From Russia With Love on the big screen

So last night was the big night. From Russia With Love at the Film Forum.

What I knew when I decided to go was that (a) this is my favorite Bond film, (b) I’d never seen it on the big screen, and (c) it was playing on my birthday, so fab treat for me. What I realized when I sat down was that I hadn’t seen it at all in over a year, maybe two, and that it had been even longer since I’d sat down with it just for pleasure; not to take notes or double-check something in slo-mo (perils of being an author). So I felt very thrilled, sitting there in the tiny Film Forum theater, with a not-really-huge screen and an extraordinarily enthusiastic audience.

The audience is definitely part of the fun. It’s a combination of hardcore film fans and people who are just taking advantage of the wonderful variety offered by living in New York City. Few, though, appeared to be hardcore Bond fans (although I met up with fellow Bond fans “LeiterCIA” and “Cooper”). Arriving early and listening to the audience chatter, it was clear that many in the audience had never seen the film, or had seen it long ago, or had seen only bits and pieces on TV. So this was a fresh, unjaded audience, with fresh, genuine reactions. They laughed, gasped, and applauded.

What a magnificent film FRWL is! So easy to forget when you get thoroughly absorbed in the whole Bond “world,” how perfect, how stand-alone, the best ones are. FRWL is brilliantly constructed. There are some minor plot flaws to be sure, but it flows beautifully, so that a complex, intricate plot is clear and easy to follow. I was struck by the way in which every scene had a clear, readable establishing shot. You always know exactly where you are. That is so rare nowadays. The narrative clarity was excellent, and given that this is a story with a mysterious hidden villain, several henchmen with distinct characters, Russian defections and fake defections, a “murder island,” a secret SPECTRE agent following a Bulgar killer who is following a Turkish spy who is protecting a British agent…well, without narrative clarity, you’re doomed.

The theatrical experience brings enormous pleasures. Things that are very subtle on TV (like Rosa Klebb copping a feel of Tatiana Romanova) are very obvious at full size (the audience laughed when Klebb stroked Tanya’s knee). The beauty of the film is fully-realized. The North By Northwest homage sequence; Bond being chased over hills by a helicopter that is dropping grenades at him, is a masterpiece of dizzying camera work.

And the characters! FRWL is all about the characters, and somehow they’re even better when larger-than-life. Kronsteen, evil chessmaster, got big laughs from the audience, who loved his creepy, expressive face. Pedro Armandariz is always a crowd-pleaser, and how can you not love the expansive and delighted-by-life Kerim Bey?

From Russia With Love is a 10/10 movie, and last night, moved up to a better, bigger, shinier 10/10. If you ever get a chance to see vintage Bond on the big screen, Go-Go-Go!


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