With 50 years on the silver screen, amounting to 23 movies upon them, Ian Fleming’s James Bond has been an enduring cultural icon of unparalleled longevity and global appeal. It’s also among the most worthy recipients of a documentary. Moreover, rather than a biopic of the man behind the novels and his wartime escapades or a chronicling of a particular actor to inhabit the character, Bond, especially on this golden year, deserves and ode as much as an expose. Everything or Nothing delivers just that: a joyous celebration of the legend of 007, which is among the most absorbing, entertaining and accessible films of its format.
The title Everything or Nothing stems from a phrase said to be the origins of EON Productions, the house that Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli set up to first bring Fleming’s character to the screen. Fittingly, while this film certainly doesn’t bring everything about the franchise and its hidden skeletons to light, neither does it provide nothing in the way insight. Reading any of what likely are to be hundreds of books on the subject will surely allow you to glean the same amount of information but none of those works can match the giddy feeling that emanates from seeing the creators and former Bonds waxing fondly.
That sense of nostalgic fun is coupled with crisp editing that works footage from the films into the overarching tale. This approach gives viewers the visual nuggets from the films they want and deserve but in a way that doesn’t play favourites to one film in the series in particular. Every film and surviving actor or filmmaker (save Connery who has gone into exile since 2003) gets their moment to shine and each reminisce affectionately as much as they lay unflattering portrayals of their respective pasts. Be it spats with others involved or the dark side that comes along with instant fame, Everything of Nothing does not come off as a puff piece as much as it is simply a casual ordeal.
Beginning with a black and white sequence with a shadowed character that could only be 007, Everything or Nothing takes a straightforward, chronological approach beginning with an introduction to Ian Fleming, who is revealed quite quickly through footage and testimony to be the alter ego of his literary creation. The man was James Bond and in expressing so much of himself, crafted novels ahead of their time, the lurid content of which put off a good portion of mainstream readers. But every novel has its admirers and from the passion of Saltzman and Broccoli and an unknown Scottish actor, the journey began.
Like I touched upon, the most interesting aspects of Everything or Nothing are the more troubled aspects of the franchise – instances of conflict and personal demons never apparent when sitting in a theater and watching our suave agent save the world once again. Of the Bonds interviewed, the most fascinating is by far George Lazenby who portrayed the character only once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Having never acted a day in his life, it was his tricking of the series producers to meet with him for the role that ultimately convinced them to hire Australian native. His subsequent recollecting presents a young kid, caught up the whirlwind of fame who turned to woman and booze and ultimately killed his shot at portraying Bond again. Even more interesting, he did not seem an ounce sour about it all.
Timothy Dalton is also quite riveting as he speaks to his two Bond outings The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, darker films on the heels of the Moore era that like their source material where ahead of their time and likewise put the kibosh on Dalton’s future prospects in the series. These ups and downs and numerous instances where the franchise nearly collapsed are absorbing but in the end once again speak to the peculiar longevity of the character even in the light of changing times and climates.
It’s interesting to ponder how this exact same documentary (or as exact as it could be) would play if Bond was not at the level of popularity it is. If Daniel Craig’s portrayal had sank and the series was running on fumes, Everything or Nothing would likely have come off as melancholic and a tad depressing. But as things stand, it’s merriment for the masses.
Not as hard-hitting as it could have been but rather exactly as beguiling as it tries to be, Everything or Nothing is one of the best films of the year and the rare documentary that can fascinate, inform and enliven all at the same time. Even for those who have never ventured to a doc outside of school, it’s hard to imagine (even for non-Bond fans) anyone not having a stellar, grin-inducing time.