Now that Skyfall has made roughly eighty bajillion dollars since opening in the UK two weeks ago and just this past weekend here (all dollar amounts totally measured in scientific terms), audiences craving more from the world’s suavest big screen secret agent Toronto residents and area tourists can head on down to the TIFF Bell Lightbox for another healthy dose of Ian Fleming’s 007.
In addition to running all Bond films on select nights from now until January 20th, in the on site HSBC Gallery space, visitors can take a tour through Bond’s 50 year history in the exhibit Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style. Curated primarily by EON Productions and The Barbican Centre, guest-curated by fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave and Academy Award®–winning costume designer Lindy Hemming, and designed by Ab Rogers, it’s a look back at 50 years of gadgets, outrageous sets, reckless gambling, dangerous women, heinous villains, and everything else that’s made James Bond one of the world’s most instantly recognizable cinematic and literary characters.
Between a display of the evil Skyfall villain’s duds (worn by Javier Bardem) and a wall of video screens devoted to showing the art and care that went into each individual title sequence in the Bond series, visitors are invited to go through the literal gun barrel opening title sequence and into the exhibit. To the left of the entrance is a room devoted to the real origins of Bond and a look at famed author Ian Fleming. To the right and in the immediate is M’s office, replete with the famed leather door and hatrack, before going into the exhibition proper.
Once inside the gallery itself, each room is divided into a specific look at the many iconic facets of the franchise. A good place to start for casual fans would be the room devoted to all things golden and shimmering. A frequent trope throughout the series, the precious metal gets a whole room devoted to it, including a rotating bed with an unfortunate dummy made up to look like famed baddie Auric Goldfinger’s first victim. Also worth noting in the room is the weapon of choice used by Christopher Lee’s assassin in The Man With the Golden Gun, henchman Oddjob’s hat from Goldfinger, and some incredibly detailed looks at how that same film uncannily replicated the famed vaults at Fort Knox.
Scaramanga and Goldfinger aren’t the only villains who get their due here. There’s an entire room full of paraphernalia tied to evil doers and their henchmen/women. Fans can get a look at the everything from the shoe knife from From Russia With Love to the mechanical right arm of Kananga’s “right hand man” from Live and Let Die to the metallic, razor sharp grill worn by Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
To combat such evil, the wares of MI:6’s Q Branch gets their due in another part of the exhibit. Largely played across most of the entries in the series by the late character actor Desmond Llewelyn, many of the great gadgets that assisted James in his mission are on display in a crate and plexiglass like room. There’s camera, attaché cases, attaché cases with cameras in them, BROOMS with cameras in them, crazy looking guns, and most spectacularly, cross sections of the awesome submersible from The Spy Who Loved Me. For those more fond of the new Bond, you can find Bond’s Walter PPK with palm scanner from Skyfall here, right next to new Q Ben Whishaw’s spectacles.
In the lavish casino room amid the glamour of a high stakes den of intrigue and thievery, the more fashion minded Bond viewer can take a glimpse of all the various forms of evening wear the men and women of the franchise stepped out in. From tuxes to Jimmy Choos, the dapper outfits stand in and around the original poker table from Casino Royale (which is far bigger in real life than I expected it would be) and appear in league with some priceless jewellery that remains under constant guard at all times.
One of the biggest treats for fans of the series, however, will be the large room that’s more literally about designing 007, featuring a lot of sketches, models, and schematics from long time production designer Ken Adam, including his stellar work on the otherwise really mediocre and goofy Moonraker. He was one of the biggest reasons the series worked as well as it did, especially in the Roger Moore years, and to see his work justly celebrated in a gallery outside of a DVD special features documentary is justifiably deserved.
Before we left our private tour of the exhibit, we cornered Jesse Wente, Head of Film Programmes for the Lightbox and fellow Bond fan, and interrogated him quite civilly and not under harsh lighting about his favourite aspects of the film series and the exhibit and what it took to bring the exhibit to its only stop in North America during Bond’s celebrated golden anniversary.
Dork Shelf: You’ve probably seen all of these films already, so when the exhibition came here, was there something that you learned that surprised you that you never would have learned before?
Jesse Wente: I’ve been a Bond fan forever, and as you say, I’ve seen all the movies, but I think when you gather all this material together from fifty years and twenty-two, now twenty-three, movies, and you put it all together, you begin to see connections or a unity of vision that you wouldn’t necessarily find out. It’s one of the most interesting things about curating retrospectives and things like that. You see something that changes the way you look at what you’re programming.
For me, what stuck with me while walking through the show was that I had seen all these movies, but I had watched them at the rate they came out with two, maybe three, years in-between. I don’t think I ever watched a bunch of them all in a row before this, and seeing them that way while I was programming this and after seeing the show you see how truly connected they are. Not just by the actors, the producers, or the theme songs, but by the approach to filmmaking and how everything is so meticulous and designed to the nth degree in every single frame, and to see how it was that way from the beginning and how it continues to this day shows a real unity of vision. There’s a number of different filmmakers, different actors, different technologies, and all that, but the core essentials of what makes a Bond film are really unchanged since Dr. No. I think seeing them all related that way was the biggest surprise for me, but I was also just as thrilled to see Oddjob’s hat. (laughs) I could never have imagined how much glee that could bring to a grown man.
DS: I also loved the henchman’s arm from Live and Let Die.
JW: Tee-hee’s arm! Yeah, that’s another pretty awesome one, and Rosa Klebb’s boot from From Russia With Love. All that stuff makes it feel like being a little boy again.
DS: Seeing the work of Ken Adam in there was really something special for me, and kind of one of the highlights of the tour.
JW: Yeah, and I think because some of those storyboards and a lot of that art are so meticulously done that it’s just fascinating. They storyboard everything. It’s one of the most storyboarded franchises I’ve ever seen. And it’s all drawn by hand first.
DS: It’s a really big deal to have this exhibit this year during the 50th anniversary of Bond on screen. How aggressively did you guys have to pursue the exhibit or did they come to you?
JW: We made the call right away once we knew it was even possible, because the interesting thing about production companies and movie studios is that they don’t necessarily keep everything. In fact, most sort of pitch it right away, so when we’re talking about the 60s, they almost definitely did that unless it was a Western and you could use something over and over again. Or someone walked with it, or something. So even the idea that all these things were in existence was surprising, both to the curators at the Barbican Centre and to some of the curators. So when we heard that the Barbican Centre in London was doing it, we made the call right away. We were really thrilled that they entrusted us to bring the show here in an anniversary year, and as the first stop on the tour.
I think it actually speaks to certainly not only TIFF’s international reputation, but to how in only a few short years of the building being open to get partners like The Barbican Centre, MoMA, and some of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world to work with his and have that faith in us. We’re thrilled that they trust us to put these shows on and that they understand and see that for these cinema based shows that this is THE venue that was built for exactly these types of exploration into cinema and movie culture. I think we’re just fortunate and blessed that we just have this building where we can put shows on like this, because I’m not sure where this would have fit before the Lightbox or how it would have ever shown in Toronto. I think that’s really gratifying, and I’m still thrilled that The Barbican Centre did this with us.
DS: We’re sitting right in front of the huge wall of Bond title sequences right now. Do you have a personal favourite out of the bunch?
JW: Ooooooooh. Ahhhh. They’re really great. (pauses and thinks for a moment) I’d probably go old school and go with Live and Let Die. I think that’s the one I like the best. I mean, there’s that weird shift with the modern day movies because they went animated, but I still like the sort of old school ones. Plus, that one has that Paul McCartney theme song and one of the best scenes that comes before it, because that was always something that was key: what came before the credits. For me, it’s between that and Goldfinger.
DS: If you had one chance to steal anything at all from the exhibit and make it your own, what would it be?
JW: (laughs) Wow. You mean besides the priceless diamonds in the case there? (laughs) Believe it or not, even with the priceless diamonds, I would probably walk out with the golden gun.
The Designing 007 exhibit is open at the HSBC Gallery inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox Tuesday & Wednesday from 10am-7pm, Wednesday through Saturday from 10am-9pm, and Sunday from 12pm-7pm. (Closed Mondays) To book tickets or for more information on the films showing during the Bond retrospective this fall (or their Beyond Bond series featuring other famous big screen super spies of our day) head on over to tiff.net/bond.