Submitted by: Oliver Buckton, Professor of English, Florida Atlantic University, South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) Conference, Jacksonville, FL, November 4-6 2016.
The 88th South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) Convention—held in Jacksonville, Florida, from November 4-6, 2016– proved to be, among other things a festival of James Bond and Ian Fleming. There were two panels of papers devoted to marking the 60th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever (published in 1956) and the 45th anniversary of Guy Hamilton’s film of Diamonds Are Forever, released by Eon productions in 1971.
In addition to the panels, in the area designated as the “Garden of Readin’”—nearby the book exhibits—conference participants were able to enjoy an Anniversary Exhibit on Diamonds Are Forever by two of the panelists and Bond experts, Matt Sherman and Carlos Perez, and could experience an exhibit of James Bond Art by Gerald Wadsworth.
Sherman and Perez’s exhibit contained various art, posters, memorabilia, and gadgets from Bond novels and (especially) films, and offered a fascinating retrospective on the significance of Bond in popular culture. Wadsworth’s superb artwork offered powerful visual interpretations of many of Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories, as well as Wadsworth’s specially designed cover for the most recent Bond continuation novel, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz. The book display area in the “Garden of Readin’”included a copy of panel chair Oliver Buckton’s recent book (containing substantial discussion of Fleming and Bond), Espionage in British Fiction and Film Since 1900: The Changing Enemy (Lexington Books, 2015), which was also on sale at the Lexington Books booth.The first “Diamonds Are Forever at 60 (and 45)” panel began bright an early at 8:30am on Saturday morning, and the theme of this panel was “Sound, Affect, and Intertextuality in Diamonds Are Forever.
The first paper was by Oliver Buckton of Florida Atlantic University, who gave a talk entitled “James Bond, Meet John Blaize: Identity Theft and Intertextuality in Diamonds Are Forever and The Diamond Smugglers.” Buckton’s paper explored the prominent theme of identity theft in Fleming’s novel, and went on to note the striking intertextuality between this fictional work and a non-fiction book Fleming published the following year, The Diamond Smugglers—dealing with the real-life smuggling operation in Africa.
This was followed a paper from Elyn Achtymichuk, of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, entitled “The Scorpion as Emblematic of Affect in Diamonds Are Forever.” Offering a powerful reading of the opening of Fleming’s novel—in which a deadly scorpion first kills and feeds off a dung beetle, and is then crushed by the foot of a human—Achtymichuk explored the scorpion’s links to Bond, representing Bond’s violence, sexual prowess, but also his state of peril in the novel. Achtymichuk discussed how emotions are transferred between the scorpion and the reader of the text.
The third paper was delivered via Skype, by Jesc Bunyard of Goldsmith’s, London, with the intriguing title “The Sounds of Diamonds Are Forever.” Bunyard’s probing analysis provided a “sonic profile” of Guy Hamilton’s film, which examined the significance of Sean Connery’s clearly Scottish accent—identifying the spy as “British” rather than English–and also the striking aural leitmotif of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, which signifies their presence as homosexual villains.
The panel was completed by Matt Sherman, an Independent Scholar who talked on “Attitudes Are Forever: America Disdained.” Offering a remarkable catalog of Fleming’s (and/or Bond’s)anti-American utterances and observations in Diamonds Are Forever) Sherman’s paper noted how Fleming’s disdain for such American features as its cuisine, obsession with tacky gambling, and prevalent gangsterism, transferred to Hamilton’s film despite the latter’s emphasis on a comedic view of America. The paradox explored by Sherman–that the scathing portrayal of America nonetheless proved entertaining to readers on both sides of the Atlantic–was a striking conclusion to the first panel.
The second panel, “Gender and Sexuality in Diamonds Are Forever,” began at 12pm and consisted of three very different yet highly engaging papers.
The panel kicked off with Grant Hester, of Florida Atlantic University, whose paper was entitled “My Adversary, Myself: An Examination of James Bond and How Wint and Kidd Reflect His Own Psyche in Diamonds Are Forever.” Hester’s paper began by noting that the image of Bond as a straight masculine ideal and womanizing heterosexual was only part of the story. Arguing that Bond demonstrates various signs of repressed homosexuality, Hester looked in detail at specific scenes and characters from Diamonds Are Forever. For example, the novel’s scene in the Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths evokes scenes from gay bathhouses, a popular site of homosexual trysts in the 1950s and later, and Fleming dwells on physical contact between men. Of central concern to Hester’s paper were the gay hitmen, Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, whom Hester argued were projections of aspects of Bond’s own character. Hester also considered how Bond, as the masculine hero, is nonetheless subjected to the desiring gaze through a homoerotic perspective.
Next came Carlos Perez, an Independent Scholar, who spoke on “Women Are Forever: Ian Fleming And Propinquity With The Fairer Sex.” Perez explored some of Fleming’s ambivalence towards the women in his life, including his domineering mother Eve and his aristocratic wife, Ann. By contrast, Fleming mourned his former love, Muriel Wright, as a lost feminine ideal. Perez noted striking patterns in Fleming’s portrayals of female characters, including an independence that cannot disguise the scars left by a traumatic past and secrecy. Focusing on Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever, Perez argued persuasively that Tiffany was a development of the original Bond woman, Vesper Lynd, but in Tiffany’s case (pun intended) Fleming added a hatred of men deriving from her trauma of being gang-raped as a girl. Perez began to explore the transformation of Tiffany into a more conventional “Bond girl” in the film of Diamonds Are Forever.
This transformation was the main focus of the final paper of the panel, “The Devolution of Tiffany Case,” delivered by Jennifer Martinsen of Newberry College, South Carolina. Martinsen argued that where the Tiffany of Fleming’s novel is smart, independent, and courageous, in Guy Hamilton’s 1971 film version she goes from being an asset to a liability for Bond. Martinsen made a compelling case for the complexity of Fleming’s Tiffany, as contrasted with the “bikini-clad bimbo” played by Jill St John in Hamilton’s film. Intriguingly, Martinsen linked this degraded representation of Case in the film to a backlash against the women’s movement of the 1960s, and an attempt to restore a more patriarchal version of gender relations.
The papers of the two panels were individually insightful, and also complemented each other in many ways. Both the technical aspects of Diamonds Are Forever (such as film sound, the camera’s ‘gaze’) and thematic concerns of novel and film (such as gender roles and sexual identity, intertextuality) were explored, and the panels demonstrated the continuing relevance of Fleming and Bond in the twenty-first century. The discussion that followed each panel was lively and productive, leaving participants with a sense of connection to a community of Fleming and Bond scholars.
Thanks are due to all the participants on the panels, to those who attended the panels, and to SAMLA for hosting this anniversary celebration of Diamonds Are Forever. Thanks are also due to Gerald Wadsworth for his superb Bond art exhibition, and to Matt Sherman and Carlos Perez for their exhilarating Diamonds Are Forever Anniversary Exhibit.
There was talk of organizing another panel (or, perhaps, several panels) at next year’s SAMLA conference, to be held in November 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. We hope to encourage participation from the “Artistic Licence Renewed” Community.
Thanks for reading, and please watch this space for more information!
Oliver S. Buckton is professor of English at Florida Atlantic University.
Espionage in British Fiction and Film Since 1900 traces the history and development of the British spy novel from its emergence in the early twentieth century, through its growth as a popular genre during the Cold War, to its resurgence in the early twenty-first century.