In cinema and film, the camera’s power is synonymous to the status quo of a given culture. The camera’s field of view—and by extension the spectator’s view of characters or objects in a scene—represents a power structure that mirrors the traditional modes of thought in the filmmaker’s culture, society, and ideology. The relations that are visually portrayed in a film stake their power and authority in their familiarity and their ability to build or reduce anxiety in the viewer; as such, the filmmaker can use the visual relation of objects and concepts to manipulate the viewer’s emotional and intellectual state. Too often however, by taking inspiration in intolerant and oppressive stereotypes and subsequently deploying those tropes to illustrate the visual narrative, a large portion of mainstream film production results in a product which is decidedly exclusive in its target audience (which is more often than not white and male).
Aiming to defamiliarize myself with the tropes and devices which saturate the hugely successful James Bond 007 franchise, whose catalogue numbers 25 films spanning more than six decades, I began by first conceiving of a method to do so. What better way to defamiliarize than to completely immerse oneself, first becoming familiar with the material and subsequently deconstructing it into elements that can be reflected upon? Therefore, I set it as my goal to view one film from the series every day for twenty-five days. Needless to say, these three and a half-weeks felt like an eternity.
From beginning to end, the films in the 007 franchise are bigoted and are, by all accounts, utterly devoid of any form of insightful philosophical or spiritual reflection regarding the protagonist’s actions and motives. As such, despite a concerted effort on my part to overlook the stunted representation of the Other in order to enjoy viewing, the narratives of all 25 films and their premises rely on the negative tropes to such an extent where they prove to be inseparable from the work. The films are naught but a prime example of a series of productions whose prejudicial portrayal of the Other results in dramatic narratives that underserve and vilify non-Anglo ethnicities, women, and minority groups. Further, the ignorant and negative illustration of the Other lends to a visual narrative that frames other races or historically oppressed persons in a less than flattering light where characters belonging to these groups are simply a means–or obstacles–to the protagonist’s ends.
The oppressive depiction of the Other contained wherein is wholly incompatible with any form of modern feminism and, as such, it seems the films’ relations of social hierarchy are irreconcilable with any form of inclusive and open society. At the very least the subversive and deconstructive nature of feminist theory runs in a completely opposite current to the mainstream modes of thought that inform the archetypes contained within the 007 series of films, and thus, could be a compelling framework by which to further explore the films. Clearly a project whose scope well exceeds our current discussion. A feminist in the vein of Mulvey would have a heyday with the 007 catalogue of film; after all, nothing seems more unambiguously phallic than a gun-toting spy who covertly penetrates enemy lines in order to get the better of dangerous men and conquer their women.
There are a number of elements ubiquitous to the 007 films that illustrate the aforementioned problems of representation and the oppressive power of looking. Emphasizing the viewer’s power and agency within the visual world is the iconic introduction which opens each and every film from the series: a left-to-right panning circle followed by an animated gun barrel by which the viewer sees a full shot of the film’s title character walking from right to left, turning once he reaches the middle of the frame to symbolically shoot and kill the viewer. The striking black and white sequence not only provides a compelling visual scene by which to begin the film, but having already implicated the viewer, it also invites them to freely participate by looking with impunity at anything in the film’s visual worlds that he or she so ever desires.
This emphasis on looking without restraint informs the entirety of every scene from the introduction on and seems to mirror Bond’s attitude throughout. Any time a character is seen on screen, he or she is framed according to the motivations or desires of the protagonist himself: scantily-clad women are frequently framed in close-up from a high angle, accentuating Bond’s sexual dominance and women’s apparent powerlessness to his infinite swells of charm; groups of enemies (often comprising people of non-Anglo ethnicity) are fully-framed with interchangeable costume, imposing a sense of impersonality and non-agency upon the individuals within the group; and often, individual foes are seen from behind where their faces are unexposed or framed in mid-shot–opposite and facing the main character–in order to emphasize their threat as a source of unjustifiable violence. The nature of the “inevitable” conflicts which arise in the artificial scripts (i.e. Bond vs. any ‘out group’), alongside the above-mentioned tropes used to frame the Other, serve to alienate the viewer from anything unrepresentative of the film’s ‘in group’ and inhibit any critical moral reflection on his or her part.
All in all, the positions and movements of the frame throughout the entire 007 catalogue only serve the protagonist and his motivations, resulting in the portrayal of a hero with ultimate power over sex, life, and death. The positions and movements of the frame, by extension, allow the viewer to indulge in the power of looking according to his or her own desire. In James Bond 007, a franchise that unabashedly celebrates the hedonistic pleasure of voyeurism, to watch the hero arbitrarily kill or maim his foreign enemies according to his own desire and seduce villainous women is not the viewer’s privilege, but rather, it is the viewer’s right.