Sigh. In answer to those asking why there’s no review published, or even planned, for the much-delayed James Bond film No Time To Die, here’s a quick glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain to explain the omission. In short, there’s no way to see this film. As with the previous James Bond films, there’s no press screenings in the country where I live, Scotland. James Bond was born in Scotland, his most famous incarnation was played by a Scottish actor, and the latest film was partly made here, and yet our critics won’t be allowed to see the film, and Scottish audiences will have to look to London-based journalists to hear about how it reflects on one of our national treasures.
And this is nothing new. Jordan Peele’s horror film Us was toured in advance around the USA to ensure that everyone had a chance to have an opinion on the film; in the UK, Universal demanded that Scots critics made a 1000 mile round trip to London, with no budget for expenses. Similarly, despite the many Scots soldiers who fought and died for their country at Dunkirk, Warners didn’t feel that Scots journalists should be allowed to see or comment on Christopher Nolan’s film. After a 26 email conversation by email, they relented and put on a shambolic press screening where the sound regularly cut out and the picture frequently vanished; hardly what the director would have wanted. Today’s BBC website has a run-down of exitable critical opinions on the film, but none of the critics write for Scottish publications. I guess I can see Bond in a cinema with the infectious distractions of a live audience, but enthusiasm withers.
There’s an interesting scene in Live and Let Die in which James Bond goes to Harlem; as usual with Bond, the sequence shows a white man conquering a tough, uncharted neighbourhood. It’s a scene that borders on racism, but reflects the white saviour nation that’s been an essential part of the outdated Bond mythos. Is it racist to exploit the physical locations and literary history of a character, then cut everyone of his race out of the cultural conversation? Scotland is meant to be a country that’s part of the union of the UK, and yet despite having it’s own parliament, newspapers, tv stations and culture, we’re used to not being invited to the party. Our opinions don’t count by dint of our race, and that’s what’s dispiriting about such cultural elitism. Even millions of public money contributed by Scottish funding bodies into Trainspotting 2 didn’t allow Sony to find the £200 they’d need to stump up for a Scottish press show; it’s not a financial problem, it’s a problem that’s ingrained in yesterday’s notions of racial superiority.
It’s not that long ago that I helped organise a charity premiere of Casino Royale in Glasgow, complete with Bond’s car parked outside for photo-opportunities. And not that long since I sat down for a one-on-one with Daniel Craig at One Devonshire Gardens and sank a few bottles of beer to talk about his work. But the days when film-makers were proud of their work and keen to share it with anyone but their own corporate cronies seem to have gone. Racism is the flavour of the moment, and by putting their film where only a handful of middle-aged white London critics can see it, the Bond producers revert to the most out-dated characteristics of their brand. While cinema is in the doldrums and crying out for any kind of success, this wilful negligence of their potential audience smacks of the laziest kind of racism. I’ll catch up with Bond at a public screening if and when it feels safe, but right now, in this country, it feels like this is No Time to Die.
Wow. This post is a real eye-opener to me. I know next to nothing (okay, nothing) about modern film distribution and the review process. This seems to be bad business as well as flat out wrong.
These covid-days have made me much more selective about what I see in the movie theater…and without the opportunity to get the stamp of approval from the film-authority, I’ll wait for this one to come out on DVD–which makes the chances of me ever seeing it (this type of thing belongs on the big screen) vanishingly slim.
It’s a hassle chasing film screenings, much easier to do from London, NYC or LA, for obvious reasons. But the system was increasingly antiquated in the internet era, and the pandemic might have brought a chance to build back better in terms of diversity and fresh thinking. Not this time…I’m still interested to see it, but it’s a bitter pill to see your own country deemed unimportant in terms of our opinions. We’re in a union, but all the good stuff is hived off elsewhere. We’re deemed a cultural backwater, so my enthusiasm, like yours, falters…
Given the current state of theaters, one would think that they’d do all that they could to get people in seats wherever they can. VOD and streaming is good and all, but theaters are still where the lionshare of the money to be made is, and they’re not at full strength — part of me wonders if they will ever reach pre-COVID levels of attendance.
Several outlets have reported that the film will need to make $900 million to break even, which is a tall order even without COVID. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already bracing for a loss.
So, not having a National press show is nothing new. And yet the industry is on its knees, and yet they still won’t screen a film opening on 200 screens tomorrow. There must be a reason they don’t want media coverage or people to know about the film. Otherwise, it’s just self sabotage…
I do wonder if they’ve thrown in the towel — or if the film is just secretly terrible. I’ve been greatly skeptical of early reviews in general since reading those of “Batman v. Superman” paint it in a positive light, only for it to turn out to be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It has an 84 on RT now, which isn’t bad but isn’t great, putting it well being Skyfall and Casino Royale.
It is a tough spot to be in, given how much of a hole they seem to be in. Bond will certainly live on, but it seems almost certain that they’ll take a take a loss on this one.
It’s not big news that media partners have a bias towards certain products, or have to balance access; watching a film feels differently if you’re interviewing the cast later that day. That makes you want a film to be good. I’ve written bad reviews that were spiked and replaced with paid adverts for the same film. It’s a business model, but it’s working for no-one in COVID-crippled cinema. Reading between the lines of the initial frothing suggests a lack of enthusiasm, and a sensation is needed to reverse viewing habits. Expect the same whoops of glee at early returns that pretty much every film gets unless it’s a musical, but I can’t see a route to profitability. We’ll see.
Wrote a bunch of stuff, deleted it quite a few times.
I am sorry that you are feeling this way about how things (more than just the movie obviously) are going.
* fist bump of support *
Thanks, appreciate it!
Am assuming London-centric is the easiest approach for the film companies desperate to save a few bucks.
That’s been the case for a while, but I really think we need joined up thinking fast to stop cinema going the way of the Ark, and that means not acting like it’s 1952. The majority of the film’s audience in the UK are outside of London, so why should a handful of Knightsbridge snobs have responsibility for telling us what’s good and what’s not?
Not sure those reviewers command the same audience as maybe a decade ago but I take your point. the BFI takes the same approach. You are welcome to visit our library if you can make the 1,000-mile round trip but we can’t possibly ship anything up to you.
Right, and yet Edinburgh has a budget to import, feed and water overseas journalist, but not those from the UK. And you’re right, there are fewer influential reviewers, so if we’re going to build back better, we need to work on creating a level playing field for all races and sexes, rather than the chosen few.
Dear Wiz, have u opened a can of worms or some TBD species of wriggling varmints? I understand the gist of the political point you’ve made, and many would agree Brit Fleming was a racist, elitist, antisemitic, homophobe, sexist… Public servant James Bond is 1/2 Scot, 1/2 Swiss and was designated to be, according to Fleming, a dull ‘blunt instrument’ in his 12 novels. He was described in books as ‘black hair, high cheek bones, cruel mouth, cold blue grey eyes, risk taker…’ The screen version Bonds that come closest to that description are perhaps Dalton, Moore, and Brosnan. Connery, however, is still my favorite.
For decades, I’ve been tracing my ancestors and pondering what does being a particular race mean? Race by definition is your ‘physical traits’ (what’s inherited) while ethnicity refers to cultural identification (what u learn). RE race, DNA often says otherwise and US Census forms are wrong in asking a person to check ONE box (I checked OTHER and wrote in HUMAN (race). I’m proud to claim Irish/Scot/Welsh ancestry, however, I fear claiming anything more specific perpetuates our (alleged) differences, rather than alikenesses. We all share blood types, organs transfer just fine without regard for skin shade, and weapons kills without regard…
Indeed, it’s No Time to Die or fall on a rusty sword prop. Cinema/Hollywood’esqueness in 2021 and Fleming’s Bond bear little resemblance to its original models. Is that a good or not so good thing? Movies are now part of corporate entities, grinding out formulaic industrialized CGI content more often than gems. Movies releases are based on Qs like ‘how well will this play in Hong Kong and how soon can we release on DVD?’ Before we can fix or improve the current awfully rude model and environment, we need to know who BROKE or ruined the old model–which wasn’t even broken? Was it a preponderance of fantasy blockbusters, or the introduction of algorithms? Do we need to sideline the moguls and their media machines and the many layers of people providing input but not wisdom? Or rethink the rating code? Re-introduce glamour? Perhaps a Vesper, stirred and shaken, might aid the thinking process? I’d really like to figure out how to help. There’s an old Scottish saying: “They speak of my drinking, but not of my thirst.”
My reader will notice a grand total of zero Bond films on my blog. That’s not because I dislike the franchise, but rather I feel it needs little recommendation on my part. In the UK, pretty much the lions share of the public know these movies in a way that’s beyond parody. Some of these films are good, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die and Skyfall are all excellent in different ways, so maybe I should set down why. I read most of the books as a teenager, and they’re quite different; I even snared a meeting to write the unofficial Bond movie that came out of the Thunderball rights issue back in the 1990’s. They had a terrific idea which was a period Bond movie; what would interest me is going back to the Ian Fleming/Dennis Wheatley/ Winston Churchill cabal and looking into the origins of where this ‘blunt instrument’ was fashioned…
‘Race and racist are tricky words, and I’ll admit that I hestitate to use them. Unwitting racism is what a London-centric view looks like from Scotland, or at least that would be a positive way of looking at things. I heard the phrase ‘protected attributes’ the other day when it came to race, and I can see that being a useful term. Scotland feels like a satellite of a satellite, we’re in a union with the Uk, and that seems to mean that we get a raw deal when it comes to culture. Decisions like this, to cut all Scottish media out, fuel discontent and a sense of national identity that’s anti-English, hardly what the Bond franchise would want to stand for, but their actions run against any sense of UK unity. Like Thomas Paine, I see myself as a ‘citizen of the world’ and there’s a little of that in Bond’s globe-trotting and desire to save the world. But if Bond is to move with the times, and in a CGI world, he really needs to given that the movies cost $200 million each, they really need to develop an inclusive business stragegy that reflects the ideals of today’s world, rather than hanker back to the musty past (albeit one that I do find interesting). We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns is another Scottish phrase, and it would be nice to see Bond foster inclusiveness rather than divide us.
Once again, you’ve enlightened and educated me…never heard of the Jock expression, very interesting, thank you. Nor did I realize u never reviewed a Bond film, or why. True, the R words are tricky, and hark back 100 years to early films like Birth of a Nation and Jazz Singer. Holly weird Diversity report 2020 indicates inclusion ratio is better, but still not representative. Stereotyping continues and better stds for 21c remain red headed swarthy skinned step children everyone ignores. Where are imaginative offerings that weave tales of individuals, minority or majority?
U always amaze me RE your background experiences and encounters, wow, truly cosmopolitan renaissance man! RE a Fleming/Wheatley/ Churchill cabal, oooough, do go on. There are cookbooks about the character of Bond and much speculation since Fleming was himself a spy, and part of Brit Naval intelligence. Could a modern day Bond pull off having an equal rights agenda? Where do we start?
Rent a bunker in Whitehall? Perhaps we make the business of assassinating & spying morally reputable…no easy task? Then discover where Wheatley got his idea to use a black magic theme …drum roll, enter Aleister Crowley, Montague Summers, CIA, Sax Rohmer… or should Le Carre be resurrected as he despised Bond? Or lay out the Tarot deck used by Solitaire in Live Let Die?
This Bond story begins in Kent, near the golf course where Fleming died in 1964…he’d been hunting for a rumored buried treasure, a hoard of gold and gems, and a bronze tablet of alchemical formulas, written in Ogham and archaic Hebrew. It had been buried by a priest class of Gauls (Druids) north of Canterbury about 2000 years ago. The only persons Fleming told about the possible whereabouts of this treasure were Dennis Wheatley and a man upon whom he’d based his most famous character. It was rather a shame the man had anterograde amnesia, the result of a …
I’ll return to this over the weekend, having a literal fox in the henhouse crisis, but something to keep you going for now…
And back before breakfast! I grew up on Dennis Wheatley, we had all his books with fading yellow spines, all gathered together, and once I was done with the Hardy boys, it was straight to The Irish Witch and The Ka of Gifford Hillary. It’s interesting (to me at least) that Wheatley was so much part of the establishment, and yet was investigating all this occult stuff. And I guess my affection for Live and Let Die is partly because Solitaire’s powers are presented as real; the Bond films usually debunk fantastical themes, and yet her premonitions are presented in a matter of fact way. You could also say that this leads directly to Raiders of the Lost Ark. So to me, there’s more to Bond’s Celtic origins than just a house in Scotland….
I guess my meeting with the alternative Bond producers was them sounding out a Scot for potential angles. I genuinely think there’s something in the Fleming/Wheatley relationship that could be exhumed, but it’s hard to figure out how that would chime with the expectations a modern audience has for Bond. There have been fanciful tv movies about Fleming, but maybe a secret reboot that deals with the originals of the brutish character of Bond would turn over something startling that locates supernatural beliefs at the heart of the origins of the character….
How serendip’ical…post Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Matheson, S Jackson, & Algernon Blackwood, I gravitated to Wheatley as well in 60s, but after buying coffee table book Devil & All His Works (using babysitting/soda jerk $), realized what a zealous prude+ he was. It’s a sort of mini-ency of contents from his library. He fell off my radar, although his book collection and research influenced mine for years.
I acquired one of the mystery dossiers he wrote and packaged–real gem. I do think Fleming used Wheatley characters as composite for Bond. Fleming’s grandad was Scottish also (forgot that). So was my great grandad (Barrhead). According to hack P. Gardiner, 5 of Flemings books are esoteric, alchemic, and contain secret messages, hmmm. Impressive that you had meetings with Bond producers!
Exhumed is a great way to describe the refashioning of Fleming/Wheatley relationship. DW’s library didn’t contain any IF books, however, in interviews he comments about IF’s spy yarns… Except for last 3-4 books, Bond was rather brutish & brusque, despite a taste for finer things, not unlike IF.
Occult revival of 1880-1929 must have had big impact on DW. He even attended a few coven meetings, but as observer. I’ve been revisiting his fan sites and bios written. I’m still intrigued by R Hess dropping down in Eaglesham, not far from where my ggrands lived, and links to Crowley, Donovan, IF, DW, and Godfrey… Current culture is different from post WWII austerity model where armchair travel to exotic locations and luxury items could be vicariously enjoyed. May work them into book in progress Coached in Death RE a Alderian psychologist, dead fiance, secret wine society, and crypto codes from WWII rediscovered. Okay, back to it… cheers FAuth
Just to pull at one strand of this. My wife’s family own the farm in Eaglesham where Hess landed. When we go over for Sunday lunch, we always walk over to where his plane crashed. They have collected tonnes of information about the flight, arrest and more over decades, since the family often get a mention. I’ve also read a few screenplays for unproduced films about Hess that embody various conspiracy theories. And yes, I’ve got one of the mystery dossiers too, complete with a lock of hair! Wonder whose hair that was! Was not far from Barrhead too this afternoon, dropping a friend off at a birthday party…I’m always amused at least by Wheatley’s writing, particularly the way he usually works the last good meal he had into his writing to pad things out.
‘That night, the Duke prepared for the long struggle ahead. He refreshed himself with a meal of quails’s eggs, lightly drizzled in Hollandaise sause, followed by a medium Aberdeen Angus steak, and washed down with….’
Plenty of room for coded messages when you’re allowed to go that far off the reservation….
All the ‘venerables’ (your crude stereotypes) are giving it a fawning 5 star, except Clarisse Loughrey in The Independant – yes a much needed diverse review of it. Being in Newcastle or near as dammit there’s a similar feeling up here about being left on the sidelines for just about everything. The Govt pay lip service to ‘the north’ which they think of as Manchester/Liverpool- they are not North, they’re in the middle. Scotland IS a country and should be treated as such instead of an appendage to England. Sorry they didn’t give you your own preview screening. Still it’s being screened as a premier at the Zurich film festival (Bond’s mother is Swiss so he’s only 1/2 Scottish you know 😊 ) and the director of the festival said he really had to fight to get them to let him have it, maybe the Scottish Film Board or whatever you have up there could have gone into battle for you? Or did they try and got turned down?
I do remember the first Uk reviews for Spectre were all ‘best Bond ever’; I’d love to confront these critics with the frustrated audience that the film got when it actually got in front of paying punters. Cinema is on its knees right now, and we really need some joined up thinking by studios, cinemas, distribs and press to try and create an inclusive system; In my case, there’s a specific Scottish argument; what countries outside the Uk will not have a press show? My guess is none; even Ireland have a national press Show for major releases. I’m not asking for Eon to roll out the red carpet for me, but for filmfans generally; if you’re starting out as a critic, it’s near impossible to cover all major releases. There’s absolutely no-one in Scotland fighting this fight; the FDA in London just shrug when you raise this point. Ultimatlely, London-centric thinking weakens the UK and makes the union a rum deal.
I have no interest in Bond and won’t see the film but I applaud your outrage at not being able to (p)review it, You are right, this stinks. Historically the studios would hold press screenings in Glasgow as well as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. Historically too, Scotland and Ireland were the regions with the most ‘frequent cinemagoers’ and therefore important. These days press shows have virtually ended and screeners are all that’s available for most films. Last night was a promo event/premiere above all.
One tiny criticism, London is the most diverse city in the UK. It may be true that many film critics are middle-aged white men but there are several young Black women critics living in London as well. Your main point, however, remains indisputable.
I take your point, although reading the list of critics who reviewed this film, they generally fit my crude stereotype. It’s hard for female, black or even just younger film critics to get a swing, and more so when all ‘regional’ critics are excluded. I’m really interested in hearing diverse views on a film, but focusing publicity on the opinions of a handful of venerable critics isn’t doing much for diversity. I can’t see many reasons for not engaging the press; it’s not expensive, and when the film is screening 200 times a day in Scotland, all publicity is surely good publicity in terms of attracting a crowd. Then again, I’m easily outraged, but if I can’t review the big films, the whole eco-system struggles, and smaller films get less attention too. Thanks for the supportive comment!
Isn’t this typical of the cultural economy in general? Canada is a very big country, but if you’re an entertainment or arts journo there’s Toronto and that’s it. I imagine in the UK everything is Londoncentric, which breeds the same resentment. In the U.S. they only care about the major media centers like LA. and New York with everything else being flyover country. Might not be racism so much as the studios just figure it’s not worth the bother to go out to the sticks. And everything outside of the media metropoles is the sticks. I don’t know if that makes good business sense, but it’s something you see everywhere. I’ve heard French critics complain about the dominance of Paris, etc.
Totally accept that Canadian, French and USA critics who are not based in their biggest cities may feel sidelined too. But the difference is that Scotland is a country. They’re opening this tomorrow with 200 screenings a day in Scotland, they’re on tv telling funny stories about filming in Scotland, and the character itself is Scottish. They’re hampering by a pandemic, so why not spend £200 on a press show and include us? If there’s a valid reason, I’d be keen to hear it, but it smacks of racism ie behaviour which sidelines on the basis of being part of the Scottish race. There’s lots of it about, and while they’ve made efforts to make Bond less racist onscreen, their ongoing business model is discriminatory. Scots are a race, we are not a region.
As Sean Connery said in Goldfinger, “Positively shocking.”
I’m sure my words won’t change much, but there’s no excuse for this kind of thing IMHO.