17th

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Music in film

It’s probably not surprising given I am a huge cinephile that I also really enjoy a lot of film soundtrack music. The other day I was listening to Gershwin when the album reach Rhapsody in Blue and right away I was mentally visualising that wonderful monochrome opening to Woody Allen’s Manhattan “he adored New York… for him it still pulsated to the great music of George Gershwin…”

And it made me think how sometimes certain pieces of music can become eternally associated with a scene from a film. I don’t just mean original soundtrack music – like John Williams’ opening for the original Star Wars, for instance, conjuring up that amazing (for the time, young me had seen nothing like these gigantic ships thundering across the screen after the opening crawl of text) opening of that saga, or Hans Zimmer’s powerful Inception soundtrack. No, I was thinking on music which had existed in its own right before being borrowed for us in a film – sometimes it can be a little known piece of music, or at least little known to the wider public, such as Barber’s Adagio in Platoon or Strauss’ waltz in the famous space docking sequence in 2001. Obviously classical music admirers knew those, but the films brought them to a wider audience and also indelibly linked those pieces forever in most people’s minds with those scenes in the movies.

Of course there is Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By” which originally dated from the early 1930s, but really became better known – any by better known I mean immortal – in the 1940s when used in Casablanca. If not for that I doubt most of us would ever have heard of the song, whereas now if we hear it we connect it to one of the best films of all time right away.

Sometimes it can be a well-known track a lot of folk had in their collection from years back, which suddenly leaps back into the pop-cultural landscape, fresh for a new audience, a nostalgic flashback for older fans. Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life suddenly gained a second lease of life when used in the pounding opening of the film version of Trainspotting:

Or Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” for Donnie Darko:

And arguably these days for a lot of folk these days those songs will always be associated with the films. And then there’s the great use of Queen’s mid 1970s hit Bohemian Rhapsody for 90s cult hit Wayne’s World:

And Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” with a very young Tom Cruise dancing around in his socks in Risky Business:

And the Pixies’ brilliant “Where is my mind?” for the closing of Fight Club:

And a personal favourite of mine, Goth classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus used in the opening to The Hunger – this one going so far as to actually use Pete Murphy and the boys in the film:

And there are hundreds more – think Steppenwolf’s rock classic “Born to be Wild” in Easy Rider, the Doors and even Wagner in Apocalypse Now and goodness knows how many more, classical, jazz, pop, rock that either existed before but were little known until selected for use in a film scene or else they had enjoyed their moment of success and suddenly found themselves with a second bite at the cherry (Quentin Tarantino has done both numerous times in pretty much every film soundtrack he’s ever made). I’m sure you can think of plenty of other similar examples off the top of your head.