James Bond and Epiphanies

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

On Halloween, I met a new group of students today. We were doing a unit on movies, which prompted my love of James Bond to come up. I’ve seen all 22 of the official MGM-UA films many times (I pretend that the David Niven Casino Royale, the Woody Allen Casino Royale, and the 1980s remake of Thunderball — Never Say Never Again — do not exist). Goldfinger is clearly the best Bond film ever. It has the best villains (trivia fact – Gert Fröbe , who played Goldfinger, couldn’t actually speak English, so all of his lines are dubbed). It has some of the best dialogue (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”). It has the best soundtrack, composed by John Barry who did the soundtracks for fourteen Bond films. It also has the best car, the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, complete with a passenger ejector seat. If you ask me why I hate the new Casino Royale, it’s partially because James Bond drives a left-hand drive Aston Martin DB5. James Bond is only allowed to drive a right-hand drive DB5.

1964 Aston Martin DB5. The only car James Bond should drive.

I always mention that Goldeneye is one of my favorite Bond films, probably my third favorite Bond film after 1964’s Goldfinger and 1973’s Live and Let Die. Goldeneye also places in my top five favorite movies of all time. I never get tired of rewatching it. The dialogue in the film is witty and highly quotable. “A tip for your friend: the French number plates for this year’s model start with ‘L.’ Even the counterfeit ones.” The DB5 also makes a wonderful appearance towards the beginning of the movie on the mountain roads of Monaco. It’s always best when a 1960s sports car defeats an ugly 1990s Ferrari in a race.  I’m also quite addicted to the N64 videogame that came out a few years after the movie.

My real love of Goldeneye partially lies in the scene in which Pierce Brosnan drives a tank through St. Petersburg. I always tell my students that I like Pierce Brosnan (he’s not my favorite Bond though, that would be Roger Moore), St. Petersburg, and tanks. Thus, Goldeneye is a great movie because it combines three of my interests in one excellent scene. Everything about the scene is just perfect. The evil Russian general drinks under pressure and shouts one of the best lines ever, “Use bumper, that’s what it’s for.” Scarily, I think that’s what most Russian drivers think. Here’s a link to the scene in case you’ve lived under a rock your whole life and haven’t seen it, or in case you realize how awesome it is and want to watch it again.

Unfortunately, they didn’t really drive the tank through the streets of St. Petersburg. Most of it was filmed on a back lot at England’s Pinewood Studios because the Russians were worried that the weight of the tank would break the streets and the pipes underneath the streets. While envisioning the scene in my head, I remembered that Bond is chased by a series of Russian soldiers in jeeps. It was a eureka moment for me as I realized that those jeeps are UAZ 469s. It seems once again that I was truly fated to spend my year in Ulyanovsk. Moments like these get me very excited.

No Mercedes were harmed in the making of this production, but a whole bunch of Ladas and UAZs were.

In all seriousness, Goldeneye is quite an interesting movie when looking at Russian history. It was filmed in 1994/1995 and released Thanksgiving 1995. During this time period, Russia was in pretty dire straits following the Soviet collapse. Poverty and crime were rampant. In the Bond film, St. Petersburg is somewhat grey and dirty, but much of the grit of the time period was absent from the film. There is a Russian film Брат, or Brother, which was made in 1997. In this film, the entirety of St. Petersburg comes across as 1970s Harlem. The area of St. Petersburg I lived in was basically a crack den, according to the film. In fact, there is a murder attempt made on the main character at the doors of a building that I passed on my bus ride to school. Here’s the trailer for Брат. It’s in Russian, without subtitles, but it’s worth a watch to see what Russia was like in the 1990s. 

In the past few years, Russia has truly come a long way. St. Petersburg seemed somewhat cleaner when I was there. Furthermore, both films are filled with Soviet cars, mostly Lada Zhigulis. While these cars are still abundant in Russia, there are plenty of other foreign cars on the roads. This is especially the case in St. Petersburg, though I see plenty of foreign cars in Ulyanovsk as well.

And in case you’re wondering, this is what I do when I should be doing my Russian homework. I would much rather write about cars in James Bond movies than read about the Russian automobile industry before 1917. I’m glad that my Russian professor found books and materials for me about the Russian automotive industry, but I really am only interested in the Soviet automotive industry and technology trade with Western nations. The only thing about the pre-1917 industry was that it was almost non-existent, which is why the Soviets had to heavily rely on foreign assistance in the 1930s.

  1. Glenn! says:

    3 Things that I have to say:

    1. I fell in love with UAZ-569b since at least 2001, and have always wanted to ride in one. I am glad that someone else also enjoys them.

    2. None of the locations in Brat, save when he nearly gets assassinated and the CD store at the beginning, seem to be in existence today. The market is gone, as is the nightclub, as is are the steps where he beats up a crook to save Nemets or Kaufman or whatever his name is. I found all the locations, but most of the locations have been renovated or changed.

    3. Honest to God, I did try to find automotive books while I was there to see if I could help you in some way. However, the number 1 automotive book on Russian automobiles was that book “Cars from the East” or Russian Autos– that book that didn’t have sources except from magazines, which was funny since it was a book about Russian autos written in English by an English author, translated into Russian. Talk about a roundabout!

    Oh and about the water situation. In my dorms, the water was frequently out, but that’s because they were cleaning the pumps for the umpteenth time because the water pressure on the higher floor was abysmal (or so I’m told; I was only on the 3rd). Maybe it happened to you? If the problems for me are the same for you, I would also say be wary of nonworking outlets because we were told the in our dorms the Soviet era circuitry technically cannot handle modern appliances (like laptops) which they did anyway because it’s Russia. Of course that meant plugging in a stupid lamp could shut the outlets down for the entire floor (but not overhead lights). We also had frequent outlet outages because (I’m guessing) influxes of water into the walls and circuitry on high melt days.

    I’m also glad your internet was working because mine did not work well at all. they claimed it was broadband. It may or may not have been, but all i know was i was getting only 4kbit/sec. Must people resorted to those 4G wireless modems from Bumble bee was it? Whatever that bee company was.

    • grunewas says:

      1. When Pasha gets back from his month long shift working for the gas industry in Siberia, he promised to get his friend to take me out in his UAZ. I think Pasha already asked and the friend already said yes. I’m super excited for that to happen. Pasha said his friend has a military spec 469.

      2. When did you watch Brat in its entirety? I thought you only watched the last 15/20 min.? I’m pretty sure some other places from the movie exist, like in the beginning when he walks past pretty much every landmark in St. Petersburg ala Kazanskii Sobor or the Church on Spilled Blood.

      3. Are you talking about “Cars of the USSR” by Andy Thompson? There are plenty of Russian books about cars. We have a series of them in the library because they have a major in automotive design and manufacturing. Apparently history books about cars are part of their curriculum.

      4. It sounds like you were in the dorm from hell. Our water hasn’t been out yet, knock on wood, and the hot water was off for only one week. Sometimes it will be rust red, but in a few hours it’s back to normal. The electricity seems to be fine. Our appliances don’t knock anything out. I’m also pretty sure that a Soviet fridge draws more electricity than my laptop. My neighbors have fridges. And the internet is great in the dorm. I pay 350 rubles a month for unlimited downloads of 8kbit/sec. That was the second slowest choice. If I paid more, I think I could get up to 32 or 64kbit.sec from my ISP. Oh, and the company you are thinking of is Beeline, which happens to be my cellphone provider.

      • grunewas says:

        That should say 8mbit/sec and 32 or 64 mbit/sec. This is why I shouldn’t post things when I first wake up in the morning and before I have my cup of tea.

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