Thursday, 7 July 2011

BlogalongaBond #7 - Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Diamonds Are Forever, May 2003)

'Through a glass, darkly': Jill St. John as Tiffany Case
Unconventional sexuality is no stranger to the franchise: Red (From Russia With Love) is asexual and Klebb is gay; Pussy Galore's lesbianism is tied to her criminal allegiance in Goldfinger (both facets overcome by Bond's hetereomnipotence); Vargas (Thunderball) is, like Red, an ascetic.

Diamonds Are Forever more than doubles this tally of characters with (probable) minority sexuality. Where does this sudden interest in the sexuality of the antagonists come from? There are two immediate answers to this question. Firstly, male homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Such a significant statutory change provides a eye to the cultural storm of the period and seems a natural issue for a significant film to gravitate towards. Secondly - and secondarily - the figure of the organised criminal has a history of being represented somewhere along the kinky-homosexual axis (i.e. with varying degrees of suggestiveness up to and including plainly homosexual). This is most pertinent in The Italian Job (1969), in which arguably the most high-profile gay man in Britain, Noël Coward, played the omnipotent (if incarcerated) mob boss sanctioning the eponymous heist; and in Performance (1970), Nick Roeg's arthouse meditation on celebrity, sexuality and morality where a cabal of London mobsters are shown as gay. (Incidentally, a more general inventory and discussion on gay mobsters in cinema can be read here and to the selected films discussed in that piece, I would add Mike Hodges' 2003 I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, in which sodomy committed by a mob boss drives the drama of the entire film).

So it's possible to see Diamonds Are Forever as boxed into a corner. Commercially, it's committed to be modern, reflecting the cultural currency of the world but at the same time to repeat the already anachronistic formula on which the success of the franchise is founded. At first it seems to be the assassins (the 'outsourced') rather than the principal mobsters that appear to be the homosexuality-sump in this movie. Wint and Kidd hold hands after the kill, with Wint in particular absorbing the clumsy trope assigned to him, speaking in a serpentine drawl and wearing too much cologne. Also hunting in a couple are the athletic Bambi and Thumper. The balletic, orgiastic physicality of their assault is not repeated in the series until Onatop in Goldeneye (1996) - no, not even in Octopussy (1983) - and, given that they attack in tandem, points at their tacet homosexuality as well.

However, very little prepares the viewer for the sight of Charles Gray's vain Blofeld attempting to escape his hotel penthouse in drag. This is the one bit of the film I had completely forgotten about and a sequence that I could barely believe I was watching. It's possible to argue that his action is an extension of the prologue, in which he had attempted to alter his appearance (of course, alter the appearance of a double), which is also the twist on the scene immediately prior to this one. But the transformation is so rudimentary - so comic - that it seems rather more whimsical than pragmatic. It's almost as if Blofeld isn't so much running away from the hotel as retreating into himself. Either way, it comes across as bafflingly, tangentially melodramatic.

The more one considers this though, the more one begins to entertain the possibility that director Guy Hamilton may have been trying to achieve something within the cultural constraints which must have weighed on him. Blofeld's tottering in heels is shot across the floor of the casino inamongst the slot machines. This isn't the usual casino-arena that has Bond winning both money and women but a cash-flecked fantasy world in which Q and Tiffany socialise, and even an elephant tries its luck. This is, literally, the circus, an alternative arena for an alternative reality.

This is one way of looking back on this (otherwise, pretty dreadful) film. The eponymous diamond trail is a classic MacGuffin, which leads Bond from sexually laissez-faire Amsterdam to the moral mirage of (wild-)Western, mob-controlled Americana. All the while the sexual balance of power lies with Tiffany. Never a maid to be rescued, the balance of power - i.e. sexual power - between the two is often equivocal. The only time in which she runs to the sanctuary of his masculinity is on discovering Plenty O'Toole's body in the swimming pool - a circumstance of dramatic ambiguity, as the tragedy may have been engineered by Tiffany, eliminating the only threat to her power over Bond. Whilst it's not possible that the film is a metaphor for Bond questioning his sexuality, it may be that his omnipotent hetero-masculinity may be under scrutiny.

This is, to be honest, too complex and thoughtful a concept with which to credit Hamilton (and writers Maibaum & Mankiewicz) but such ideas certainly blister the surface of a film released beside other pieces (such as the desert-situated, countercultural Zabriskie Point (1970)) in the wake of the 1960s.

1 comment:

kinnemaniac said...

I love the idea of the film being an odyssey of sex-industry hotspots!