FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
The Back Story
“Comrade Wadsworth has done it again and we are thrilled to present Gerry’s homage to From Russia, With Love. We’re spoiling you!” - Tom Cull, Literary007
When actress and singer Lotte Lenya was asked about her nearly 60-year career in theatre and film, she confessed that the character of Rosa Klebb in the 1963 film From Russia with Love was the one that her fans remembered the most. Reading the book, or seeing the movie, one can well understand why. The film stays, uncharacteristically (compared to the later films), true to the book - and Klebb is such an integral element and driving force behind the plot of both film and book that I felt she needed to be the subject of my painting.
From Russia with Love wouldn’t be the same without her presence - evil, malignant, brutally ugly and cruel, sadistic, and with an asexuality that borders on bad taste - for our politically correct world these days. When Fleming wanted the reader to either fawn with teenage lust over a character, or cringe with horror repugnant, he could deliver in spades. Fleming’s description of Tatiana Romanova, love lure and Bond Girl, is lovingly described and she fills the imagination with all sorts of provocative and lurid thoughts. By contrast, Fleming doesn’t mince words with his fertile and colorful picture of Rosa Klebb, and if his intent was to fill the reader with disgust and fear - he succeeds with high marks!
For my painting, I selected those elements that are vividly described in the chapter - ironically titled “A Labour of Love” - when Klebb is interrogating Tatiana about her love life and her duty to Mother Russia -“Your body belongs to the State.” Klebb softens up Tatiana with French champagne and Swiss chocolates, as she explains the plot and the role that Tatiana will play. Any hesitation on Tatiana’s part is countered with threats - veiled and overt. Any refusal will result in retribution - with extreme prejudice. As the chapter closes, Klebb switches psychological gears and makes a pass at Tatiana that is perhaps one of the most vividly described in all of the Bond novels. From her heavily rouged face and bright red lipstick, to her cloying Russian perfume and flimsy see-through orange negligee trimmed with lace, Klebb is a cringing vision of unadulterated revulsion that causes Tatiana to flee Klebb’s apartment in screaming panic.
Fleming spares no detail of Klebb as a lesbian - and he paints her with the vivid broad brush of his own distaste (one could infer) perhaps, of women of this ilk. By the time he wrote Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever, he seems to have mollified his opinion of them, and gives his lesbians a more favourable literary treatment. He does, however, render them as “damaged goods” that can only be “cured” by a vigorous session in bed - with Bond, of course.
Other elements in the painting include the brass knuckles Klebb uses to punch her assassin Red Grant to test his “mettle.” A revealing photo of Tatiana. The dossier on Bond - Angliski Spion - provided to Klebb by her boss, General G. Reflected in Rosa Klebb’s compact is Bond’s gun - in the hands of Red Grant when he assaults Bond on The Orient Express. Klebb’s square, rimless glasses blur in the foreground. Her Russian military belt - an authentic Afghanistan battlefield pick-up by my retired military friend - frames the top. And the shoe with the poison-tipped knife blade in the toe was a must include. Since Fleming didn’t specify what champagne or chocolates Klebb offered Tatiana, I researched those that might be found circa 1957 and discovered that Frigor by Cailler were some of the most exotic chocolates available, and Mumm’s champagne was equally held in high regard. I tried to find a Russian shoe maker that might have sewn their own label into the lining, but was without luck. So I settled on a manufacturer of weapons - for which the shoe definitely qualifies - and chose the Kalashnikov logo to grace this special and particularly nasty shoe.
I painted From Russia with Love as an in-your-face example of Rosa Klebb’s distinctly nasty personality - couched in fine things and counter-balanced with the tools of her trade.
Note: original back story appeared on the Literary007 website on April 8, 2016