Becoming Bond

Poster for Becoming Bond

Becoming Bond (Director: Josh Greenbaum): James Bond is one of the most endur­ing char­ac­ters in film, and we’re used to see­ing a new actor take on the role every few years. But back in 1968, Sean Connery WAS Bond, and the thought of any­one try­ing to replace him was almost unthink­able. When his replace­ment turned out to be a male model and former car mech­anic from Australia, with no pre­vi­ous act­ing exper­i­ence, expect­a­tions weren’t very high. And then when new Bond George Lazenby didn’t return after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the hunt was on again.

Josh Greenbaum’s film allows George Lazenby, now in his mid-70s, to tell his own story of his rise from obscur­ity, brush with fame and wealth, and ulti­mate rejec­tion of the Bond mantle. Using re-enact­ments to liven up what’s essen­tially a sit-down inter­view, the film has the feel of a tall tale, with col­our­ful details per­haps embel­lished a little in Lazenby’s memory. He recalls his child­hood and his fail­ure to gradu­ate from high school with a tinge of regret. But the ever resource­ful Lazenby spins his job as a car mech­anic into a more glam­or­ous and luc­rat­ive one actu­ally selling cars. It’s here where he meets the beau­ti­ful Belinda, the woman who will turn out to be the great love of his life. He also meets a pho­to­grapher who encour­ages him to start mod­el­ling, a pro­fes­sion the rugged Lazenby had no idea exis­ted.

After George wins Belinda’s heart, her dis­ap­prov­ing father sends her away to England, and Lazenby soon fol­lows. As he tries to rekindle the rela­tion­ship, he takes up car sales and mod­el­ling again and achieves his first taste of fame. The story of how he actu­ally gets the role of Bond is nearly unbe­liev­able, but it’s an enter­tain­ing tale. Things don’t go as smoothly with Belinda, and the present day Lazenby shows real regret at let­ting her get away. Lazenby’s tales of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll do grow a bit tire­some, and you’re just on the verge of being fed up with him when he recounts how he turned down a con­tract for six more Bond films and a mil­lion-dol­lar bonus. There’s more to the old play­boy than meets the eye.

Lazenby doesn’t elab­or­ate too much on the course of his life post-Bond but you get the sense he’s been happy. He might regret a few of his choices, but over­all he emerges as someone admir­able for choos­ing his own way instead of the easy path that was offered to him.

Unfortunately, as a film, Becoming Bond wear­ies the viewer with its con­stant wink­ing tone and end­less re-enact­ments. There’s almost an ele­ment of Austin Powers par­ody­ing of the times, and there’s a dearth of archival mater­ial that would have given this some much-needed depth. One egre­gious example is an inter­view Lazenby did on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Instead of licens­ing the actual foot­age, the film­maker uses actor Dana Carvey to imper­son­ate Carson and it gives the whole thing a car­ni­valesque feel. Maybe Greenbaum was try­ing to con­vey Lazenby’s dis­com­fort with the trap­pings of fame, but it comes across as an attempt to milk the epis­ode for cheap laughs. It’s a prob­lem that afflicts the whole film. Lazenby’s story is inter­est­ing and evokes pathos, but try­ing to make it more enter­tain­ing ends up mak­ing it feel shal­low.

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