The Other Fellow Review
4th January 2024
As it releases on ITVX in the UK, Ajay Chowdhury reviews the documentary
A film about Men, Real Men. Named James Bond. An energetic exploration of male identity via the lives, personalities, and adventures of a diverse band of men, real men across the globe all sharing the same name – James Bond. 1953. Jamaica. When author Ian Fleming needs a name for his suave, sophisticated secret agent, he steals one from an unaware birdwatcher and creates a pop-culture phenomenon about the ultimate fictional alpha-male. 2023. Seventy years after the publication of the first Bond novel and as all eyes turn to who could be the seventh 007, Australian filmmaker Matthew Bauer is on a global mission to discover the lasting, contrasting, and very personal impacts of sharing such an identity with James Bond. From a Swedish 007 super-fan with a WWII past to a gay New York theatre director, an African American Bond accused of murder, and two resilient women caught up in it all, Bauer’s cinematic mission is an audacious, poignant, and insightful examination of masculinity, gender, and race in the very real shadows of a movie icon.
The Other Fellow is a sinewy, cinematic journey through identity, culture, and masculinity with intertwining tales of men who happened to have been named “James Bond.” Matthew Bauer’s film is everything to do with Ian Fleming’s creation and yet nothing to do with the movies themselves. It is an examination of the powerful pull pop culture has on people: the magnetic effect of the James Bond juggernaut on the compass of the individual who shares the name. A labour of love, the final picture took over a decade to evolve into what we see on screen. Bauer unearthed previously unseen footage of the author of ‘Birds On The West Indies’ from whom Fleming named 007. When they y meet, the author gave the ornithologist a copy of ‘You Only Live Twice’ inscribing it “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity. Ian Fleming, Feb. 5, 1964, (a great day!)”. Bauer has sourced amazing archive material illustrating Mary Wickham-Bond’s amusing coping strategies for her husband’s name.
After 70 years of 007, that dominance can still be felt in surprising ways. Bauer’s subjects have sometimes shocking, sometimes amusing, and always pithy tales. Every release of a Bond film brings new benefits and burdens. Bauer’s own knowledge of the subject is impressive and his directorial debut is very Bondian. He co-wrote it with Rene van Pannevis and shot some atmospheric recreations. Kudos must be given to editor Lesley Posso whose narrative stitching keeps many plates engagingly spinning and the lush, widescreen score of Alastair McNamara. Principally produced with recent NFTS graduate Michelle Brøndum, Bauer’s documentary is the Bond-adjacent film you never knew you needed. As an identical twin and someone who shares the exact name with an author and tech-wizard behind music-finding software Shazam, this reviewer knows all about the confusion of mistaken identity. For the 007 fan for whom James Bond has merely been a name, The Other Fellow will give pause for reflection and find unexpected resonance.
#TheOtherFellow airs on ITVX in the UK from 4th January 2024.
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