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Friday, March 18, 2011

SUFFRAGE FOR SUFFERING

In this essay I've discussed some recent attempts to claim that the James Bond mythos, as a mythos directed at a male audience, either needed to be fixed in deference to feminist priorities or used as a rhetorical device for those priorities. As that essay suggested I do think, unlike the WAPster feminists, that such a male genre-product as the Ian Fleming Bond series can possess its own integrity, however politically incorrect, and I also stated that I believed that there was, prior to any feminist tinkering with the franchise, a healthy female following for the series.

I didn't have space, though, to enlarge on the reason why that following might exist. In short, it's because Fleming could and did sometimes write female characters with whom some female readers might identity with and feel empowered by. By way of expansion on this theme, here's a segment from my review of the 1965 THUNDERBALL film, in which I compare Fleming's depiction of his character Domino to the film's version.

The film’s largest deficit may be its handling of the romantic relationship of Bond and Domino Vitali, who begins as Largo’s mistress but who turns against the villain when Bond reveals that Largo had Domino’s brother killed. (In book and movie, Largo never knows of a connection between his mistress and the murdered man; clearly the writers’ god “Coincidence” reigns supreme here.)

No one should mistake Ian Fleming for a feminist. He wrote “blood and thunder” pulp fiction to an audience dominated by men, and often reflected the more sexist attitudes of his time. Nevertheless, his female characters are on occasion quite formidable, and the book makes clear that Domino is not merely a “kept woman,” but a Venus who gives her favors as she pleases. For instance, in the book she pretends that she needs Bond’s aid when she steps on the spines of a sea-creature, and later tells him that she could have helped herself, but feigned helplessness so that he would seduce her. This revelation doesn’t appear in the movie, and actress Claudine Auger isn’t able to convey Domino’s Italian fire on her own talents.

Further, while in both works Domino does revenge herself on Largo by shooting him with a harpoon, thereby saving Bond’s life, film-Domino is not nearly as formidable as print-Domino. In the book Largo tortures Domino when he learns she’s helping Bond, and though the torture isn’t depicted in detail on the page, the method— applying alternating heat (a cigar) and cold (ice cubes) to the skin-- is described prior to the act. However, in the film Largo is interrupted before the torture can begin, possibly in deference to sensitive mainstream audiences. Moreover, after print-Domino is tortured, she frees herself from her prison and despite her burn-wounds swims a considerable distance to the site where Bond is on the verge of being choked to death by Largo, and then kills Largo. Film-Domino doesn’t even get loose from her ropes without help. Certainly Felix Leiter would never say of this character: “I swear I’ll never call a girl a ‘frail’ again --not an Italian girl, anyway!”


Clearly, the reason I think it appropriate to "vote" in favor of female suffering in certain given works is that, as seen here, it can make a character more heroic, as opposed to the WAPster belief that it must render the female character a "victim." The Domino Vitali of the Fleming book, who isn't even any sort of professional, courageously resists torture and then goes through an ordeal to gain vengeance on her tormentor. The suffering here, then, is heroic.

But if Terence Young's THUNDERBALL had faithfully recreated the Fleming scenario, there can be little doubt that it would have been criticized, even in 1965, for excessive violence toward the female of the species. Because the violence was pruned, Domino lost her heroic stature and became just another "Bond girl" that few filmgoers even remember very well.

Sometimes the representation of suffering is not the problem.

Sometimes the lack of it has far more pernicious effects.

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