He’s not a spy, he’s not an assassin… he’s a travel agent.
Everyone knows James Bond travels in style. He jets off across the world in the finest jets, the finest suits and with no baggage claim stress in sight. But did you ever stop to consider if there was more to this than meets the eye?
With the release of No Time To Die right around the corner, we take a deep dive into 007’s travel habits, and why they make James Bond the world’s most famous travel agent.
We all miss holidays, don’t we? I’m sure a lot of you will be planning in one shortly, if you haven’t been sitting on a delayed one all this time. Ah, those few weeks of the year we can escape to somewhere far from our daily responsibilities, put our feet up and day drink. It was the thought of finally travelling again, and the upcoming, hopefully final, release date of No Time To Die, that had me thinking about how James Bond travels. Because Bond isn’t a spy, or a secret agent, or an assassin – he’s a travel agent.
JAMES BOND IS A TRAVEL AGENT
Spy films and international travel go together like cocaine and waffles, and James Bond is probably to blame for it. He’s gone all over the globe chasing international terrorists and crime syndicates, romancing the local women and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. It’s part of his job to travel – if it were a domestic threat then they wouldn’t need to call in 007, they’d ask, I dunno, Luther. It’s also vital for someone like James Bond to travel relatively incognito, often as if he were a civilian. Take it from me, customs officers don’t take too kindly when they ask the purpose of your visit and you say “stopping a political coup, shooting a whole bunch of people and kidnapping a billionaire philanthropist”. I learned a lot on that holiday to St. Lucia. Because of this essential aspect of Bond’s job, it’s worth examining how he travels, and what we might infer from it.
In many ways, James Bond is the perfect tourist we all want to be. He has unlimited funds to travel in style. He’s often got access to private planes, and if he’s flying commercially, he flies first class, as we see in Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. If he encounters delays, cancellations or traffic, we don’t see it. He never has any trouble with customs and border control. He never suffers jet lag, not to mention hangovers. Often, we skip the part where Bond actually has to sit on a plane for seven hours eating crappy airline food, and just cut to him driving into a new city. In this way, Bond serves as the glamorous, unrealistic vision we have of holiday. We forget or repress the incredible discomfort of economy international travel as a means to the end of leisure.
Even when flying privately and under duress, like in Goldfinger, he’s afforded an absurd amount of comfort. It’s a pretty hilarious trope that Bond’s mortal enemies really feel the need to wine and dine him. It’s almost flirtatious, which Skyfall had a good time playing around with. I’m not saying Bond is actually gay, and all his rampant lechery is a cover. But it does sound like that’s what I’m saying doesn’t it? Funny that. Bond won’t even tolerate staying in anything less than a 5-star hotel; he often prefers country clubs and private villas, such as those found in Live And Let Die, Die Another Day, and Casino Royale.
Bond doesn’t just travel often, he’s a permanent traveller. It took until Spectre for us to see any kind of home to speak of back in England, and it’s so barebones Moneypenny takes note. We hear tell of a flat in Skyfall, only to find out it’s been sold since Bond’s assumed death, leaving him forced to look for a hotel. Given Skyfall’s central theme is the apotheosis of Craig’s Bond, his evolution into classic Bond, I think it’s significant that they had to strip him of a stable home to do so, and then destroy his ancestral home at the climax. A key feature in Dalton and Brosnan’s films were that he often knew concierges and managers by name and had preferred suites at his disposal. He’s so well-connected in the hotel trade I’m surprised he doesn’t call on a Grand Budapest-style network of concierges for help when his missions start going tits up.
There’s a constant element of romance to travelling with Bond, especially on trains. Bond Girls have a whale of a time when they join him on a trip, to the point where you’d forget they’re on a vital mission to save the world. Sometimes that’s for practical reasons like travelling undercover as a couple like in From Russia With Love. Other times there’s no reason for it whatsoever, like how in Goldeneye they arrive at the villain’s secret base in Cuba, but they make sure to take the time to go for a romantic drive and nookie on the beach before deciding to stop him from deleting the British economy. Guys, save the world, bang later.
Almost every single Bond movie prior to the Craig era ended with Bond on a fancy boat, shirking his responsibility and sexing up the Bond Girl. He’d just saved the universe damn it, he was going to enjoy his vacation for as long as he could, who cares if the Prime Minister is on the phone. In fact, one of the many big ways Casino Royale diverged from Bond tradition was not ending the movie here. The bad guy’s dead, he’s got the girl, HMG’s won a tidy sum of money, and here he is sailing into the sunset. Instead, we continue into an extended epilogue that highlights what an escapist fantasy that sort of ending would be.
Bond genuinely wanted to resign and settle down with Vesper so of course she has to die, just like Olenna Tyrell did back in Her Majesty’s Secret Service literally on the day of their wedding. The message is clear in both – Bond absolutely cannot put down roots. It would mean the death of his career as a spy, and the death of the movie franchise. From that point on, travelling with Craig Bond is quite a miserable affair. He stays in the fancy hotels and eats in the fancy train cars, but none of it seems to give him the genuine pleasure that earlier incarnations would get from ordering their Bollinger and beluga caviar.
Oh I should explain – these are my ‘Sad Bond’ segments. I wanted to make a full video about how Daniel Craig has been playing a James Bond, who is also playing James Bond. It would be about how he starts out as a nouveau riche cynic who sneers at the espionage game and spits in the face of the elite who play it. But life hurts him so much that he fully surrenders to play the role that’s required of him and truly act like Bond. Yet he never finds any joy again, and apparently neither did Daniel Craig. However, I spent so long watching Bond films and making this goddamn video that I never want to talk about him again, so I’m just going to include those thoughts as little ‘Sad Bond’ segments. I do think it’s useful to include them because, since Craig Bond – the character, that is – fully knows what being James Bond entails, whether he bucks tradition or toes the line, it’s revealing about what it means to be James Bond. Anyway, moving on.
Early Connery-era films have Bond playing the role of a tourist in the crowd as his cover in foreign countries. Lord knows why, since he famously loves to drop his real name to everyone he meets – I’ve seen a montage of every time he says his name and it’s FIVE MINUTES LONG. Connery’s Bond’s main focus is the espionage part of spying, blending in as much as possible, like in From Russia With Love where he goes under the cover of a guided tour and a sightseeing ferry.
Not only does he pretend to be a tourist, but he weaponises tourism. His attache in that same film is armed with knives, explosives, and bribery money, and he conceals guns and recording devices in cameras. Later gadgets in the series would more commonly be stored in Bond’s watches, cars, and phones so as to better serve the cause of cross promotion but he started out trying to look as much like an innocent tourist as possible.
Other tourists in the Connery-era are unobtrusive, background fillers, enjoying their vacations just like you or I might, filming the scenery in From Russia With Love, sunbathing by the pool in Goldfinger, or playing on the beach in Thunderball. Connery’s Bond moves through them easily but never interacts with them – he can very effectively pretend to be one, but he’s not truly one of them. Tourists in these films keep to their touristy areas, having fun doing their touristy things.
Moore’s Bond is simultaneously contemptuous of tourists, and the worst tourist himself. Do you ever get that feeling of being slightly hesitant about visiting a foreign country if you don’t speak the language, because you either don’t want to annoy people with your broken translations, and you don’t want to go around loudly speaking your own language hoping someone will understand you? Yeah, Moore’s Bond doesn’t give a crap about that. The issue of a language barrier was previously raised for Connery Bond in You Only Live Twice, but he brushes off the phrasebook Moneypenny offers him with the line. Yet more emphasis that Connery is the perfect tourist, but I’m pretty sure he only ends up saying ‘arigato’ and ‘konichiwa’ in the end; everyone else of course speaks fluent English and is more than happy to accommodate him.
The scene where Moore Bond wanders into a clearly black-only bar in Live and Let Die only serves to emphasise his wilful ignorance of local customs. He even shops like a tourist, albeit only so that he can trick a woman into having sex with him. He scoffs at local cuisine, and his pronunciation of this wine is the most snobby British thing I’ve ever heard. By contrast, perfect tourist Connery Bond stipulates the correct temperature to serve sake to the Japanese guy offering it to him in You Only Live Twice. What a well-travelled and cultured man, isn’t it dreamy the way he whitesplains?
The others in Moore’s era are the most touristy tourists to ever tour. You remember that guy in Lilo & Stitch who keeps trying to eat ice cream? He ain’t got jack on the Moore tourists. They go around in straw hats on sightseeing tours with Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, gawking and pointing at everything. And no one exemplifies it better than Sheriff JW Pepper. By far the strangest James Bond film to me, and the one that I remember most from childhood, is The Man With The Golden Gun. Not just because of Christopher Lee’s many nipples, or that his dwarf manservant is called Nick Nack, or this magical flipping car, but because of JW. His voice echoes in my dreams to this day, waking me with a chill. He first appeared in Live and Let Die as a sheriff in Louisiana, but in Golden Gun he and his wife are on holiday. He’s loud, he’s racist, he’s stupid, he is everyone’s worst nightmare of an American tourist. His wife is nagging, co-dependent and, naturally, very loud.
It’s in this era that we see mass tourism bloom in the real world, on account of international travel at great distances becoming far easier and available to a broader chunk of the populace rather than international businessmen or the wealthy. Bond, both the character and the franchise, don’t look upon this very fondly, as if the experience has been diluted or soured.
Tourists take up physical space in Moore’s films, rather than existing as background filler, and the space they occupy is an inconvenience to Bond, whether that’s gawkers at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Live and Let Die, or circus-goers in Octopussy. Oftentimes, he simply barrels through the ones doing the mostly cliché tourist things, and it’s clear we’re supposed to be laughing at their misfortune. Of course, they’re never deliberately antagonistic towards Bond, or even a major hindrance. After all, the filmmakers can’t risk alienating the audience who make up that tourist population.
In Dalton’s films, at least in Licence to Kill, we see a similar weaponization of tourism as that found in Connery’s day, featuring an attaché full of explosives disguised as alarm clocks and tubes of toothpaste, a gun disguised as a film camera, and a laser disguised as a polaroid camera.
Other tourists form a similar kind of wall that featured in Moore’s films, along with the visual features like sunhats and Hawaiian shirts, but with none of the disruption. Signs of the mass tourism we’ve come to expect are everywhere in Licence to Kill, such as when Bond checks into his flight, with dozens of people bustling around him. However, he slips through them easily to the empty queue of the first class window. Likewise, he moves past a crowd of people loading onto a boat for a fishing trip, to his own personal private boat, then smoothly moves through large crowds and tram cars, blending in perfectly. Even though he’s probably the most hated James Bond, Dalton is arguably the best spy of the bunch, which should tell you what these films are really about.
Brosnan is a tourist, but he’s no common tourist. We fully return to the elitism of yesteryear Bond, but coupled with a desire for isolation, rather than group activities. In Goldeneye, Natalya even specifically highlights what was appealing about the idea of a Caribbean holiday. In this era, mass tourism is well-established, but normalised, and so has become common. Those looking for a unique experience in this time need only seek out something no one else is doing, or someplace no one else is.
As for other tourists, they return but in a limited capacity, seemingly enjoying the same semi-isolated experience that luxury affords and that Bond seems to enjoy partaking in. These include first class passengers on a plane, and more significantly, people at a clearly upmarket bar in Cuba, both in Die Another Day. Everywhere else, we do see travellers, but they’re just extras – by that I mean they lack any kind of character or involvement. Their presence intruding on Bond’s journey would cheapen the experience through commonality.
After that brief interlude, we return to the great absence of visible tourism in Craig’s time. Scenes that would usually be flooded with tourists like a car chase on the streets of Rome in Spectre instead take place in the middle of the night. That could be for aesthetic reasons (it is very pretty) or more likely practical reasons – kinda hard to have a high speed, flamethrowing race with a bunch of pedestrians in the way, and I don’t even want to think about the logistics of filming on location in the day.
Sad Bond segment! Craig’s Bond sees himself as above acting like a tourist. His colleagues would love for him to play the part – you know, like a spy would – but, as with many other aspects of his job, he sneers at the façade and makes a joke of it, like in Casino Royale and in Quantum of Solace. When Bond genuinely does go on holiday at the end of Casino Royale, he’s doing it out of love rather than to keep up appearances or satisfy his own personal thrills, and we know how that goes.
In some cases we’re given good reason for him to be snarky. In Casino Royale, and Casino Royale alone among Bond entries, we see the movie become openly contemptuous of the rich, painting them as demanding, assumptive jerkbags. Bond’s no stranger to getting his petty revenge on people who don’t give him the proper respect like to Tilly in Goldfinger, but this scene reads like Bond is a working class hero, smashing the toys of the elite. It even comes up again when he calls out half of the people at the opera in Quantum of Solace, playing off this idea that no one actually likes opera and it’s just a game for rich people.
As for other tourists, Craig’s Bond is very nearly solitary in his travels. We see other people in the background of the train and health clinic in Spectre, but they’re so far out of focus and separate from the action that they may as well not be there. This still serves as a point of envy for the audience – we wish we could have beaches to ourselves, to always be able to get a reservation at a restaurant, to get into the most exclusive clubs. Craig’s Bond manages to achieve what many nowadays seek a holiday for, especially those in cities – to get away from other people and isolate ourselves from daily interruptions.
As important as a country’s visitors in James Bond are its native inhabitants. After all, your fellow travellers are a known element – they’re coming from the same environment that you are. It’s the locals that are the unknown element, and you need to know how they’re going to react to you.
From the outset, Connery’s Bond is welcomed with open arms into offices by urbane dignitaries and into the beds of demure submissive women. After all, in their partial role as tourism advertisements, the films need to show you how happy everyone else is to have you there, and how willing they are to accommodate your every whim.
This leads me to the character archetype I’m going to call the ‘tour guide’. Part of the reason most of the Bonds never need to worry about getting lost, or not speaking the same language, or committing some kind of cultural faux pas, is down to them having a native on call to open doors and point them in the right direction. Oftentimes, they’re the heads of intelligence and security services for that region or city, like Kerim in From Russia With Love or Tanaka in You Only Live Twice. Other times, they’re fellow MI6 spies, although not 00 agents, like Vijay in Octopussy or Matthis in Casino Royale. Several times they’ve been representatives of friendly intelligence agencies, like the recurringly helpful CIA agent Felix Leiter in pretty much every other Bond film.
About half of the time, these guys die, like poor Luigi in For Your Eyes Only or dear Quarrel in Dr. No. You remember them, right? Their dual function is to point Bond in the right direction, and then be violently killed to emphasise the threat against Bond and Bond’s own superior survival skill – like a martini-drinking cockroach. Either way, Bond’s experience of international travel is one where he’s greeted by friendly faces from the moment he steps out the airport and ushered into a safe, pampered domicile. He’s a man, so he doesn’t need to worry so much about being abducted, Taken-style, but now he extra doesn’t need to worry about being taken.
Locals in Moore’s era are pretty horrendous caricatures, and usually as much a hindrance to him in his mission as the tourists were. We’ve already talked about Sergeant Pepper and his racist Louisiananess, but in Live and Let Die you also get a Caribbean voodoo cult, and not one but two jazz funerals because of course, we’re in New Orleans. How often have you seen this guy in Moonraker’s reaction from a French or Italian character? The Man With The Golden Gun pretty much takes the cake though, with pretty much everyone in the film.
As contemptuous as Moore’s Bond films are of tourists, he’s even more so towards locals. Except beautiful women, of course. This boy trying to sell trinkets to people on a tour boat jumps onto Bond’s boat mid-chase, thinking him a likely target. This at first annoys Bond, but when the boy helps him speed up the boat, he’s grateful. He shows his gratitude by yeeting him into the water. Likewise, that family in The Man With The Golden Gun that had the audacity to not speak English present an obstacle for Bond to get to his goal, which he attempts to barrel through.
The only meaningful encounter with a local in Brosnan’s tenure that I could think of was this scene in The World Is Not Enough when Elektra negotiates an oil pipeline route with local religious leaders seeking to protect both the environment and holy sites. Both the film and its characters seem to treat them with dignity and respect, which is MAD for a Bond film. Kudos I guess, for the one good thing in The World Is Not Enough. Other than that, locals are just texture lacking character, like the background people in St. Petersburg in Goldeneye.
Craig’s Bond films break tradition once again and focus on the hindrance Bond and his enemies have on the local populace. Take the Italian man driving who knows where in Spectre, oblivious to the chaos going on behind him. Eager to get past him, Bond accelerates him out of the way, narrowly avoiding a dangerous crash. Craig Bond is sad, yes, but also perfect so he can quickly calculate the exact timing and speed needed to avoid killing this guy. Likewise, he wrecks so much property and then narrowly avoids killing hundreds of people at the beginning of the film.
We’re going to get to this in more detail later, but the majority of locals in the Craig Bond era make up, for lack of a better word, poverty texture, usually as a result of the villain’s evil doings, like the water monopoly impacting the Bolivians in Quantum. Like I said, this stuff warranted its own section – we’ll get to it. And as sympathetic as they are, Craig Bond’s films aren’t immune to the same caricatures present in his earlier iterations. You’ve got these delighted little kids in Casino Royale. This cliched taxi driver in Quantum of Solace natters away at the top of his voice for the entire journey. I have no explanation for why this is here, except as an attempt to knowingly wink at how annoying foreigners are because they have the gall to speak in their own language in their own country, the fiends.
We go on holiday for a lot of reasons. We go for respite from our normal responsibilities. We go to make memories and experience unfamiliar things. We go to enjoy weather or a landscape different to our own. The tourism industry aims to anticipate and cater to these desires, leading to the popularisation of the holiday resort. These places are tailor-made for tourists, so they can efficiently engage in all of the activities they want, or are expected to want, on holiday.
Bond is often seen in various types of resort, the main ones being the beach resort, and the winter resort. Health resorts are also a common feature; it comes up as part of his cover, and in some of the few occasions where he’s genuinely on holiday, he’s seen at a health resort. Resorts are a convenient place for Bond to multitask – he can reside in a place that will provide him the 5-star treatment we looked at earlier, it often comes included with amenities Bond finds appealing, such as casino floors, fine dining, and mistreated trophy wives looking for adventure. I could easily bloat this video to an hour with a montage of Bond handing his car off to a valet, and then get another hour out of him ordering room service.
Sad Bond segment! Of course, Daniel Craig’s sad Bond often refuses to partake of the activities his predecessors found so much pleasure in and somehow always found time to in and around their spying. He would rather stay in a dingy hotel room and drink alone than hit the tables or go on the hunt for forlorn-looking women standing alone at bars. He even turns his nose up at the health clinics his forebears occasionally indulged in, showing how little care he has for his own life and wellbeing.
Resorts also serve as an opportunity for Bond to spar with his opponent ahead of the conflict to come, sometimes with words, sometimes with cards, and sometimes literally sparring. Resorts are meant to be where we relax and entertain ourselves, but it becomes another tourist activity that Bond weaponises, gunning straight for his enemy, taking his money and probably screwing his wife too.
Many of these resorts exist in the real world. Grindelwald – no, not that one – the one in Switzerland and Cortina in Italy have long been the site of winter sports activities and festivals, and both feature in Her Majesty’s Secret Service and For Your Eyes Only respectively. Rather than serving as merely the inspiration to go skiing and such, Bond movies will literally signpost you to where you should go.
A key feature of every version of Bond is his impeccable taste. He has an extremely refined palette, especially for booze, identifying the brand and year of champagne at a taste or smell. He drinks less like someone working a job, and more like someone on holiday – that is to say, too much and almost constantly. It’s a wonder he can think straight or pull off any of his outrageous stunts with the amount of alcohol he consumes. You’re meant to expect that a similarly extreme sophistication is also found in his food tastes, even if he’s rarely seen actually eating. Nevertheless, he’s seen at restaurants and dining cars galore, indulging in whatever’s the most expensive thing they have on the menu, usually beluga caviar.
Bond is a massive gambler, but he eschews mass gambling like slot machines in favour of high stakes tables where he’ll only encounter a limited group of the wealthy, arrogant and dangerous – his people in other words – another feature of his exclusive and discerning tastes. In Licence to Kill, he walks in the casino, eyes up the riff raff and immediately demands a private table with higher stakes so as to attract the attention of the villain. I absolutely love this scene in Diamonds Are Forever where Bond, clearly used to people in suits and gowns at the casino, hits the floor in a Vegas joint in a goddamn white tuxedo and he looks so out of place. Everyone else is just in T-shirts and jeans sat at the slotties. But he’s got a purpose, he’s sniffing out the rich tables and he’s using clothes as his signifier.
Here’s a funny thing that has nothing really to do with anything: there’s too much belly dancing in James Bond. From Russia With Love, Octopussy, and The Man With The Golden Gun all feature extended belly dancing sequences, and the dancers themselves then get involved in the plot. You might be thinking, well three belly dancers in 25 films isn’t that bad, but when I was re-watching all these films in order to make the video, up until Golden Gun belly dancers nearly had more screen time than M, so I couldn’t help but notice. It’s just such a very specific type of entertainment to reoccur that many times. Bond is a posh twat, but he only goes to the opera like two or three times, yet he’s checked out belly danc- actually ignore me, that makes perfect sense.
Competitive sports also feature prominently in Bond films, one that makes sense for spies being using a competition as a meeting place. Whenever I watch this scene in The Man With The Golden Gun, I keep expecting Connor Macloud to jump up and have a fight with Bond. Yeah, wrong Bond, I know, but I can’t help my associations.
Bond himself is the competitor in a majority of the sports, with many of the action scenes in these films being themed around a sport. He skis, he snowboards, he surfs, he golfs, he bungee jumps, he jockeys, and he fences. Either way, when you go where Bond goes, you can bet on some extreme sports being available.
Bond’s timing is immaculate when he travels. He ends up at a Junkanoo in Thunderball, which really only happens on New Year’s or Boxing Day (that’s the day after Christmas for the Americans watching). There’s no Christmas decorations around, so all the underwater fighting in Thunderball has to specifically take place on New Year’s Day, though the battle was so long that it probably took until the 3rd for them to win. Carnival takes place in the week before Ash Wednesday, so when Bond rocks up mid-celebration in Moonraker, assuming it’s 1979 the year the movie was released, he’s in Rio somewhere between the 22nd and 27th February. We open Spectre on the Day of the Dead, which falls on the 1st-2nd November, so God only knows how cold these guys are some weeks later in Austria and England. But of course he happens to be there during these events. They add to the local ‘flavour’ and capture the countries at their most festive – and appealing to prospective tourists.
I’m genuinely surprised Mardi Gras isn’t going on when he goes to New Orleans in Live and Let Die. We had both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics in 2012, both historic occasions for the nation, and such a missed opportunity for Skyfall not to include them. The Olympics opening ceremony even featured a James Bond segment where Daniel Craig and the Queen parachuted out of a helicopter, and you have no idea how much I wanted that to be the plot of Skyfall.
Location plays a huge part in Bond films. They provide physical locations for the action to take place, sometimes creatively, as well as an aesthetic for the filmmakers to make use of. They serve as an opportunity to show off Bond’s diverse skill set and worldliness. But most importantly, they promote tourism.
James Bond is no stranger to cross-promotion, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that modern Bond movies are, in their totality, advertisements. Bond films are expensive to make, and they compensate for it with an almost Transformers-level of product placement. Nowadays, with very little variation, James Bond is going to be driving an Aston Martin, wearing an Omega watch and a Tom Ford suit, using Sony technology, and drinking Bollinger champagne. Sometimes they’re incredibly efficient with it, like this bit. There’s been variations in brands over the years, but the point is that the marketing is integral to James Bond. Tourism is just another pie he has his fingers in. Oh my god I’ve seen too many Bond films and now I’m making the same innuendos.
Most tourist locations in Bond films can generally be divided into three categories: cultural spots, paradise islands, and mountain regions. Cultural spots would be those classically romantic cities like Paris in A View To A Kill, Rome in Spectre, Venice in From Russia With Love, Istanbul in The World Is Not Enough, and Cairo in The Spy Who Loved Me. For paradise islands you’ve got places like Jamaica in Dr. No, Nassau in Casino Royale, Japan in You Only Live Twice, Sardinia in The Spy Who Loved Me, and Cuba in GoldenEye. And finally you have your mountain regions, like Switzerland in Goldfinger and Austria in Spectre. Most of these locations crop up more than once, several like Istanbul and Venice being featured in at least three separate films. Ian Fleming was a fan.
The way these locations are portrayed has a huge impact on them in the real world. Right from the get-go, Jamaica in Dr. No is the epitome of that paradise island motif, and there’s no doubt that Jamaica profited greatly from the portrayal. The country had only gained its independence two months before the film premiered, and now of course tourism is one of its biggest trades. Dr. No and other pieces of media contributed to a built-up global image of Jamaica as the ideal getaway which they capitalised on.
It’s not the only time they’ve pulled that trick either – they did the same thing with Montenegro in Casino Royale, releasing the film just a couple of months after the country became independent. Montenegro experienced a real estate boom in the years following the movie, and they didn’t even film it on location – the country didn’t exist yet so they bodged it with a mix of different locations. None of that mattered though, all they had to do was give you a vaguely consistent image, tell you the name of the country, and then have Bond do a whole bunch of sweet-ass holiday things.
When he’s not creating tourist hotspots, Bond is reinforcing ones that already exist. Udaipur, where most of the action of Octopussy takes place, is a massive tourist hotspot in India, also known as the “City of Lakes”. All of those cultural spots I mentioned before have infrastructure dedicated to catering to tourists. Miami gets the second most foreign visitors in the entire US, behind only New York City, and sure enough it features in three Bond films. Whether it’s a place tourism is likely to bloom, or already a world leader in the industry, you can guarantee Bond’s sampled its offerings.
Locations like these are presented, almost without fail, in what I’m going to call ‘tourist gaze’. Similar to how we describe male gaze, it’s important to note that these films are produced, directed and filmed by mostly Brits or Americans, and as a result it’s worth examining what is filmed in foreign locations, how it’s filmed, and what’s omitted.
In the paradise island locations, we rarely, if ever, move into the more industrial areas where people may live less glamorous lifestyles than those the tourists are enjoying. Instead, we stay on beaches where we can enjoy stunning vistas, and usually isolation. And just to come out and say it, there’s usually a huge dearth of black people in predominantly black nations. It’s not inaccurate to depict that – in the real world, local populations are kept at arms-length from tourists. But as a piece of media depicting a location, it reinforces the tourist perspective – that this place is here for your leisure, and you’ll only see what you want to see.
The same thing goes for the cultural hotspots. James Bond is rarely interested in showing you the people who live in or commute to cities to work their day jobs, or telling any kind of story of multiculturalism. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that they’re not telling these stories, it just reveals what these movies are for. They need you to see cultures as silhouettes, lacking any kind of nuance or diversity, and only featuring the most glaringly marketable elements to outsiders. Like a tourism ad.
As a side note, have you ever noticed how often James Bond films don’t feel the need to throw up the location on screen when they go somewhere new? Instead, it bakes together visuals, audio, and tone into a culture cake, and then launches it at your face. If they exist, city landmarks will almost always be shown to both identify the location and make it more appealing to tourists, nowhere more so than getting both the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge in Live and Let Die. The end result screams louder than any of, say, Civil War’s location text, and it’s only more recently in Craig’s tenure that it’s common for text to tell you the location.
An interesting emergence in the films of the 21st century is an increased focus on London as an appealing tourist destination. Die Another Day and Skyfall are probably the biggest culprits, perhaps unsurprising given they’re the 40th and 50th anniversaries of James Bond respectively. This shot in Die Another Day could be on a poster, and I mean, just look at this shot in Skyfall. Enough to make any Brit feel patriotic, and any non-Brit think what a neat place London is. Beyond those two, The World Is Not Enough and Spectre have action scenes taking place throughout iconic parts of the capitol, something their predecessors never did. In Connery and Moore’s day, the only locations shown were interiors of the MI6 Building.
Personally, I link this to the fall of the British Empire and the UK’s declining power in world politics against emerging superpowers like the US, Brazil, Russia and India, as well as the UK itself fraying at the seams. This goes in part to explaining why Skyfall elaborated on James’ Scottish heritage, and set its finale at a manor in the Scottish highlands. Not only does James Bond cement national pride, it draws foreigners to the country to boost its economic power and cultural reach.
The stunning advertisements that Bond gives to some places calls into sharp relief the less flattering depictions. Obviously the Cold War was a thing and Russia was never going to be painted in a positive light from the outset of the series right up until the Brosnan-era. The best we see is a fairly neutral St. Petersburg in Goldeneye, and one of the villains claims that Russia doesn’t suck anymore because it has capitalism, but they still make a point that it’s bloody cold there. Czechoslovakia likewise looks pretty ordinary in a Soviet kind of way. The Cold War was waning to a close but still officially in swing when The Living Daylights came out, so that also makes sense for an Eastern Bloc country. The West would hardly be advertising hotel deals in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s. Or any decade.
Azerbaijan looks pretty in The World Is Not Enough in a kind of pastoral way, but it’s by no means a desirable tourist destination. Bond never stops to sample the local culture and make love to a beautiful woman in an upscale hotel. North Korea is probably the worst looking of the bunch. It’s grim, gray, cold, and empty, absent of both citizens and tourists, only soldiers. To be fair, it is North Korea. But we’re not here to talk about how many human rights violations they’ve committed; I only want to know if it’s a good spot for a picnic.
I find it hilarious that we’re introduced in Casino Royale to Uganda in the rain. Look, maybe I’m overthinking this but usually in film, everywhere in Africa except Egypt is painted as this desolate land of sand, lions and sad children, whereas Uganda has a tropical, rainy climate, so maybe this is a step forward in accurate depiction. But this is presumably pitched towards British people, and we hate the rain. Why do you think we go on holiday? So in a weird way I think this is absolutely slating Uganda. Either way, the next scene we have in the country is a cockfighting ring so there’s that.
When we enter the Craig era, we are introduced to that wonderful, awful cliche, sepia tone. It functions in much the same way that the early Bond films used those visual and audio snapshots to tell you where you are, but much more gross. People have clocked onto this for a while, and recently started to get all cancelly about it, but pretty much every Hollywood scene in central America or Africa is coloured with a smoggy sepia tone. Bonus points if you get a lady wailing in the background. The corresponding imagery is usually a poverty-stricken slum that our white male hero shoots his way through to save the day. The visual language loud and clear is, ‘brown people live here, and they are poor’.
Quantum of Solace is no different with its presentation of Haiti; Spectre definitely does it in Mexico City; and you could also make the case that Casino Royale employs it in the Uganda chase. Haiti’s a particularly interesting example, because geographically it’s very similar to other Caribbean islands – taking Jamaica as an example due to its appearance in earlier James Bond films – but it’s far worse off economically with a significantly weaker tourism industry. Its widespread poverty and seriously messy political environment don’t encourage international support (their president was assassinated while I was making this video for god’s sake), and a series of natural disasters ravaged the nation throughout the 2000s, so it has a fairly poor image abroad. I’ll bet if you think of Haiti now the first thing you think of is the devastating 2010 earthquake. Quantum of Solace came out several years before that happened, but it leads me to wonder if Haiti would have been far better off before, during and after, if James Bond had put the country in a favourable light.
These are deliberate decisions on the part of filmmakers, perhaps with influence from governments or businesses with a vested interest in tourism or its lack thereof. If they show countless times that they can make a place look appealing, any effort to make a place distinctly unappealing speaks volumes.
There are also a couple of fake locations, and to be honest I wasn’t quite sure where to put them within this video. Take for instance San Monique, a fictional Caribbean island ruled by the villain Kananga in Live and Let Die. It’s seemingly heavily influenced by the filmmakers’ impressions of somewhere like Haiti, with its voodoo subplot and Caribbean paradise island aesthetics. Then there’s the island of Isthmus in Licence to Kill which features striking similarities to Panama. On the one hand it’s a banana republic with extreme wealth inequality ruled over by drug baron Sanchez. On the other hand it looks sweet as heck and I would absolutely go there on holiday.
So why are these, of all locations, fictional? They can’t advertise for tourism in locations that don’t exist, and yet these places look absolutely fantastic. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the way the films used to refuse the advertising collateral they would normally provide to the locations they filmed on, before they invented sepia tone. See both of these films are highly US-centric, with a significant portion of Live and Let Die’s plot set in New Orleans and Harlem, while Licence to Kill splits its time between Isthmus and Miami. The US also happened to be one of the UK’s greatest allies at the time, so if the US does or doesn’t want a location to be featured, it has real weight.
Sanchez is basically a one to one parallel to Manuel Noriega, the ruler of Panama at the time of the movie’s production. He pretty much couped his way into power and ran a massive drug trafficking operation for years, before his relationship with the US turned sour and they invaded Panama, removing him from power. Likewise, parallels can very easily be drawn between Kananga and his henchmen to Francois Duvalier, the president of Haiti for about 15 years. In yet another military dictatorship, Duvalier was also allies with the US for a time thanks to his anti-communist stance, and fostered a personality cult around himself and fashioned his likeness after Baron Samedi, a Haitian Loa. Guess who turns up in Live and Let Die?
In both scenarios, the US and UK didn’t want their citizens going to Panama and Haiti, nor did they want to boost global perceptions of these nations by making them look nice, yet it would equally be of benefit to feature exotic locations similar to those which were so often in the public eye. Hence, Isthmus and San Monique. Nowadays, people don’t look too well on thinly veiled critical copies of foreign nations, even domestically, so we switched to more subtle coding like our good friend sepia.
James Bond is a supremely successful property. It’s the 4th highest grossing film franchise in the world, behind only Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the MCU. On a purely technical level, that’s not at all surprising. Whether they tend more to the campy side or the serious side, with only a few exceptions they are well-directed big-budget pictures, with gorgeous set design, imaginative action choreography, and fantastic sound design. Their existence can be justified solely as a vehicle for the James Bond songs, repeatedly bagging Oscars to this day. But at the centre of it all, the one we all discuss, is James Bond himself. Not whichever legend is playing M, not the incredible Ken Adams behind the scenes, but James Bond.
People keep turning up to see the man for a reason, and it sure ain’t because he’s such a loveable and relatable character. As a protagonist he ranges from complete garbage to well-intentioned but damaged. Even James Bond knows that James Bond ain’t a good guy. Like, they knew that 30 years ago. But we don’t need to like Bond, we just need to envy him. We need to imagine ourselves in his shoes, doing the things we’ll never be rich enough to do on a daily basis. When imagination grows too unbearable, we need to save money for a year to walk where he walked, and then the real goal of the film is fulfilled – you bought a plane ticket, booked a hotel, and bought various things from local vendors. Then you took photos and sent them to everyone back home, enticing more to come.
James Bond is a post-colonial double-threat, combining the aggressive paramilitary missions of a cold war regime with a softer subjugation of nations through housing and tourism. In one hand he wields his Walther, dropping into foreign nations, overthrowing governments and assassinating businessmen. In the other he wields his camera, enticing his countrymen with glamorous snapshots to visit and buy property. Either way, Britain wins.