From Russia with Love Backstory


The Back Story

“Comrade Wadsworth has done it again and we are thrilled to present Gerry’s homage to From Russia, With Love. We’re spoiling you!” - Tom Cull, Literary007 

When actress and singer Lotte Lenya was asked about her nearly 60-year career in theatre and film, she confessed that the character of Rosa Klebb in the 1963 film From Russia with Love was the one that her fans remembered the most. Reading the book, or seeing the movie, one can well understand why. The film stays, uncharacteristically (compared to the later films), true to the book - and Klebb is such an integral element and driving force behind the plot of both film and book that I felt she needed to be the subject of my painting. 

From Russia with Love wouldn’t be the same without her presence - evil, malignant, brutally ugly and cruel, sadistic, and with an asexuality that borders on bad taste - for our politically correct world these days. When Fleming wanted the reader to either fawn with teenage lust over a character, or cringe with horror repugnant, he could deliver in spades. Fleming’s description of Tatiana Romanova, love lure and Bond Girl, is lovingly described and she fills the imagination with all sorts of provocative and lurid thoughts. By contrast, Fleming doesn’t mince words with his fertile and colorful picture of Rosa Klebb, and if his intent was to fill the reader with disgust and fear - he succeeds with high marks! 

For my painting, I selected those elements that are vividly described in the chapter - ironically titled “A Labour of Love” - when Klebb is interrogating Tatiana about her love life and her duty to Mother Russia -“Your body belongs to the State.” Klebb softens up Tatiana with French champagne and Swiss chocolates, as she explains the plot and the role that Tatiana will play. Any hesitation on Tatiana’s part is countered with threats - veiled and overt. Any refusal will result in retribution - with extreme prejudice. As the chapter closes, Klebb switches psychological gears and makes a pass at Tatiana that is perhaps one of the most vividly described in all of the Bond novels. From her heavily rouged face and bright red lipstick, to her cloying Russian perfume and flimsy see-through orange negligee trimmed with lace, Klebb is a cringing vision of unadulterated revulsion that causes Tatiana to flee Klebb’s apartment in screaming panic. 

Fleming spares no detail of Klebb as a lesbian - and he paints her with the vivid broad brush of his own distaste (one could infer) perhaps, of women of this ilk. By the time he wrote Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever, he seems to have mollified his opinion of them, and gives his lesbians a more favourable literary treatment. He does, however, render them as “damaged goods” that can only be “cured” by a vigorous session in bed - with Bond, of course.

Other elements in the painting include the brass knuckles Klebb uses to punch her assassin Red Grant to test his “mettle.” A revealing photo of Tatiana. The dossier on Bond - Angliski Spion - provided to Klebb by her boss, General G. Reflected in Rosa Klebb’s compact is Bond’s gun - in the hands of Red Grant when he assaults Bond on The Orient Express. Klebb’s square, rimless glasses blur in the foreground. Her Russian military belt - an authentic Afghanistan battlefield pick-up by my retired military friend - frames the top. And the shoe with the poison-tipped knife blade in the toe was a must include. Since Fleming didn’t specify what champagne or chocolates Klebb offered Tatiana, I researched those that might be found circa 1957 and discovered that Frigor by Cailler were some of the most exotic chocolates available, and Mumm’s champagne was equally held in high regard. I tried to find a Russian shoe maker that might have sewn their own label into the lining, but was without luck. So I settled on a manufacturer of weapons - for which the shoe definitely qualifies - and chose the Kalashnikov logo to grace this special and particularly nasty shoe. 

I painted From Russia with Love as an in-your-face example of Rosa Klebb’s distinctly nasty personality - couched in fine things and counter-balanced with the tools of her trade.

Note: original back story appeared on the Literary007 website on April 8, 2016

Trigger Mortis Backstory


The Back Story

I loved Trigger Mortis. In fact, I couldn’t put it down and read it in one go. I initially approached it with the fear and trepidation that all Bond aficionados do when encountering a new non-Fleming story. Will the character ring true? Will the story try too hard to overwhelm you with detail that must be included - but requires a finesse and restraint that a writer new to the oeuvre might lack? Where in the Bond timeline will the story be placed? There’s so much that Fleming brought to the character, that to do a story justice, the phrasing and verbal jousting must be well-crafted and extremely well thought out. Horowitz had not only the right touch to his James Bond, he also had some of Fleming’s actual dialogue and writing to give the story an authenticity and matchless quality that evades most Bond sequel writers. 

A Few Turns of Phrase

There were some real standouts. Calling the Nürburgring track “the long green scream” was brilliant. I could almost visualize from the description of the battle between Bond and Dimitrov, the winding course lined with trees, every twist and turn blocked from view, with the cars screaming down the long green track at high speed. To bring this phrase to visual life, I first thought of a long horizontal landscape of the Ring with the three cars jousting for position. Details all a blur with streaks of color trailing behind the cars and through the scenery. 

When Bond first meets Logan Fairfax, she had just completed running a Maserati 250F on a perimeter track to the Ring with a “lightness of touch” that only a woman driver could achieve. She barely touched the apex of the corners - “as if she was flicking the ash off the shoulder of a man’s coat.” Wonderful! The casual gesture was perfect. 

But the copy that grabbed me viscerally was “She smelled of sweat and high-octane fuel.” There was just something about the phrase that resonated with me. Past amours perhaps, or past sports cars? 

Later on when Bond makes his way through Jason Sin’s castle, he finds squalor galore. Horowitz punningly has Bond muse, “curiouser and curiouser,” mentions white rabbits and a Mad Hatter - all deftly referenced with a tweaking of Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland. Wonder indeed we all did over Sin’s desecrated home!

Hanafuda Cards

Horowitz has so many clever verbal and visual references that I was agonizing over what to paint. Then it hit me. Bond is offered the chance to choose his own death by selecting one of the Hanafuda cards that Sin spread out on the table (flame mahogany). Bond cheats and draws the blank card that would have set him and Jeopardy Lane free. But Sin, realizing that he has been conned, picks Bond’s card for him: Buried Alive. The cards are described and I used those examples on my cards. Horowitz mentions the Japanese treatment of the cards - I found some examples of them and modified them to my liking. Bond carried a Remington 1911 .45 calibre pistol to fight off assailants at the motel - that was added in as well. When Bond is hustled off to be buried alive, Jeopardy hugs him and slips into his belt one of the knives with the “indecently heavy Bakelite handle” from the dinner table - couldn’t leave that out. The rope was for hanging and strangulation. The straight razor for suicide in general. The matchbook with only two matches and Bond’s Chesterfield cigarette burning in the ashtray joined the mix. The three blue diamonds represent how Jason Sin got his start in his life of crime. I added in a typical Korean porcelain dish to rest the knife on, and the three bullets finished off the painting. 

The end result is an ironic juxtaposition of the violent mechanisms of death as proposed by Jason Sin - and the subtle and more ephemeral Japanese motifs of seasonal flowers and birds on the cards whose words offer up the choice of how one will die. 

And last but not least - the fly - a tip of the hat with thanks to Richard Chopping!

Note: original back story appeared on the Literary007 website on November 26, 2015