"It’s hard to believe for folk raised on Blu-ray and 3D, but the early 1980s were just not a time of DVDs and home film libraries. You simply didn’t see a film again unless it returned for another run at the cinema (not uncommon) or was eventually shown on television (either Christmas Day, Boxing Day or a wet bank holiday). There were no Blockbuster rentals, Sky Movies or LoveFilm.com. You didn’t own films. A lot of people didn’t even own their TVs. They would rent them from chain stores like Rumbelows on the high street. And without a video machine, computer or the internet we would have to wait a long while to see our Bond Films Again."
Mark O'Connell, Catching Bullets.
I found some remarkable parallels between Catching Bullets author Mark O’Connell's childhood and my own. Born roughly a year apart, we both grew up in the south of England with divorced parents, had no VCR until the mid 1980s, caught most movies for the first time on TV at Christmas or on Bank Holidays (including older James Bond films), and ingested a huge amount of pop culture that would stay with us for the rest of our lives - from TV, radio and a subscription to Look In magazine. We both watched short lived TV shows such as Manimal and Street Hawk; enjoyed Robin of Sherwood and couldn't get enough Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Roger Moore was obviously my first Bond too, and I probably saw most of the 007 cannon in the same order he did as new films came out at the Theaters and older ones were shown on ITV.
Some of O'Connell's recollections seem to have been ripped directly from my own childhood - I found myself reading passages to my wife such as this one:
"Aside from Bond and typical 1980’s cinema, I was raised on a self-administered diet of the Carry Ons, The Muppet Show, Agatha Christie films and American soap operas. Okay, Mum and I made a weekly point of watching Dallas every Wednesday night."
Besides Dallas, my mum and I would also watch Dynasty together on Friday nights. Perhaps my mother wondered if I might turn out to be "a little bit showbiz" too, but it was Heather Locklear's Sammy Joe in skimpy night wear that I was tuning in for every week.
"A lot of life selfishly got in the way of my burgeoning life as a suburban cineaste. I would get nervous if a dog show overran knowing The Pink Panther Strikes Again was about to start on TV, I would race home from karate to catch Superman II and panic all the way back from Cubs in the rain to catch the “premiere” showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. How strange I now remember the racing home just as fondly as the films themselves."
At times O'Connell described my childhood with uncanny accuracy and this walk down memory lane through 1980s pop culture and life in Britain at that time was worth the price of admission alone, as far as I'm concerned, and for me that was the real pleasure of reading this book. O'Connell captures the 80s I remember perfectly, leading to waves of Nostalgia that would often make me want to skip the Bond movie reviews in the first half of the book so that I could get back to reading about the parts of O'Connell's childhood which were so eerily echoing my own.
"I would nervously punch out the adverts with the sweaty concentration of a NASA tech at Houston."
Yep, I did that too! (post 1988 when I finally had a VCR to play with.)
Despite being a year older than O'Connell, for me it was the release of The Living Daylights that really pushed me over the edge into real Bond fandom. It was after that movie came out that I bought Sally Hibbin's Official James Bond Movie Book (as O'Connell says, "Better Bond books have been written before and since, but none held greater sentiment for the 12-year-old fan-boy in me than Sally Hibbin’s The Official James Bond 007 Movie Book."). I also bought the [very tall] Official James Bond Movie Poster Book, The Living Daylights read-along book and tape and just about anything else I could find with 007 stamped on it somewhere. (I still have the first two books, but alas the read-along book and tape are long gone. If anybody has a copy they would like to share, please let us know!)
As much as I like Daniel Craig's James Bond, it saddens me a little that children who are 9 or 10 today can't watch the new James Bond films which are all rated PG-13 in the US and 12 in the UK. The switch from comic book violence and throw away lines to a more realistic and dangerous take on action means that there will be no Skyfall read-along book & CD, and that any corgi vehicle tie-ins can't be used to recreate scenes from a movie the kids playing with them haven't yet seen. I'm not suggesting that Eon need to change what they are doing, because I am really enjoying the new James Bond, I'm merely lamenting that the current generation of 9 year olds cannot be inducted into the world of Daniel Craig's James Bond, as O'Connell and I were welcomed into Roger Moore's.
Any Negatives? Well no, not many actually: I must confess that I eventually grew tired of the phrase "Leon Lovely" (which appears no fewer than 64 times!) and the repeated use of the punchline "I must warn you – I’m Roger Moore!" was truly funny only once or twice out of the seven or eight times it was thrown out. I did spot one or two small factual mistakes, but I'm not pedantic enough to point them out. Alright, maybe just one: Christopher Lee's Scaramanga drove an unflashy AMC Matador, not "an unflashy Ford" in The Man With The Golden Gun, but that's just nitpicking.
On the whole this is a great read, and I really enjoyed it. Whether or not you were a child of the '80s, Catching Bullets is an entertaining tale, told with a good sense of humor, and it offers a fresh new perspective on each of the James Bond films and the music that accompanies them without resorting to lists of villains and Bond Girls, or marks out of 10.
No matter which film triggered your interest in James Bond, I highly recommend Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan, its perfect blend of nostalgia and wit brings a lifetime of watching James Bond to life.
When Jimmy O'Connell took a job as chauffeur for 007 producers Eon Productions, it would not just be Cubby Broccoli, Roger Moore and Sean Connery he would drive to James Bond - his grandson Mark swiftly hitched a metaphorical ride too. In Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan
, Mark O'Connell takes us on a humorous journey of filmic discovery where Bond films fire like bullets at a Thatcher era childhood, closeted adolescence and adult life as a comedy writer still inspired by that Broccoli movie magic. Catching Bullets
is a unique and sharply-observed love-letter to James Bond, Duran Duran title songs and bolting down your tea quick enough to watch Roger Moore falling out of a plane without a parachute.
Written by: Mark O'Connell
Published by: Splendid Books Limited
Date published: 09/03/2012
Available as an Ebook & Paperback