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Representations Of Women Across The James Bond Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3148 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This work analyses the representations of women across the James Bond saga, focusing on a select few films. Both major and minor characters will be examined to find out if there are differences in the representations. The analysis will focus mainly on the representation of the women as a gender, but will also take a look at racial representations to see if they adhere to western stereotypes. Despite being a hugely popular franchise and grossing millions at the cinema, Bond has often not been critically examined by the academic community. In more recent years this has begun to change with a few academics looking deeper into the series, and this work aims to expand on that by providing analysis on the female characters featured within. It will cover the 22 ‘official’ Bond films (EON Productions) from 1962 to 2008, although some will only be discussed briefly.

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The main method employed by this project will be analysis of the works in question, and referencing them to representational theories and feminist theories. This will include Stuart Hall’s theory of encoding and decoding, and the works of Laura Mulvey. There will also be referencing to other works which have analysed the Bond films in a similar light, to provide backup to the claims made, as well as provide extra understanding. Interviews with producers of the films will also be considered; early research suggests the producers were responsible for a lot of the sexual charge of the Bond franchise, especially in the early days. This would give valuable insight into the reasons for the choices they made, for both creative and financial reasons. Interviews with cast, primarily those who played the female roles within the films, would also be very useful in providing extra information to give their opinions on the representations of the characters they played, as well as how they felt portraying such characters.

Robert Caplen’s Shaken & Stirred is a key resource to this work; it provides detailed analysis of female characters in the Bond films, as well as giving background information, such as the life of Bond’s author, Ian Fleming. It also gives analysis of the progression of women’s rights and feminism, which will have influence on the way the films represent the characters.

The James Bond Phenomenon (edited by Christoph Lindner) is a collection of essays analysing the Bond franchise. Although many will be irrelevant to this work, some of them will provide valuable information, context and analysis that could be put to use, for example Elisabeth Ladenson’s essay on the character Pussy Galore.

Bond Girls Are Forever is a book by John Cork, and Bond actress Maryam D’Abo (The Living Daylights) which looks at the “Bond girl phenomenon”. This will be incredibly useful as it is co-written by one of the Bond actresses. Being written by an actress ‘on the inside’, this book will offer a deeper analysis of the characters than a short interview would, increasing its usefulness as a source. The book was written as an accompaniment to the documentary of the same name hosted by D’Abo, released a year prior. The documentary will also be a resource used by this work, as it will offer a brief overview of what the book says. The documentary has been updated twice; first in 2006 and later in 2012 to accommodate for the later released Bond films: Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012).

Structurally, this work will progress in chronological order, beginning with a brief description of Ian Fleming’s life before Bond, and therefore his inspiration, before beginning to provide analysis on the early Bond films of the 60s. This first chapter will encompass the first ‘section’ (in terms of feminism) of the Bond saga, up to the point where the Bond ‘girls’ become Bond ‘women’. This will include key Bond girls including Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, Tracy Di Vicenzo, Mary Goodnight and Holly Goodhead.

The second chapter will look at the next few films in the series, and the so called Bond ‘women’. These characters tend to be more independent and self-sufficient than those of previous films, and represent a change in modern life for women. They draw less from the stereotypical housewife and the idea that women belong in the home, and tend to be women in more reputable careers such as doctors and scientists. Such women include Octopussy, Stacey Sutton and Kara Milovy.

The third chapter will take a look at Bond after the cold war, and how female characters have developed since the fall of the iron curtain. These more recent films seem to take inspiration from both previous periods of Bond, some of the women are very powerful and capable, and often they are spies working either alongside or against Bond. However, despite being independent, liberated women they are often found to be less than useful in the face of danger, and it is up to Bond to save them. Key characters include Xenia Onatopp, Natalia Romonova, Wei Lin, Jinx and Vesper Lynd.

The examination of the films will also include females featured in the films who are only very minor characters, seen on screen only very briefly, as these characters are often very one-dimensional and have little personality, and tend to be tools to emphasise Bond’s masculinity.

Chapter 1 – Fleming and the early years of Bond

The Bond girl began in the novels by Ian Fleming, inspired by his bacheloristic lifestyle up until his marriage. Growing up without a father, his mother assumed the paternal role in the family. With his father being a casualty of the First World War, Fleming’s mother, Evelyn, encouraged him and his brothers to grow up in the image of their father (Caplen, 2010). Fleming disapproved of his mother’s parenting, and it seems this is believed to be a contributing factor towards his treatment of women; (insert quote about him being a sexist bastard). Arthur Brittain suggests that “a man’s efforts to attain a healthy sex role identity … are thwarted by such factors as paternal absence [and] maternal overprotectiveness.” (Caplen, 2010) With the lack of a father figure, Fleming felt the need to express his masculinity by exerting dominance over women.

During the Second World War, Fleming served as a naval intelligence officer, first as a lieutenant, but later as a Commander, clearly being the inspiration for Commander James Bond. After the war, and after many girlfriends and lovers, Fleming discovered that Anne O’Neill (with whom he was having an affair) was pregnant with his child, and felt compelled to marry her.

What with Fleming’s brother, Peter, being an established novelist, and Ian himself being an apt journalist, he decided to try his own hand at writing. With his knowledge and experience in espionage he decided to write a spy novel, which were popular at the time due to the end of the Second World War and the rise of the Cold War. His first Bond novel was Casino Royale, in 1952.

During the late 50s and early 60s, Women in Hollywood were changing. No longer did they need to be tied down in a relationship or a marriage to have sex. Hollywood’s strict censorship was relaxing, as their image of femininity was shifting with the times. Actresses such a Marilyn Monroe were well known for their portrayal of sexually liberated women; she was a “beautiful blonde whose figure overshadowed her intellectual shortcomings.” (Caplen, 2010, p. 69) In this new Hollywood, some of the old ways of thinking remained; although women were given sexual freedom they were still shown that their fate resided in the home with a husband.

1950s Hollywood also had Monroe’s (and others) portrayals of so called ‘bad girls’ become more accepted, along with the concept that women could be sexually satisfied without marriage. “As we saw on the big screen that it was sometimes possible not to get punished for having sex with your boyfriend, some of us began to wonder.” (Douglas, 1994, p. 81)

The girls in Bond films stem from this idea; they represent an apparently sexually liberated and independent woman. Although they may seem liberated (from a male point of view) in comparison with other films of the time, and they are free to have sex with whomever they want, they are still very dependent on the male. This links in with Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze; the films are aimed at a male audience, so the women are constructed as male fantasies to provide visual pleasure to viewers. Sean Connery agreed; “[Bond girls] are so utterly unreal, the kind of women you only meet in your fantasies and your dreams” (D’Abo & Cork, 2003, p. 107)

The first of Fleming’s novels to be put to screen however, was Dr. No, in 1962. The film followed a simple plot, later re-used in later films such as The Spy Who Loved Me, with an almost generic ‘evil genius’ using his technology to spark war between the East and West, and to have some personal gain from such an event. Not only did it set out a formula for the future Bond films to follow, it also created a cinematic icon; the Bond girl. Although not the only (and not even the first) girl who Bond ‘has’, Dr. No’s primary ‘girl’ is Honey Ryder, a bikini-clad shell collector. However, Bond had encounters with other female characters within the story before Honey Ryder appeared on screen, which should be discussed first.

Dr. No opens with the now classic gun barrel animation, and unlike all the other films to succeed it, seamlessly moves straight into the title sequence. This comprises of animated coloured dots with a black background, replaced by dancing coloured silhouettes, in time with a change in music. This title sequence laid the path for other Bond films to follow “with its focus upon elegance, wit and sex” (Caplen, 2010).

The film then opens in Jamaica, with 3 supposedly blind men assassinating a spy, after which they kill his secretary. Although never introduced properly as a character, the secretary is the first female to appear on screen. It is worth noting however, that she is employed as a secretary, a common job for females at the time. Also, as soon as she has a gun in her face, she simply screams and makes no attempt at either defending herself or evading her attackers, and is seen to be inadequate at handling herself in the face of danger. Although not even having a name, she fits in well with a long line of female ‘extras’. Fleming noted that (women in offices).

However the first female character to appear in Dr. No is Sylvia Trench. Shown on screen before Bond, she wears a red dress, held up on one shoulder, exposing the other. The red dress helps her stand out from the crowd around her; the rest are all wearing black. When we first see her, the camera tilts up from the baccarat table to her face, allowing the viewer to see (albeit briefly) her chest before her face. After introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond”, he announces he must leave, and gets up from the table. Unable to resist him, Sylvia follows suit and walks over to him, and continues their dialogue:

Sylvia: Too bad you have to go, just as things were getting interesting

Bond: Yes. Tell me Miss Trench, do you play any other games?

Sylvia: (with a suggestive look on her face) Golf, amongst other things.

Bond offers to take her to dinner the following day, which she accepts, however she sneaks into his hotel suite before he arrives back from MI6 headquarters. Bond arrives back, but notices someone had broken in. he draws his gun, dims the lights, and opens the door to find Sylvia, half naked, playing golf. Once again, the camerawork is sexually charged, with the viewer at first only seeing her bare legs, the bottom of her shirt and high heels in the foreground, with Bond in the distance. Asking what she is doing there, she tells Bond she “Decided to accept [his] invitation”. He reminds her that it was for the day after, and then begins to question her attire:

Bond: Tell me, do you always dress this way for golf?

Sylvia: I changed into something more comfortable. Oh, I hope I did the right thing.

Bond: oh, you did the right thing, but you picked the wrong moment. I have to leave immediately.

Sylvia: Oh, that’s too bad, just as things were getting interesting again. (She wraps her arms around him and kisses him) When did you say you have to leave?

Bond: Immediately. (She kisses him again) Almost immediately.

As Sylvia is speaking, she raises the golf club she is holding and strokes it seductively, further adding to the innuendo of the scene. This scene is significant in restoring the power to Bond; after all it is Sylvia chasing him. “Bond’s conquest of her would reassert his authority over her and ‘restore’ the natural balance of their dynamic” (Caplen, 2010) A very important thing to note about Sylvia, is that she was not part of Fleming’s novel; she was added to the film purely to increase the number of Bond’s sexual encounters.

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Despite being a two dimensional character designed to increase the size of Bond’s ego and to show off his masculinity, Sylvia Trench does represent a (partially) liberated female. She is a single woman out to adventure and do a she wishes; indulging in cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. She is a “predatory woman determined acquire Bond” (Caplen, 2010) Although she does appear to be liberated from the constraints of a household and husband, she does seem to only be sexually liberated; she isn’t seen again in Dr. No so it cannot be assumed that she is a strong liberated female, and this is reinforced by her brief appearance in From Russia With Love (1963) where, once again, she was written into the film’s script to increase Bond’s sexual conquests.

The major Bond Girl of Dr. No is Honey Ryder, played by Swiss actress Ursula Andress. An image of beauty, with a slim figure and large breasts, she was picked by the producers because of her looks, as she had little/no acting experience. [Source needed] First seen walking up the beach out of the water in a white bikini, she made cinema history and set the standard for other bond girls to follow.

She walks up the beach in a white bikini, “unselfconscious of her natural beauty and unaware that Bond is watching her.” (D’Abo & Cork, 2003, p. 27) When Bond makes himself seen, she asks if he is looking for shells, and he responds “No, I’m just looking”, clearly looking at her. After promising he won’t steal her shells, she replies “I promise you you won’t either. This is interesting; she is confident enough of her ability that she can stop Bond from stealing from her. This gives the impression that she is independent and capable of looking after herself. This is backed up by the fact that she supports herself financially by selling seashells, she has read the encyclopaedia, and claims that she got revenge over a rapist by putting a black widow spider in his bed. “She does not need Bond to save her except from the consequences of his actions” (D’Abo & Cork, 2003, p. 29)

However, despite her apparent independence, her interactions with Bond seem to weaken her character. She acts very childlike and innocent around him, and despite her knowledge of the world, believes in the local rumours of a dragon roaming the island. After seeing the ‘dragon’, Bond asks her to wait where she is as he moves closer. Unable to stay away from him, she winds up getting them both captured. When the guards take bond, they say leave the girl, but she insists on going with him. Also, only Bond is handcuffed by the guards; it is apparent that they have no interest “the girl”, yet she follows as Bond is dragged away.

After being escorted to have dinner with Dr. No, they sit and discuss Dr No’s plans. After some time, with Honey sat opposite Bond and staying silent, Bond suggests she be taken away because “she has nothing to do with us”. At first she refuses, but Bond insists; “I don’t want you here”. Dr No agrees, “This is no place for the girl, take her away.” The guards come over, remover her from the table and take her away. As she is being taken, Dr. No says “I’m sure the guards will amuse her” Bond reacts to this by trying to free Honey from the guard’s grip, but another guard stops him. His concern for Honey is somewhat conflicting with his request she leave; perhaps he believed she would be safer from any dangers coming up if she were away from him. However, this is the last we see of Honey until Bond rescues her minutes before the film ends. Her contribution to the scene was non-existent; she played no part in Bond meeting Dr No, and her only dialogue from the time she wakes up to the time she leaves was about her outfit, and the aquarium in Dr No’s lair. Therefore, she was only present in the scene to serve as eye candy for the male viewer. Off screen she is tied up, awaiting her heroic rescue by Bond at the end of the film.

Bond’s attitude toward Honey seems to shift somewhat, when they first meet and the guards have destroyed her boat, he sees her as a liability; “What are we going to do with her now?” But as the film progresses he develops more concern for her (possibly even feeling responsible for her), and eventually saves her at the end, as any good hero should.

Expanding this to the entire film, Honey serves very little to the narrative of the film, and ultimately only serves as a sexual conquest for Bond. Her character, although given more depth than other female characters in the film, is still somewhat two dimensional. Her contributions to the narrative and to Bond’s success and defeat of the villain are minimal; Bond and his colleague, Quarrel would have been just as capable on the island without Honey’s appearance. Her only useful moment was when she told Bond she knew of a place to hide on the island. Bond is then tasked with her rescue, being responsible for her capture. He does this easily without opposition, and in his role as the great prince saving the damsel in distress, his heroic actions therefore give him the right to sleep with her, concluding Bond’s adventure and the film.


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