Review: Catching Bullets - Memoirs of a Bond Fan / Author: Mark O’Connell / Publisher: Splendid Books / Release Date: Out Now
We’re all waiting with baited breath to see if Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s forthcoming third turn around the deck of the good ship James Bond, recaptures 007’s movie mojo after the iffy Quantum of Solace and a protracted period in limbo. Mark O’Connell’s charming, witty memories of a young boy growing up and discovering Bond - and himself - is as good a way as any of whiling away the downtime until Sam Mendes unleashes his long-awaited big-screen vision of the exploits of the Secret Service’s most accomplished agent.
But who is this Mark O’Connell? As well as being an accomplished and successful comedy writer, he’s the grandson of one Jimmy O’Connell who, for years, was the personal chauffeur to Cubby Broccoli, the legendary producer of the classic Bond movies at Eon Productions. Mark’s memoir isn’t a diary of film premiers, set visits and shoulder-rubbing with the stars; far from it. It’s actually the story of how a young boy growing up in the 1980s discovers James Bond courtesy of television broadcasts of the old films and stray VHS tapes picked up at local service stations. Occasionally his grandfather’s day job dovetails with young Mark’s burgeoning obsession - the odd exclusive poster or bit of gossip about in-production movies - but this is really the story of a voyage of discovery as Mark joins Bond on his adventures for the first (albeit not in chronological order) even as he discovers and explores his own sexuality. He also has an enduring ‘thing’ for actress Maud Adams.
In some ways Catching Bullets (O’Connell constantly refers to the Bond movies, not a little irritatingly occasionally, as ‘bullets’ which he ‘catches’ on TV when he can) is reminiscent of those old I Love the 1980s TV talk head clip shows. O’Connell’s first Bonds are Octopussy and A View To A Kill and, once captivated, he tracks back through the series via a collection of homely anecdotes about wolfed-down Christmas dinners when a new bond ‘bullet’ is screening post-Queen’s Speech, recording the films from the TV and ensuring the ad breaks are cut out, making imaginary film posters and illustrating scenes from favourite movies. Childhood nostalgia aside, O’Connell writes about these well-documented movies with wit and insight, positioning the films in the cultural/political landscape of the time they were made, enthusing over set design and music scores and, like most of us, grinning amiably at Roger Moore and his back-projected action sequences. Oh, and he finds time to nail the recurring clichés and motifs of the series whilst appreciating the finer points of the ‘Leon Lovelies’ (various non-leading ladies who often serve as window dressing in the Bonds and so named after legendary 1960s icon Valerie Leon - to Wikipedia with you!) Most refreshingly, he doesn’t feel the need to consign one-time Bond George Lazenby to the dumper of cinema history and champions ‘rogue bullet’ On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as one of the very best Bonds.
Well-written, thoughtful and intelligent, Mark’s book, with a foreword by long-time fan Mark Gatiss and an afterword by Maud Adams herself, is likely to jog memories as well as provoke passionate debate. Perfect bedside reading and just the right book to remind us all why we fell in love with Bond, James Bond, in the first place.