Article by Matt Sherman
I felt lucky to join November’s annual gathering of Bond fanatics for debate, discourse and delicious cocktails, a celebration of all things 007 with professors and their students. Learn why SAMLA is fast turning into Bond Brains Central.
When my friend and fellow 007 collector Carlos Perez contacted me about SAMLA ’88, an academic conference in Jacksonville, Florida, I was thrilled to a kill. I’d heard how previous James Bond conferences, at Hofstra University in New York, and in the Chicago area where Bond continuation author Raymond Benson lives, were like a party for the panelists—if talking in-depth about all things Bond is your party scene.
SAMLA, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, gathers annually at varying locations in the Southeast U.S., bringing over 1,000 faculty, undergrads and professional degree students to explore any topics that want within the theme of that year’s conference.
SAMLA’s 2016 theme: Utopia/Dystopia: Whose Paradise Is It? dovetailed beautifully with its panels celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of Diamonds Are Forever and the 45th anniversary of the film starring Sean Connery and Jill St. John. The conference was made more marvelous since the academics are also avid Bond fans!
Chairing our group of super-fans was Dr. Oliver Buckton, trained at Cambridge, Tufts and Cornell and now teaching at Florida Atlantic University. An expert on the life of Ian Fleming and an author and lecturer on James Bond and other 20th century British espionage stars on film and in print, Dr. Buckton is wildly enthusiastic about presenting James Bond at the SAMLA events.
For conferences like SAMLA, a call for abstracts, briefs detailing topic choices, is circulated to colleges and universities worldwide. I submitted an abstract about Ian Fleming’s sardonic look at everything American in the Diamonds novel, was accepted for the conference, and then was off to the “Studillac to Saratoga” races.
The convivial yet rarified atmosphere among academics made each panel dynamic, intense. I also met amazing people at SAMLA, like Elyn Achtymichuk. As she put it, Elyn wants to “finish her Ph.D on Ian Fleming so I can spend the rest of my life sharing how great his novels are with my students!”
But the professors and students into Bond aren’t shy about challenging or controversial subject matter. Examples from the Diamonds Are Forever panels included a look at latent sexuality and homosexuality in the canon, a critical appraisal of how far the strong heroine Tiffany Case fell from the Fleming novel to become the dumb floozy of the film, a look at the scorpions of Diamonds as representing power, racism and the diamond smuggling pipeline, and Dr. Buckton’s own treatment of the “John Blaize” material from Fleming’s The Diamond Smugglers that became the backbone of his fan favorite, Diamonds Are Forever.
The conference was made even more wonderful with a modest display of Bond props, books and memorabilia from Carlos Perez and me, and the display of magnificent originals and prints from artist Gerald Wadsworth, whose work has been featured here at the Artistic Licence Renewed site. Everyone was appreciative of the items on display, including the SAMLA President and her staff, who personally visited our tables to thank us for being the special guest appearances for the event.
My “state of excitement” was redoubled at this year’s SAMLA event, inside the scenic Peachtree Plaza Hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the Atlanta skyline. From Russia, with Love as a book and film was explored, and how!
The panelists were insightful. We discussed Bond’s morality, the banality of evil in The Americans when contrasted with Fleming’s first super-assassin, Red Grant, a look at the perfection of Kronsteen’s plot—the very perfection that causes it to fall—the irony of the books chosen for Grant and Bond to kill one another with, Red Grant as a double for Bond, the effects of Tolstoy and Mutually Assured Destruction on From Russia and much more. In fact, after our last panel, the presenters and audience kept chatting away until the incoming group of professors had to demand twice that we leave so they could conduct their own panel! Naturally, we retired to the lobby bar, for nearly four more hours of Bond chit-chat over martinis.
Having run Bond fan events for over twenty years, I can say SAMLA includes some of the most enthusiastic fans, with many planning now to attend my New Orleans event next year, to visit Live and Let Die locations on tour.
Next year’s SAMLA will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, with the theme likely becoming “Bond in Jamaica.” Panelists can explore anything on this theme from Fleming on retreat at his GoldenEye villa to the anniversaries of Dr. No and the Live and Let Die film and more.
Getting to the conference can be made simple by flying to the hub airport of Atlanta. I would be happy to help those interested with their abstract submissions and travel arrangements—and you need not be a current student to attend and/or present.
Are you a hardcore 007 fan? Then it’s time for you to spend hours hearing from Bond experts and discussing the details with us at SAMLA!