He designs the fate of James Bond and the face of Sheena Easton while fading in and out on the naked facts of "Octopussy" in this biggest Bond year of them all.
By DON MCGREGOR
"The difference between Marlowe and Bond is that I use Marlowe's time period, the '30s, to create the mood of the private eye. I also use the star of Philip Marlowe, Powers Boothe, in the actual titles. I do use Roger Moore in the titles of the Bond films, but only here and there. But I actually have Boothe playing pantomime situations with the girls and with his revolver. "
During 1983, Maurice Binder worked on perfecting the title designs for two of the most enduring fictional characters of the 20th Century, Ian Fleming's double 0 agent with the Licence To Kill, James Bond, and Raymond Chandler's classic private eye, the down-and-out, hard-drinking, idealistic loner, Philip Marlowe. Oddly enough, during the 1950s, when Raymond Chandler was living in England, he met with Ian Fleming. The two were mutual admirers. In an article entitled "Iced Water and Cool Customers," Chandler is quoted as saying that neither Marlowe nor Bond are reflective of real private eyes or secret agents, and Chandler also comments, "Ian Fleming's writing is hard, racy, direct, vivid stuff."
Thirty years later, Maurice Binder has designed and filmed the title sequences for Home Box Office's Marlowe mini-series and for the 13th Albert "Cubby" Broccoli-produced Bond extravaganza, Octopussy.
Both credit sequences share the signature of the man who creates them, those startling images of provocative and stylish looking women, that sense of high sophistication.
In one shot for Marlowe, Binder shows star Powers Boothe methodically inserting bullets into the chamber of a gun, while smoke swirls upward in lazy spirals, creating a dark, smoldering effect.
DON MCGREGOR, New York-based freelancer, created and writes Sabre, a bimonthly graphic adventure published by Eclipse Comics. Part one of his interview with Maurice Binder appeared in STARLOG #74.
Photo: Maurice Binder finishes a take: "Cut!"
"The gun had just been fired," Binder reveals. "There was a little extra smoke there, for effect. When you want a gun to smoke more, you add a little oil in the barrel, which inflames the thing and gives you that spark. Sometimes, for that kind of effect, I will slow the camera down. When they asked the director of Chariots of Fire [Hugh Hudson] why he used slow motion when those guys run the 40-yard dash, he said, 'Because if I didn't use that, it would all be over in five seconds.' But we also speeded up the turn of the gun chamber, because that was going too slowly. We speeded it up on the positive film, once I had edited the sequence."
For a single effect, the film has been speeded up, slowed down, and oil added to the gun barrel. Maurice Binder keeps track of all the tricks of his trade, the magic that makes his titles look unlike anyone else's.
"We always use blanks," he states, whether he is firing a Walther PPK for Bond or a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber for Marlowe. "If you didn't use blanks you would have a dead cameraman and a dead designer."
The Swimming Sheena
Each new Bond project has its share of humorous anecdotes, and Binder recalls them with fond enthusiasm. The credits sequences for the Bond movies are the last film footage to be shot and Binder is usually behind the camera himself during much of the lensing. He has complete autonomy in the selection of images and ideas for his work, which has been described as a "minimovie" in the midst of the Bond caper.
Binder begins with some storyboard sketches which he uses only as a general guideline; he often changes much of his original concept when actual filming begins.
"In For Your Eyes Only, we had some girls who were swimmers and some who were dancers," he recounts, "and then, we used Sheena Easton who was singing the title song. After I had already shot part of the titles, Cubby showed me a tape of a TV show Sheena had done.
I was looking for beautiful faces with beautiful eyes to coincide with the title. I told Cubby, 'This girl has a beautiful face. Gee, I could use those eyes.' And Cubby said, 'Why don't you use Sheena in the credits?' " Binder pauses, and his smile comes up into his eyes. "I'll give Cubby credit because he's the producer. But we only had a few weeks left for shooting. We were right up to the starting gun.
Photo: it's done with ladies, lasers and light: the incredible opening titles to James Bond's newest adventure Octopussy, as designed by Maurice Binder—seen on this page and opposite.
"Now, Sheena was touring, and using her meant that she would have to make time for me to shoot her. Then, I would combine her footage with what I had already shot, and also with some additional material which had yet to be filmed. I ended up superimposing Sheena over much of the already existing material. And I shot her so that she related to what I had previously done. When she sang and looked up—and 1 had the girls swimming across her—it looked all of one piece.
"Now, the BBC has a call-in lunchtime show, in London, and she was being interviewed. Somebody called and asked her about the nudity used in the titles. She has a very strong Glaswegian Scottish accent." Maurice begans to imitate Sheena's brogue. "'Maurice Binderrr,'" the r's roll, "he made me look nude, but I really wasn't that nude, he just wanted to match the other girls.' But the caller wasn't finished. There was one last question for Sheena: 'How did you sing underwater?'
"Now, what would she be doing wearing clothes 16 feet down underwater with fish going by?" Binder asks, laughing. "Sheena was fun to work with, bright and very cooperative. No moods. If we had to do a shot over, we did it. Putting her in the titles did present a problem. If the singer is behind the titles, you don't have to worry about lip sync. When she's in the titles, the words and the lips must work together, so it become like a miniature musical."
Binder reflects on the art of motion picture titles, and the different techniques he has tried throughout the years. "I try to do something that is new, different and exciting," he says. "All of this computer art we see now has gotten so monotonous. On all the stations in England, there's this extruded lettering which flashes at you and breaks up. I did that same effect electronically 14 years ago for Stanley Donen's Arabesque, with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren. We experimented with television lettering, using two cameras to combine images, doing what computers do today.
"It wasn 't done with animation, though I have designed some animation. In fact some of the Bond material is animated, but you wouldn't know it."
Binder's creative process is simple. "I have little sketches which I make on a thematic basis, whatever fits into the picture," he explains. "I'll go onto the stage with these sketches, the girls, the stuntmen, the trampolines, the special effects and all that business. I will shoot sections. And I say, 'Many things happen when you look through that camera.' I'm on the camera. I learned my lesson, that you must be on the camera yourself.
"If he has a script, the camera operator can follow the director's orders—'Medium shot. Close shot. Long shot. Panning shot.' But when you do my type of work, he has no script to follow. Once, I had Roger and this girl doing a difficult thing on a trampoline for The Spy Who Loved Me. When I looked at the film, I discovered the camera oper-rator had cut them off at the feet. I said, 'What did you do that for?' He said, 'I thought you were interested in Roger, not thestunt.' I said, 'I'm interested in the whole shot. If I shoot something, I want the whole shot in there, unless I move in. If I want the feet, I've got them. If I decide I don't want feet, I can enlarge the shot and take them out.
"It's the old story. If you don't shoot it, you can't cut it. Film is your cheapest commodity."
The Naked Gun
In one shot for The Spy Who Loved Me credits, a beautiful woman performs athletic somersaults over the barrel of a gigantic gun, all in Binder's graceful, fluid, silhouetted style.
"Those girls were members of the British Olympic team. When I got the idea of having them wrap themselves around guns, I had to shoot the gun separately," the title designer says. "The girls I had to shoot in their natural habitat, asymmetric bars [known as uneven parallel bars in the States]. I had a set of asymmetric bars set up on the stage. Now, these girls were retired, but they were willing to come down and work, even though these were nude shots.
"One little girl was marvelous on the trampoline. She would fly. She could do triple somersaults. When I first got her on the set, she wore a little panty thing. Now, if you're a photographer shooting a spread for Playboy, it's one thing," he says, understanding the hestitancy and nervousness of performers in sequences requiring nudity. "You're in a small studio, and it's just her, you, and maybe your assistant and the camera. It's very private.
"But when you get out on a soundstage, you have 35 people there! There are technicians, electricians and everybody else—and everyone's looking at one thing. And when it comes to Octopussy, I guess there'll be eight to look it! Right?"
He turns serious. "When they first start, the performers are a little frigid and a little awed by the fact that they are surrounded by so many men. In fact, one little nude girl said, 'My god, look at all these lechers looking at me.' But then, after they work awhile, they realize that these men are really highly paid technicians who aren't really interested in the girls' behinds because they've seen that before. The performers start to get a little looser and then they take a few more things off."
Even after he has finished filming, Binder often makes more changes, altering his original concepts.
"When the film piles up in the cutting room, I look at it on a moviola," Binder notes, "and that's where the film is actually made. Sometimes, I'll say, 'Ah! If that shot only went that far, I would be in great shape.' Sometimes, I find that if I run the film backwards—and upside down—that the shot works better."
Binder employed that effect for a shot of Philip Marlowe firing his gun into a body of water. Violent ripples in the liquid destroy Marlowe's figure.
"I shot that image as a reflection," he confides. "Powers Boothe was actually upside down, right? Now, if I turn it right side up, everything runs backwards. I had to not only turn the film upside down, but I had to have a back to front reversal optically made. You see Powers looking into the water and firing. But I wasn't able to do all that until I actually had the film in hand and tried to decide how I was going to do it."
On his Bond assignments, Binder is often intrigued by the exotic locales of 007's adventures. For The Spy Who Loved Me he was quite captivated by the exquisite Egyptian architecture and jewelry that he witnessed on a scouting trip undertaken for the production.
"I went through the Cairo Museum," he remembers, "and I saw some of the jewels, that gold filigree, the long, golden fingernails...and those costumes with the headpieces. It was magnificent. And I said, 'God! If I could only get a beautiful girl with these long gold fingernails and that headpiece, with the smoke and flame of Egypt behind her!'
"But!" he exclaims, abruptly calling to a halt to conjecture. "What follows the titles? A submarine base in North Hampton, with Bond watching submarines going by, going Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! So, I said to myself, 'I'll have this exotic, beautiful Egyptian title, but Egypt doesn't come in until about two reels later. I would mitigate and take away from the later excitement you see, because with a title you can do all sorts of exotic things.
So, I decided against it."
He laughs. "And Cubby said to me, 'You went to Egypt and everything, and I didn't see one Egyptian title?' Producers notice those things—especially when they pick up the tab."
The "Octopussy" Lasers
The titles for Octopussy were shot during March, April and May, three months of filming which pressed the Bond adventure's June 10th premiere date. Binder rejected the temptation to use a circus motif or India locales behind Octopussy's credits for the same reasons he had nixed Egypt on Spy. He kept in tradition by trying new visual methods.
"Octopussy is unique in that we used laser beams," he says. "We projected these images on top of nude girls. We created it on a computer. The drawings were made on graph paper. Every square of graph paper was transferred to computer tape. The laser guide then tapped out the motion which we wanted, either an undulating motion, a twisting motion, or a switch from a figure of Roger Moore to the image of 007 to an actual octopus design.
"The computer was programmed to project these images and they go with the credits. For instance, when it says Roger Moore on the screen, a brilliant laser image suddenly expands into a figure of Roger which appears on the girl's leg.
"That changes into a 007 which goes across the girl's behind and then that changes into an Octopussy which goes across the girl's chest. So.. .it's a long girl," he finishes with a self-satisfied chuckle.
"I've used computers before, but I wanted to use them for something more than swirls of smoke. This business of projecting laser beams had been worked on, so I decided to try it. And it gives us quite brilliant colors.
"We experimented a lot in the beginning. It presented a tremendous number of problems. The laser pulsation thing is about 1/3 of the speed of sound film. When we shot laser projections onto these girls, we shot at eight frames per second rather than 24 frames [normal film speed]. Then, we had to slow down all the action, so that when it's projected on screen, it doesn't just whiz by.
"Another problem was close-ups of the girls. They would be breathing very fast, like they're having an orgasm, " Binder says with devilish delight, recalling his frequent altercations with film censors. "Put that in your magazine," he taunts, then laughs again. "STARLOG won't change the title of the picture, will it?" he asks, half in jest.
"I shot part of the titles before I had the final song, but I did have the lyrics," Binder continues. "After I had the final music, I shot some more sequences. I used some music at that time.
"Some of the titles illustrate actions which are in the lyrics. For instance, where Rita Coolidge sings, 'I didn't want to waste a waking moment,' I have an image of a girl suddenly opening her eyes. There's another part where the song goes, 'We move as one' and I have a guy and a girl swinging around, with her legs wrapped around him. I illustrated the lyrics. They're not naughty at all, but they could be suggestive.
"We have fade-outs and fade-ins which don't clash with the music, and the titles come on and off to the beat of the music. You can't have fast cuts and fast fade-outs when the music goes BA-BA-BA-BOM!"
He finishes recalling his brush with Octopussy by discussing the final shot of the title sequence. "The first scene after the titles is of the Berlin wall and a murder. The girl at the end is in blue and that dissolves into a night scene of the Berlin wall, which works very nicely."
The task of creating the credits for Octopussy is over, but like Bond, one thing is certain.. .Binder will be back!
And when he returns, whatever film he is toiling on, there is little doubt that those titles will have a few gentle jibes for the censors, as well as new, innovative techniques and lush startling images. They will, in short, exhibit that sense of class that Maurice Binder's titles have for the past 20-plus years.
[Source: Starlog #75, October 1983 P56-57,59,61]