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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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What Were You Thinking When You Made That??

Everyone's a critic, right? A few are lucky (well, eloquent) enough to get paid for it, but the rest of us do the job for free, cheerfully offering our services wherever and whenever they may be required. We love talking about the achievements and failures of arts and entertainment, and when I say "we" I truly mean to include myself at the front of the pack.

One cliche of criticism that gets repeated over and over again -- aptly, I might add -- is "What were you thinking??" We might normally love Will Smith, and therefore it practically offends us when he makes something like Wild Wild West and leads us all astray. He tends to make good movies, which suggests he is astute at selecting only the best scripts, and so how could he have made such a grievous error and wasted himself on a stinker?

But perhaps we are analyzing these situations from the wrong perspective.

For the past several weeks, I've been working my way through the new James Bond Ultimate Edition DVDs. It's a monumental task, because I'm watching all 20 movies, in order, all commentaries, and all extras. On average, there are two commentaries per film, sometimes one, sometimes three, which amounts to roughly 6 to 10 hours of footage per film, maybe 160 hours all told. I'm up to Licence To Kill now, number 16, so I'm doing pretty well. When I'm done, I'll have fresh reviews of all 20 films, and I'll post here with a summary of how my critical perspective has changed (and some of it has) since recording the James Bond series for the podcast. But back to the matter at hand.

One of the interesting things that got me thinking about this was hearing Roger Moore's commentaries for the seven Bond films he did. Moore's tenure as Bond was a rocky one. He made one of the worst Bonds (Moonraker) and one of the best Bonds (For Your Eyes Only) back-to-back, and that's just for starters. So I was particularly keen to hear Moore's own evaluation of the movies long after the fact.

His commentaries do not delve too much into critical evaluations, but when they do, they reveal an interesting perspective, albeit one that perhaps should have been obvious. His favorite is The Spy Who Loved Me, which is indeed a high point of the series, but consider the way he phrases it. Paraphrased, "...It was the most fun to make, and I think it stands up the best as a film."

On A View To a Kill: "I think of all the Bonds I made, A View To a Kill was my least favorite. I don't know why. I had a lot of fun making it. I think perhaps it was the rising amount of violence in the films. I remember when I first saw it, I was surprised at the amount of violence."

The message is clear. He sees his movies first as professional experiences and works of art or entertainment second. From his perspective, as an actor, what was important was doing something he liked doing, and -- perhaps still more importantly -- working with good people to work with. I can't honestly blame him for making Moonraker on that basis. Not that James Bonds normally have the freedom to come and go from the series as they please, anyway.

And I can't blame Will Smith for making Wild Wild West, even if it looked as bad on paper as it did on the screen. The guy gets to work for Barry Sonnenfeld again, seemingly after a great time on Men In Black, and act opposite Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. I'd have made Wild Wild West too.

(I was hoping I'd hear a critical analysis from the directors, producers, and/or writers of the weaker Bond films, because that's a bit of a different story. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to realize that the bad ones were mistakes, or at least they didn't want to say so on an actual DVD that people spent money on, which I suppose would be understandable. One very interesting admission was by John Barry, composer of the greatest Bond scores, who confesses being responsible for accompanying the corkscrew car jump in The Man With the Golden Gun with the goofy sound of a slide whistle. Apparently he tangled with producer Albert Broccoli over that. Broccoli didn't want it, but Barry got his way. Subsequently, Barry confessed that he had been wrong. Good for him.)

Many artists, in and out of the movies, insist that it's only the final work that matters, and it's the duty of the artist to suffer for it. If that means having an unpleasant acting experience with unpleasant people, so be it. Well, some people have that drive and absolutely cannot be satisfied with anything less than perfection. I respect that. But I also have a lot of respect for people who work for the experience of working, whether it's the process itself, or to collaborate with someone they admire, or to experiment with a different kind of project. When you have those sorts of goals, perhaps the question "What were you thinking?" isn't the right one to ask when the final product isn't up to snuff.

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