Saturday, November 18, 2006

You're the man now, dog

"Losers always whine about “their best.” Winners go home with the Prom Queen." ~ Sean Connery

Obviously, Sean Connery always went home with the Prom Queen.
I saw Casino Royale tonight, and boy-who-was-raised-on-Bond that I am, I loved it. Daniel Craig, as the first Generation X Bond, was as good as anybody could have been. I left it eager to see further Craig-as-Bond adventures, to see Craig in a wetsuit, Craig in a ski-chase, Craig do the whole formulaic Bond in Villains Base bit, etc etc. It succeeds on its own terms in a way that no other Blockbuster this year really has (I say this under the assumption that Miami Vice and Children Of Men are far more than Blockbusters) in that I left it wholly satisfied. It had gripped, entertained and -almost - moved me for its entire running time, something no Bond film really has since, oh, On Her Majestys Secret Service, maybe? Craig succeeded in one way that no other Bond has, for me. He made me forget about Connery.

But not really. Because many of the things I admired about Craig's performance were things that reminded me of Connery's Bond. His toughness, coldness, sense of true danger. All this, really, is a way of saying : I love Sean Connery.

When he played Bond in the 60s, he was probably the coolest man on Earth. Still young, but old enough to have some wisdom and experience of how the world worked, impossibly handsome, obviously intelligent, and playing and defining the premier Screen Action hero of the Century - and he made it all seem effortless. That sense that Bond does everything well and with grace - that comes more from Connery than from the character in Fleming's novels. Connery's Bond seems to enjoy his adventures when he can, but hes also full of darkness - he kills ruthlessly and without any hesitation or pity. He treats women like they mean nothing to him, and seems amused by the fact that he can. He's also the only Bond - until Craig - who is absolutely convincing in his action scenes. Connery - raised in a rough, working-class part of Edinburgh and a former bodybuilder - is big and athletic enough to believably win many of the fistfights he engages in. Little wonder that the two most memorable fights in the entire series are both in Connery Bonds : versus Robert Shaw in a tight Train Compartment in "From Russia With Love" and versus Peter Maivia (Grandfather of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) in "You Only Live Twice".

He pulls off some ridiculous outfits in his Bond run, too. A one-piece sky-blue toweling bathing suit with a straw boater and sandals? Connery makes it look good. Thats how cool the man was. But then, one of the major components of his screen presence is his virility. Pauline Kael commented on his "confidence in himself as a man", and this is transmitted by the way he handles himself on screen, the way he sizes up women and seems to dwarf men. He possessed a regal quality even back then, which has made him the obvious actor for some roles as Kings - in "First Knight", "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and even "Time Bandits". That virility seems to play its way into the plots and situations of his Bond films. In "Goldfinger", the titular villain tortures him by threatening his virility via a laser-beam. Bond eventually defeats Goldfinger mainly by seducing and presumably turning the (probably) lesbian Pussy Galore.

Connery has done some great work in the decades since he abandoned Bondage, though his career has always suffered from his peculiar choices. This is a man who turned down both "The Lord of the Rings" and "the Matrix" but accepted "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". And "The Avengers". And the aforementioned "First Knight". There is a certain logic to that last one. He has enjoyed great success in the period Adventure genre in the past. In the 70s, he made 3 such films in a row, all classics in their different ways, all featuring fine Connery performances. In "The Wind and the Lion", ( John Milius, 1975) he plays a Berber Chieftain with a strong Scottish accent. In the fantastic "The Man Who Would Be King", (John Huston, 1975) he plays a British soldier taken for a God by a tribe in Kafiristan. In "Robin & Marian", (Richard Lester, 1976) he plays an aging, weary Robin Hood, returned to a very different Sherwood Forest from years of campaigning in the Crusades. With a strong Scottish accent. The film climaxes with a Connery-Robert Shaw rematch, only this time they are two men in late middle-age, beating at each other with swords, all the dynamism and sleek brutality of their earlier fight entirely absent. Each of these films uses his regal, iconic stature in one way or another. He also possesses a sort of timeless quality - where so many moden actors are quintessentially contemporary presences who seem out-of-place in period garb, their very faces seeming somehow anachronistic, Connery's effortless masculinity is suited to all eras. He is convincing as the one thing many of modern cinemas leading men struggle with - he can play a Man.

Since then, Connery has been most profitably utilised as a supporting actor, generally in a mentor role to a younger actor. "The Untouchables" is the best example of this, but its worked well in "Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade", "Highlander", "Finding Forrester", "Rising Sun" and "the Presidio" too. I haven't even mentioned his great work for Sidney Lumet in "The Hill" (1965) and "The Offence" (1972) - either of which could be argued to be his best performance - or the way he twisted his Bond persona into even darker shades for Hitchcock in "Marnie"(1964). Or the achievement that is his work in John Boorman's absolutely batshit "Zardoz" (1974), where he somehow gets away with a pancho villa mustache, a ponytail, knee-high boots and a red nappy.

But its not just the work with Connery. Its stuff like this :

When filming "Another Time, Another Place" in LA in the late 1950s, a pre-Bond, pre-stardom Connery was rumoured to be having an affair with his older co-star, Lana Turner. Turner was living with gangster Johnny Stompanato - you know the one, Russell Crowe squeezes his balls at a bar in "LA Confidential", and in real life he was eventually stabbed to death by Turner's daughter, who claimed she was protecting her mother- who turned up onset with a gun to confront Connery. An argument ensued and then Connery took the gun away from Stompanato and decked him. Took the gun away from him. Then decked him. Can you imagine Johnny Depp doing that? Jude Law? Brad Pitt? No, me either.

A story ran on Popbitch a few years back. This guy reported getting blotto with his mates in the clubhouse of a posh golf club after a morning round. At some point in the afternoon, Connery passed through the bar on his way out to play. One of the guys mates decided to ask Connery the big question :"Sean, whats the best sex you've ever had?" To which Connery told him to "Fuck off!"
But on his way back through the clubhouse some hours later, Connery came over, tapped the guy on the shoulder and said "Petula Clark. 1963. Up the arse." And walked off.

Connery is a Celtic fan. And a good footballer in his day, apparently. He turned down trials, firstly with East Fife and then with Man Utd. Because he didn't need it. He wanted to be an actor instead. And hes been a superstar for nearly 50 years as a result. But he could have won the European Cup! The fool. Winners go home with the Prom queen, indeed.

The only actor with anything like the cool factor of Connery is Steve McQueen. Maybe Clint Eastwood on a good day. But Connery is a better actor than either, with a broader range. McQueen and Connery were always linked for me, somehow. A similar natural charisma, a similar confident masculinity, perhaps. Theres a Gomez song off their first album called 78 Stone Wobble, which ends with the best moment of their entire misbegotten careers. With a sample of a man speaking in Spanish, and finally repeating, in a loop, just the two names : "Sean Connery, or Steve McQueen. Sean Connery, or Steve McQueen. Sean Connery, or Steve McQueen". Daniel Craig should ever be so lucky.

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Blogger Monsterwork said...

Reassuringly heterosexual post there, chum.

10:17 pm  
Blogger David N said...

Oh no, random strangers might think I'm gay!!!!!

I'm secure enough to admit to loving Sean Connery. And a shitload of other male actors, singers, writers, directors and footballers.
Should I put up a picture of Monica Bellucci in my next post, apropros of nothing?

2:03 am  
Blogger Monsterwork said...


9:15 pm  
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