Sunday, 5 August 2012

Designing 007 - a review

After 50 years of cinematic secret service, James Bond has been given the equivalent of a corporate-branded carriage clock with the arrival of an exhibition at the Barbican in London. There cannot be much more space on his mantelpiece, as this is at least his third 'long-service award'. The World of 007 exhibition, marking 35 years of the Bond films, toured museums and exhibition halls across the world in 1997, and 2008, the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth, saw a major exhibition – For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, which celebrated aspects of the films as well as the novels – at London's Imperial War Museum.

The current exhibition, Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style, is a fitting tribute to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Its focus is on the design, fashion, and art of the James Bond films, showcasing props (especially gadgets), costumes, and sets to form a remarkable collection of some 500 exhibits.

Appropriately for a celebration of 50 years of Bond films, the exhibition begins on a golden theme, displaying among other exhibits a model of Shirley Eaton's golden girl, Ken Adam's Goldfinger set designs, and Scaramanga's golden pistol. Ian Fleming is not forgotten, and visitors move into a small, though somewhat crowded, space that commemorates Fleming's life and the influences that brought James Bond to life.

The exhibition moves into MI6 headquarters and the sets and props from M's office and Q's workshop. Some of the best-known material is on display, including the trick attaché case of From Russia With Love (interestingly the model is still in production, though presumably without the gadgets). The attention to detail is incredible – the official passports issued to Daniel Craig's Bond in 2006 shows that he was born in Berlin in April 1968 – and we are reminded how cutting edge the technology shown on screen was; Bond's digital watch in Live and Let Die, for example, was virtually unheard of in 1973.

Visitors then enter the casino zone, and are presented with the glamorous costumes, dinner suits, jewellery, and card tables that epitomises the James Bond films. These, together with the use of mirrored walls and projected casino scenes from the films, put us into Bond's world, and we get a sense of the excitement and danger of Casino Royale's poker tournament from a reconstructed set.

Part of the exhibition is devoted to the villains. The almost natural evolution of villains' style is  acknowledged with a display of the Nehru/Mao-type suit of the archetypal villain, Dr No, whose portrayal and costume survived to lesser or greater extents in nearly all the villains that followed. And if you wondered why the costumes for Sanchez and other villains of Licence to Kill was, well, a bit Miami Vice, it may be because the designer had also worked on that TV series.

The strong association between Bond and snowscapes is recognised with an exhibition of designs and costumes from Bond's snow- and ice-bound adventures. Pride of place is a model of Gustav Graves' Ice Palace from Die Another Day, but what took most visitors' attention was a projection of the pre-titles ski jump in The Spy Who Loved Me, which still looks fantastic on the big screen and remains one of the most iconic stunts captured for the cinema.

The exhibition does not start and end in the ticketed areas. Much of the space outside the exhibition space displays elements from the world of 007; visitors are greeted with a wall of Bond posters (see the video below) and an Aston Martin DB5, and can take Bondian refreshments in the 007 Martini Bar. And the gift shop is a Fort Knox, or maybe Octopussy treasure-chest, of Bond-related nick-nacks and merchandise.

With such a range of exhibits on display, and judging by the huge interest the exhibition has generated, the material produced over 50 years of the Bond films have been transformed from disposable film props and documents to artefacts, the stuff of history. Indeed, such film-related objects are no less culturally valid than other artefacts, such as pottery, coins, and fine art. A massive Bond archive now exists. Isn't it time these were brought together in a dedicated, and permanent, museum of James Bond?

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