[Review] Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style Exhibition, At TIFF

Since it was announced back in April, my anticipation for this exhibit has been building and building. Just as the Toronto International Film Festival has established itself as one of the world's great film festivals, so too has the TIFF Bell Lightbox established itself as a destination for film appreciation. After hosting the Tim Burton MoMA exhibit, and the exclusive Game of Thrones exhibition, both of which were fantastic, this time they've partnered with The Barbican, in London, to host the official James Bond fiftieth anniversary exhibit, Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style.

And it does not disappoint. This extensive, in depth, and mesmerising display is like Christmas morning for Bond fans. While I was there, a duo of teenage girls was barely able to contain their glee while viewing a piton gun. A piton gun! Now that is an appreciation of the franchise.

Hit the jump for the review, which prefers whiskey and soda to Vodka martini, and I suppose contains a minor Skyfall spoiler.

Guests are ushered through the iconic gun barrel into a room of general appreciation, named "M's Office," and a rather sloppy and unlabelled colleague of set pictures from over the past half century. A disorganised assortment of props was on display, including a false-bottom flask that contains a pistol (which I couldn't place), passports from Dalton, Brosnan and Craig era films, and other minutia props from the film. The only prop of consequence in this initial display was the golden lighter given to Bond by Felix Leiter in License to Kill. The most confusing was an unsourced document claiming that 007 had killed 003, named Darryl Patterson. Quick research once I was back at my computer reveals it was an unused document from Quantum of Solace, referring to the fellow Bond dispatches in the opera's washroom, with Patterson being the name of the prop master's assistant on the film.

The exhibit begins properly with a history of Ian Fleming, including a reproduction of the golden-cast typewriter Fleming wrote Casino Royale on, and nine first editions of the novels. Fleming's family tree is explored, adding some context to Fleming's exentual career in intelligence. His family was very well to do, and well connected (his grandmother was friends with Mary of Teck, wife of George V). The segment ended with a CBC interview with Fleming (whether that was added as specific Canadian content or not, I don't know), during which he tells a funny little story of how the baccarat game in Casino Royale was based on an experience of his as a Naval intelligence officer in north Africa during the early days of the war. Apparently, being young and impulsive, he decided to bankrupt the Nazi intelligence officers single handed, and ended up loosing rather spectacularly (which also happens to Bond in the novel, only to be saved by the CIA).

M's Office concludes with both the Dr. No and Skyfall versions of the Universal Exports leather-padded door. Judi Dench's and Samantha Bond's Tomorrow Never Dies costumes hid behind one (barely open)door, along with various files, dossiers, Vesper's business card, and that kitschy Churchill dog from Skyfall (which made me laugh, having seen the film before the exhibit, but would have been lost on anyone who had seen the film afterwards). Sean Connery's Dr. No hat and coat on Moneypenny's coat rack led us into the first of the five major divisions of the exhibit: Gold.

There might have been an inclination to structure the exhibit chronologically, with each film given its own section. And this might have worked, as each film had fairly balanced representation (save, thankfully, Die Another Day). But the curator opted for a less conventional, and much more success format, breaking the pieces into five major themes, three of which were very well done, one of which was a disappointing conclusion, and one of which was simply labelled incorrectly. The themed rooms afforded more options for the distribution for the props, and a place for some things that might not have otherwise found a home, like Norman Wanstall's Oscar (one of only two won by Bond films), or Shirley Bassey's gold record for the Goldfinger theme.

These two items had a home in the Gold room, which obviously concentrated on Goldfinger, and opened with a life sized reproduction of Shirley Eaton painted gold. Of any of the rooms, this one focused more on a specific film, and I suppose if you're going to focus on one, make it the film most would consider the definitive Bond film. Found here were a prop gold bar, signed by Sean Connery (and only remotely 'gold' anymore), and Odd Job's hat (which had a ridged steel edge on the brim), and an assortment of Ken Adam's sketches for the various locations in the film, including Fort Knox and the famous laser room. The only non-Connery related items were Scaramanga's Golden Gun, plus engraved bullet, and a selection of videos of the movie premiers, which included Roger Moore turning the charm on for Princess Diana.

Immediately, and with the short stories that were included with Odd Job's hat and the gold bar, it strikes the visitor of the foresight Eon had to save as much as they did, especially from the early days of the series, when it wasn't a series yet, just a few films whose success was not guaranteed. The studio and the Broccoli family had no reason to expect that any of this stuff would be of value or interest in later years, and yet what has been preserved, and in relative condition, is astounding. And all the more jarring when something has been lost to time. Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe's costumes are recreated here, the originals long gone. And, for the first time, and not the last, the size of an actor surprised me: Gert Frobe was not as big as he seemed, if the jacket is any indication. He was really no larger then me (for comparison, I'm not grand, but I winter well).

With the luster of Gold behind, the viewer passes into what was my favourite portion, and judging from the reactions around me, the most popular room of the exhibit: Q Branch.

Designed like a store room filled with crates, within Q Branch we find the various gadgets 007 has used over the years, and it get the blood pumping. Beginning with the pair of trick briefcases, From Russia With Love's knife and money hiding case, and Q's personal bag of tricks from License to Kill were up first, along with the fully assembled camera rifle from the latter film. Storyboards for the "Little Nellie" sequence in You Only Live Twice, and schematics for the jet pack from Thunderball were plastered on the wall between video interviews with the various prop masters, stunt coordinators, and Desmond Llewellyn talking about how the gadgets have changed over the years. Though really, I don't think you can improve upon a radio-capable rake.

For me, the highlights of this portion came in two parts. First, the land and sea models of the Lotus Esprit used to film the "Wet Nellie" sequences of The Spy Who Loved Me. Not as beautiful a car as the DB5, it certain ranks as one of the more iconic Bond vehicles, and to see the actual models used in filming (yes, sadly, they were unable to submerge a real Esprit. Or rather, were unable to do so without risk of drowning Roger Moore) was quite special. The other appeared as you are leaving the room, one of the smattering of Skyfall materials through the exhibit: Ben Whishaw's Q props. Glasses, MI6 ID and the simple case including Bond's biometric gun and radio from the new film. For those interested in this sort of detail, according to Q's division ID, he is employee 008-001, implying Q branch is Department 8 within MI6. Good to know.

Due to limited space within the Lightbox, the next room isn't actually the next room, but you have to pass through a bit of it to reach the real next room. The layout might have been reevaluated, as they had an employee standing specifically to ask each guest as they exited the fourth room if they had in fact noticed the third at all. Once you get to where you need to be, you find yourself surrounded by Villains.

This was the mislabelled theme, as far as I was concerned. While the villains were certainly in attendance, this more then any other room paid tribute to the women on Bond as well. Perhaps "Associates" would have been a better title. This is also where costuming overtakes the exhibit, which considering "Style" is in the exhibition title, I was surprised took this long. Particular attention was given to the similarities between the villain's style of dress over the years. Carver of Tomorrow Never Dies, Dr. No of his film, and Stromberg of The Spy Who Loved Me all wore practically identical Mao-style jackets (being fair, Stromberg wore something much closer to a moo moo), a sort of militaristic garb that stood in stark contrast to the properly suited Bond and exotically dressed women.

The highlight for most in this portion will undoubtedly be the original silver teeth of Jaws, which were accompanied by a card which claimed "Richard found them uncomfortable." Looking at them up close, I'm confident they wouldn't have been able to fit in my mouth at all. But each costume, as it was worn in the film, was also accompanied by the costume designers sketches and process drawings (which for Madonna's Die Another Day ensemble was mostly a collection of various fetish models and corsets). While seeing costumes like Famke Janssen's jungle outfit or Grace Jones horse racing dress was interesting, the background and understanding of how these costumes ended up looking the way they did make the films that much better, in my mind. Audiences usually accept what is given to us in film at face value, rarely considering how long it takes to put productions together, and I champion anything seeking to pull back the curtain, as it were.

Leaving the Villains room, the visitor returns to the room they had briefly passed through, the natural habitat of the 00 agent: the Casino.

This room was nearly exclusively costumes, save for small props such as Octopussy's Faberge egg or Teri Hatcher's necklace from her brief Tomorrow Never Dies scenes. The costumes also represent the biggest loss to the Eon archives, as many of the costumes from the first generation of films have been reused, were sold off or simply lost to time. However, a selection of iconic outfits have been recreated for the exhibit, and were helpfully kept separate, as a kind of memorial to things long gone. These included George Lazenby's kilt and Diana Riggs' wedding dress from OHMSS; Plenty O'Toole's cleavage intensive dress, and Tiffany Case's pant suit from Diamonds Are Forever, and Connery's original Dr. No suit. It's shame.

However, the rest of the room was filled with costumes that have survived, mostly from the last twenty years of films. Craig, Brosnan and Dalton's tuxes are all maintained, as are their leading ladies gowns (pictured above are Eva Green's and Sophie Marceau's, but my money has to go to Cary Lowell's tear away gown from License To Kill for sheer, sleek allure, or Skyfall's Berenice Marlohe's hourglass number for seductivity). As surprising as it was to discover that Gert Frobe was smaller then I thought, you cannot imagine how tiny Eva green must be, or how big Robbie Coltrane is until you stand before his three piece from The World Is Not Enough. The above picture doesn't capture any of the sheer magnitude of the thing. It's proof enough for his casting as Hagrid : the man is massive. And that's not a fat joke, it's an observation. He seems to be just as tall as anything else, and I was standing before an empty suit. I can only imagine what little Daniel Radcliffe felt standing before him as a wee boy.

After passing the actual poker table, complete with chips and secondary players from Casino Royale, the visitor emerges into the final, and most disappointing theme:  Foreign Territories.

This image is of the London version of the same room.
Of the many Bond tropes, exotic locations are probably the hardest to conceptualise into a portable exhibit. They can't very well take a bit of Belize, stick it on a platform, and call it a day. So the final room of the exhibit ended up being mostly storyboards and the various miniatures they used to film the big set pieces. Moonraker's space battle and station explosion; Zorin's blimp from A View to A Kill; the jungle hunting sequence in Octopussy; the fall down the outside of the Carver building in Tomorrow Never Dies: these sorts of sequences. Jane Seymour's elaborate red dress and tarot cards from Live And Let Die, and Barbara Bach's sand-stained cocktail dress from the Spy Who Loved Me were some of the few actual props that were present in this area, the rest devoted to artists renderings and the story boards, illuminating how much a sequence can evolve between conception and execution, with the final results playing on screens to ram home the point.

And then, just like that, it is over. Not with a bang, but a whimper. As you exit, Javier Bardem's Skyfall suit bids us adieu, and in the lobby, where I had missed it the first time, were the iconic bathing suits of Ursula Andress and Sean Connery, and their copy-cat counterparts worn by Halle Berry and Daniel Craig. No grand reveal, no last hurrah. Just the door, with fifty years of history behind.

But you don't leave with a sense of disappointment. The opposite, actually. You leave feeling closer to a film series that has lived off of the disconnect to reality. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him, so the saying goes (or maybe that was Austin Powers). But rather then demystify Bond, Designing 007 only heightens the feelings you might already have for the spy. There were few lets downs. Some of the larger pieces, such as the Ice Hotel from Die Another Day, or the DB5, didn't make the trip from the English exhibit. There were surprisingly few of the various watches he's had over the years. The piton watch from Goldeneye appeared in Q Branch, but that was about it. The space available to the Lightbox limited the arrangements slightly, but only in minor ways. But I won't put down an entire exhibit because they had to work with the walls they have.

If you're in the Toronto region, I suggest going to see it. Call ahead for tickets though, but don't worry if you get there earlier then when you booked. You shouldn't have a problem getting in. I took a couple turns through, and was still out before my ticket was for. Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style runs until January 20th.

For information, visit TIFF.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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