Everyone’s a critic, and that includes people who make movies as well as people who write about them. In the past week, William Friedkin has thrown an elbow Terrence Malick’s way, and David Cronenberg claimed that Stanley Kubrick “didn’t understand horror.” But Steven Soderbergh has always been more of a lover than a fighter when it comes to others’ work, conducting a book-length interview with Richard Lester, serving as a guest interlocutor on commentary tracks, and now sticking up for the most beleaguered of James Bond movies: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
For most people, George Lazenby’s single-film turn as Bond is a Trivial Pursuit answer, but for Soderbergh, it’s “cinematically… the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment (certainly it’s the only Bond film I look at and think: I’m stealing that shit).” That assessment comes by way of his website Extension 765, where you can buy T-shirts decorated with obscure film references, read up on his favorite whiskey, and, evidently, read his thoughts on underrated franchise entries.
Soderbergh, with whom “retirement” evidently sits quite well, weighs in at length on the film, even standing up for Lazenby’s performance while admitting that he never quite works as Bond, in large part because “Bond” was still unconsciously defined as “Sean Connery.” Mostly, though, he just geeks out on the visuals.
Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are — the anamorphic compositions are relentlessly arresting — and the editing patterns of the action sequences are totally bananas; it’s like Peter Hunt (who cut the first five Bond films) took all the ideas of the French new wave and blended them with Eisenstein in a Cuisinart to create a grammar that still tops today’s how fast can you cut aesthetic, because the difference here is that each of the shots — no matter how short — are real shots, not just additional coverage from the hosing-it-down school of action, so there is a unification of the aesthetic of the first unit and the second unit that doesn’t exist in any other Bond film. And, speaking of action, there are as many big set pieces in OHMSS as any Bond film ever made, and if that weren’t enough, there’s a great score by John Barry, some really striking sound work, and what can you say about Diana Rigg that doesn’t start with the word WOW?
Sodebergh isn’t blind to the film’s faults, and even has a few suggestions, including whacking out a chunk around 1:06: “It’s just Bond screwing chicks and stuff we learn eventually in other scenes.” But as someone who owns an autographed picture of George Lazenby, he admits he’s not entirely objective.