Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Designing 007, Barbican Centre

This exhibition celebrating 007 in his 50th year on film is quite an undertaking for the Barbican. There being 22 films with a 23rd imminent, there is a huge inventory of design tat that could be put on show. As it is, the show needs a fair bit of space, so they've set it up in three locations - The Curve gallery, a fairly new area underneath the Library and in a cinema space in the basement.

Besides original clothing, gadgets, set design sketches and models there are a number of screens playing pertinent clips from the films and interviews with key designers. These videos, freely available on the exhibition site, are some of the best things in the exhibition. Additionally there are on-set photos and some period footage; that of the French premiere of Goldfinger is very entertaining.

There are some ill-considered things. There's a picture of Lucian Freud on a wallchart showing Ian Fleming's involvement in the films, but apparently no information as to why. I asked one of the staff but she didn't know (Google saith - the artist painted Fleming's wife Anne, right).

In the Villains section there's a cabinet exhibiting the fencing gear from Die Another Day which describes the two sabres used in the fencing club scene as 'foils' (more information on the basic difference via Wikipedia).

Particularly odd and, I'm afraid, irritating was the construction of an exhibit of Solitaire sitting at her tarot-reading desk. Her shoes are virtually concealed but worst of all, the most important card(s) 'The Lovers', a pack of which Bond rigs in order to win Solitaire over, are harshly obfuscated by shadow falling from the candelabra either side. I asked an usher if she could move the candle sticks and she (reasonably) said that she couldn't. Later I spoke to a supervisor who tried moving the candlesticks while no-one was looking but they are adhered to the desk.

I would have liked to have seen more exhibits that are period influences on the style. The show is exclusively 007 and we have to take the word of the curator every time we read the line '... it was very fashionable' or the suchlike.

Finally, while I'm exhausting my whinging, the gift shop tat at the end, though dismissably silly did have one excruciatingly lazy piece - a Martini glass with a picture of an olive on the side of it. The point about Bond is not that he likes Martinis but that he likes them 'shaken, not stirred'. He's not a drinker but a specific drinker. In Casino Royale, book and film he dictates the component parts of a Martini and how it should be prepared before naming it the Vesper. This drink does not have an olive but a twist of lemon peel... as one can see from the badges and tea towels on the next door table.

This give-them-any-old-shit mentality aside, I found myself drawn in almost exclusively by the women's costumes. Pam Bouvier's complicatedly-colourful halterneck gown by Jodie Lynn Tillen is not only worth seeing for real to get its detail. I also felt the teenager in me that clapped eyes on Carey Lowell and suddenly broke out into pubescence. I had a similar reaction to seeing Vesper Lynd's purple gown by Lindy Hemming. Tantalisingly, there's also a Jany Temine gown that will be worn by 'Severine' in the forthcoming movie Skyfall.

Touchingly, I also appreciated the industrial gnashers that were worn by Richard Kiel as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me; there's a note next to them, describing how the actor had to remove them after every take as they were too uncomfortable to wear for long. A sweet anecdote about the most brutal henchman of the series.

There are bits and pieces outside the exhibition proper too, including the Aston Martin DB5 at the entrance + Tussauds-style Connery for the photo-op. But the now-ascendant cynic in me saw these simply as carrots to reel in passing trade. The obviousness and rather imperfect mounting of the exhibition coloured my view of it. The best exhibit is that which is not pointed at at all - the upper atrium of the Barbican Centre itself, used as a location backdrop in A Quantum Of Solace (2008).

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