Soderbergh: ‘On Her Majesty’s’ is da bestest James Bond

OHMSS Lazenby James Bond

Is there anything more boring than listening to a director talk about a movie he or she made and what they were trying to convey in it?

Not really.  Whether it’s a DVD commentary or an interview, that sort of authorial meaning shtick the media often begs for gets old.  Sure, it’s a different matter when a director tells us how they shot this or that scene, when they address the craft aspect of filmmaking.

I’ll tell you what I love to hear directors talk about though. That’s what movies they love and why as director Steven Soderbergh (“Side Effects,” “Magic Mike”) did last year at his web site, Extension 765.

In case you weren’t already aware of Extension 765, “a one-of-a-kind marketplace from Steven Soderbergh,” there’s no better introduction to the catalogue of obscure but fun movie T-shirts and memorabilia and liquor (?) and sometimes-blog that is Extension 765 than his post re: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the best James Bond motion picture.

(And you’re all welcome to buy me something from the site—I wouldn’t mind this.)

The benefit of reading or hearing why a director loves to watch a certain film is picking up on the aspects of filmmaking important to them. Of course, if you’re Soderbergh, then that’s everything (and Soderbergh’s “Haywire” works in the same territory covered by James Bond though I’m still unsure whether to receive “Haywire” as a suspenseful espionage thriller or as a humorous exercise).

As Soderbergh points out below, Peter Hunt worked in the cutting room as an editor and supervising editor on the first five James Bond films before he took the director’s chair for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” or OHMSS.

“For me there’s no question that cinematically ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment (certainly it’s the only Bond film I look at and think: I’m stealing that shit). Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are—the anamorphic compositions are relentlessly arresting—and the editing patterns of the action sequences are totally bananas; it’s like Peter Hunt (who cut the first five Bond films) took all the ideas of the French new wave and blended them with Eisenstein in a Cuisinart to create a grammar that still tops today’s how fast can you cut aesthetic, because the difference here is that each of the shots—no matter how short—are real shots, not just additional coverage from the hosing-it-down school of action, so there is a unification of the aesthetic of the first unit and the second unit that doesn’t exist in any other Bond film.”

Though Soderbergh is a gentleman and didn’t say it, the ski action sequences in the movie still rank far above the OHMSS-inspired and poorly edited ski sequences in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”  And that’s the case even with OHMSS’ wonky snow action FX.

Soderbergh talks below about what doomed OHMSS, and why actor George Lazenby could have been the best James Bond if he had been given the proper space and direction:

OHMSS James Bond“So what’s wrong with it (OHMSS)? George Lazenby, but not for the reasons you might think. I actually like him—a lot—and think he could have made a terrific Bond had he continued (allegedly he decided before the shoot was over he would only play the part once). What seems obvious to me, though, is no one was helping him during the shoot or the edit (they won’t even let him finish a fucking sentence onscreen). It feels like everyone was so focused on what he wasn’t (Sean Connery) that they didn’t take the time to figure out what he was (a cool-looking dude with genuine presence and great physicality). For instance, they should have known that a lot of the one-liners that would have worked with Connery don’t work with Lazenby. This isn’t because he’s bad, it’s because his entire affect is different, less glib.”

Soderbergh nails the problem with OHMSS here, a point proven by the “Casino Royale” reboot, which tailored the storied James Bond figure to fit Daniel Craig’s detached, impudent persona (and did so successfully, too).

Below Soderbergh tackles some of the stickier issues the James Bond movies will always face: male character vulnerability, depiction of women, &c.

“Also, Lazenby has a vulnerability that Connery never had—there are scenes in which he looks legitimately terrified and others in which he convinces us that he is in love with Tracy (particularly in the final scene), which brings us to another reason OHMSS is so distinctive—it’s the only Bond film with a female character that isn’t a cartoon, and the only film in which Bond is so completely frustrated with his bosses he wants and tries to quit. In fact, everything about the film suggests a reboot before the idea of rebooting was even in the air, much less fashionable (especially the ending, which you could never get away with today).”

And to conclude matters, here’s Soderbergh on James Bond “screwing chicks.”

“…the film is too fucking long, the longest Bond film until Casino Royale nearly three decades later. One huge trim should have been made, from 1:06:00 to 1:14:45. No new narrative information is transmitted in this section, it’s just Bond screwing chicks and stuff we learn eventually in other scenes. Also, later on, I’m not sure of the efficacy of Blofeld locking Bond in an engine room with a pretty obvious escape route, but I guess that’s what was handy.”

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