Roger Moore portrayed the the spy perfectly with his blithe efficiency
NEW YORK • I heard about Roger Moore's death during a walk in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning, when a young father looked up from his phone and said: "The worst James Bond ever just died." He wasn't talking to me, but rather to the toddler in the stroller in front of him, who seemed indifferent to the news. Kids these days.
I'm talking about the dad, another millennial blithely trashing the pop-culture affections of ageing Gen-Xers like me.
Look, I'm not going to argue. I grew up being reminded at every turn that Sean Connery is the better Bond - the "real" Bond, as if such a ridiculous Anglo-American Cold War confection could stake any kind of claim to authenticity. The Connery consensus seemed like part of a larger baby boomer conspiracy to bully people my age into believing that everything we were too young to have experienced firsthand was cooler than what was in front of our eyes.
We have been struggling against that since, which is why we invented so much of the cool stuff that everyone takes for granted now.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the older 007 instalments - especially Goldfinger (1964), for some reason - showed up reliably on television but, for me, they could never match the sublime, ridiculous thrill of seeing The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Octopussy (1983) on the big screen. Those movies were heavenly trash, with plots you didn't need to follow and sexual innuendo that struck my young eyes and ears as deliciously risque.
There were radio-friendly pop songs and over-the- top action sequences. Moore exerted himself heroically, grappling with villains atop a moving train, chasing them down ski slopes or into outer space, his unflappable suavity accompanied by an occasional smirk or upward twitch of the eyebrow. He knew exactly how silly these endeavours were, but he was committed to them all the same. He was an ironist and a professional and, as such, a pretty good role model for post-60s pre-adolescents.
Connery brought a rough sexual swagger to author Ian Fleming's fantasy of British masculine competence. Later, Daniel Craig would bring pouty, wounded prettiness. His 21st-century 007 is at pains to seem sensitive, ambivalent, woke. But Moore's blithe efficiency has always struck me as a truer expression of the Bond ideal. He was, by his own admission, an actor of modest gifts, which made him perfect for the role, as far as I'm concerned.
My James Bond is not macho compensation for lost imperial power, like Connery, or an anxious avatar of globalisation, like Craig. He is a cartoon superhero in evening wear, a man whose mission is to embody - and, therefore, to transcend - a secondhand, second-rate age, to be cool and clever in a world determined to be as lame and dumb as possible.
Nobody did that better than Roger Moore.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2017, with the headline 'The best James Bond for Gen X'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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