No, I’m not kidding. It is Bond in the Parc these days – in the huge Grande Halle (that is repetitive, I know) of the park. I had never been to the Villette before, and it is more than worth a visit. It is one of the main homes to the performing arts in Paris. Its combination of traditional and wildly modern buildings stuns the visitor – and this visitor barely penetrated the edge of the huge green space cut with theaters, performance spaces, schools, museums, and play spaces. I spotted hordes of Parisians playing Pokemon Go.
But that’s for another day, at least for me. I was quite focused on finding the Grande Halle – not very challenging, as it sits at one of the main entrances to the park. The exhibit cost a huge amount of money and it was completely worth those twenty euros. Having been traveling the world for four years, this 50 YEARS OF BOND STYLE exhibit has finally landed in Paris, and one can imagine that simply moving it around has cost a pretty penny. (“Pretty penny” is technical language for I couldn’t find it online. That is distinct from “Moneypenny,” which has a wholly different Bond connection.) The traveling exhibit is generously sized, adequately though not fulsomely narrated, beautifully presented, and full of objects, photos, and film clips that just make the visitor smile. The literature suggests that there are more than 500 props unique to the films.
The visitor is led from one space to another… hallways and narrow chambers give way to LARGE halls with generous displays of costumes, set photos, sketches, the wonderful props always present in the Bond films (cars, flying cars, boats, weapons, gadgets, jewelry), and even larger screens featuring encounters with horrid villains of all descriptions and impossible escapes. It’s fun to imagine the cinematographer’s joy at shooting the plane crashing through the wooden barn.
In fact there are a number of crashes and splinterings as viewed from the front, the object in motion coming straight at the viewer. Naïf that I am, I had not thought very much about how those scenes, those perspectives, had been sketched on storyboards. There are many set design sketches and storyboards throughout the exhibit, and for me those were almost the most exciting aesthetic expressions of the Bond style.
The “Bond style” is a tongue-in-cheek reflection of the postwar world as American consumers were the first to experience it. Yes, indeed, Ian Fleming was British, from a distinguished family, Eton-educated, with actual spy credentials from the war. But in the prolonged, pinched postwar recovery years of the late 1940s and 1950s, only the Americans, and a few bubble-dwellers in British and European societies, enjoyed the sheer fun of not fighting any more and having enough to eat. In a sense, what the movies did, starting with Dr. NO in 1962, was to capture and promote the belated recovery of England and the supercharged London Sixties. The Bond style not only offered a funhouse mirror picture of the Cold War, it also drew on utterly conventional ideas of love, gender, sex, and danger in order to pretend to challenge those conventions. Women could be very, very evil indeed – some stayed evil and some defected to Bond’s side for the sex. Evil men came in all shapes, sizes, and class affiliations – rather like the real world. It would be possible to critique the Bond world for its slavish adherence to the constrained fantasy life of its own time, but what would be the point of that? A slightly different angle on the sometimes fake empowerment of Bond women (so to speak) was the influence of the Bond films on Hollywood’s flirtation with a cleaned-up, made-up feminism in the sixties and seventies. The Bond women’s competence, as well as their enslavement to Bond’s sexual power, would be echoed time and again in the “pioneering” police and spy shows on TV in that era: shows like The Mod Squad, Cagney and Lacey, Police Woman, Girl from UNCLE (an Ian Fleming co-write, in some sense), The Avengers, and of course Charlie’s Angels. Microcritiques of most of these shows would turn up pesky remnants of sexism and enslavement to the sexual dominance of men….et cetera. But it is fun to note the huge impact of the Bond films on television content and the roles of women as good guys, bad guys, and dangerous guys, in the gun-toting gut-punching “guy” sense of that concept.
The photographs in the Bond exhibit are, interestingly, largely black and white, and many are from the movie sets. Oh, what I’d give to be a set photographer. These are classic monochrome frames, actually quite formal (Hollywood classic elegance) while recording the informal, dynamic activities on set. The most exciting set of photos – and props and costumes as well, actually – were taken from the archives of SPECTRE, the Bond film that opened last year with a staged Day of the Dead sequence in Mexico City. One of the video clips shows hundreds of extras being prepared at makeup stations on set. Larger than life, scary, wonderful, and effective both in black and white and color. I love that the photo sequence of this technicolor event is in black and white (you can see my bad phone capture of it above).
And here are some of the costumes and props from SPECTRE.
I think you can tell that I’m perhaps not sufficiently disturbed by the cultural messages of the Bond style.
That’s Bond — James Bond.