No Time to Say Goodbye to Bond

Daniel Craig’s last film as James Bond sees him go out with a bang rather than a whimper. But it’s a rare thing for a Bond star to leave on their own terms, argues James Chapman, University of Leicester.

5 October 2021


The much-anticipated, and much-delayed, release of No Time to Die, the 25th entry in the Eon Productions series chronicling the adventures of Ian Fleming’s apparently ageless secret agent hero, James Bond, closes the ‘era’ of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, which began on 15 October 2005 with that now-notorious press conference beside the River Thames in which Craig, entering via a Royal Navy RIB, was widely if unfairly mocked for wearing a life-jacket. Five films and over US $3 billion at the box office later, and no-one is mocking Craig now. The man who was deemed by some fans ‘too short’ and ‘too blonde’ for Bond has indelibly put his stamp on the role of Britain’s most famous super-spy.

It’s been public knowledge for some time that No Time To Die – delayed first by the departure of original director Danny Boyle and then by successive postponements due to the closure of cinemas during the global Coronavirus pandemic – would be Craig’s last Bond adventure. His place in the history of cinematic Bond is assured. But how does his exit compare to other last films by his predecessors who also carried Bond’s ‘licence to kill’?

It turns out that, rather like politicians and sports stars, Bond actors have rarely had the chance to choose the timing and nature of their exit from the stage.

Never say ‘never’ to Bond

Sean Connery was the first cinematic Bond, beginning with Dr No (1962), and remains the yardstick against which all new Bonds are judged. Connery was also unique in having no fewer than three ‘last’ Bond pictures. He first announced his retirement from Her Majesty’s Secret Service during the shooting of You Only Live Twice (1967) in Japan, where he tired of the constant press intrusion. For those who don’t know their SMERSH from their SPECTRE, You Only Live Twice is the one where the villain’s lair is inside a hollowed-out volcano and mod cons include a pool of man-eating piranhas. Some critics have suggested that Connery looks bored in You Only Live Twice: he certainly looks uneasy during his unconvincing disguise as a Japanese fisherman.

Connery was always going to be a hard act to follow. Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who starred in On Her Majesty’s Service (1969), lasted for just the one film. Although it was less successful at the box office than previous Bonds, this was probably due as much to the film’s downbeat ending (Bond’s wife Tracy is shot dead before their honeymoon) as to the inexperienced Lazenby, who was excellent in the action sequences and not at all bad in the dramatic moments. But Lazenby felt that Bond was ‘Connery’s gig’ and left of his own accord. OHMSS is now regarded as one of the best Bond films within the fan culture, an early hint of the greater emotional and psychological depth of the Craig films.

The distributor United Artists drew the conclusion that Connery was irreplaceable and lured him back for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) with a bumper salary and an offer to make two other films of his choice. For non-enthusiasts, Diamonds Are Forever is the one where Bond nearly gets cremated, drives a moon buggy across the Nevada desert and gets knocked around by two athletic women called Bambi and Thumper. It would fair to say that Diamonds Are Forever is a mess: the plot doesn’t make much sense (even by the standards of the James Bond films) and the tone is uneven (the death of Plenty O’Toole is particularly nasty in a film that otherwise adopts a tone of high camp). But Connery, purring his way through the film with the self-satisfied smirk of a man earning over $1 million and a percentage of the box office, was clearly enjoying himself more than in Twice.

Connery intended that Diamonds would definitively be his last Bond appearance, telling the press ‘never again’. Like Steve Redgrave after the 1996 Olympics, however, he came back one more time in the ironically-entitled Never Say Never Again (1983). This was a ‘remake’ of Thunderball produced outside the Eon Productions series by Kevin McClory. [i] It’s neither the best nor the worst of the Bond pictures, but Connery’s swansong doesn’t match up to sixties classics such as From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964).

More – much more – Roger Moore!

The king of eyebrow acting, Roger Moore starred as Bond in seven films, from Live and Let Die (1973) to A View To a Kill (1985). Three years older than Connery, Moore was 45 when he first uttered the line ‘Bond – James Bond’. Initially signed to a three-picture contract, there was always a sense that Moore was making his last Bond film. The opening scene of For Your Eyes Only (1981) was clearly written to introduce a new actor by linking to Bond’s past, and it’s known that James Brolin screen tested for Octopussy (1983), but in the end the terms were always agreed for ‘one more’ film. Prior to A View To a Kill, however, Moore and Bond producer Cubby Broccoli agreed that this would be his last.

A View To a Kill is undoubtedly one of the weaker Bonds and the consensus is that it was a mission too far for the 57-year-old Moore whose role by now had become akin to a high-salaried stand-in for the teams of stunt performers. Moore’s swansong is saddled with an annoying heroine – the late Tanya Roberts is even less convincing as a geologist than Denise Richards’s nuclear scientist in The World Is Not Enough – and a poorly structured script that cheats the audience out of the promised showdown between Bond and Grace Jones’s larger-than-life villainess May Day. It’s also the one where Bond escapes Russian pursuers by snowboarding to the strains of ‘Surfing USA’ and reveals his hitherto unknown culinary prowess to demonstrate that real agents do eat quiche. A lukewarm critical reception confirmed that it was time for a change. [ii]

From Dalton to Brosnan

Timothy Dalton – for many Fleming purists the closest to the author’s characterisation of Bond – made only two pictures before a dispute between Eon and distributor MGM/United Artists led to a long hiatus in the early 1990s. The Living Daylights (1987), the 25th anniversary Bond picture, was seen at the time as breathing new life into an old warhorse of a series that had started to look stale, and the classically-trained Dalton was praised for bring fresh vitality and a degree of grittiness to the role. These attributes were highlighted even more prominently in his second outing Licence To Kill (1989). This film deliberately did away with the criminal megalomaniacs and other sensational plot devices of other 007 adventures: Bond is pitted against a ‘real world’ villain in the form of drugs baron Franz Sanchez (a brilliant Robert Davi), though the stunts and action set pieces are as impressive as ever. The harder-edged violence of Licence To Kill earned a more restrictive ‘15’ certificate in the UK which made it off-limits for the traditional family audience of the Bond pictures. It divided critics and underperformed at the US box office, but, like OHMSS, has since received sympathetic reappraisal. Licence To Kill was ahead of its time: the first Daniel Craig Bond film – just without Daniel Craig. It should not have been Dalton’s last.

Dalton had been cast as Bond only when Pierce Brosnan, the original choice for The Living Daylights, became unavailable due to his commitment to the television series Remington Steele. Brosnan’s turn came when Dalton and the producers decided by mutual consent that there had been too long a hiatus between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye (1995). Brosnan pitched his Bond somewhere between the light comedy style of Roger Moore and the seriousness of Timothy Dalton. It was evidently a popular interpretation, as each of Brosnan’s four Bond films took more at the box office than its predecessor. However, like Dalton, the circumstances of his leaving the series were not of his own choosing. His last, Die Another Day (2002), was a mixed bag, never quite able to resolve the internal tension between realism (Bond’s capture and torture ordeal in a North Korean prison) and outright fantasy (this is the one with the Ice Palace and the invisible Aston Martin). For all its popular success, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson resolved that they wanted once again to pursue a grittier style.

The end of an era

Casino Royale (2006) – the first film since the 1960s to use significant amounts of the original novel – marked a new direction for Bond: tougher and more psychologically plausible, even if the action sequences remained as improbable as ever. It met with near-universal critical acclaim. Quantum of Solace (2008) was a mess, its production disrupted by a writers’ strike, but Skyfall (2012) took Bond to new box-office heights, becoming the highest-grossing film in the series to date (unadjusted for inflation), and Spectre (2015) consolidated that success as the second highest-grossing.

The Daniel Craig films differ from previous eras of Bond: there’s a greater emotional depth (albeit within the parameters of what are still big action movies: Bond is no exercise in Ken Loach-style realism) and a continuing narrative arc that links the films. Quantum of Solace was a direct follow-up to Casino Royale and No Time To Die is a sequel to Spectre, with returning characters Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) – the latter in a Hannibal Lecter-style cameo – as well as the now-familiar ‘Scooby Gang’ of ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), ‘Q’ (Ben Wishaw) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear).

Personally I was left rather underwhelmed by No Time to Die: perhaps this time the hype and expectation were too much, especially after the repeated delays to its release. There’s a lot in the film to like, including some nice visual nods to Bond films past and the inclusion of material from Fleming, especially the references to the novel of You Only Live Twice. I liked the character of Paloma (Ana de Armas), though she features rather too briefly, and the banter between the retired Bond and new ‘007’ Nomi (Lashana Lynch) as their relationship develops from initial rivalry to mutual respect. But I felt that the desire to tie up all the left-over plot elements of Craig’s previous films meant the film was too overcrowded. And I never really understood *why* (as opposed to how) the villain Safin (an under-used Rami Malek) wants to wipe out half the human race. Even a Bond megalomaniac needs some sort of warped, perverse logic for the chaos they seek to create.

The Daniel Craig Bond films have succeeded in bringing a new level of critical respectability to a nearly 60-year old film franchise. That deserves to be acknowledged as a major achievement. And Craig got to choose the moment and the manner of his swansong. The end credits of No Time To Die promise (as ever) that ‘James Bond Will Return’. Whoever is the next 007 will have a hard act to follow.

Figures of all six James Bonds, Madame Tussauds, 2021.


[i] Strictly speaking, Never Say Never Again was ‘based on a screen story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming’ rather than being an actual remake of Thunderball. It’s a moot distinction, but matters to the lawyers.

[ii]  Moore later took umbrage at comments in Cubby Broccoli’s autobiography When the Snow Melts (Boxtree, 1998) that he didn’t want to relinquish the role. It may be that Broccoli’s collaborator Donald Zec added the comment to spice up the book.


James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester and author of Licence To Kill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (I. B. Tauris, 2nd edn 2007). He is currently writing a stand-alone study of the first Bond film, Dr No, to be published by Columbia University Press in October 2022.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Candidates for the 2021 IAMHIST Council election

Candidates:

James Chapman, Leen Engelen, James Fenwick, Tobias Hochscherf, Richard Legay, Alessandra Luciano, Katharina Niemeyer, Emil Stjernholm, Roel Vande Winkel, Rolf Werenskjold


Election statements:

James Chapman

I have been a member of IAMHIST Council since 2006 and became editor of the IAMHIST journal, the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, in 2010. I have been a frequent contributor to the IAMHIST Blog, with contributions to the ‘Day at the Archives’ series, advice blogs on publishing journal articles and monographs, and a forthcoming piece on analysing film budgets for the ‘Detectives in the Archives’ series.

As the journal’s editor, I am particularly interested in supporting scholars in the fields of film, radio and television history to develop their research into publishable form. To this end I regularly contribute to IAMHIST publishing workshops, as well as representing the HJFRT at editors’ and publishers’ forums. I welcome suggestions and proposals for possible special issues of the journal arising from research seminars, symposiums and conferences.

My ‘day job’ is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester (UK), where I am currently Postgraduate Research Director in the School of Arts in which role I am actively engaged in supporting PhD students across a range of disciplines through their studies. My own research focuses on the institutional and cultural histories of (mostly British) cinema and television, and my recent publications include Hitchcock and the Spy Film: Authorship, Genre and National Cinema (I. B. Tauris, 2018) and Contemporary British Television Drama (Bloomsbury, 2020). I am currently completing a history of British film finance (the world’s most fascinating subject!) and am writing a short monograph on Dr No, the first James Bond film, to be published on the film’s sixtieth anniversary in October 2022.


Leen Engelen

I am a film and media historian at LUCA School of Arts and at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. My research focusses on historical film cultures, film and the First World War, the position of film in wider cultures of spectacle and 19th century visual media such as the optical lantern and the Kaiser-Panorama. I recently co-edited a book on the post-World War I era Revival after the Great War. Rebuild, Repair, Remember, Reform (Leuven University Press, available in open access). I teach media historical courses to aspiring film makers as well as to university students.

I’ve been involved in IAMHIST for over fifteen years. As secretary general I organised several master classes for early career researchers and practitioners and was involved in the day-to-day business of the association. In 2019 I was elected IAMHIST president by the membership. What I value most about IAMHIST is its tradition in working with and coaching early career researcher through master classes, the IAMHIST prizes and special events for grad students at our biennial conferences. This is also how as a PhD student I first became involved in IAMHIST. Another aspect I especially appreciate is the orientation of IAMHIST towards academics as well as the archive world and media practitioners. These are aspects I’d like to develop further in the following years. I would also like to work towards widening the IAMHIST network and connecting with colleagues outside Western Europe and the United States.


James Fenwick

I’m a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at Sheffield Hallam University. Archives (both written and audio-visual) are integral to my research, using them to focus on film and television production companies, archives as subject, film festivals, unmade films, and Stanley Kubrick. I’m an editor of the Open Screens journal and a co-convenor of the BAFTSS Archives and Archival Methods Special Interest Group. I’m the author of Stanley Kubrick Produces (2020) and Unproduction Studies and the American Film Industry (forthcoming 2021), and co-editor of Shadow Cinema: The Historical and Production Contexts of Unmade Films (2020). I’ve been an active contributor to IAMHIST, including writing several articles for the IAMHIST blog and for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.

I want to act as a voice on the IAMHIST Council for my precarious colleagues in the sector. I’m an early career researcher in that I completed my PhD five years ago, have worked a variety of insecure contracts since 2015, and have only had a permanent contract since 2019. I will bring my perspective and experience of having been a precarious researcher to the Council to advocate for those colleagues that are not in permanent academic positions and to ensure an inclusive research community. I’m an active supporter of schemes that give voice to precarious colleagues. I volunteer my time for the BAFTSS Mentoring and Job Coaching programmes and serve as an Inclusive Champion in my own institution. I believe IAMHIST has made great contributions in this area through the Masterclass sessions and the IAMHIST Challenge, schemes that I will champion wholeheartedly. I believe IAMHIST’s greatest strength is its international network. I want to ensure that IAMHIST can continue to develop an inclusive community of media history researchers and practitioners and I want to encourage greater collaboration between researchers and filmmakers, particularly given my own experience of supervising several practice-based doctoral students, and between researchers and archivists.


Tobias Hochscherf

Tobias Hochscherf is Professor of Audiovisual Media at Kiel University of Applied Sciences (KUAS) and the University of Flensburg. He is currently vice president of IAMHIST and the host of the 2022 biennial IAMHIST conference in Kiel, Germany, on the topic ‘Conflict and Conflict Resolution in the Media’. He studied German, English and Media at the universities in Hamburg and Kiel and received a PhD from the University of Liverpool (UK). From 2006 to 2009 he worked as senior lecturer in film and television studies at Northumbria University (UK). Owing to a background in broadcast journalism and filmmaking, he is editor-in-chief of the student radio station at KUAS. He teaches a variety of undergraduate (BA) and postgraduate (MA) modules on media, film and television – including courses on film and television history, media theory, radio broadcasting and film production. He is Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK) and Vice President of KUAS.

Tobias Hochscherf’s research focuses on film and television history as well as contemporary television drama; he has recently published Beyond the Bridge: Contemporary Danish Television Drama (2017). He is also author of The Continental Connection: German-speaking Émigrés and British Cinema, 1927-45 (2011) and co-editor of Divided, but not disconnected: German experiences of the Cold War (2010) and British Science Fiction Film and Television: Critical Essays (2011). He is associate editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, the Journal of Popular Television and on the editorial board of the Journal of Scandinavian Cinema.


Richard Legay

I wish to be part of the IAMHIST Council to give a voice to PhD students and early career researchers, and to represent their needs and aspirations. One key feature of IAMHIST has always been its supportiveness towards junior scholars and postgraduate students, something I have myself greatly benefited from. Having recently defended my PhD thesis, I believe that I am well suited to represent these voices in the council. I also wish to further the range of opportunities that our association offers to early career researchers, whether it is through specific workshops or networking activities.

I am a radio historian with a strong interest in popular culture, cross-media studies, and public history. I hold a PhD from the University of Luxembourg on the transnational history of commercial radio stations Radio Luxembourg and Europe n°1 in the 1960s. As a postdoctoral researcher for the Popkult60 research project, I curated an online exhibition on popular culture in Europe in the Long Sixties. I regularly published on radio history and was a co-editor on a special issue on ‘Radio Beyond Borders’ for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television.


Alessandra Luciano

After receiving my Bachelor in Film Studies: Theory & Practice from Exeter University, I decided to pursue my academic career at Columbia University, where I obtained my Masters in “Film Studies”. Because of the various classes and projects, I worked on at Columbia I decided not to pursue a PhD but to reorient myself toward film preservation. As such, I got my degree in the ‘Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image’ from the University of Amsterdam. In 2013, I started working at the Centre national de l’audiovisuel in Luxemburg – the national audiovisual archive, as lead film archivist and collection manager in CNA’s moving image archive. In 2018, I became Digital Curator at CNA, where I led our digital ambition, in regards to digital preservation and access strategies, as well as ensuring that our full potential was met through the use of new technologies and the advantages digital workflows can offer. Most recently, Paul Lesch has entrusted me with the role of deputy director of the CNA. A great opportunity that further motivates me to grow CNA’s national and international network.

Since leaving academia, I have successfully been able to combine theory with practice, across a spectrum of diverse interests and fields. I am on the organising committee of the international conference No Time To Wait, I work as copy-editor for the international peer-reviewed academic journal Cinéma&Cie, and joined the EUscreen Foundation board last year. I have also presented at various national and international conferences, including IAMHIST’s biennial conference at Northumbria University in Newcastle in 2019. I believe that my background is reflected throughout the different members of the association, and would therefore be an asset to IAMHIST, allowing me the unique opportunity to further align and expand the grounds on which academia and the cultural heritage sector meet.


Katharina Niemeyer

It is a pleasure to present again for re-election to the IAMHIST council. I had the opportunity to organise the IAMHIST conference (2017) as well as one masterclass in Paris (2015) and I had the pleasure to participate in many other activities: webmaster and community manager, book review editor (HJFRT) etc. If I am re-elected I will organise the next IAMHIST master class with Tobias Hochscherf in autumn 2021 and would also be pleased to organize one in Montreal in 2022 or 2023.

I am a media theorist and professor at the School of Media (Faculty of Communication) at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and director of CELAT (Centre de recherche Cultures-Arts-Sociétés). Trained in cultural sciences, media archaeology and media philosophy at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar (Germany), as well as in communication sciences at the University of Lyon (France) and at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), my research focuses on the relationships between media and (digital) technologies, temporalities, memory, and history. I recently co-edited the book Nostalgies contemporaines : médias, cultures et technologies, published in 2021 by Presses universitaires du Septentrion. I am a member of the editorial board of the journals MAST (Media Art Study and Theory), Memory, Mind & Media (Cambridge University Press) and also the co-founder of the International Media and Nostalgia Network. One of the current research projects I am exploring is entitled “An EXPLORATORY RESEARCH ON THE MEDIATIZATION of “TERRORISM” IN THE FRANCOPHONE AND ANGLOPHONE CANADIAN NEWS Media (1900-2000)”/ SSHRC – Insight Development Grants (2018-2022). The main purpose of this project is to understand how the Canadian news media – the francophone and anglophone press and television – used and defined the notion of “terrorism” before the beginning of the 21st century. The project brings forth an in-depth reflection on how “terrorism” has been covered and defined historically by the Canadian news media and, by doing so, will grasp the political, historical and legal issues that influence and are revealed via mediatization. Starting from an extensive research in francophone and anglophone media archives (Radio Canada/CBC, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Library and Archives Canada, Toronto Public Library), this research has the following two main objectives: 1/ Provide a comprehensive overview of the media coverage of “terrorism” and 2/ Analyze the mediatization and capture, in a historical perspective, the evolution of the definitions of “terrorism” and its media staging.


Emil Stjernholm

I am an assistant professor in Media and Communication Studies at the Department of Communication and Media, Lund University. I earned my PhD in 2018 with a dissertation focusing on the Swedish filmmaker Gösta Werner and propaganda newsreels during World War II. My main areas of research include media history, documentary film and propaganda studies, with work appearing in journals such as the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and TelevisionStudies in European CinemaVIEW Journal of European Television History and Culture, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies and Journal of Scandinavian Cinema. Currently, I am working on a media historical digital humanities project, Televising Information: Audiovisual Communication of Swedish Government Agencies, which is financed by the Swedish Research Council (2020–2023). As part of the project, I will spend one year as a visiting researcher at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry at Utrecht University and one year at the Department of Communication at the University of Copenhagen. I am also the co-editor of the book Nordic Media Histories of Propaganda and Persuasion, forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan in 2022.

I became an IAMHIST member during my time as a PhD student and I was immediately struck by the hospitable intellectual environment at conferences and other events organized by the association. My main motivation for applying to become a council member is the opportunity to provide the same type of support to PhD students and postdocs that I myself have benefited greatly from. I have a history of writing successful funding applications and would be happy to work with the organization of future IAMHIST events.


Roel Vande Winkel

I am a longstanding member of IAMHIST and associate editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. I ran the book reviews section of the HJFRT for more than a decade. I was introduced to IAMHIST as a PhD student almost twenty years ago, when I attended a masterclass and the biennial conference later that year. I have always enjoyed the informal and collegial atmosphere at these IAMHIST events. As a council member, I intend to contribute further to the role of the association as a meeting place between academic researchers (early career or established) and practitioners. This is valuable to me because I worked at the Belgian Royal Film Archive (Cinematek) before pursuing an academic career.

I have a background in history (MA) and communication studies (PhD). I am currently associate professor of film and television studies (KU Leuven – LUCA), board member of an international master in documentary film directing (DocNomads) and staff member of the Filmeu European Universities Alliance for Film and Media Arts. Like every other academic, I publish about my research in various forms (book chapters, monographs and edited collections). I am currently writing a monograph on Belgian cinema under the Nazi occupation (1940-1944). I am also looking for other ways to present the results of ongoing research and recently published the website www.cinema-in-occupied-belgium.be.


Rolf Werenskjold

Rolf Werenskjold is a Norwegian professor of media studies at Volda University College. He is a historian and media scholar who has published several studies on media and protests during the year 1968, modern American history, Norwegian media and the Spanish Civil War, Norwegian newsreels in the 1930s, and Norwegian foreign news journalism during the Cold War. He edited Media and the Cold War in the 1980s: Between Star Wars and Glasnost (2018), with Henrik G. Bastiansen and Martin Klimke. He has also recently participated with a chapter about ‘A Norwegian News Reels in the 1930s’ in the edited volume Researching Newsreels: Local, National and Transnational Case Studies (2018), edited by Ciara Chambers, Mats Jönsson, and Roel Vande Winkel. His latest publications are Ekko fra Spania: Den spanske borgerkrigen i norsk offentlighet, 1936-39 (Echo from Spain. The Spanish Civil War in the Norwegian public, 1936-39 ) (2019), with Hans Fredrik Dahl and Bernt Hagtvet, and he has been guest editor of the special issue on ‘Spies in Scandinavia’  in the Journal of Scandinanvian Cinema together with Tobias Hochscherf. In that issue he published the article ‘German Pressure: Spy Films and Political Censorship in Norway, 1914-1940’ (2019). Together with Tobias Hochscherf and Bjørn Sørenssen he is currently a guest editor of Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television’s specials issue on ‘Dissent and Dissidents in Central and Eastern European Film’ (September 2021). Werenskjold is a member of the Norwegian National Board of Media Studies, and the Board of the Norwegian Association of Media History. He is currently member of the Management Committee of the European research program Cost Action: New Exploratory Phase in Research on East European Cultures of Dissent. He is also an elected member of the Core Group of the program.

For a number of years I have been active in various research networks and programs, and have seen the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration across national borders. Media history is still a new research field. There are many white spots on the research map that need special attention. I will together with the rest of the board help to bring together both young and experienced researchers from different countries and regions, and stimulate the expansions of new topics of media history research. To achieve such goals I intend actively attending regular IAMHIST meetings – such as the annual master class and the biannual conferences.

 

The World Assembly of Youth and Archival Serendipity

James Fenwick, Sheffield Hallam University

19 January 2021

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This blog post is a reflection on the process of archival research I conducted for my book Stanley Kubrick Produces. Specifically, I want to focus on the idea of archival serendipity: how unexpected results and discoveries in the archive can reframe scholarly understanding of historical objects, figures, and events and even debunk prevailing myths. In the course of researching and writing Stanley Kubrick Produces, I wanted to uncover the truth behind a film that Stanley Kubrick was reputed to have been involved with in some capacity: World Assembly of Youth. But in tracking down archival evidence, I did not find what I was looking for, but instead came across an altogether different story. What I discovered was evidence of Kubrick’s own mythmaking and audio-visual material of a film that might have otherwise been forgotten.

What we thought we knew

I begin my story not in an archive, but at a conference. A room full of Kubrick experts, fans, and researchers. It is July 2019. I am part of an international workshop at the University of Leiden titled Life and Legacy, Studying the Films of Stanley Kubrick. Over fifty delegates from across the world are in attendance. And for five days, we debate, deconstruct, and overanalyse the films associated with Stanley Kubrick. It is an invigorating space, one in which we openly and freely debate the filmmaker’s career, wider production contexts, and of course the inevitable ‘meaning’ of the films. But one conversation stands out: on the third day we discuss ‘the unknown’ Kubrick. We deliberate over what we know, sketching it out on laptops, a blackboard, pieces of paper, anything we can find. Every nook and cranny of Kubrick’s life and career is raked over to find the holes in what we think we know.

The conversation turns to the 1950s and mention is made of a film, World Assembly of Youth. No one asks what the film is about. No one asks what Kubrick did on the film. It is taken as a given that he must have, in some way, been involved in the production of this film. No one has even seen the film. A throwaway remark is made about it being some kind of ‘CIA’ sponsored effort after a quick Google search. And then, after much scholarly digression, we move on, with no more made of the conversation.

Throughout the morning’s deliberations, I had largely remained silent. This briefest of mentions of World Assembly of Youth, what amounted to a few minutes at most, resonated for I was deeply involved in writing about the film and undertaking archival research at that point in time. I was in the middle of email discussions for material to be sent across to me that contained, I hoped, a copy of the film. It was in the process of being digitised. And I was excited because, on reflection, I realise that all of us deep down perhaps believed, even hoped, that World Assembly of Youth was some kind of ‘lost’ Kubrick film. It is why I remained silent. I was nervous at the prospect of what I might find in the coming days.

So just why was it that a room full of some of the world’s foremost Kubrick experts included World Assembly of Youth in discussions of Kubrick’s career? What made us so sure that the film was a Kubrick film? It goes back to a biography written by John Baxter in 1997, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, in which it was claimed that Kubrick had been involved in the production of the film in 1952. Baxter describes the film as being, ‘an early attempt by the US State Department, which sponsored the film, to mobilise college-aged kids to carry out socially worthy projects, an initiative that was to have its pay-off in John Kennedy’s Peace Corps’.[i] Baxter’s discussion of the film is limited, with no reference of his source or of what Kubrick’s role was on the film.

Baxter’s claims seemed to be further substantiated, however, by contemporary reports in the press. A. H. Weiler published a column in the New York Times in June 1952 that summarised Kubrick’s filmmaking activities. I have highlighted in bold the relevant section concerning World Assembly of Youth:

PRODUCER: Proof that a producer-director need not be a man weighed down by years is here in the person of Stanley Kubrick, a New Yorker who is 23 and is currently negotiating for the release of “Shape of Fear,” his first feature and the fourth film he has turned out thus far. The picture, a study of four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, developed from a story by Howard Sackler, a 22-year old friend of Kubrick’s, was made on location in California’s San Gabriel Mountains with Frank Silvera, Steve Coit, Ken Harp, Irwin Mazursky and Virginia Leith, professionals whose names obviously have not been in lights. The youthful producer-director, whose credits already include “The Day of the Fight” and “Flying Padre”, short subjects released by R.K.O., and a short on World Assembly of Youth, made for the State Department, has “a few stories he would like to film.” But his approach to the future seems to be both realistic and wise. “There’s no point in talking about my next picture,” he said, “until we see how ‘Shape of Fear’ does both critically and financially.”[ii]

Weiler’s column only mentions Kubrick’s work on World Assembly of Youth in passing. But importantly, the column seemed to validate what John Baxter had claimed. That Kubrick had worked on another short film, one that was not officially included in his filmography. What this limited evidence seemed to indicate was that there was another Kubrick film out there, somewhere, waiting to be found.

What we didn’t know

With Stanley Kubrick Produces, my aim was to situate Kubrick’s career within wider industrial and production contexts and to do so through archival research. This meant undertaking extensive research at archives around the world: the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts London, the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, Wisconsin, the University of Liverpool, the British Library, the British Film Institute, Lambeth Palace Archives, The National Archives, and others besides. Yet, none of these archives contained any information whatsoever about World Assembly of Youth. The only evidence I could find was the fleeting mention by Baxter and a news report in the New York Times. My determination to uncover the secrets of World Assembly of Youth, perhaps to even find a copy of the film, looked to be hopeless.

That is until by sheer chance I noticed details of the film in an archival catalogue at the American Heritage Center (AHC), University of Wyoming. A brief aside to quickly tell you about this archive – after all, this is IAMHIST and archives are what we live for. The AHC is one of the largest non-government archives in the world, with over 90,000 cubic feet of archival material. If you want to find something about American history, chances are you will find something, however small, in the AHC. Its film and media archival collection is vast, with the AHC priding itself on being one of only a few institutions that took seriously the work of preserving the heritage and history of the film and media industries in the 1960s and 1970s.[iii]

I had been consulting the AHC because it houses the Richard De Rochemont papers. De Rochemont was an American film producer, most noted for his work on the March of Time newsreel series. He was also prominent in the early career of Kubrick; Kubrick had initially pitched his first short film, Day of the Fight (1951), for inclusion in De Rochemont’s March of Time series. De Rochemont rejected the film, but took a keen interest in Kubrick’s career, becoming something of a mentor and giving him opportunities to work on television series such as Mr. Lincoln (1952-53).

The Richard De Rochemont Papers are expansive, containing 216 boxes. As the archive catalogue states, the papers are made up of, ‘manuscripts and articles, scripts, research files, and other documents relating to projects produced by and associated with De Rochemont.’[iv] There is material in relation to March of Time and to De Rochemont’s production companies, such as Vavin. The papers also include a large amount of audio-visual material.

I had consulted the Richard De Rochemont papers early on in my research, but I was very specific, consulting personal papers and files relating to the project Mr. Lincoln. Then in spring 2019, I returned to the Richard De Rochemont papers archival catalogue to simply browse. Catalogue browsing is what I do at times, for no purpose other than to familiarise myself with a collection. It’s part of a wider process of archival serendipity that I now embed within my approach to archives generally. Rather than setting out with a hypothesis that I need to prove, I follow the archival evidence down unexpected paths and foreground its material realities: the absences, gaps, coincidences, and unexplained items. In perhaps one of the most poetic accounts of archival serendipity, historian Michael Hoeflich describes it as follows:

We [scholars] set out upon uncharted paths in libraries and archives, never really knowing what we will find. Scientists construct vast and complex experiments in the hopes of proving an hypothesis. But too many brilliant hunches have turned out to be nothing more than signposts on the road to dead ends. It is the lucky scholar or scientist who, setting out with a goal in mind for his or her research, achieves that goal quickly and directly. […] But serendipity and its relations do not come uninvited to the scholar’s table. Rather, serendipity visits those scholars and researchers who set out with open minds and the flexibility of plan that allows them both to recognize the fortuitous discovery and to pursue it to its logical end.[v]

Hoeflich insists upon the need for mental flexibility in the use of archives. By this, he means the need for archival researchers to prepare for unexpected paths that take them away from their planned research. It does not mean that the planned research must be given up, but it does mean being ready to take detailed notes of new findings and ideas that are of, ‘potential worth.’[vi] The process of ‘aimless’ catalogue browsing can aid in this endeavour. It certainly has done for me over the years. And it certainly did in the case of World Assembly of Youth.

As I browsed the catalogue of the Richard De Rochemont papers, scrolling through the hundreds of rows of metadata, I happened to notice the following entry buried within the series ‘Projects 1935-1982’:

World Assembly of Youth scripts, 1952        Box 163

I had not expected to see such an item in the catalogue. I was excited and, spurred on by this serendipitous encounter, I began to search more precisely. There was another entry, buried within ‘Sub-series 4: Information and Other, 1952-1972, undated’:

“World Assembly of Youth” (b&w), undated           Box 9

And there was one final entry, with the series ‘Photographs, circa 1916-1969, undated’, aligned with material from the March of Time collection:

March of Time – World Assembly of Youth, Ithaca, New York, 1951         Box 200

After facing a virtual research dead end, I was suddenly confronted with three separate boxes of potential archival evidence. More than that, one of the items was possibly the World Assembly of Youth film itself. I immediately began the process of contacting archival staff to arrange for duplications of the material. I also requested further information about the archival film footage. After several weeks of emails, one of the archival staff had managed to locate the film and view it. He emailed me his findings:

I had a chance to go into the cold vault to examine the motion-picture film that you requested more information for. It is black and white. It does have a soundtrack (I don’t know if there is actual audio, but there is a track for audio.) It appears to be about 30 minutes in length. The film is titled World Assembly of Youth. The next screen is: A Report on the First Triennial General Assembly of WAY, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. The third credit screen is: Filmed in Conjunction with Young Adult Council U.S. Assembly of World Assembly of Youth. The next screen is: Produced by News of the Day. Then the film starts. The first scene appears to be of an airport tower.[vii]

Perhaps not the most enthralling of descriptions, but still this email furthered my excitement. After further discussions, it was agreed that the film could be digitised and sent across to me. I received that file, along with digital duplications of the other archival material, as I was leaving the University of Leiden Kubrick conference in summer 2019.

The material I received consisted of fifty-three black and white production photographs, a fifty-three-page script, a thirteen-page spot sheet document, and a digitised copy of the film. I have embedded the latter into this blog post for anyone that is curious to watch it.

Figure 1: The opening title of World Assembly of Youth

Now, I will be honest, I genuinely thought in the days leading up to receiving these documents that I had located a ‘lost’ Kubrick film. As such, the first thing I did upon receiving the documents was to watch the film. And as I watched the film, I became increasingly bored, baffled, and disappointed: what on earth was this film, I thought to myself. Obviously, it was a thirty-three-minute-long informational documentary about the first international meeting of the organisation the World Assembly of Youth at Cornell University in 1951. But a lost Kubrick film? As the film came to an end, I gradually started to suspect that everything I thought I knew about the film was in fact wrong. Kubrick’s name was absent from the credits. If he had been involved in the production, surely his name would have been included?

I hoped the surrounding archival documentation would provide a clue as to Kubrick’s involvement in the production. The script contained several pages of credits, but once again Kubrick’s name was absent. He had not produced the film. He had not directed it. He had not operated the camera. Nor the sound. Nor was he present in any of the production stills, some of which were images of the crew.

My disappointment turned to deflation as it dawned on me: World Assembly of Youth was not a ‘lost’ Kubrick film after all.

What we now know and what it tells us

In the days after first viewing World Assembly of Youth, I slowly came to the realisation that my serendipitous encounter had revealed an altogether different history to the one I had expected, and in fact arguably told me much, much more than I had intended to find out.

The fact that Kubrick was not involved in the production in any obvious way did not mean it did not reveal something about the history of Stanley Kubrick. It may well be that Kubrick was involved in the production, say as a stills photographer: the name of the photographer is not detailed in the available archival evidence and we can therefore speculate that it is Kubrick taking the pictures. He was, after all, a photographer by-trade up to 1950, working for Look magazine. Of course, it might also have been someone else that had taken the photographs.

Could Kubrick have been involved in an alternative, as of yet undiscovered production about the World Assembly of Youth? What I have not discussed in this blog post is the history of the organisation, of its connections to the U.S. State Department, or the fact that there were other productions, including radio productions, produced during this time period. Was Kubrick involved in those? I suspect it is highly unlikely. This film is located in the Richard De Rochemont papers with dates that correspond to a period in which Kubrick was closely affiliated to De Rochemont. If Kubrick was involved in any film about the World Assembly of Youth, the chances are that it was this one.

Perhaps more interesting is the way Kubrick clearly used the film, whatever his tangential connection, as a means of self-promotion. If we return to the column in the New York Times quoted above, the likelihood is that Kubrick had supplied the journalist, A. H. Weiler, with written copy. This is something he had done before when promoting Day of the Fight and his planned production of Fear and Desire. Kubrick also talked up his role in the production of Mr. Lincoln to the press. He was not averse to self-promotion or brand management, but made it a central tenet of his producing personality from the very beginning of his career.

Kubrick was building a myth about his prowess and abilities in order to advance his career at a time when he still had little prospects of making it in the film industry. There was no reason for A. H. Weiler to report on Kubrick’s activities other than if Kubrick had supplied the journalist with the story in the first place. As such, the sources that have been used to associate the World Assembly of Youth with Kubrick are unreliable.

The Kubrick myth, however, one propagated by Kubrick himself, still dominates. Yet, by conducting detailed, empirical research, it is possible to begin deconstructing this myth to get at wider truths of who Kubrick was and how his career developed. Of course, sometimes fortuity in the archives is what is needed to be able to break down some of these myths.

There is one final point I want to make about this serendipitous archival encounter. My attempts to discover a ‘lost’ Kubrick film failed, but in the process I succeeded in finding out something else: a forgotten history, if you will, of a film that might have otherwise remained sealed in the AHC Cold Storage. There is a much more detailed story to tell about World Assembly of Youth, particularly its connections with the CIA: that is for another blog post.

There is perhaps also a wider issue here of the failed, or ‘bad’ film histories, that prevail within our profession. By this I mean that archives are filled with such overlooked and forgotten artefacts like World Assembly of Youth, a whole hidden history of films that are not digitised and not accessible to film historians. One of the reasons this is the case is because of the way in which cultural value is ascribed to archives and archival objects. Typically, it is those films and filmmakers that are ‘established’ and the most popular that receive overinvested scholarly investigation. The result of this, however, is the neglect of other histories.

I for one was too focused on Stanley Kubrick and on the film canon, in the process overlooking and even overshadowing forgotten or banal archival objects if they did not serve the wider history of Kubrick’s career. What archival serendipity led to, however, was a realisation that the archive can deconstruct Kubrick and bring to light other histories of film and media that are just as important, even when it is a film as seemingly banal as World Assembly of Youth. And that has been for me the key lesson I have learned in archival research over the past two to three years: that as an archival researcher you have to be prepared to focus on the material realities of the archive, not on the archive as a means of reinforcing existing myths. It is a point more eloquently put by Nancy Lusignan Schultz:

Serendipity, however, requires that the mind be prepared in two special ways: with the flexibility to set aside the object of a quest, and with the wisdom to recognize that a collateral discovery may be equally important.[viii]

So, that is my story, how I failed to discover a lost Stanley Kubrick film, but instead found something altogether unexpected but just as important. And now that I have talked about this film for several thousand words, you might just find yourself wanting to watch World Assembly of Youth or even to read more about. The film is embedded as a YouTube video below, uploaded with the permission of the American Heritage Center. You can read more about the history of the film in Stanley Kubrick Produces, while David Maunders provides a comprehensive of the World Assembly of Youth organisation in his article, ‘Controlling Youth for Democracy: The United States Youth Council and the World Assembly of Youth’ (2003).[ix]


World Assembly of Youth, Richard de Rochemont Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Produced by News of the Day for World Assembly of Youth, Richard De Rochemont.

Directors: D. Corbit Curtis and Richard Millett

Producer: Richard De Rochemont

Camera: George Stoetzel and George Hinners, with Rody Green, Leo Rossi, and T. Rickman

Sound: Anthony Girolami, with Fred Fenton and Abe Landau

Chief Electrician: Alfred Shaw Editors: Lawrence Sherman, Gene Milford, and Robert Collison

Assistant Directors: H. O. Keith Ayling, Robert Daly, Sam Locke

The film received the approval of the Department of State on February 15, 1952.

Link to World Assembly of Youth https://youtu.be/PWaMXsak0tk


[i] John Baxter, Stanley Kubrick Produces (London: Harper Collins, 1997), 51.

[ii] A.H. Weiler, ‘By Way of Report: Of Disney’s Dog Cartoon Feature – Other Items.’ New York Times, June 29 (1952), X3.

[iii] ‘Guide to Entertainment Industry Resources.’ American Heritage Center. https://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/_files/collection_guides/ent-ind-guide-2009-ed_jan_2017.pdf

[iv] ‘Inventory of the Richard De Rochemont Papers.’ American Heritage Center. https://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah05940.xml#idm45852611782320

[v] Michael Harlan Hoeflich, ‘Serendipity in the Stacks, Fortuity in the Archives.’ Law Library Journal, vol. 99, no. 4 (2007), 813.

[vi] Ibid., 826.

[vii] Correspondence with the author, July 2019.

[viii] Nancy Lusignan Schultz, ‘Serendipity in the Archive.’ The Chronicle Review (2011): https://www.chronicle.com/article/serendipity-in-the-archive/

[ix] David Maunders, ‘Controlling Youth for Democracy: The United States Youth Council and the World Assembly of Youth.’ Commonwealth Youth and Development, vol. 1, no. 2 (2003), 22-51.


James Fenwick is a senior lecturer in media and communications at Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of Stanley Kubrick Produces (2020), editor of Understanding Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (2018), and co-editor of Shadow Cinema: The Historical and Production Contexts of Unmade Films (2020). He has written numerous journal articles and book chapters about the life and work of Stanley Kubrick that aim to deconstruct the auteur myth that surrounds him by focusing on the material, social and cultural conditions of production of those films with which he is associated. This includes the forthcoming article, ‘Problems with Kubrick: Reframing Stanley Kubrick Through Archival Research’ (2021) for the New Review of Film and Television Studies.


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