Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Time Capsule with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun is a perfect 1974 time capsule . It was the brief moment in time between the hippies, acid rock, and the peace movement of the late '60s and Studio 54 and the Carter "malaise" of the late '70s.

Though it was not a great Bond flick, it wasn't bad either. Many fans poo-poo it based on one scene in particular-- that of Moore's red AMC Hornet doing a football spiral off of a broken bridge. Though the stunt itself was amazing, it was the sound effect, that of a slide whistle, that ruined it for almost everyone. But from the eyes of an American history buff, the movie gave a close and personal glance into 1974.

The scene with the Hornet was an homage to Evel Knievel. Just three months before the movie's release, Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon. It was a period when the Astrodome would be sold out, night after night, so that tens of thousands could watch daredevils perform mindboggling stunts in cars and motorbikes.

The oil crisis also plays a central role in the movie. The object of everyone's desire-- from oil importing states to oil sheiks who want nothing to do with alternative energy sources-- is the Solex Agitator. It converts solar energy into electricity on a grand scale. Energy was a hot button issue in 1974, and this was projected onto the big screen.

One victim of the energy crisis was the American car industry. Arguably, the Big Three has still not recovered. In the rush to create more fuel efficient cars, Detroit built some real lemons. They were ugly, unreliable, underpowered, and handled poorly. Scaramanga's AMC Matador coupe is an excellent example. The model in the movie had a shade of brown so grotesque its paint swatch card must have come from a dirty Greyhound bus station restroom floor. It even had a vinyl top, for Christ's sakes. When racing through the streets of Bangkok, it cornered like its suspension was made of sponge cake.

The movie also tried to cash in on the kung fu craze. Lt. Hip and his two nieces gave Bond a break while they beat up an entire dojo of ruffians. It was no Enter the Dragon, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

It is also clear that the movie was written before the full brunt of the women's lib and minority awareness movements came into fruition. Moore is misogynistic to the point of pathological. In order to extract information from Andrea Anders, Moore manhandles her and slaps her in the face. Not one of Bond's prouder moments, to say the least. Moreover, the portrayal of British secret agent Goodnight as a ditzy, bungling, sex-crazed, useless blonde reflected just how ass backwards 1974 society really was.

Racism was also easy to spot. "Oriental" and "pointy heads" (to denote the triangular straw hats East Asian farmers wear) are uttered ad nauseum, albeit mostly by the ridiculous Cajun good-ol'-boy, J.W. Pepper. The Asians in the movie are portrayed as the evil industrialist (Hai Fat), the sex object (the Bottoms Up waitress), the greedy street urchin, or anonymous "pajama-wearing" karate guys. It is only Lt. Hip's vaguely competent character that partially redeems the movie. But I don't necessarily blame the filmmaker; I see it as a reflection of the norms, customs, and mores of 1974 Anglo-American society. Hence, a perfect time capsule.


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