October 5, 2014
“Dr. No” was not only the first James Bond film, but the first film after my dad took me to see after forcing the movie theater in Larkspur to let me in to see Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman.” Most parents or fathers to be specific usually take their children to see Disney films or family-like narratives. Not my father, he wanted to take me to see “Dr. No.” It was at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Bouvelard, and the location was just magical. I was 8-years old and knew the importance of movie stars, even at that young age. I knew that they were important because their handprints were on the pavement in front of the entrance. At that time, I wasn’t conscious of the names, but I just knew that these people were really something. Also I knew that some were dead at that point, and never experiencing death at that time, thought it was a tad creepy. To leave one’s handprints after they go on to the other “world.” With that in mind, I entered the palace of dreams to see one’s nightmare.
The Oriental setting of the theater was perfect for Dr. No. Bond was pleasurable, but Dr. No was better. I identified with the villain because one, he expressed a world that I didn’t know, but by instinct I knew that it will be a better adventure. Dr. No was the son of a German missionary, who abandoned him and his mother, a Chinese girl with a good family. He eventually ended up as a member of the Tongs, but working for himself, he stole funds from the gang. They eventually caught up with him, and to torture No, they chopped his hands off. Over time, he had hands made of metal that was able to crush metal figurines with them. The fact that he was a freak and outsider had a huge appeal for me. He was evil, but totally understandable. “What is a monster? A being whose survival is incompatible with the existing order. ”
As I grew older, and after my father passed away, I think of that film as an object that I shared with him. The trauma of the lost made me weary of having objects once owned by him, but at least in theory or idea, I have “Dr. No” to share with him. That particular piece of art had a profound effect on me on many levels. I became a fan of American noir films due to the theme of the outsider being forced by fellow citizens to take action in a manner that is perhaps not correct or right. Nonetheless, who can decide such decisions as one goes through life wearing blinders like a mistreated horse in Central Park. I have a tendency to see the world in black and white. Not because of the duality of those two non-colors, but more about the levels of gray that comes up in such an image. I spend life in the gray area, not in the world of absolute fact.
I recently started to collect film stock that was shot or photographed by John Alton, the Prince of photographic shadows. Through his eyes I can see the origins of Dr. No’s world - not exactly as exotic, but in substance very toxic in its vision of purity gone wrong. My favorite actor of that period is John Hoyt, whose face seems to be made in celluloid perfection for Mr. Alton. I can never remember the narration, because that has traditionally been the least of my interests while watching a film. Nevertheless the face and how it is projected on the screen is what I find interesting. Even with “Dr. No” I have no recollection of the plot. Just the image of Dr. No reflecting on his metal hands. That says more to me than anything in this world.