Posts tagged as: Neal Purvis

The curating of Bond

You would need to live on a desert island worthy of a Bond villain, or perhaps be a nominee director of hundreds of offshore companies living in isolation from various tax jurisdictions, not to know that this year is the 50th anniversary of cinema’s most successful franchise. But what accounts for the phenomenal success (the most successful in box office terms) of the iconic spy’s latest mission, Skyfall?

Certainly it is the perfect storm of a collaboration between the producers Barbara Brocolli and Michael G. Wilson, the director Sam Mendes, scriptwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the Bond family of stuntmen, chippies and electricians, the ensemble cast and the man himself, Daniel Craig. I would argue, however, that much of Skyfall’s success can be put down to the way the principal players in the film’s creation have curated the heritage of the books and films (the creative estate if you will) of the eponymous gentlemen spy into a fresh interpretation of the brand.

So much has been written about the iconography and staple ingredients of the Bond films through the years that there is no need to rehash here. What Skyfall does so successfully is satisfy every Bond fans’ yearning to tick those boxes (locations, girls, drinks, action, characters etc.) but it also analyses the essence of the Bond heritage and provide moments of symbolic truth. It is curatorship and interpretation in the best sense of the word. As the godfather of interpretation, Freeman Tilden stated the intention of interpretation is to reveal “something of the beauty and wonder, the inspiration and spiritual meaning that lie behind what the visitor can with his senses perceive”. For visitor read viewers here and you have the secret to Skyfall’s success in what it does to reinterpret the Bond brand.

Leaving aside some of the perfect symmetry of the plot dialogue (the recurring reference to spies as rats first by Bill Tanner when introducing the “new digs” of MI6, then by Silva and finally by Bond himself, for instance), there are some telling moments of revelation which are startling not only in terms of how quickly and succinctly they open a door on Bond’s inner psyche but how much they reveal about Britain and how it sees itself. Just as the old retainer Kincaid rips down a sheet covering a mirror to reveal Bond’s reflection, so we can see Bond and Britain staring back at us. In Olympic year, an alternative advertising campaign for the film might read:

‘Bond is GREAT Britain, but is Britain great?’

So expertly have the collaborators of Broccoli, Wilson, Mendes, Logan and Craig woven themes into this one Bond film that are authentic to the brand and our national psyche (as if the two are inextricably linked – which perhaps they are), that there is a surprisingly long list of ideas that challenge the main characters in what is still, at the end of the day, a mainstream action film. Age, relevance, loyalty, nationhood, betrayal, parenthood, childhood alienation, the ethics of espionage; all get an airing as brand Britain seems to be taking a long hard look at itself through Bond.

All of this emotive soul-searching, which is done with authentically British reticence and irony, is enabled by a thoroughly ingrained understanding of the heritage of Bond. It is proof that successful reinvention for any brand is only possible through an immersion in the quintessence of its own history and founding values.

There are too many strands of brand to pull together in one review but I would point to one example of tangible curatorship that aids the revelatory storytelling. On first meeting the new ‘Q’ in the National Gallery, they sit in front of Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768)’, depicting a natural philosopher (a forerunner of a modern Scientist) demonstrating an experiment to curious onlookers, so referencing Q’s scientific credentials. Bond is contemplating the “The Fighting Temeraire” (1839) by J.M.W Turner (voted the nation’s favourite painting), which Q says represents the passage of time and melancholy of an old warship being towed away for scrap.

H.M.S Temeraire was a part of the British armada that participated in the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 and was decommissioned and towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe to be broken up in 1838. By the end of the film, Bond stands in the new M’s office reincarnated in front of Thomas Buttersworth’s H.M.S. “Victory” heavily engaged at the battle of Trafalgar (1825) which itself saw the Temeraire in its youthful pomp behind the Victory.

This portrays M as a Nelson figure (with Judi Dench dying on the bridge, as it were, with even Bond’s kiss having historical resonance) and Bond as a warship, a brand renewed through his own heritage.

Thanks to Judith Bridgland for extra content.

 

 

Heritage is not just about history. Essentially, it is about staying true to your values. The heritage of a brand needs to be cared for as much as the heritage of a nation; in some ways more so. But heritage is one of a company's greatest assets and Brand Heritage News intends to provide a forum for discussing these trends. We do not intend to analyse branding per se, nor are we particularly focused on heritage brands (i.e. those brands which use heritage as part of their USP) but rather the evidence of any company's (young or old) attempt to preserve and communicate its brand's heritage.