This is the time of year when film critics take stock of the very best and very worst films of the year. And that's not such a bad thing in late 2012, when it seems there were some pretty strong features to choose from.
But my favourite moment at the movies had to be at about an hour into Skyfall, the latest in the enduring James Bond franchise. It's at this point where a beaten-and-bruised secret agent 007 — played by the sultry Daniel Craig — is tied up and interrogated by the villain, a bleached-blond Javier Bardem. The bad guy begins to examine Bond's wounds, only to end up stroking his chest and neck in an undeniably homoerotic moment. When he apologizes to Bond for taking him to a place he assumes no man has gone before, Bond immediately responds, “What makes you think this is my first time?”
Wow, I thought to myself as I sat in the cinema, quietly and joyously taking in the moment. Christmas has come early!
As someone who grew up going to see Bond movies, there was something so exhilarating about hearing a pop-culture icon utter these words — and during the franchise's renaissance, when critics and audiences are praising the series' renewed vigour and sense of cool.
It also evoked a strange sense of déjà vu. At the 2002 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, I sat down with then-Bond Pierce Brosnan and asked him if Bond might be just a wee bit bi. The actor didn't look pleased. “Who do you write for?” he asked, somewhat aghast. “Seriously,” I responded. “Bond's a very sexual guy. Why not?”
No, Brosnan indicated, his interpretation of Bond sat firmly on the het end of the Kinsey scale.
But in 2012, we have Skyfall, and it's a far cry from the last time things got quite so queer during a Bond movie — that'd be 1971's Diamonds are Forever, in which villain Blofeld (Charles Gray) dons drag, and a gay couple (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) do battle with Bond (Sean Connery, in the first of his two comebacks as 007), in what can only be described as homophobic titillation.
It may seem odd to interpret a pop-culture character's coming out as bi as a civil-rights victory, but if there's one thing the queer liberation movement has taught us, advances in our rights go hand in hand with public acceptance of gay people, and that has come in large part through greater visibility in our culture.
Perhaps what surprised me most was the audience response to Bond's rhetorical question about his first time with a dude. I was sitting in a packed cinema in Montreal with about 500 other diehard Bond fans. I felt certain I would hear one shriek of annoyance or disgust, a few groans, some tut-tuts of disapproval somewhere. But nothing, besides my own pleased giggle. If Roger Moore had made the same utterance 25 years ago, things would undoubtedly have been much, much different.
Though the scene appears crystal clear to me, before anyone could say, “Your agent called and doesn't think this is such a great idea,” the Bond types were backpedalling.
Tellingly, when Craig was asked about Bond potentially being bi, his response was ambiguous: “I don't see the world in sexual divisions,” he said at a press conference. And in regard to Bardem’s queer villain? “I think he'll fuck anything,” he said. (Way to dodge, Daniel — we know gay men have never been known to have voracious sexual appetites.)
But the best part was the explanation offered by out gay screenwriter John Logan. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Logan said he and director Sam Mendes (who directed American Beauty; how gay is that?) simply meant to play the “homoerotic card . . . subtextually.” In other words, Logan insists, there's nothing really gay about it. Right, John — and there's nothing gay about me, either.
It may sound crazy to put so much weight on a fictional character's sexual proclivities, but Bond's bisexuality — even if the filmmakers behind it are being a bit coy — really made my 2012. See for yourself: not only is Skyfall a much better-written and executed Bond entry, it embraces our culture's greater understanding and acceptance of sexual diversity. To me, getting a bi Bond felt almost as good as getting a second term for the first biracial American president. His coming out left me both shaken and stirred.