Joe’s Blog

There is a moment in Giles Coren’s new column so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick.

November 12, 2012 4:08 am

“What’s wrong with being sexy?”

 

This piece contains a lot of spoilers regarding Skyfall, which, for once with a Bond film, may actually affect your enjoyment of the film.

This could be the last blog post I ever make, as it may upset a powerful group of people. A VERY powerful group of people. These guys make The Illuminati look like a suburban book group. You may not even realise they exist; or rather you may not realise that people you know are actually involved with this organisation.

I’m referring to the Twitter Cabal, a group of writers, broadcasters and TV personalities who have decided they are in charge. And woe betide anyone who stands in their way of world domination. And heaven forefend that you should choose to criticise something they have created. These people have 100s of 1000s of willing followers who hang on their every word, and will release the hounds on anyone who doesn’t fawn over them kissing their anointed feet.

So, I do not take lightly the fact that I am going to criticise one of them. Luckily it’s one of the more disagreeable, talent-less of the bunch, and not one of the ones whose work I actually like, even if their ‘circle the wagons’ behaviour online drives me up the wall.

Unbelievably, it’s taken me over a week to discover that Giles Coren, restaurant critic of The Times, wrote a piece for the paper in his other, ranty column, about how Skyfall was a piece of sexist, misogynistic crap, and one scene had made him feel physically sick. The poor lamb. You’d think someone who eats rich, expensive food for a living would have a stronger stomach.

The Times refused to publish the piece, citing the fact that the paper was top-heavy with Bond pieces that weekend, so Coren instead published it on his food writer wife’s blog under the heading “The piece they tried to ban!” It’s here.

Now, the first thing I noticed reading this is that Coren is a dreadful film critic. I’ve never read any of his restaurant reviews, but I’ve seen enough of him on TV to suspect that they are filled with innuendo, sarcasm and smug “aren’t I clever” puns. He does it here too. Making reference to Jimmy Savile while suggesting Bond raped someone is a nasty, cheap attempt at being controversial.

The other thing that strikes me as odd is that Coren clearly knows nothing about James Bond, and the article is riddles with factual inaccuracies. Columnists and journalists writing about Bond is inevitable when a new film comes out as it fills columns and gets hits on websites. But it’s stunningly depressing how few of them fail to do even a modicum of research before doing so. It’s like some distant childhood memories of Sunday afternoon viewings will be enough for them to earn their fee that week.

I think Coren’s piece is, in every way, naive, confused and ill-conceived, and maybe says more about his mental state, than that of the filmmakers. (Interesting point: He never ONCE points the finger directly at the writers; is there some writers’ code he needs to abide by?)

His main issue seems to be that killing women in films is sexist. I’m not sure I understand this. Surely if killing women is sexist, then killing men is sexist too? He takes issue with the fact that Severin, the villain’s girl, is shot dead by the villain, who also murders M. He doesn’t have a problem with the villain also killing six people in an explosion (some of whom could have been female), that his actions lead to the deaths of at least two undercover agents or that he shoots several policemen and other assorted, unidentified characters when he storms a House of Commons committee (again, some of these may have been female). He also turns a blind eye to Bond throwing someone from a skyscraper window, allows a man to be eaten by a komodo dragon and kills a large number of faceless henchmen. These guys are treated so badly they don’t even get character names. How’s THAT for sexism?

Every point that Coren makes can be explained in narrative terms, he just can’t be bothered to pay attention to them or, more likely, ignores them because they don’t fit his argument.

And, to be honest, Coren isn’t the best person to take the moral high ground about anything really. This is a man who told a woman who had the nerve to say his column about his kids was boring on twitter to “go f**k yourself, you barren old hag.” He once made a joke about having sex with, then burning, then eating a 12 year old child. He also used an offensive term to describe Poles, and accused them of burning Jews at Easter for a laugh. Or presented a movie show on Channel Five which featured a section called “Sleazy Kid” who reviewed films purely on how much gratuitous nudity there was.

And let’s not forget that Coren works for that great bastion of equality, News International, who think it’s absolutely fine to have a pair of naked breasts in one of their “family newspapers” every single day.

Is this really someone that should be declaring that a scene in a movie, part of a series which has always had a modicum of sexism inherent in it, made him feel ill?

In short: Bond doesn’t rape Severin. It’s a tad dodgy, granted, but she does  invite him onto her boat (not a hotel, as Coren states) but to suggest that she shows no sexual interest in Bond is massively naive. EVERY woman in Bond movies shows a sexual interest in Bond (except M, obviously, because she’s his mum). They don’t have to say “Wow, that’s a mouthful” while rolling her tongue round her gob like Halle Berry does in Die Another Day to get the impression that she wants to sleep with Bond. Is that sexist? Well, look at this way, does Jason Vorhees express a desire to kill a teenager before he does it? Does Superman express a desire to fly before he flies? You don’t have to explicitly suggest everything in a film before it happens. That’s called film-making.

Apparently Bond sleeping with someone “because he’s bored” is “totally out of keeping” with Daniel Craig’s Bond. You didn’t see Quantum of Sloace then, Giles, where Bond sleeps with Gemma Arterton because he’s bored.

He then goes on to describe Severin’s death scene (an extremely tense William Tell pastiche designed to show how ruthless the villain is, and how Bond still has a modicum of human spirit in him) is “disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn”. Now I’ve seen a LOT of “disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn”, but none of them were as coy and well-directed as this scene. In some cases,  I wish they had been. There’s no blood (bar a dribble on Severin’s face prior to the shooting) or focus on the injury. It’s all about character and mood. Bond’s flippant comment (which others have criticised) is of course a distraction technique designed to give him the upper hand over the bad guys (he’s had a gun to his head throughout the whole scene so contrary to what Coren asserts, he couldn’t have saved the girl and killed the bad girls first).

Coren is also “ashamed to be a man” because M is killed and replaced by a man, that Bond shags a woman who is then killed, and because a woman who resisted Bond ends up as his secretary (oops). Of course, M dies a noble death rather than be ‘retired’ by a faceless committee, surely a much more fitting tribute to Ms Dench. Point 2 happens in EVERY SINGLE bloody Bond film, as well as numerous other action movie franchises (how many Batman conquests end up on a slab?). And then finally, the ultimate indignity, Coren cares so much about Moneypenny, and her place as a woman in a male-dominated world, that he can’t even get her job description right! (She’s M’s secretary, as everyone else in the whole bloody world knows. If you think being the personal assistant to one of the most powerful people in the country is a shit job for a woman to do, then maybe you think she’d be better off working in the canteen or something.

I can only assume Coren is not a Bond fan. Otherwise, I’m sure he would be equally sickened by the sight of Bond raping a lesbian, to turn her to the side of  “good and righteous” (explicit in the novel that good and righteous means sexually AND morally). Or the sight of Bond abusing a teenage virgin’s spiritual beliefs to deflower her. Let alone all the endless arse-slapping that went on in his previous incarnations.

It seems Coren is not alone in thinking that the Craig era has ushered in a new level of anti-women attitudes to the Bond movies (I myself have noticed that in his three films only one of his female sexual partners does not end up dead by the end of the film), but then ignore the fact that the female characters are much better written now (perhaps with the exception of Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace) and have much more emotional impact on Bond and the movies than they ever have before.

Obviously, not everyone is going to agree on everything, but the level of enthusiasm for Skyfall is astonishing for a big budget action movie, more akin to the kind of reverence accorded to this year’s Sight and Sound Greatest Film of all Time winner, Vertigo. Now THERE’S a misogynist film, made by one of the greatest misogynist film makers ever. Here’s a film where women are treated appallingly for two hours, by a director with a history of treating women appallingly. Where was the outcry over that? Surely, if you want to have a contrary opinion, have it over something that really matters, rather than a silly, car chase and explosion film. Critics of Bond movies almost always refer them to them as ‘silly’, as if this somehow absolves them of having to do any actual critical evaluation of them. To accuse something like Vertigo of being misogynistic would involve them having to do some research, and take on the might of film critics who love them, and would have them for breakfast with a few quotes from Cahiers du Cinema.

Which probably suggests Coren should stick to what he knows: being smug and self-satisfied while scoffing expensive food.

 

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