I was invited along to the press launch of the “Designing 007 – 50 years of Bond” exhibition at London’s Barbican. I was keen to see this exhibition because Bond is almost unique in the cinema. An enduring franchise, British in origin, noted for its style and originality, but which has still not run out of steam. And of course, like so many Englishman, I am a huge Bond fan.
In my mind there was huge potential for this exhibition, given the many incarnations of Bond, and the turns worked on both the character and the Bond mythology.
A good beginning
The first thing one sees as you come out of the approach tunnel into the exhibition is this life-size tableau:
This was a really promising start to the exhibition. This tableau (from Goldfinger), Bond in a Savile Row suit, leaning against the Aston, is now an iconic cinema image. In one image the movie summed up a new kind of spy, well-dressed, fast cars and good taste.
The exhibition gets better. Here is the next lifesize tableau. On a circular revolving bed we have:
The other iconic Bond image, that garnered huge publicity and paved the way for all of those intriguing credits-sequences with lissom dancers.
So it looked like the exhibition was on the right track.
The exhibition was officially opened by Lindy Hemming, who curated the exhibition, along with Bronwyn Cosgrave. Lindy was the Bond costume designer for all the Brosnan movies and for Casino Royale. She has also costume-designed a whole slew of other major movies, including The Dark Knight. So no slouch in the how-the-movie-looks department. Here is a picture of Lindy.
I think the most interesting thing about the launch was the enthusiasm and support that Eon Productions (who own the Bond franchise) have put into this exhibition. It looks like they gave Lindy carte-blanche to plunder the Bond archives, everything from costumes to wonderful Ken Adam era (Connery era) designs and drawings.
And on to the exhibition.
To draw you in, the exhibition starts with all the Bond gadgets from the movies, each individually showcased. Here is Scaramanga’s Golden Gun, from The Man with the Golden Gun. It really makes for a good intro.
Bond – The Beginning
This bit of the exhibition thrilled the boots off me. Starting with the Ian Fleming books, this section explained how the movie Bond was first created. How Fleming’s “upper-class thug” was made real.
I think this was the real genius of the Bond movies. They were made of several things that no movie-maker had ever tapped before.
Firstly Fleming’s own original view of spying. Fleming had been the spymaster and even the originator of several unorthodox spy schemes (“The Dirty Dozen” was one of his). Also, during the war he had worked with the wildly unorthodox but brilliant American Wild Bill Donovan, who had created the O.S.S. Donovan had also been a wellspring of unusual and strange spying gambits.
Secondly Fleming’s connoisseurship. A fervent believer in the virtues and rewards of the upper class Englishman, Fleming’s cosmopolitan good taste extended beyond the Dom Perignon, to watches, weapons, suits and food. The effects of World War 2 were still being felt and Bond was an indirect way to introduce men to better things. Which of course translated to the screen so well.
Thirdly, there was British eccentricity. Building guns out of cigarette cases and putting teargas in talcum tins was very much in the British tradition. It was the genius of the Bond producers that they were able to think big and, with the help of designers like Ken Adam, build secret bases inside volcanos and design cars with machine-guns in the headlights.
Here it all comes together. This is a showcase of Bond paraphernalia, which includes the famous Walther PPK.
This next exhibit confused me slightly. It had a label saying that Bond wore this Homburg and topcoat in Dr No. I have watched Dr No several times and do not remember it. Obviously I need to pay closer attention.
Bond by Design
Having established Bond , the exhibition moves onto the design of Bond, the look of the Bond world. This part of the exhibition is beautifully put together and has both an integrity and a layout that works beautifully. It starts with the work of Ken Adams, who designed the Sean Connery Bond movies and it has many of the original production drawings for the movies.
Here is a copy of an original drawing from You Only Live Twice, blown up to wall-size.
Here the (framed) original drawing
This was just great. I thought that the amphibious spy-boat in The World is Not Enough was the quintessential Bond gadget. Indubitably British, producing surprise after surprise and yet quite stylish. This is the detailed model for the boat, about four feet long.
And the boat sequence of panels shows just how well-executed this exhibition is. Each design theme is runs through a series of panels, some of them explanatory, with models, objects and tableau to punctuate and enliven the piece. It is the most enjoyable learning exhibition you could imagine.
The scale of this exhibition is big. Here is a picture of Roger Moore as Bond and Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die. If you look to the right of picture you can see Laura Murphy, one of the curatorial staff. This gives you an idea of the scale of the panel.
BTW, apologies for not getting Laura in sharp focus, I was using an f-stop setting designed to get the panel in focus. A pity really, because Laura is very attractive, she could easily be a Bond girl herself.
Here is another Bond toy, the motorcycle used by Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeo in Tomorrow Never Dies.
The Ice Palace
Bond always seems to be in trouble on ice. Roger Moore being chased by evil Soviet athletes on skis in For Your Eyes Only (recommended BTW, head and shoulders above all the other Roger Moore Bonds), Pierce Brosnan with the jetskis in The Wolrd is Not Enough. So the exhibition includes an Ice Palace hall. Here there are, you guessed it, Jet Skis, a running video wall of Bond on ice and a large scale model of the Ice Palace from Die Another Day.
So this exhibition rocks. It stinks of Bond style, British derring-do and swagger. It really shows how British inventiveness, and Fleming’s glamourous spy created a cinema icon recognised the world over. And with the huge panels, the costumes (in the second half of the article here) and the Ice Palace it shows how thinking big made Bond into epic action cinema.
If you have boy children take them to see this. It is huge fun, full of boy-toys. And for the Bond enthusiast, it is perfection all in one place.
Part 2: Designing OO7; the clothes. is here
Part 3: Lindy Hemming talking about dressing Bond, is here
Our series of articles about Pierce Brosnan, including the Brosnan Bonds, starts here
Designing 007 runs from July 6th to Sept 5th at London’s Barbican, here.
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