Monday, April 30, 2007

"This Is No Time To Be Rescued!" - An Appreciation of GOLDFINGER

I've had a long held belief that GOLDFINGER is a near-perfect movie. Perhaps that's too strong a statement, but I honestly feel that it's not too far off the mark. If you think about it, how many movies provide this much entertainment? And not just "fun", but smart, classy, funny, sophisticated entertainment that pretty much anyone of any age and in any country could enjoy? One that holds up to contemporary films more so than any other film of its era? Call me crazy, but I can only think of one film that compares to it and that's NORTH BY NORTHWEST. GOLDFINGER is a unique film in a whole lot of ways and I don't think it's ever been recognized as such, but a weekend screening at NYC's Film Forum (first time ever in a theater) reminded me that this film's reputation as one of the best of the James Bond films is well deserved, but its reputation as an all-time classic is a bit too slow in coming.

Originally I had planned on writing a piece on CASINO ROYALE, a film which I absolutely love and was pleased to see become a surprise critical hit. Since Film Forum just started a 3 week retrospective of classic Bond films called "Vintage 007" (which goes up to A VIEW TO A KILL, which should officially go down as the worst film ever shown at Film Forum) I figured it was proper to add to the appreciation of Martin Campbell's 2006 film, which matches Peter Hunt's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE as my absolute favorite Bond film. And while I may take the opportunity to discuss that film at a later date, after viewing GOLDFINGER on Saturday I was so impressed all over again that I felt I had to go into it. Like all really good films, you keep discovering new things about it every time you watch them (for example, I had no idea Garry Marshall of all people was one of the mobsters at Goldfinger's meeting). What was different here wasn't seeing little pieces on the big screen that I couldn't make out on the DVD, but rather a sense that this film was more historic than anyone seems to have realized. Viewed today it's looking more and more like GOLDFINGER was also the film that gave birth to the modern blockbuster.

To clarify a little something here, while I love the film and praise it to the skies, in terms of excellence in the James Bond series, I do happen to prefer ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and CASINO ROYALE. If GOLDFINGER is missing anything, it's the dramatic heft that these pictures have thanks to their love stories. I know I said that GOLDFINGER is a perfect film, but just because something is perfect doesn't mean that it needs to have all that much substance; as the saying goes, you don't fault a theme park for not being a cathedral. I won't even say that the film is perfect "for what it is" (I hate that expression, although I tend to use it, too) because it has so much of what so many other films lack. Besides, writers have spent more than enough time applying tons of psychobabble onto the James Bond mythos, so I'll leave it to them to figure all that stuff out. Taken simply on face value, GOLDFINGER looks and feels like it was the first film of our modern movie age, not just the first blockbuster but the creation of the formula for crowd pleasers as it stands now. Feel free to debate whether that's a good thing, but it doesn't make the point less relevant; like PSYCHO is to the horror film, GOLDFINGER is the template for almost every film like it since. Even though it's the third James Bond film, GOLDFINGER is the film where the Bond "formula" was truly born and perfected. If you go back and look through those first two films, you'll see that's it's not all together like it is here (this is especially true of DR. NO, which hasn't aged that well in my opinion). I'm not just talking about the lack of Q or the quips (although they were always there), but it's in the style and the pacing; both films still feel like products of the early 60s, while GOLDFINGER has a timelessness to it that many of great classics have. By this film, the Bond team knew what was working and what wasn't and they were able to make this thing perfect without getting lazy or sloppy (kinda like they did on THUNDERBALL). They ended up with some kind of perfection that, in a sense, they haven't achieved since. GOLDFINGER has an efficiency in its filmmaking and storytelling that many great films have; there isn't a wasted scene or moment in it. That efficiency also means that it moves like a modern film moves, although perhaps I should say that it moves like a classic crowd pleaser of the modern era. Certainly the influence of the James Bond series has been credited to giving birth to the likes of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne, but none of them moved as well. GOLDFINGER does. It's as fresh today as a Beatles song can be (OK, the Beatles knock is one of GOLDFINGER's few faults).

GOLDFINGER also carries a certain place in my heart because (very luckily for me) it was the first James Bond film I ever saw. I was 9 years old and all the neighborhood kids we gathered around our TV for a Saturday night airing on WHT (anyone remember that?), a local cable provider, long since gone. The first time you see a Bond film everything feels like it's something incredibly fresh and new and if you're going to start anyone with the series, GOLDFINGER is unquestionably the one to do it with. So maybe I'm a little biased since GOLDFINGER is such a long time favorite, but I'm telling you, watch it again and you'll see that it's lost none of what made it so special. Stack it up against most contemporary big budget blockbusters and it still comes out on top. That's a classic for you.

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