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007/50: Designing 007 ~ Fifty Years Of Bond Style at The Barbican (until September 5)

August 18, 2012

Man(nequin) and motor: Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 and a mocked-up Sean Connery in his classic grey suit from Goldfinger welcome visitors, but does the exhibition have a midas touch?

If I was that talented Scottish thesp Alan Cumming then I’d buy the full-scale model of him in the guise of the roguish ‘pooter nerd Boris Grishenko that features in The Barbican’s Designing 007: Fifty Years Of Bond Style exhibition (and which was used in the 1995 film GoldenEye when the character has just been frozen solid by exploding liquid nitrogen tanks). Why? So I could put it in my lounge and whenever I come home from a heavy night on the tiles look at it and consider, whatever state I’m in, I’ve always looked worse. I’m not Alan Cumming, though, but if I had a lot more spare cash than I do, I’d still definitely buy that model, plus many more things from this exhibition, for the simple reason they’re utterly iconic and, what’s more, they ensure this exhibition itself is an unqualified success.

Just to clarify, you can’t buy anything that’s on show here – they’re much too special. Bond’s Walther PPK and passports of the character in various actors’ guises? Oddjob’s steel-rimmed bowler hat from Goldfinger (1964)? Jaws’ teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979)? Tee Hee’s metal arm and claw from Live And Let Die (1973)? Models of the Lotus Esprit from Spy and the Q-Boat from The World Is Not Enough (1999)? The torture chair from that same movie? And Francisco Scaramanga’s golden gun from, er, The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)? Yes, they’re all on show. All of ’em. As is much more besides.

And yet it’s not just the breadth of this exhibition (which itself is considerable) that impresses, it’s the design of it too. Much thought, effort and no little money has gone into the way the space offered up by The Barbican is used to showcase all this stock that’s featured in all 22 Bond epics  brought to us by film company Eon Productions across a remarkable half-century. Yup, its curators (aided by the not inconsiderable input of 1990s and 2000s Bond film costume designer Lindy Hemming) have done a fine job.

Having passed the frankly brilliant opening gambit of a Connery mannequin leaning against a battleship grey Aston Martin DB5 (complete with correct Goldfinger number plates and would-be tyre-slashers), you enter the exhibition, which kicks off with a room simply titled ‘Gold’. This unsurprisingly is themed around that most precious of materials that has quite the association with the world of 007 and his films – and works as a loose testament to the iconic legacy and thus mass success of the movie series, introducing the engaging and well executed  props-and-audio-visual mixture of content that continues throughout the rest of the exhibition.

Dressed for success: the exhibition’s ‘Casino’ room is fittingly full to the rafters with iconic costumes worn by Bond stars from Dr No right through to the latest film, the upcoming Skyfall

From here it’s into a space dedicated to Bond’s original creator, the great thriller writer that was Ian Fleming, which impressively boasts several first editions of his novels, with their colourfully captivating covers catching the eye. Next it’s back into the Eon film universe, as on one side you pass mock-ups (using real props) of two of M’s offices and on the other side paraphernalia of the character of Bond himself (including, yes, the aforementioned PPK and passports). Fittingly, the next space is named ‘Q Section’ and features a (pleasingly over-)abundance of gadgets supplied by the incomparable Q and used by our man Bond throughout the series – clever weapons, bug detectors, vehicle models and, yes, even that Amstrad 64-esque ATAC thingee from For Your Eyes Only (1981) litter this room; there’s something familiar literally wherever you look.

Without pausing for breath, you’re quickly on to another delight: the room monickered ‘Casino’. Here you’re immediately faced with mannequins lined around the space wearing (mostly) original suits, ballgowns and costumes originally worn by Bond stars throughout the series. Highlights are obviously the tuxedos worn by several Bonds themselves (each mannequin for which features a face supposedly resembling that of the appropriate actor, the results of which are admittedly rather comical but fit with the overall exhibition’s somewhat self-mocking tone; much like that of the films themselves then, you might say).

Still, worth checking out too during your gander of all these garments are Valentin Zukovsky’s enormous tuxedo from The World Is Not Enough (designed by actor Robbie Coltrane’s own tailor), Sylvia Trench’s striking gown from Dr No (1962), Vesper Lynd’s beautifully elegant purple effort from Casino Royale (2006) and – as something of a teasing taster – new girl Sévérine’s outstandingly vampish dress from this year’s Skyfall. Oh, and this room also offers an unexpected gem (as it were) in the shape of the Fabergé egg made specially for Octopussy (1983).

After a quick sojourn through a space that’s open to the public, but still filled with Bond-related artefacts, it’s now on to a ‘Villains’ room, featuring alongside the liquid-nitrogen-afflicted Boris, Jaws’ molars and Tee Hee’s arm and claw, further costumes and props worn by and wielded by the baddies of Bond’s universe. Notable inclusions are scale models of the Rio de Janeiro cable car and the space shuttle and figurines of Hugo Drax and his minions aboard his space station, all of which were used for the filming of Moonraker, of course. Why’s the Drax figurine so memorable? Because close-up he resembles Japanese TV favourite Monkey rather than that film’s megalomaniac villain. A coincidence maybe, but rather marvellous to my mind.

Model perfection: Eon artefacts such as this miniature of The Spy Who Loved Me’s Lotus Esprit – one of several used in the movie’s filming – ensure Designing 007 swims rather than sinks

The exhibition’s final space ‘Ice Palace’ is separate from the rest of the rooms and accessed via lifts (festooned with quotes from the Bond films), but that’s no matter, and, yes, its centre-piece is a large model which was used for the filming of Die Another Day (2002)’s ice palace, while a general snow-cum-ski theme is maintained by several props and costumes associated with snow-bound action from the flicks, including the so-tasteless-it’s-awesome banana-yellow ski suit worn by Sir Rog in the terrific pre-title sequence from The Spy Who Loved Me.

And so, that’s that? Well no, actually. Because now you can visit a rather sleekly appealing martini bar – which, yes, fittingly only serves martinis – and quaff a very Bondian beverage following your hard morning’s/ afternoon’s/ evening’s work re-familiarising yourself with so many 007 delights. And sort of pretend you’re 007 yourself while you sip your Vesper, of course.

Overall then (and not least because it also boasts the martini bar) this exhibition is a resounding success. Both its comprehensive collection and quality curating ensure that for a massive Bond fan like myself it’s a cornucopia of 007 goodness; an Aladdin’s cave of Eon wonders. And making its (present) home The Barbican is an excellent choice too – not least because the stark modernism of that fine venue’s interiors echo the design of so many Bond films, but also as its exterior actually featured in a Bond film, 2008’s Quantum Of Solace, that is. So, if you’re an inhabitant of these isles, this scribe’s advice to you is definitely to give Designing 007 a visit – before September 5 when,  oh-so Bond-like, it disappears on a deserved tour of different destinations around the world.

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Further reading (and for opening times and ticket prices):

http://www.barbican.org.uk/bond

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