With James Bond celebrating his 50th Anniversary this year and the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall hitting cinemas this weekend there has been no better time to reflect on the legacy of the long running film franchise. For film fans looking to refresh their memory of the 22 movies that have led to this point there are many studies of the series to choose from and one of those is Bill Desowitzs book James Bond Unmasked.
In his book, Desowitz sets out to examine each film in the series one by one, placing each film in the context of the time it was made and attempting to uncover the true significance of Bond throughout the years. Looking at each of the six actors to have played Bond in turn, he uses his encyclopaedic knowledge of the series to detail how each actor has interpreted Ian Flemings famous spy and how each Bond is different yet somehow the same.
As I discovered when writing my own James Bond Retrospective this year, it is tough to find material that has not already been written about the series making it hard to appeal to both readers who are new to the subject as well as finding enough of interest for lifelong fans of the character. Thankfully Desowitz strikes the right balance with his book going into detail about each films plot as well as imparting some good nuggets of trivia, many of which will be well known to hardcore fans but possibly not so familiar to casual readers.
One area that sets this book apart from all others on the subject is a series of interviews with all six actors who have played James Bond. Due to Desowitzs position as a writer for Variety and USA Today he has had the rare opportunity to have interviewed each actor at various points during his career and those interviews are included as a bonus chapter in this book.
In this 50th anniversary year, one thing that seems rather odd is the fact that Sean Connery has been unwilling to take part in any of the events that have been organised to celebrate the series. In fact, even watching the special features on the recent Blu-ray releases of the Bond films, Connerys contribution seems to be confined to archive interviews with no recent offerings from the man who perhaps made Bond the icon he is today. With that in mind it is a huge achievement that Desowitz managed to convince Connery, while making has last film before retirement, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, to open up and actually talk about Bond.
Desowitzs insightful approach to the interviews allows each actors personality to shine through while managing to uncover previously unknown facts about the franchise. The interview with Connery is tinged with bitterness and reveals his disenchantment with the series began as far back as during the filming of Thunderball while George Lazenby remains cocky and self-assured but with a hint of regret at his decision to leave the lead role after just one film. Not surprisingly Roger Moore takes a more humorous, anecdotal view of his time in the role with astonishment that he lasted for seven films in total whereas Timothy Dalton takes time for a more serious, reflective discussion about not just his time as Bond but a critical appraisal of the whole series. With the majority of the interviews conducted in 2002 for the 40th anniversary, Pierce Brosnan had only just completed Die Another Day and as a result gives no hint that this will be the final year he will play Bond, in fact he seems excited about the prospect that Casino Royale will be the next film. Desowitzs 2006 interview with Craig is perhaps the most in-depth and as there are fewer films to discuss he is given the opportunity to deconstruct the character a little more and explain Bonds continuing relevance to modern day audiences.
The book is illustrated throughout with images from the series 50 years, many of which are taken from publicity shoots rather than just stills from the films themselves lending the book a more unique quality. With so many books already covering the subject of the worlds favourite spy, Desowitz manages to demonstrate a deep understanding of what makes Bond so appealing. With an obvious passion and knowledge of Ian Flemings creation, he uses his most fortunate position of having first-hand experience of talking to the six men who have had the privilege to actually be James Bond and using these conversations to shape his study of the series. From Dr. No to Skyfall, James Bond Unmasked goes some way to revealing the process behind bringing the character to the screen and why Bond has remained so popular for the last 50 years.James Bond Unmasked by Bill Desowitz is available to buy now.