They waited to release No Time to Die so audiences could see it on the big screen. Big Hollywood keeps waiting for things to return to normal. The biggest movie towns are where the most hesitant people live. Box office limps along. The market seems to be dead where movies are concerned. People in the red states would go. They’d go in droves, but most of the Hollywood product is not aimed at them. In fact, much of it is aimed at excluding them. This is especially true at awards shows, where there isn’t even a consideration that there might be other people in this country who might be watching. It is a utopia that has taken decades to arrive, but arrive it has.
James Bond comes from a different time. He brings with him all of the relics of the days when film was still driven by the market. In many ways, James Bond represents everything the utopian ideal for American society as fully realized in 2021 is against: alpha males who always prevail and can get any woman they want. Beautiful women at the ready. And martinis, shaken, not stirred. Well, I don’t think the utopians care all that much whether a martini is shaken, not stirred. But alpha males? They’re not too into that. Box office likes alpha males. Here and in every other country in the world. We’re just pretending, for now, that they don’t. It is a sweet lie that is being tolerated until the market roars back, and once it does — if it does — so too will alpha males.
And there ain’t a damned thing wrong with that. One look at Daniel Craig lounging in a sailboat, Daniel Craig shirtless, Daniel Craig in a simple white shirt, Daniel Craig in a tux — honey, bring it on. Sorry, but why is this bad again? Not to mention Ana de Armas, Lea Seydoux, and Lashana Lynch also burning up every frame and you just can’t help yourself but be enamored with the old trick of watching our gods and goddesses on screens a million miles high.
No Time to Die allows James Bond to be James Bond — and thank God for that. Some things are truly untouchable. But I get the feeling the utopians kind of want him gone. I get the feeling they kind of like James Bond but sort of want him to marry, settle down, or retire. I get the feeling they wish that box office and the market didn’t like alpha males as much as they do so that they could continue to fundamentally alter everything that defined our species that came before 2020.
But, at least for now, James Bond is back and there isn’t much anyone can do about it. It will do very well in terms of how many people see it. It will do especially well in states that Hollywood kind of, sort of wishes didn’t exist because James Bond comes from a time when movies were universal. There isn’t a whiff of politics in this movie — it is mostly pure fun, with a little bit of seriousness.
And that might be partly why superhero movies have done so well over the past decade. Maybe because they don’t divide us. They can’t afford to. They have to unite us because the box office demands it. The market demands it. Take away the market and the box office and it is easier to arrange the pieces on the chess board to your liking.
Take, for instance, the Academy Museum. A beautifully-designed, elegant archive of the movies and the Oscars. It is a museum for the Motion Picture Academy, not necessarily the Oscars, but the Oscars are likely to be the biggest draw. Walking through there, you might never know that Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Picture or that Do the Right Thing was not nominated for Best Picture. You might see a very equitable array of awards that weren’t driven by the market demands and could therefore celebrate any person or any movie. You don’t see displays for The Godfather, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, or even Saving Private Ryan. You see the Wizard of Oz, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, North by Northwest, etc. There is the big mechanical shark from Jaws. Hitchcock never won an Oscar for directing. Jaws wasn’t even nominated for directing. But the Academy Museum isn’t about that. It is about reimagining their history. Reimagining themselves. Redefining who they are, as a utopian diorama for newer generations to learn a new story.
But I see where the Academy is coming from. They are trying to address the needs of people who have been left out for far too long. Since they no longer need the market, they can afford to depict themselves and their story any way they want to. For instance, when Sacheen Littlefeather accepted the Best Actor award for Marlon Brando in 1973, she was booed. The stunt was mocked and derided back then for bringing politics into the awards. It was embarrassing for the Academy. But all of these years later, she is celebrated in the Academy Museum as a point of pride. And indeed, when you watch her speech now she seems like a time traveler from 2021:
So you could probably sum up the Academy Museum this way: Godfather out, Sacheen Littlefeather in. Of course, no one in 2021 knows how to remember Marlon Brando. Do they remember him as the guy who sent Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his award for The Godfather, or do they remember him as the guy who was accused by Maria Schneider for taking his role too seriously in the infamous sex scene in Last Tango in Paris?
Viewing the Academy Museum, as beautiful as it is, felt to me like a memorial for a dying industry. This was an industry that was driven by how many people it could get to buy tickets to see its movies. If you take that away, what you’re left with is the message those movies and that industry sent. It is no surprise that the gala event for the museum was very much a marriage between streaming and the future of Hollywood, since Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is very much a part of the new Academy museum, and thus, the Academy and thus the Oscars.
We know that the only way the Oscars will survive is streaming platforms. The only movies they like to vote for must live on streaming. They could not survive the market. But maybe the market is never coming back anyway. Maybe the general public who are eager to get back to movie theaters and see good movies will live on a different planet from the Oscars. I don’t get the feeling that anything is moving in the direction of making movies for the masses again.
But James Bond is most definitely for the masses. And it’s coming at exactly the right time. The American public has never needed movies more than it does right now. We need them to remember what it’s like to sit alongside our fellow Americans, regardless of political party, skin color, or religion. They give us that rare chance, outside of going to church or sporting events, where we can share an experience on the big screen, in the dark, with the smell of popcorn wafting through.
We need them because they give us hope. It’s fun to have the option of watching them at home, but usually when you do that you then go on social media and you share the experience, which is then part of an algorithm fed to your own niche. But movies at the cineplex — you are among people you don’t know to be delivered a message you all will share. Sometimes that can be a transformative experience, if the movie is good enough.
It’s no time for movie theaters to die. No time for James Bond to die. No time for the market to die. No time for isolation and fear. No time for division. No time for hatred.
So bring it all on. Bring on the shirtless alpha males. Bring on the fierce women with their long legs and their quick draw. Bring on the spectacle. Bring on the fast cars and the rapid-fire weaponry. Bring on the cool gadgets and the legendary wizards behind them. Bring on the pulsating score and the unpredictable plot. It can be messy. It doesn’t really have to be all that original of a plot. We’re watching it because we like the experience of watching people triumph over ordinary human failure.
Yes, we’re saying goodbye to Daniel Craig as James Bond, and what a way to go. To my mind, he’s the best Bond. Right up there with Sean Connery. The movie itself is what it needs to be and hits the right notes it needs to hit. But it does make me wish that people lived forever, that James Bond would live forever, that movie theaters would never die.
We need this because we need movies. We need movies because we need hope.
And hope (as we know because Emily Dickenson told us) is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul. In all of our talk of unity, many of us forgot the one place where we can always count on it. In houses made for people that go dark just long enough to focus their eyes on the illuminated screen.