The only Bond movie filmed in New York (among other places) is Live and Let Die. This is sad for me, because my beloved home city hosts one of my least favorite Bond films. LALD doesn’t use New York to its true advantage. The city can be so many things; mysterious, exotic, beautiful, dark, terrifying, friendly, welcoming, riotously funny, important, self-important, intimidating, dirty, and an architectural, cultural, artistic, and culinary wonder.
But in LALD it’s mostly the UN Building and the FDR Drive.*
Can I just mention that I hate the FDR Drive? In the many years that I drove frequently in the city, I came to know its every pothole with a kind of aggressive dread—like, yes, you bastard, I’m driving into you. And later, when I centered my life in the suburbs and NYC drives became rare, the ongoing construction, the closed on-ramps, became like a Rubik’s Cube; a puzzle I just could! Not! Solve!
So, not how I want my city showcased.
But in general, the NYC of LALD represents an outsider’s hostility towards the city, fairly typical in 1973. I think nowadays that New York is loved and appreciated by the rest of the world, but then, it was considered a hotbed of crime and violence. I think it was also very much a target of racism; “those people” lived in New York, almost regardless of which “those people” you targeted. New York was (and is) full of blacks, Jews, immigrants, the poor…a cornucopia of the hated. Live and Let Die attempted to be a blaxploitation film, and played that motif as self-consciously as possible; Bond as a white man among blacks, Bond as a fish out of water in Harlem (and later, in New Orleans). I’ve written in the past about racism in LALD; I don’t believe Cubby Broccoli, Tom Mankiewicz, or Roger Moore were/are bad people who set out to make a racist movie; I think they made decisions in the movie that translated as racist, and nothing made that clearer than othering Harlem and, by extension, New York. I hate the FDR for its potholes, LALD hated it because people drove “pimpmobiles” on it.
So, there’s the FDR and bad driving. There’s Harlem, scary black people, and a nasty run-down empty lot. And the UN. Which is the “non-New York” part of New York. It’s international soil. So it almost doesn’t count.
Do I think Bond should come back to New York? Not particularly. James Bond is a fish out of water here; it is neither his city (that’s London), nor exotic enough to take advantage of Bond’s urbanity; everyone who watches movies knows, or thinks they know, what New York is like, so Bond doesn’t have an edge over the audience.
Still, I can mourn the loss of opportunity to showcase New York in a Bond film as beautifully as Istanbul, Tokyo, and Cairo have been showcased.
(For an entire New York City blogathon, of which this post is a part, go to 12 grand in checking.)
*For Bond fans from other places; the FDR Drive is the highway that Bond takes upon arriving in New York; he’s being shot at, his driver is killed, and he has a wild ride.