Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday 20th June 2010: Visible Agent 000!

Visible Agent 000

Greece 1967 b&w

aka Voitheia O Vengos, Faneros Praktor '000'

Director Thanasis Vengos Writers Napoleon Eleftheriou, Nikos Tsiforos

Cast Thanasis Vengos (Athanasios Bobas aka “Thou Vou”), Zannino, Dimitris Nikolaidis, Lavrentis Dianellos (Psaltis)

Hola everyone, and welcome to the final in our three film Spies-A-Go-Go tribute. Tonight we venture for the very first time into vintage Greek cinema with a very strange spy spoof, and living proof that no country was immune to Bondmania: the 1967 Visible Agent 000.

Every country has its own Jerry Lewis lurking in its cinematic past, and Greece's model was Thanasis Vengos, an odd, hairless rubber ball of chaos, resembling a seal in a bald wig, or the human equivalent of Jon Lovitz's cartoon character The Critic. Unlike the regulation cheerful, loveable innocent of the comedy world, Vengos is a true Everyman: arrogant, pompous, oblivious to the trail of wreckage he creates, and resolute in the face of overwhelming evidence that he's a hopeless fool. It's a dangerously physical schtick, all performed without a stunt double, that made him Greece's most popular film comedian of the Sixties and into the Seventies, during which he broadened his range to more dramatic roles. Visible Agent 000 from 1967 sees Vengos at his peak commercially and artistically, and like the great Jerry Lewis before him, takes on the director's reins at the same take as letting himself well and truly off his leash.

At the James Bond School for Spies, Vengos plays Thou Vou, a walking disaster zone and just one of a series of would-be 007s who are put through the rigours of training. The final phase before graduation is a series of three tasks, each of which is marked out of ten to give the agent's number. So you can imagine how “visible” or “apparent” agent Triple Zero performs – tailing a businessman's daughter suspected of espionage, the theft of fashion patterns by an inside mole in Nana Mouskouri glasses, and most complicated of all, retrieving a microfilm from a cakeshop, which turns into the Athens Cake Shop Massacre.

As a Bond spoof, it's an absolute riot. The shadow of Sean Connery is everywhere, from the portraits on the wall to the school's name (right next door to the James Bond Kindergarten for Spies!), and to the numerous lapses into Monty Norman's instantly recognizable theme music – sadly, not played on bazoukis. There's an exasperated M, a blonde and leggy Miss Moneypenny, and a Q who offers Thou Vou a briefcase full of indispensable gadgets, including clothes pegs, a Swiss Army knife and a supply of contraceptives. Proving he's a master of concealment, he stalks his female suspect first as a mobile bale of hay, then as an overgrown child on a scooter, and as a gypsy violist with a trained monkey and tape recorder strapped to his wrist...

...All of which may sound about as funny to you as an episode of Acropolis Now. Like many non-English language comedies it won't be to everyone's taste, and much of the humour is, I suspect, lost in the translation. Luckily for us, Vengos is adept at channelling the previous fifty years of comedic genius: the Marx Brothers' surreal visual gags, the physical comedy and pathos of Chaplin and Keaton, and let's not forget the bastard child of them all, the infantile dementia of Jerry Lewis. The result is surprisingly effective, a frantic farce replacing “what the...?” moments with genuinely witty and supremely silly gags in rapid-fire succession. There's also romance and even a Sixties pop number WITH bazoukis, all in an imaginatively filmed and crisp black and white print. It's certainly one of the strangest back alleys we've peered down as we chart the most obscure corners of Bondmania – the 1967 Visible Agent 000.

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