Bright Lights Film Journal

“Unique (and Just a Little Queer)”: Camping with James Bond

“We want to be Bond; we want to fuck Bond; we want to be Bond fucking.”

According to a cheeky Internet posting, there are five reasons that prove James Bond’s “definite” gayness: the gym body; his dislike for women; the fancy suits; the fussy martinis; and he’s good at everything (eponym, 2009).

Bond’s status as the keeper of the hypermasculine flame has been conferred upon him from legions of admirers across gender and sexualities, but it is these precise differences that mark him as unique (and just a little queer). We can see these qualities Bond shares with some stereotypes of gay male sexuality, but would anyone want to see a Bond film with an explicit gay love scene, as Daniel Craig reportedly requested after Casino Royale? Perhaps if it resembled the famed love scene in the 1986 film Maurice, based on E. M. Forster’s long-suppressed, posthumously published novel about an English aristocrat struggling with his homosexuality. In the scene, the titular Maurice, gazing out the window, wishing for a sign to guide him to sexual serenity, yells “Come! Come!” At this point the comely gamekeeper Scudder, who has been skulking outside the window, moves a nearby ladder to the window, and climbs in. Wordlessly, the two embrace. The response to the scene is liberatory for many gay men – struggling with sexuality, the hero gets a hot guy to come to his window, and the shame is released into the ethos. It is also roaringly funny – played as completely serious, by Shakespearean-trained actors, dialogue straight out of porn, and the bodice-ripping reminiscent of a Barbara Cartland cover. It is high camp – seriously played but utterly funny.

That this scene from Maurice also stirs the longing in its gay male viewers links it most affirmatively to the gay male fascinated with the James Bond series. Bond is hot; Bond is serious; Bond is funny. Ian Fleming’s friend Ivor Bryce described the processing of casting James Bond as arduous, but finally described the “inspired casting” of Sean Connery as putting “a little-known Shakespearean actor with a handsome head upon an athletic body” into the lead role (Bryce, 1975: 130). Bond films can’t work as low comedy any more than they would with Fred Flintstone playing the lead: the seriousness and the virility are inextricably linked to the success, and our collective attraction to the films.

There have been a great many “serious” readings of the films and the Fleming novels (for instance, self-professed “Bondologist” Umberto Eco edited a volume of essays nearly fifty years ago, contributing an entry himself on the racial Othering of the Bond villains), but a useful tack in examining the gay attraction to the Bond series is to think about Camp, as famously explored by Susan Sontag in 1964. For instance:

Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of “style” over “content,” “aesthetics” over “morality,” of irony over tragedy. (Sontag, 1964: 287)

When Paul Johnson famously attacked Fleming’s Dr. No as containing three basic ingredients (“all unhealthy, all thoroughly British – the sadism of the schoolboy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult”), he focused on the content from an entirely realist and moralist vantage that conflicts with the Camp sensibility (and indeed, the escapist realm that film heightened and attracted so many viewers to) (Johnson, 1958: 430). Bond is a sharply dressed man who beds the ladies and doesn’t flinch when they die along the way; even the two deaths that most affected him (his wife, Countess Tracy di Vicenzo, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the traitorous Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) yield him hardened and more ironically wry in the wake of their passings. Johnson and Ann Boyd (whose book The Devil with James Bond! demands a camp reading) deliver readings of Bond from conservative and religious subject positions that emphasize moral judgment of the character and demand our acquiescence to such judgments. Fortunately, most viewers have rejected the urge to judge, and allowed Bond to stand as stylish, attractive entertainment. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, bolstered by the beguiling Diana Rigg as Tracy, is a dull enterprise because Bond is earnest: George Lazenby’s Bond has no style or irony, and the serious storyline (culminating in Bond cradling his dead wife’s corpse) is out of step with the sensibility of the rest of the series (and, indeed, box office dipped nearly 30 percent from the previous outing, You Only Live Twice – which was nearly restored when Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever). We want to see Bond save the world, and we want to laugh along the way – for a variety of reasons, intended or otherwise.

In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve. (Sontag, 1964: 283).

It’s no coincidence that that great phallic symbol the U.S. space shuttle is repeatedly endangered in Bond films. It appeals to the Beavis in all of us to giggle at such an image. Some of the most fun depictions of Bond girls have come from the absurdity of their physical casting mixed with the seriousness of the portrayal. Dr. Holly Goodhead of Moonraker (played by former model and future Dallas guest star Lois Chiles) is a CIA agent-cum-astronaut who tells Bond she outranks him, yet cannot escape Drax’s men from the same speeding ambulance Bond easily escapes from. Despite the best efforts of the script to depict her as Bond’s equal, the absurd image of her gravity-free sex scene with Bond at film’s end, combined with the frothily suggestive character name, leave us with camp giggles that override any more serious accomplishments of the character. Tanya Roberts’s Stacey Sutton, from A View to a Kill, is arguably the world’s most buxom and stupid geologist. She is smart enough to immediately decipher from a geologic map that the Silicon Valley will be destroyed by Zorin’s plan, but, in the film’s most uproariously funny scene, she is abducted while hanging around the entrance to a mine (where Silicon Valley is being threatened by the Main Strike), yelling, “James! James!,” oblivious to the sound or sight of a zeppelin (!) approaching her, and Max Zorin grabbing her and pulling her off the ground and into said zeppelin. Again, all played seriously, and so more wildly humorous, in the camp fashion. Of course, none of these shenanigans could prepare us for the stunning sight of Denise Richards playing nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. So sublimely campy is this character and performance that mere narration cannot replicate it; you must witness, and re-witness, the astonishing dialogue and simultaneous blank-faced expressions given by Ms. Richards. The naming of this character is also responsible for the series’ most atrocious one-liner, from Bond post-coitus: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” Like the “Come! Come!” from the Maurice film, it is played seriously, and elicits groans, guffaws, and ultimately belly-laughs.

Allied to the Camp taste for the androgynous is something that seems quite different but isn’t: a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms. For obvious reasons, the best examples that can be cited are movie stars. The corny flamboyant female-ness of Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida, Jane Russell, Virginia Mayo; the exaggerated he-man-ness of Steve Reeves, Victor Mature. (Sontag, 1964: 279)

The curvy, comely bodies of Denise Richards and Tanya Roberts are amply featured in these films for their exaggerated proportions – a tradition reinvigorated in Die Another Day by Halle Berry’s bikini-clad entrance from the ocean. This entrance, of course, is homage to Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and the tradition one that was so magically reified in the Connery films. As Bruce Rosenberg and Ann Harleman Stewart demonstrated, the books from which these films were based feature extensive descriptions of women’s breasts – and the qualities of pleasure and arousal these breasts spurred in 007 (Rosenberg & Harleman Stewart, 1989). The same book also details the importance of racial Othering (echoing Eco), particularly in the exoticising of the ladies in You Only Live Twice – those girls did not fit the curvy uniform of Daniela Bianchi in From Russia with Love or Martine Beswick from Thunderball, but their exotic qualities marked them as equally prizable for Fleming’s Bond, himself an exaggerated he-man seeking the outposts of flamboyant femaleness.

No Bond girl was more prized – as much for her strength as for her resistance – than Pussy Galore, the trapeze artist/cat burglar/pilot/lesbian goddess of Goldfinger. Jaime Hovey, in “Lesbian Bondage, or Why Dykes Like 007,” has written persuasively about the Sapphic affection for Goldfinger, which features lesbian characters in the novel (if less clearly defined as such in the film), and the ramifications of this lesbianism for Bond. Keeping with the camp theme of style trumping substance, Hovey details what she terms “stylized gender” – both in terms of how the clothes make the man and in terms of how masculinity is worn by the women in the film. The wearing of such masculinity is “style rather than essence, persona rather than person” (Hovey, 2005: 46). Pussy also represents the apex of female self-sufficiency in Goldfinger in that she survives and thrives, which eludes the Masterson sisters. Comely Jill Masterton is painted gold and killed for assisting Bond; her vengeful lesbian sister, Tilly, thoroughly rejects Bond in favor of pursuing Pussy, and is ultimately dispatched by Oddjob’s deadly flying hat to the throat. Both of these deaths occur earlier in the film in order to heighten the effect of Pussy Galore’s presence. In the book, Pussy is a full-on lesbian, with her own band of lesbian trapeze artists/cat burglars. She’s masquerading as a stewardess when she meets Bond on Goldfinger’s plane, and when she finally yields to Bond’s advances, she also admits that her lesbianism was created by the incestuous assault of her uncle when she was a teenager: she had “never met a man” until she met Bond. So Bond’s seduction, in Fleming’s book, cures lesbianism! The film wisely eschews these details. Played with cool allure by Honor Blackman, Pussy is a powerful pilot, still quite masculine in her power but very femme in demeanor and appearance. Unlike most of the comely bodies and bimbos that litter the Connery films (culminating in Jill St. John’s tittering Tiffany Case in a tiny bikini on the oil rig in Diamonds Are Forever), Blackman (who, along with Diana Rigg, were the only Bond girls to be older than the actor playing Bond) is a mature presence, whose gender performance is years ahead of female liberation. Her lesbianism is still implied when she shoots down Bond’s first attempt at seduction (“You can turn off the charm; I’m immune”), but her acquiescence is less shocking in the film when she succumbs to Connery’s machismo (and turns on Goldfinger in the process). This idea of fucking the lesbianism out of a woman should be much more appalling and offensive, but in the stylized fantasy world of Bond, it only heightens the superpowers. Not only is Hovey not offended in her article, but also she notes that “Connery’s electricity with women and sprezzatura on the job make him much more appealing both as a man to identify with and as one to desire” (Hovey, 2005: 44). The sexual allure of Connery’s Bond and the connection with Pussy Galore transcend boundaries of gender and sexuality: We want to be Bond; we want to fuck Bond; we want to be Bond fucking. And yet it all manages to be as campy and inoffensive as Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, setting forth to steal all the gold in Fort Knox.

To camp is a mode of seduction — one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders. (Sontag, 1964: 281)

Wint and Kidd, the ambiguously gay duo who maim and murder in Diamonds Are Forever, are fey yet vicious killers who seem to detest pretty women (deriding Tiffany Case as “pretty . . . for a girl” and drowning Plenty O’Toole as slowly as possible) most of all. They are inventive and creative in their modes of killing (drowning, coffin immolation, scorpion down the shirt, timed bomb), yet don’t know that a 1955 Mouton Rothschild is a claret – a point that leads to Bond exposing their charade, and ultimately to their deaths (Mr. Wint at least appears to enjoy having the “Bombe Surprise” shoved between his coat tails before he is tossed overboard to explode, one with the bomb). They are less flamboyant in the book, attending to their murders with more sadism (stomping Bond into unconsciousness at one point) and less ingenuity. Even their deaths are blander in the film compared to the book, where Bond shoots both of them but makes it look like a murder-suicide. This should be disconcerting and offensive, but somehow, the hypercaricatures of these two men is so shallow and unrelatable that their sexuality seems less determined than their status as Bond villain’s henchmen. Like Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, they are memorable freaks.

Regarding the film, Dennis W. Allen has explored in “‘Alimentary, Dr. Leiter: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds are Forever” the idea that Bond, the “avatar of masculinity,” is surrounded by paranoia about identity, gender performance, and sexual potentiality (Allen, 2005: 25). Bond pretends to be Peter Franks, Blofeld impersonates Willard Whyte, Bond impersonates Bert Saxby, Blofeld/Willard Whyte has a double (and so does his cat, which Bond terms “the wrong pussy” in a witty moment), and, ultimately, Blofeld dresses as a woman to make his getaway. Allen points to the overdetermined names in the film: Morton Slumber must be a mortuary operator; Plenty O’Toole must be an enthusiastic slut; Tiffany Case is named for her birthplace, the diamond ring floor of Tiffany’s. This is a film obsessed with identities, and the confusions of gender and sexuality that occur when people blur them. Tiffany needs diamonds because of where she was born; Wint and Kidd need to kill, even after their mission is clearly aborted (since everyone they worked for is captured or killed); Plenty needs to get laid. The film is anachronistic, hokey, exaggerated, yet stupid fun. Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case is no match for Bond – she has her moments of equality with “Peter Franks,” but once Bond reveals his identity, she is demure and kittenish, ultimately clad in just a bikini for the denouement on the oil rig. She’s capable of a double identity, but hers is a much less complicated persona than Pussy Galore, and so our investment is never fully repaid. As Jaime Hovey noted, there was something thrilling about the recognition of lesbian content in Goldfinger, a thrill that is not equaled by the gay figures in Diamonds Are Forever. Still, a compelling rehabilitation of Wint and Kidd is to see them as sadistic freaks that are not defined by their sexuality, but rather enhanced by it. And, ultimately, it is hard for any of us to believe that these two are truly gay if they can’t tell that a ’55 Mouton is claret!

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious. (Sontag, 1964: 288)

Much is campy in the Bond film series, although we can dismiss the Dalton and Craig films from the discussion: those films are serious and, owing largely to the very serious acting style of their Bond portrayers, largely lacking in the same sense of humor delivered in the Connery, Brosnan, and (particularly) Moore films. Dalton’s Bond passes on the chance to get with Talisa Soto’s Lupe Lamora at the end of the lugubrious License to Kill. Craig’s Bond spends the entirety of Quantum of Solace avenging Vesper Lynd’s untimely demise. These films bookend the camp sensibilities found in the four Brosnan films, in which curvy women functioned as sexual conquests, primary villains, and wry observers alike. The aforementioned The World Is Not Enough has the jaw-dropping Denise Richards, but also a strange performance from Sophie Marceau as Elektra King – who seduces Bond, kidnaps M, and manipulates her former kidnapper into blowing himself up in a nuclear submarine, but without having much of a good time. Sharon Stone had been rumored for the part, and one can only imagine the high camp she would have infused into the work – Marceau looks quite constipated during the scene in which she slowly strangles Bond while straddling him on a torture contraption.

Certainly this was not a problem for Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye – the Georgian pilot with the killer thighs became positively orgasmic from the S/M tortures she inflicted on the men in her life. Like Bond, she loved sex, had no problem killing members of either sex, and relished a good one-liner. Her spectacular demise involved trying to kill Bond after his prop plane crashed: while she was crushing him with her thighs, he clipped into her parasail rope and shot it toward a circling helicopter above. When the chopper crashed, Onatopp was propelled into a tree, where she was crushed to death by the impact, but not without a smile on her face. We laughed with pleasure at the delicious dominatrix villain, who took on Bond every bit as equally as Pussy Galore had asserted herself to be three decades earlier.

If Tomorrow Never Dies featured the kick-ass Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, it also lacked the campy humor (although we all felt some relief when Teri Hatcher’s whiny Paris Carver finally died). Die Another Day did not disappoint. The film features Madonna in a cameo as a fencing coach named Verity, whose lines are short enough not to flub and yet still delivered haltingly by the faux-Brit pop star. Maggie Smith’s veddy British son, Toby Stephens, plays a Korean general’s son. Another Korean character has diamonds embedded in his face. There’s an invisible car. And then there’s Halle Berry, whose Jinx gets such lines as “So Bond’s been explaining his Big Bang theory?” and “Oh yeah, I think I got the thrust of it.” During the climactic fight scene, in which destroying a laser called ICARUS averts a world war, Jinx impales the icy double agent Miranda Frost with a sword and a copy of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, urging her to “Read that, bitch.” Though Bond has been tortured at the beginning of the film, escapes the British to pursue the bad guys, and is trying to save the world from impending attack by the n’eer-do-well North Koreans, the film is never quite serious, perpetually moving with style and delicious wit, even as the stakes are at the highest.

The Roger Moore films also have this breezy quality about them – no matter how endangered the world is, Moore’s 007 will get laid; make suggestive, wry comments; and try to maintain his stiff upper lip no matter the absurdity around him. While the first few films have camp elements (Live and Let Die is a cheap blaxploitation film at its core, and The Man with the Golden Gun has Britt Eklund), the gravity-free sex in Moonraker is just one of the many campy moments of that film. The villain Drax’s gondola/hovercraft is played for comedy, as is his henchman Jaws’s romance with the blonde nymphet Dolly. In For Your Eyes Only, we get the absurdity of Lynn-Holly Johnson’s teenaged figure skater, Bibi Dahl, throwing herself at Bond (and Moore is definitely looking his age by 1981), and Carole Bouquet’s intense, highly French-accented English as the Greek Melina Havelock, whose parents were murdered while seeking a McGuffin that resembled an Atari. In Octopussy, we get to behold a bevy of ladies devoted to Maud Adams’s octopus cult, and a climactic confrontation at an East German circus. It’s nonsensical, but who cares? None of it is believable, but it is compelling and entertaining fantasy. Finally, a tired Roger Moore trudges through the camp classic A View to a Kill – which features not just the above-discussed Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton, but Christopher Walken, with white-blond hair, as the villainous Max Zorin, who wants to destroy California. The film also features Grace Jones as the dominating henchman, May Day, who personally “tends” to James by disrobing and climbing atop him, just before assisting an attempt to kill him via drowning (incidentally, May Day is not Bond’s first interracial liaison – he gets with Rosie Carver in Live and Let Die – but the dominating Ms. Jones is memorable in her sexual aggression toward Commander Bond). May Day’s sidekicks are called Pan Ho and Jenny Flex, but we never spend enough time with them to figure out how apt their names are. May Day moans Jenny’s name when she floats by her near the film’s end; it should be touching, but it only elicits laughter. Zorin kills hundreds of his workers with a machine gun, and he notes, “Right on schedule” (pronounced shed-jule). May Day kills an informant at the Eiffel Tower using a poisoned butterfly on a fishing line. And, of course, the film ends with a zeppelin kidnapping the dynamically slow geologist, Stacey Sutton, and Bond rescuing her from atop the Golden Gate Bridge, while the zeppelin is blown up by a former Nazi doctor accidentally lighting some dynamite while bleating “M-a-a-a-a-x” like a dying sheep. Walken falls off a blue-screened Golden Gate Bridge, and Roger Moore, looking even older than 58, laments his inability to get a cab. It never fails to get me laughing – the film is astonishingly embarrassing and so much fun as a result.

Ultimately, we watch these films and read these books because they are entertainment, never intended to be serious, or moral, or high art. The rubrics of camp that I’ve borrowed here from Susan Sontag help organize some principles of how to think about Bond without projecting a critical seriousness unbecoming of such frothy source material. As we’ve noted in our extended looks at Diamonds are Forever and Goldfinger, there is plenty of archaic, offensive material in the depiction of sexuality and sexuality minority subjects – if we choose to examine this material with concomitant seriousness that is unbecoming of this work. The vicissitudes of this material should not be abandoned, but rather explored breezily, with a queer eye and an open mind. Though blogs can cheekily declare Bond gay, a better conclusion might be to think of him as queer – a unique straight male figure who is capable of transforming those around him and beholden of him, across fluid gender and sexual lines. He is unconstrained by the traditional rules; for this, all gay subjects would identify with him, standing apart from heteronormativities with a license to kill and a sex-positive but no-strings approach to his prizes. Bond is a camp icon: he is a site of gay identification, but he is lesbian-identified, too. Straight men want to be him, and straight women want him. He unifies us in our desires.

Works Cited

Allen, Dennis W. 2005. “Alimentary, Dr. Leiter: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds Are Forever” in Comentale, Edward P., Stephen Watt, and Skip Willman eds., Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Boyd, Ann S. 1967. The Devil with James Bond! Richmond: John Knox Press.

Bryce, Ivar. 1975. You Only Live Once: Memories of Ian Fleming. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

“Daniel Craig requests Gay Love Scene in next Bond Movie.” 2006. Hollywoodsnark.com accessed 1/4/2010. http://hollywood.snark.com/2006/12/04/daniel-craig-requests-gay-love-scene-in-next-bond-movie

Eco, Umberto, and Oreste del Buono, trans. R. Downie. 1966. The Bond Affair. London: Macdonald.

eponym. 2009. “5 Reasons Why James Bond is Definitely Gay.” Actress Archives accessed 1/4/2010. http://www.actressarchives.com/braingasm/5-Reasons-Why-James-Bond-is-Definitely-Gay

Hovey, Jaime. 2005. “Lesbian Bondage, or Why Dykes Like 007” in Comentale, Edward P., Stephen Watt, and Skip Willman eds., Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Johnson, Paul. “Sex, Snobbery, and Sadism.” New Statesman 5 (April 5 1958): 430.

Rosenberg, Bruce A., and Ann Harleman Stewart. 1989. Ian Fleming. Twayne: Boston.

Sontag, Susan. 1964. “Notes on Camp.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.