From his Goldeneye compound, Ian Fleming read a book about the avifauna of the West Indies. An avid birdwatcher, Birds of the West Indies by the ornithologist James Bond, was a treasured field guide for his time in his Jamaican villa, nestled in a northern cove of an island overlooking a beach. Writing his own prized series of novels, Ian Fleming was in search for a name, a good name. Famously, he borrowed the name of the bird writer.
Bond, James Bond. Fleming wanted a flat name that hid in plain sight. The events and adventures of James Bond, the character, must be magnificent but the name must resemble the common man. Anonymity is important; James Bond must pass as a tool of the government. The average man should be able to see themselves in him but his adventures must also be the fantasies of the men who do not get to experience them. It is a helpful concoction for a spy turned movie icon, who must then be interchangeable with a series of actors just charming enough to pull it all off.
What’s in a name? When your parents name you James Bond, you are going to find out the hard way. Thus sets up The Other Fellow, a documentary about men who spend their whole lives saying “I’m James Bond but not that one.”
The name James Bond no longer implies anything basic and standard about a man, of course. Now it holds nothing less than the grandeur of an international man of mystery, a worldly super agent who’s conquests are as grandiose as his adventures. It comes with a lot of positive and negative baggage that has to do with our perceptions of masculinity and the associated archetypes of men on screen. How do you live up to a name like that?
What The Other Fellow does is makes a case for connectivity. It brings together James Bond’s of varying occupations. Some who live through the power of the name, some who begrudgingly capitalize on its cultural cache, and some who are wrongly persecuted for their name sake.
James Bond is a theater director, a queer man who regrets always being asked to “say the line,” and despite getting notices for many theatrical shows he directs, will never escape the implicit expectations people have of someone named James Bond. He is able to turn his annoyance into a marketable trait, appearing in commercials and working in entertainment, but also wishes to be seen for more than his name.
James Bond is a father figure for a Swedish man called Gunnar Schäfer, who runs his own 007 museum, and lives vicariously, or more accurately, gets what he needs vicariously, through James Bond. As the son of an escaped Nazi who escaped without a trace after World War II, Gunnar utilizes Bond to fill a patriarchal space in his life he never had access to.
James Bond is a Black man from South Bend, Indiana, awaiting trial on a murder case in the Indiana State Prison. What does it mean to be Black and Bond? What did the arresting officers think when he gave such a name? What happens when another man, of the same location but white, goes by the same namesake?
James Bond is a kindly ornithologist who travels to Jamaica with his wife to ultimately befriend Ian Fleming, who says that while he cannot change the characters name, maybe Mr. Bond can name some particularly terrible kind of bird after him.
The documentary aligns these stories, and others, into a connective tissue of one namesake and what it means to the people who hold this name. It comes up with surprising resonance between these stories, not simply stopping at the fun circumstance of sharing a famous name, to really dig into the way we frame a masculine namesake that is so broadly and popularly shaped by the media. Sometimes, a flat and quiet name is anything but, sometimes it causes a lot of trouble and relief for a large group of people with one thing in common.