Cinema Review: Becoming Bond | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, March 30th, 2020  

Becoming Bond

Studio: Hulu
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

May 20, 2017 Web Exclusive
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There is a little bit of irony when one tries to rescue a figure from obscurity, be it Stu Sutcliffe (the “fifth Beatle”) or, in the case of the subject of Josh Greenbaum’s documentary about George Lazenby, Becoming Bond, their very lack of notoriety becomes the thing for which they become notable. I don’t think that, in the franchise’s fifty-five year history, Lazenby has been forgotten, per se, but he is not spoken about with as much frequency, partially out of the pure fact that he didn’t have much of a career post-007, unlike every other actor that’s donned the iconic tux. This hasn’t stopped Lazenby for ascending into some sort of public discourse as “The Forgotten James Bond”, his only stint being playing the character in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and perhaps it’s the irony that has warranted Greenbaum’s rather A&E/TLC treatment of Lazenby’s life.

The thing that propels this film is a sense of ownership over one’s story, certainly a concept that’s been prominent in the public’s mind as far as people of marginalized backgrounds telling their stories go. The film opens with Winston Churchill’s declaration that he will write his own history, and, after several decades of rumors or tabloid speculation over what happened to the man who played James Bond that one time in the late ‘60s, now that man can tell his story. From his formative years to his exploits as a young adult to the role that would have made him famous, Lazenby speaks with what he and the filmmaker might consider a sense of whimsy, as a cast of actors reenacts various events from his life. It’s not especially evidence that any of these people were given a license to thrill.

It’s not until well over 40 minutes into the film that there’s any kind of archival material used to augment Lazenby’s self-narrative, besides the introduction that repeats the refrain of Lazenby as Forgotten 007. Before this, there’s a brief interruption from Greenbaum questioning the veracity of Lazenby’s story, but the actor dismisses it by saying, “How can I remember it if it wasn’t true?” If the film, and its reenactments, is supposed to be a fantasy of a life lived less gloriously, a sort of straight male iteration of Mulholland Drive (sort of), then there’s no sense of real interrogation into the myths of identity – celebrity or private, in any case.

As Lazenby continues to tell his story, it gets both less interesting and the approach seems to hold it in more wonder. It depicts his life, and the ostensible social context and atmosphere that surrounds it, with a frightening amount of earnestness. It’s so invested in how Lazenby tell his story, that, in spite of the intervention of the filmmakers to dramatize the story, it’s disinterested in exactly how the world around him – from politics, masculinity, even other films – shaped his character and his version of James Bond. The only mention of the sexual revolution of the 1960s is after his first divorce, used as a reason for why he wasn’t more heartbroken.

The suggestion might be that his casual attitude towards sex, from dabbling in threesomes to embracing a rather Bondian, lothario-esque lifestyle is what made him so good for the part. An arrogance and self-satisfaction that infects his elocution. Yet, everything seems so bland, from the storytelling to the aesthetic itself, with looks a little like faded urine. The dramatized bits feature mediocre acting and subpar writing, but they nonetheless beg the question why a slightly more conventional biopic wasn’t made instead. The film doesn’t really allow the two filmmaking modes (talking head doc and the reenactments) to comment on each other, save for jokey moments where Lazenby’s storytelling overlaps with actors’ line readings) to comment on one another. Rather, they reinforce the idea that maybe Lazenby was kind of a dbag.

Does it make sense that the man who played James Bond (once) was kind of an egomaniacal jerk? Maybe. But that doesn’t make his story inherently interesting, and there isn’t enough insight of thoughtfulness, from either the actor or the film itself, to warrant, at least, my interest. I say this as someone whose love of film was heavily impacted by the James Bond franchise; I own all the movies, collected much of the ephemera growing up, and has dreams of writing a small monograph on the relationship between James Bond, masculinity, and culture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most notable films in the series for its exploration into Bond’s personal life, in the sense that, for the first time, Bond is given a heart. He gets married, and we see Bond in love, only later to have his wife murdered by Blofeld. The injection of real vulnerability and heartbreak into a character whose primary dynamic with relationships was sex is crucial to understanding Bond, but also to understanding the trajectory of the franchise. Nowhere in the film is this mentioned, and nowhere does Lazenby make any comment about how the film explored this facet of Bond. Rather, it’s a 95 minute chance for an old man to relive his former glory, with no particular investment in anything more than bar stories. The final ten minutes of the film only do a surface examination of the baggage of public identity of James Bond, or Lazenby’s regrets. It’s odd, though, that Lazenby says, in justification for declining to sign a six film contract and shying away from the public eye, “You’ve got to be real with yourself.” This film never bothered to question what exactly that means.  

Author rating: 4/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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Deana
May 21st 2017
2:10am

I am always delighted to hear from George Lazenby. George is sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten James Bond”. But he will never been forgotten by me. When I was “Bunny Deana” at the London Playboy Club, more than 45 years ago now, I was privileged to be crowned Playboy Bunny of The Year by George, and I shall treasure the memory forever. The very precious photo of George performing the crowning - in his immaculate Bond-style suit - is a proud part of my unique, personal “Bunny Deana’s Playboy Photo Album”, now available to view online.

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June 4th 2017
9:40pm

For people in my age group, Pierce Brosnan is our Bond. Maybe it was because people my age grew up playing Goldeneye back on the Nintendo 64. It’s funny to think about that so many years ago. No that I’m older and a bit wiser running my own lawn care service, I like to watch older movies and really appreciate the acting and screenplays of an era without high tech movie effects.

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