Bond. James Bond. A licence to kill. Shaken, not stirred. The sharp words of the novelist Ian Fleming, spoken by the iconic character he created, have burrowed so deep into our cultural lexicon they have become larger than the books and movies themselves. They are shorthand for cool, charm and deadly efficiency. But Bond is more than just words. He’s tuxedos, gadgets and swish cars; not to mention beautiful women in various stages of dress. And now… James Bond at the Barbican.
This is the subject of a new exhibition in The Curve at London’s Barbican Centre; a place that could double as a Bond villain’s lair in its own right. Designing 007 is a retrospective of the things that make Bond, well, Bond. Tickets are a snap at £12 and the Barbican offers a reserve service where you can book a specific time to go, so the exhibits don’t become crowded. Quite smooth.
To enter you walk through a doorway shaped like the barrel of Bond’s Walther PPK and emerge in the first chamber where a woman painted in gold lies prostrate on a bed. It’s an exact replica of the classic scene from the movie Goldfinger and is chilling in its realism. All around this arresting display are props from many of the films; Oddjob’s throwing hat, Scaramanga’s golden gun, Auric Goldfinger’s dinner jacket, all of it explained by dashingly-written summaries hung on the walls.
The next bit is all about the gadgets. Each Bond book and film usually has a scene where the man with the license to kill meets up with Q, the man who makes the kit. Q is kept very busy by Bond’s shenanigans, and the exhibit shows us the full range of this boffin’s talents. There’s a model of the Lotus car that turns into a submarine, a Hasselblad camera that snaps into a sniper’s rifle and a host of briefcase weapons, advanced computers and mobile phone spy gear. It’s amazing to see how what was touted as science fiction by each successive film became banally normal as the years went past – the exhibits argue that many of the style and design innovations in Bond movies paved the way for what we use today. Where’s my watch laser then?!
Next up is a room that’s sure to excite the ladies, and the men if you’re imagination is vivid enough. The dresses of the Bond girls are artfully arranged on mannequins that imitate the, ah, proportions of the actresses. My favourite was Sophie Marceau’s red number from The World is Not Enough. There’s also a poker table featuring the costumes of that tense scene in Casino Royale, and every incarnation of Bond’s suave tuxedo, the cut of which is said to still influence formal wear today.
Exotic locations are part of the appeal of Bond and the next chamber shows how each film created a unique take on the real world. Bond books and movies play up the romance of locations from the Alps of Switzerland to the Caribbean, showing us locales that can be found in the guidebooks but are usually much sexier on the screen and the page. Skiing with a helicopter in the Alps looks a bit cooler than riding up the chairlift! But Designing 007 argues that the Bond films helped fuel the global tourism industry and fired the imaginations of a new generation of travellers, so we all got a bit of the action.
A good villain makes a great movie, and there’s a whole room devoted to the evil doers that try and always fail to bring our man down. There are cabinets of costumes, props and storyboards; the highlight for me was Jaws’ metal teeth. Those things must have felt horrible when they were in!
Deep in the bowels of the Barbican is the last Bond exhibit – the ice palace. Here you can see all the different ways the Bond universe depicts snow, ice and skiing. I’m learning to ski at the moment and can honestly say the stunts I saw being pulled off by Moore, Dalton and Brosnan were inspiring, although I don’t fancy I’ll be surfing any giant iceberg waves any time soon!
Feeling thirsty we went back upstairs to the Bond Martini Bar and ordered a brace of cocktails to parch our sightseeing thirst. The sun was definitely not over the yard arm (hard to tell in the British summer anyway) but the mood was right. I had a Vesper Martini, a drink Bond orders in the book and film of Casino Royale. It’s three measures of Gordon’s, one of Vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet shaken with ice and served with a slice of lemon peel. Wickedly strong stuff and I don’t know how Bond manages to shoot straight after one of those. Carmen had a Martini mixed with chilli, quite fiery and refreshing. We walked away buzzing from the exhibits and have ordered a few Bond movies to watch. It will be fun spotting the things we just saw, and of course mixing up our own cocktails to match. Shaken, not stirred naturally.