George Lazenby is elevated from trivia-contest answer and crossword-puzzle solution in Josh Greenbaum's amusing documentary Becoming Bond. Now 77, Lazenby engagingly explains to the camera his incredible rise from an Australian family that lived paycheck to paycheck to life as a humble automobile mechanic and later salesman to the role of a lifetime as James Bond in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service—despite never having acted a day in his life.
It was literally the singular role of a lifetime because after having taken over the iconic character that Sean Connery abandoned, as well as reportedly being offered a $1 million signing bonus to star in the next seven Bond films, Lazenby walked away from the lucrative film franchise. That produced much head scratching back when it happened—as it does today by all concerned, including Lazenby.
To present the one-and-done actor's remarkable story, Greenbaum relies on some familiar and unusual cinematic storytelling techniques. His subject is mostly presented today facing a camera, often in closeup, more dashing than ever in his pressed dark suit, bright-white button-down shirt and full head of gray hair. There are, of course, photographs and moving pictures covering his early Aussie days through current times that the filmmaker strategically drops into the movie.
However, to depict many of the key moments from his subject's past, Greenbaum liberally sprinkles in scenes with re-enactors, most notably Josh Lawson (The Campaign, House of Lies, Anchorman 2) as Lazenby from his young adult years through his, well, becoming Bond. I must confess this almost took me out of the picture, especially during the segments in which Lawson scenes are right on top of actual footage of Lazenby. This is due to a phenomenon you may have also noticed: In footage and photographs from the 1960s and before, many people who were then in their 20s appear to be in their 40s. Lazenby, a male model who had just turned 29 when the filming of On Her Majesty's Secret Service began, possessed (and still possesses) ruggedly handsome good looks that belied his age. Fellow Aussie Lawson, who is 35, has the softer face and demeanor of a second banana in a rom-com. Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just not Lazenby, mate.
The distinction does pay some dividends in Becoming Bond because of the light comedic tone of Greenbaum's retelling of the Lazenby story and Lawson's ease and confidence on camera. There are also some winks to Derek Waters' Drunk History and winning cameos by Dana Carvey, Jane Seymour and especially Jeff Garlin, who simply must employ the same tone when he someday portrays Harvey Weinstein.
Once I become king of the world, the thing I would remove from Becoming Bond is the gratuitous female nudity. It would have been more fitting, as well as clever, to mirror the Bond films, which famously parade some of the most beautiful women in the world in ways in which you see everything except the naughty bits. (See the Austin Powers movies for spoofs of this method.) That said, Becoming Bond's double-penetration sight gag was pretty funny.
Becoming Bond is now streaming on Hulu.
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In other small-screen news, what is billed as the first made-for-TV opera—set to debut soon online, on local television and at special events from Fullerton to New York City—was actually born in Santa Ana. Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser was composed and conceived by Lisa Bielawa, the artist-in-residence at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC). John D. Spiak, director/chief curator of GCAC, which is a unit of Cal State Fullerton's College of the Arts, ushered her project onto the screen, and the first two of 12 episodes, each of which are about 15 minutes in length, were filmed at the Yost Theater.
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California's redwood forests, 16th Street Oakland Train Station, San Francisco's Alcatraz Island and New York's Hudson River Valley were among the other shooting locations. Talent from around the world showcased in the production includes the Orange County School of the Arts Middle School Choir. Also featured are some of the most notable names in classical music and modern opera, including director Charles Otte, librettist Erik Ehn, soprano Deborah Voigt, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, violinist Jennifer Koh, cellist Joshua Roman, Kronos Quartet and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
Based on Bielawa's research at Yale, then adapted and re-imagined by Ehn, Vireo shows how teenage-girl visionaries' writings and rantings have been manipulated, incorporated and interpreted by the communities of men surrounding them from the European Dark Ages to Salem, Massachusetts—all the way to 19th-century France and contemporary performance art. The eponymous heroine Vireo, played by soprano Rowen Sabala in her first prominent role, is a 14-year-old genius entangled in the historic obsession with female visionaries.
According to Spiak, Bielawa was specifically brought to GCAC in 2012 to develop a new work. "As part of our process, we invite artists here without a specific project proposal, then work with them through listening and discovery to help them to realize a possible vision for a project they are inspired to do through our institution," he says. "Through our continued conversation, the idea of Vireo as a TV series or webisodes arose, and I set up a meeting with KCET's Juan Devis, who was totally open to the idea of a collaboration, and the rest is history."
You can binge watch Vireo online (and for free) starting Wednesday on KCET.org and its partner site LinkTV.org. It makes its broadcast premiere as a two-and-a-half-hour special on the Emmy-winning arts-and-culture series Artbound at 8 p.m. June 13 on KCET and Link TV. There is also a free screening event at 6 p.m. on June 21 at Plummer Auditorium (201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton).