Producers: Matthew Bauer and Michelle Brøndum Director: Matthew Bauer Screenplay: Matthew Bauer and Rene van Pannevis Cast: Gunnar James Bond Schäfer, James Alexander Bond, James Bond Jr., Gregory Itzin, Tacey Adams, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Chae-Jamal McFarlane Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
At first the premise of Matthew Bauer’s documentary might sound like a lark—interview men who are named James Bond, and find out how their nominal association with the global phenomenon that is 007 has affected them. But though some of the stories told in “The Other Fellow” are fairly lighthearted, most have aspects that are less than happy, and some are very dark indeed. The film takes you places you probably were not expecting to go.
Some of the stories are, in fact, relatively lighthearted, though even they have an edge. Take James Alexander Bond, a theatre director, who expresses his annoyance with the tired jokes people make, and with the tack taken by a reporter who once interviewed him and harped on the fact that he was a gay James Bond, but nonetheless has used the association to his financial advantage, appearing in commercials for a casino; he also went on the David Letterman Show to do a “Top Ten” bit playing on his name. Another Bond, James Lee, an elderly Texas oil man in a cowboy hat, shows absolutely no interest in the fictional Bond, and ignores the connection. There’s even a Southern pastor whose name can sometimes be embarrassing.
But then there’s a James Bond who became so disgusted that he legally changed his name to James Hunt, and Gunnar Schäfer, a Swedish man who, conversely, became so obsessed with 007 that he added the name to his own and established a James Bond Museum. That might sound harmless enough until it’s explained that the obsession arose from his abandonment by his father, a spy during World War II, which clearly left deep psychological scars.
And what to make of the boy whose true named was legally changed to James Bond by his mother, who had fled an abusive husband with the child and wanted to hide from her former spouse by assuming a Bond it make it difficult, if not impossible, to track them down. Bauer interviews them both, giving her ample time to discuss their entire horrifying experience with the man.
Equally dark is the story of two men from South Bend, Indiana, both named James Bond. One is James Bond Jr., a young African-American man who calls himself the Dark Knight and despises being connected with the Fleming character. He describes an incident in which he riled a policeman by telling him his name—the cop thought he was joking—and actually went to jail over it. Worse, he later became a suspect in a murder case, hunted by the law. News reports about him caused trouble for the second South Bend James Bond, a white man and stalwart Second Amendment man, who worried about the effect on his reputation (and the possibility that he would become a target of the police) until a photo of the wanted Bond was published.
And there’s Dr. James Bond, the Philadelphia ornithologist from whose book on West Indies birds Fleming admitted in an interview that he had taken the name for his hero as the sort of “flat, quiet” moniker he wanted. The noted scientist was not at all pleased with the jibes and phone calls he had to put up with every time a new Bond movie was released, and his wife Mary finally wrote a letter to Fleming accusing him of invading their privacy. Fleming invited them to his place in GoldenEye, Jamaica, where she intuited that he was afraid they might be planning to sue him. They didn’t, and left with an inscribed book in which the author sort of apologized.
Bauer and his editor Lesley Posso have craftily assembled excerpts from interviews with many Bonds, archival footage, and newly-shot material (the cinematographer was Jamie Touche), including some recreations (Charley Palmer Rothwell, for instance, plays Gunnar’s father Johannes Schäfer, and Gregory Itzin and Tacey Adams play Dr. and Mrs. Bond) to fashion a film that’s sometimes amusing, but also explores the unhappy impact of the Bond phenomenon on unsuspecting real people. An engaging score by Alastair McNamara completes the package.
“The Other Fellow” makes you wonder what guys called Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne might have to endure, or men and women stuck with other names notable for pop-culture notoriety. It represents a good idea, nicely carried out.