Over the past week I’ve seen Opéra de Montréal’s production of Le vaisseau fantôme/The Flying Dutchman and the new James Bond Skyfall. Both made heavy use of cultural references, but to very different effect.
First, if you look at the picture from the opera to the left, you will see that the captain of the ghost ship is dressed in concentration camp striped pajamas. If you look closely, you will see that under the big wheel, the entire ghost crew is also adorned with concentration camp attire and, furthermore, they are trapped behind a fence-like grid.
Given that this is a Wagner opera (for a summary of the Wagner-Nazism problem, see here.), the choice of making the crew look like caged Jews is highly problematic, especially given that there is no way to contextualize or interpret it within the framework of the Opera itself. If the director, Christopher Alden, was trying to make a point, lord knows what that point might be. If he was trying to be edgy, he is a poser. If he is somehow unaware of how problematic his choice was, he is an idiot.
Which brings us to James Bond and Skyfall. First, I’d like to refresh your mind with some scenes from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In particular think of Frank-n-furter’s Deux-ex-machina entrance via the descending elevator and his playful teasing of Brad — culminating in his giving Brad head. Got those images in your mind? Good.
I was immediately struck by the similarity of the Frank-n-furter/Brad dynamic and the entrance scene of Silva, over-played to perfection by Javier Bardem, into the film Skyfall. He descends in a elevator, obviously as mad as hatter, and proceeds to caress, tease and taunt our stoic hero. Bond, of course, holds his own and defuses the tension, not by getting a blowjob (unfortunately) but by tossing out a cool as cucumber quip. It was a very direct acknowledgement that Daniel Craig’s James Bond has tremendous bisexual appeal. That scene, and the innumerable shots of Craig shirtless, should remove any doubt as to whether or not the producers and director are aware of what they are doing. In fact, they seem to be overcompensating for the past objectification of women in the franchise, by objectifying the man himself, so much so that one straight male friend commented that while the action was great there wasn’t enough “dirty stuff.” On the contrary, there was plenty of “dirty stuff,” just not much in the way of heterosexual dirt.