"Designing 007," at the TIFF Lightbox, lifts the lid on 50 years of Bond's guns, gadgets, and gear.
Perhaps no brand has contributed so much to the iconography of popular culture as Bond. In the name of Queen and country, the British superspy has been besting bad guys, bedding babes, quaffing dry martinis, and delivering drier quips since 1962. In the process, he has become cinema’s longest serving franchise figurehead. To mark the golden anniversary of Bond’s film debut, TIFF has partnered with London’s Barbican Centre and EON Productions to present “Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style,” a celebration of the craft behind Bond’s half-century of big-screen exploits. The exhibition offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves within five decades’ worth of iconic ephemera—from Daniel Craig’s skimpy Casino Royale swim trunks to a fibreglass replica of Jill Masterson’s gold-coated corpse.
Visitors to the Lightbox lobby between now and January 20 will find themselves staring down the rifled barrel that serves as the exhibition’s entrance, an inspired rendition of title designer Maurice Binder’s trademark introductory motif. During last week’s media preview, “Designing 007” co-curator Brownwyn Cosgrave revealed that the exhibition’s physical layout is modelled on the well-established structure of a typical Bond adventure. Thus, beside Binder’s famous gun barrel are 23 monitors featuring all of the elaborate title sequences that have heralded the beginnings of 007’s escapades, each a psychedelic kaleidoscope of silhouetted nudes and phallic firearms.
Beyond the circular entranceway is a nook that commemorates novelist and Bond creator Ian Fleming. An adjacent space is mocked up to evoke M’s office, where Bond receives intelligence briefings ahead of each new op. On display there are the padded leather doors that kept naval secrets from prying ears in The Spy Who Loved Me, conceptual illustrations by original Bond production designer Ken Adam, and an array of 007’s personal effects, including various passports and a silenced Walther PPK, Bond’s signature sidearm since his fist cinematic outing in Dr. No.
Equally unmistakable—and even more likely to inspire fetishistic fascination—is the titular pistol from The Man With the Golden Gun, on display in the exhibition’s Gold Room. Also housed alongside Scaramanga’s collapsible shooter is the previously mentioned 24-carat cadaver, the gold-flecked tux worn by Goldfinger as his laser memorably encroached on Bond’s crotch, and Oddjob’s razor-brimmed bowler. The vault-like decor of the chamber itself is a tip of the hat to Ken Adam’s Fort Knox set for Goldfinger, the film that propelled the then-fledging Bond to record-breaking box-office returns. Though a brief departure from the exhibition’s follow-in-Bond’s-footsteps floor plan, the Gold Room will, for many, be the main attraction of “Designing 007.”
For others, the exhibition’s highlight will doubtless be Q Branch, where MI6’s R&D boffins outfit Bond with the bleeding-edge gadgets that have long been a series staple. Lined with wooden packing crates stacked from floor to ceiling, this space affords visitors intimate views of dozens of 007’s deadly toys, including From Russia With Love‘s exploding briefcase, Tomorrow Never Dies‘ multi-functioning taser phone, and Skyfall‘s biometric twist on an otherwise back-to-basics Walther. Also featured are design sketches from the Bond art department, as well as familiar video clips of Bond deploying the devices in the field.
Because Bond’s unique brand of espionage often entails a visit to a gambling establishment, next in store is a casino. Fitted with mirrored panelling and crystal chandeliers, this room hosts the exhibition’s largest selection of costumes, complete with a variety of our hero’s standard-issue Saville Row evening wear, as well as the designer finery worn by several of the series’ femmes fatales. On display, too, is the actual card table at which Craig struck it lucky against Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre in his debut performance as 007, in Casino Royale.
Le Chiffre’s comrades in villainy from other Bond films, meanwhile, are given their due in the neighbouring gallery, with installations spotlighting Grace Jones’ statuesque May Day, Charles Gray’s Blofeld, and Richard Kiel’s Jaws. In addition to cinema’s most infamous grill, featured artifacts include Tee Hee’s prosthetic pincer arm from Live and Let Die, the S&M-inspired flight suit sported by GoldenEye villainess Xenia Onatopp, and Rosa Klebb’s From Russia With Love–vintage flick-knife lace-ups.
Nefarious though they may be, Bond’s nemeses have at least consistently demonstrated a keen sense of the exotic in situating their evil lairs. And so the home stretch of “Designing 007” is a lengthy corridor devoted to the locales of Bond’s many missions, which have spanned the globe and beyond. Moonraker, indeed, receives the most extensive presentation here. There are storyboards, miniatures, and even a pair of space suits from the film’s climactic low-orbit laser battle.
Anticipating that few will leave the exhibition without a hankering to relive that movie moment (along with Roger Moore’s feats of zero-gravity hanky panky), TIFF will present Moonraker as part of its screening program, Shaken, Not Stirred: Bond on Film. The series will feature all 22 pre-Skyfall EON productions, from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace. Like “Designing 007,” the series runs through January 20.
Of course, any product as popular as Bond is bound to inspire imitations, and TIFF has also curated a parallel sidebar dedicated to pretenders to 007’s throne. Entitled Beyond Bond: The Other Secret Agents, the series surveys everything from knock-offs and spoofs to deliberate bids to rid the spy genre of Bond’s opulence and mystique. Notable selections include Michael Hazanivcius’ pre–The Artist venture, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, starring Jean Dujardin; Stephen Chow’s action comedy From Beijing With Love; Sydney Polack’s ’70s paranoia thriller Three Days of the Condor; and The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine as everyman espionage agent Harry Palmer.
Photos by Julian Carrington/Torontoist.