Written by: Tom DeMichael
Published by: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
So, James Bond is fifty. At least the movies are fifty, the books are sixty or fifty nine if you use the US release date for Casino Royale, not sure why you would but I’m covering all the bases here. Any way you want to count it James Bond is big right now. Which makes the timing perfect for James Bond FAQ a new book from Applause by Tom DeMichael.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty years, I’m not judging it can be quite cozy under there, let me explain that FAQ part. FAQ is an acronym for frequently asked questions. It developed on mailing lists and message boards in the pre-internet days of computing. A FAQ is basically a list of questions that every newbie eventually would ask and that all of the more experienced users on a board or mailing list were tired of answering over and over. The idea being that someone new should read through the FAQ before asking a question that had already been answered forty two times. And that’s what the James Bond FAQ is. It is the basic level of information you should have at hand before you embark on any serious discussion of the Bond film oeuvre.
The book is broken up into ten chapters. Each dealing with an aspect of the Bond universe. Chapter one gives a very short bio of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and talks a little about the books that introduced James Bond to the world. From there DeMichael jumps into a description of the men to play Bond and explains the stories behind how each became James Bond. The third chapter introduces the villains and their lieutenants. Here DeMichael provides a through description of the characters and compares the movie depiction with the literary version of the character, if they originated from one of the books. Then he continues with a bit about the actor that played the character. They are all in there. Rosa Klebb, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, Nick Nack, Jaws and even Silva from Skyfall. Yes, the James Bond FAQ is up to date through Skyfall, so be careful if you haven’t seen the latest Bond film yet. The chapters continue with one for all the Bond girls, the Bond gadgets, the Bond buddies and allies, the music from the Bond movies. One with a summary of each of the “official” Bond movies and another for the “unofficial” Bond movies and why there is a distinction between “official” and “unofficial” Bond movies and why it’s necessary to put scare quotes around the words official and unofficial. DeMichael wraps it all up with a chapter about the movers and shakers, producers and directors who brought the Bond movies to the screen.
The four hundred pages of the FAQ are stuffed with information and very little opinion. With one notable exception DeMichael leaves conjecture out of the book. The one subject he can’t resist diving into head first is picking the best Bond. He doesn’t just state the best, he ranks them, which doesn’t really add anything to the book, except guaranteeing to get under the skin of a percentage of the readers, but it’s his book and to be fair I don’t know if I could resist it myself. Once you absorb the details in the James Bond FAQ you will never again confuse Moonraker with Diamonds are Forever and when a buddy tries to prove a point by referencing Joe Don Baker’s performance as Bond baddie Brad Whitaker in Goldeneye you can bust them and their argument back to the place where bad arguments live by pointing out that Joe Don Baker portrayed Bond buddy Jack Wade in both Goldeneyes and Tommorow Never Dies and only showed up in opposition to Bond in Living Daylights. Curiously the one entity the James Bond FAQ is light on is 007 himself. At the end of the book the secret agent is still enigmatic as ever. Which might be rather appropriate or depending on your expectations maybe a little aggravating.
The 6” x 9” paperback is rather striking with big bold printing and iconic images of the six actors to play Bond in the “official” movies on the cover. Inside the print is crisp and easy to read and the text is liberally sprinkled with photos. All of them are in black and white but they look great though attribution for them would have been nice. There is a solid bibliography at the back if you want to delve even further into the world of the James Bond and an index to leverage the knowledge stuffed into this tome. James Bond FAQ is an easy read from front to back but it also makes for a nice diversion if you just need something to burn around ten minutes if you get what I mean. I thoroughly enjoyed it.