Director – Matthew Bauer – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 80m
The name’s Bond. James Bond. This is a look at real life people who share the name of Ian Fleming’s popular spy character – out in UK cinemas and on demand from Friday, May 19th
What’s in a name? When Ian Fleming was looking to name the secret agent he’d written a novel about, he wanted a dull, ordinary name that wouldn’t stand out. On his shelf in Goldeneye, the Jamaican retreat where he wrote the books, was Birds Of The West Indies by James Bond. It was perfect. He stole the name for his character. When the wife of the real James Bond later got in touch by letter, Fleming was concerned they were going to sue. Fleming appears in a film clip from that time, which must be used here two or three times. The author’s wife and the bird book author James Bond himself are here played by actors Tacey Adams and Gregory Itzin.
That’s just one of the stories about identity in this brilliantly conceived documentary about people named James Bond. There’s a Bond family who have been passing the name James down for generations and weren’t going to stop because of Ian Fleming’s character. There’s a religious pastor whose community never watch movies. There are nine James Bonds who live in New York, one of whom lands an online casino commercial because of the name. One James Bond changed his name when he knew he was about to become a father in order to protect his child. Another James Bond getting stopped by police dreads having to tell them what his name is without documentation, because they will think he’s joking.
If these people provide trivia for the film, they also highlight the problems of sharing the celebrity name. They constantly interact with people who joke about their name and aren’t really interested in them as people. The jokes have become tiresome. Anyone named James Bond is way down on the search engine rankings.
Some have more to them. Gunnar James Bond Schäfer, a Swede who models himself on Fleming’s character and runs a museum dedicated to Bond in Nybro, changed his name to James Bond in 2007. That’s two 007. He tells a story about his German army officer father escaping to Sweden at the end of the war, then abandoning his family in 1959.
James Bond, Jr, is a black man in South Bend, Indiana, wanted for murder, imprisoned, then let out later when the evidence convicting him turns out not to be strong enough. Another resident of South Bend, a white man with the same name, finds himself the object of local suspicion until he can get the media to publish the suspect’s picture. Thanks to this film, the two later meet up and laugh about it. Indeed, for many of those filmed, the project served to connect them with others in the same position, resulting in an impromptu support group.
It would be criminal to reveal in full the most compelling story here, about an Englishwoman (played in the tale’s restaging by Rachel Perryer) who marries after knowing someone for two weeks who later turns out to be a wife abuser. The story takes many twists and turns, and you wonder what it has to do with the subject of people called James Bond. When the connection is eventually revealed, you realise why this story had to be included.
Apart from the abused woman story and the one about Fleming and the ornithologist, which respectively carry considerable emotional and historical weight, the individual stories feel like lightweight news magazine programme items. In terms of media manipulation, it’s a sharp idea that’s had news outlets falling over themselves to generate coverage. As a viewing experience, it’s mostly watchable rather than great, however.
Curiously, given the subject of labels and identity, the film isn’t particularly upfront about its director’s nationality. The actor who spoke the line, “this never happened to the other fella”, the first to take over the role from the original actor who played the character, and not visible in any of the Bond clips used here, was Australian. And although this production was based in Britain, director Bauer was born and raised in Australia.
The Other Fellow is out in cinemas and on demand from in the UK on Friday, May 19th.