With a few weeks to go before James Bond makes his 24th official return to the U.S. with Spectre, Nick Fleming reflects on the beginnings of his affection for the series against the backdrop of the holidays.
I come from the archetypal nuclear family: Mom and Dad – never “mother” and “father”— my kid sister, and the dogs all living together in a nice house in a little town.
To our neighbors, the Flemings were the pretty picture of decency: well-mannered, friendly, hardworking. What they didn’t see were the grey clouds of war that often loomed over our humble abode. Though we were four, we did enough bickering to fill a family of eight. The Brady Bunch we were not.
My sister and I would practically go WWE on each other (we never did learn to share). It’s blind luck neither of us broke any bones. But from time to time, when the oppression of our parents became too much for one of us to bear on our own, my sworn enemy became my comrade. Together, we stood up against the typical stuff: refusing to make our beds, washing up, eating our veggies, and the like. Maybe it’s my memory playing tricks, but I remember the two of us managing to wear down our folks into adding on an additional day to our family vacation at Wisconsin Dells. It was truly the high point of our alliance.
The holiday season, unofficially beginning in my house on Halloween, was the zenith the whole year lead to. Because there were no relatives to visit somewhere over yonder, my house was always the base of operations. So, as Thanksgiving and Christmas drew closer and closer, the brother-sister rivalry and bickering with parents was set aside in favor of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Even when you’re 12 years old you know it’s sometimes better to let bygones be bygones.
Together, the family made the holidays special. My mom and sister went ham and decorated the inside of the house while I helped my dad string up the multi-colored Christmas lights up on the roof, windows, the trees and bushes, and fence. When the switch was flipped for the first time on Thanksgiving evening, the subdivision said we gave Clark W. Griswald a run for his money. Never has such hard work felt so satisfying nor looked so damn good.
Whether it was Turkey Day or Xmas, two unspoken rules governed us kids: serve yourself in the kitchen and pause to let Mom take your picture. Always. If we abided, and we usually could, we were guaranteed a carefree time without incident. There was no breakfast, lunch, dinner, or need to sit at the dinner table; you simply helped yourself to what was available, found a nook somewhere in the house, and tried to save room for more.
With a plate of the best food I will never really have again, I would retreat to a far corner of the house, flip on the TV, and indulge in hours of Spike TV’s annual James Bond marathon. I didn’t want my holidays any other way.
James Bond movies were always something on the peripheral. Even in grade school, I somehow knew of the character, but couldn’t distinguish the movies from one another. They were simply old movies that Farm & Fleet and Walmart stocked their $5 bargain bins with or something ABC would play on Saturday nights. “Long, confusing, and cheesy” is the summation of my impression of the series until I was 13 years old.
Fortunately, times and attitudes have a way of changing: that’s when the fever hit.
As Thanksgiving break (circa) 2002 loomed, the atmosphere within Sandwich Middle School was one of euphoria. Four glorious days off! The only thing sweeter was the two week winter vacation and that wasn’t far off either. I remembered how my body would practically rattle in anticipation around that time of year. On this particular Thanksgiving Eve, I was so keyed up with visions of the annual smorgasbord, parades, and twinkling Christmas lights I couldn’t fall asleep. Finally, I succumbed to insomnia and by the light of the mini-Christmas tree sitting on my bedroom dresser I quietly flipped through the channels on my shabby little TV.
Channel after channel and wouldn’t you believe it? There wasn’t one thing on that I had a passing interest in let alone something that would help me ring in the big day. Such is life.
After midnight, I was still awake. After another pass through the channels, I paused when I heard the first notes of the Bond theme against the backdrop of the unmistakably sixties-esque titles for Dr. No (1962).
That night all those years ago, there was something totally compelling about the concoction of vibrant color, the brassy score, and Sean Connery’s portrayal of a dangerous man. I had seen Bond before, but something that morning clicked and I was seeing the character and his universe with a fresh perspective. Before I knew it, it was well past two o’clock in the morning and the movie had ended. There was no mistaking it, I was hooked. To my surprise, this was only the beginning of what was the Spike TV’s annual Thanksgiving marathon: four whole days featuring the superspy’s adventures. I would make up for lost time that holiday season and every holiday season since.
A friend once asked me, “Are the James Bond movies holiday movies?”
I suppose they’re no more so than Die Hard or Goodfellas, but tradition is tradition. Over the years, the series has become tied to some of my happiest memories which took place against the backdrop of the holiday season: playing Capture the Flag on the snowdrifts in the backyard, sledding under the moonlight, and of course, enjoying the comforts of home on the day in which the entire kid year revolves: Christmas.
A few years after I fell under 007’s spell, I had become quite the fan. Slowly, I began to collect Ian Fleming’s novels, buy the video games and, of course, watch the movies every year. Earlier that November, I saw my first Bond in theaters, Casino Royale. I was so taken, I begged for more ticket money and went back the same week. To this day, I have yet to see a single film in the theater as many times as I saw Casino Royale. If that’s the only time that ever happens to me, I’ll die believing I had fine taste.
To celebrate a new Bond and a rebooted series, the studio re-released the series in four box sets with restored picture and sound and companion discs loaded with all the special features a dork like me dreamed about. In short, this was pricey stuff; a top of the line Xmas present for rich folks who went where the weather was warm when the going got tough. By my parents’ own admission, I was a pretty good kid and I knew they were good to me, but there was no way I expected to land the sets when I sat around all holiday break watching the movies on TV … for free! I figured I would wait it out until I had some pennies to rub together.
It’s only fitting I conclude these refections into the past with Christmas morning, 2006. My sister and I sat on the living room floor waiting for Mom and Dad to finish their first full pot of coffee. Only then could the day begin officially. Well, I don’t have to draw out what happened. I’ll only say that during the moments when you think you have it all figured it out, when you go through the motions expecting the expected, the most unforeseen shockers grab hold of you. As my mom had me pose with each of the four box sets in turn, I knew this moment was one for the books.
All was right with the world.