James Bond Symposium in NY

A Bond, James Bond symposium


Hofstra hosts two-day event on legendary secret agent

BY RAFER GUZMÁN | rafer.guzman@newsday.com
November 7, 2007

He's a secret agent, a killer, a legendary womanizer and quite adept behind the wheel of nearly any car. And as everyone knows, he likes his martinis shaken, not stirred.

His name is Bond - James Bond - and this week his dossier gets a thorough investigation.

During a two-day symposium at Hofstra University starting this morning, a group of writers, academics and experts will gather to discuss a man who doesn't really exist. "Bond, James Bond: The World of 007" will dissect nearly every aspect of the secret agent's literary and cinematic life, from his gadgets to his women (one presentation is subtitled "Sex, Abortion and Birth Control in the World of James Bond"). And fantasy will meet reality when one of Bond's on-screen enemies, actor and Hofstra alumnus Robert Davi, shows up to speak.

As Hofstra symposiums go, this one is a bit of a departure: They are usually serious endeavors dedicated to historical figures - John Maynard Keynes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the American presidents. More recently, pop-culture icons such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Babe Ruth have been discussed. For the most part, though, the subjects have been real people. (One exception was Don Quixote, in 2004.)

Serious about their subject

"But Bond is not beyond the scope of popular culture, he's central to it," said James Kolb, a Hofstra drama professor who's spearheading the gathering. He also noted that while the event is supposed to be fun, rather than academically rigorous, the 200 or so Bond buffs expected to attend are quite serious about their subject.

"The arcane knowledge they have of the films is really frightening," Kolb said. "There's one man coming to the conference who told me he has more than 2,000 books on James Bond."

And while the casual moviegoer might regard Bond as an enjoyable cliche, devoted fans see a multifaceted, complex character. Part of that comes from Bond's long and colorful life, first as a literary figure created in 1953 by novelist Ian Fleming, then as the hero of one of moviedom's longest-running franchises. During his 54-year existence, Bond has seen the Cold War of the 1950s and '60s transform into the freewheeling '70s, the money-hungry '80s and '90s, and now the uncertain '00s.

Along the way, Bond's biography has become a subject of debate. Thanks to novels by different authors who came after Fleming, questions surround Bond's age (was he born in 1920, or 1924?). Last year's movie "Casino Royale" updated his birthday to April 13, 1968, according to the film's official Web site. The site also wipes clean Bond's marriage (in the 1969 film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), but keeps his Scottish ancestry, given to him by Fleming after Sean Connery's film portrayal.

Minding the smallest details

One thing writers and filmmakers have left intact is Bond's quintessentially British sense of elegance and refinement. Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for "Diamonds Are Forever" and is scheduled to speak at the symposium via teleconference, said he had to mind even the smallest cultural details in his scenes, down to the proper vintage of a sherry (there is none, he found out).

"'From Russia With Love,' that's my favorite," Mankiewicz said. "The whole reason Robert Shaw is the villain is because he orders red wine with fish."

Today's Bond, played by Daniel Craig, makes for a more modern, more rugged character, less concerned with niceties than with executing the task at hand. While Fleming may not have approved - he was reputedly an incorrigible snob - Bond's ability to change with the times is what's kept him alive.

"Bond is just about the only thing that's nostalgic for people of all ages," said Lee Pfeiffer, editor of Cinema Retro magazine in New Jersey and one of speakers scheduled for the symposium. "No matter when you were born in the last 50 years, you can look back on the James Bond films of your youth. Each generation seems to find the Bond who's best suited for that era."

WHEN & WHERE: "Bond, James Bond: The World of 007." The symposium begins at 9 a.m. today at the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center, North Campus, and runs through 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Admission is $65. A post-symposium party, "License to Swing: The Music of James Bond," featuring pianist Ted Howe and his quartet, begins at 8 p.m. Friday at Monroe Lecture Center Theater, South Campus. Tickets are $18. All events take place at Hofstra University, Hempstead. Call 516-463-5669 or go to hofstra.edu

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