Book Review: Catching Bullets by Mark O’Connell
Reviewed by Jack Lugo
The idea of writing a memoir of watching your favorite film series may strike some people as an odd exercise, yet Mark O’Connell’s book succeeds not only as a document of his James Bond fandom but also as his personal life story. Many have heard of the saying “you are what you eat.” Well after reading this book, one might come away with the conclusion that “you are what you enjoy” or more accurately “what you enjoy is what ultimately shapes you.” Ever since he watched Octopussy starring Roger Moore as James Bond at the age of nine, O’Connell knew that he was a Bond fan. The fact that O’Connell’s grandfather, Jimmy, happened to be the personal chauffeur to Cubby Broccoli (founder of EON) was icing on the cake and certainly solidified O’Connell’s personal connection to the franchise.
The insight O’Connell brings as a fan to the Bond film franchise is bolstered by the fact that he doesn’t attempt to approach the series the way other fan guides do. Most Bond fan guides examine each film chronologically going into details about each film with an attempt at remaining objective. O’Connell instead takes a totally subjective approach by recalling each film in the order in which he viewed them starting with his boyhood viewings of these films mostly on British television growing up in Cranleigh, England. Though these TV broadcasts were mostly censored and cut versions of the films, O’Connell recalls with gusto how he recorded these broadcasts on VHS tapes while attempting to cut out the commercials, which is certainly an activity readers who grew up in the 80s and 90s could recall doing.
The childhood stories in this book are very relatable and often times full of wit and humor. In one early chapter he recalls his Catholic school teacher, Mr. McCarthy, who would recite Psalm 23 directly at disruptive students. So, when a young Mark O’Connell thought it was safe to ask whether the teacher had seen the broadcast of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” the previous night, Mr. McCarthy’s only reply was “The Lord is my Shepard, Mark O’Connell, there is nothing I shall want . . .” It’s impossible not to sympathize with O’Connell as I think everyone at some point has had moments similar to that when you think maybe another person might share your enthusiasm for something only to be shot down.
O’Connell went many steps further cementing his childhood obsession with the franchise creating his own Roger Moore posters and imagining a life with Maud Adams, his favorite Bond girl. In fact, for many years, O’Connell would use Maud Adams as his “straight shield” whenever he needed to cite an actress he had an attraction for in conversation. The irony of a gay young man becoming a fan of the very heterosexual character of James Bond isn’t lost on O’Connell, yet from the very beginning of his introduction to the franchise it is his fandom that helps shape a huge part of his identity as he became an adult and forged his own writing career in British television.
The book gets even more interesting as it gets into O’Connell’s older years as he attains some success writing screenplays that were produced for television. His wit shines throughout the book. At one point he recalls how he gave an interview about one of his screenplays in his childhood bedroom which was still adorned with 007 posters. O’Connell brilliantly writes, “I just let the man come into my bedroom, ask some questions and take his photos. And that’s the last time I will ever use that sentence.” The humor in this book is often very inspired, and there are many times when I literally laughed out loud.
There are also many times when the book reminded me of my own childhood fandom / obsessions and how I’ve come to cherish certain memories from that period of time. Unlike O’Connell my childhood could quite possibly be defined by my love for Star Trek. I didn’t really become a James Bond fan until I was older. Like O’Connell though, I came into Star Trek long after the franchise had been established and just as Roger Moore may have been a “second best James Bond” to many people who still loved Sean Connery’s portrayal, my love for Star Trek began with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard has been and always will be the ultimate captain of the Starship Enterprise at least to me. James Bond and Star Trek hold some similarities despite appearing quite disparate on the surface. Both are franchises that have spanned the length of many decades with multiple generations of fans and both have had to reinvent themselves to remain current and relevant for modern audiences.
I remember recording the episodes on VHS tapes similar to how O’Connell recorded the ITV broadcasts of the Bond films, and I spent many, many hours watching and re-watching all of my favorite episodes. It was a period in my life that I enjoyed immensely despite the fact that many might perceive it to have been a waste of time. As that series concluded and gave way to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in my high school years, a new Star Trek series gained my loyalty and attention with its brilliant writing boldly eschewing the episodic format that most shows had at the time and focusing instead on character development and multiple story arcs. I could remember the excitement I felt as each new episode aired continuing the story of the Dominion War and Captain Sisko’s struggle to balance the duty he had as a Starfleet Officer and his role as an Emissary to the Bajoran people.
Perhaps not everyone could relate to the kind of fascination and obsessions that many people have for various franchises like James Bond or Star Trek. It’s not in everyone’s DNA to immerse themselves into the world of an international spy with a sexy alluring woman for each new adventure or a Starfleet Captain intent on “boldly going where no one has gone before.” For many of us, however, the things we enjoyed as children continue to find new ways to entertain us as we become adults. While the level of obsession may perhaps dissipate, these cherished memories of fandom will always remain a part of who we are and might even work their way into our creative output as we tap into our own imaginations. With Catching Bullets, Mark O’Connell has achieved something very unique and very rare. He managed to not only recount his fandom and insights into his favorite franchise, he also told a story that is very personal and uniquely his, which I think many readers could relate to regardless of how well versed they are with the James Bond franchise. It was lots of fun reading it and it sparked many good memories. I highly recommend it to anyone who can relate to experience of being a fan.
You can find a site for this book on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/catchingbullets/info?ref=page_internal
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Purchase the book:
publisher’s website: http://www.splendidbooks.co.uk/books/catching-bullets-memoirs-of-a-bond-fan/
Listen to James Bond Radio interview Mark O’Connell here: http://jamesbondradio.com/catching-bullets-mark-oconnell-interview-podcast-017/