I was granted early entry to the much-anticipated Designing 007 show that is making its only North American bow at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The show consists of hundreds of costumes, props, and paraphernalia drawn from almost all of the 23 Bond films.
The show is based on a slightly larger presentation that was staged at London's Barbican. Given the different space the curators had to work with, they've created a nice, linear track through the world of 007, starting with M's office, moving through to a room of all things golden, past the gadget goodness, through his femme fatales, a quick stop off at the ubiquitous Casino setting, and finally a 'round-the-world trip to various exotic locations.
Even casual fans will enjoy the various models and props from the films, including Odd Job's weaponized head covering, the bullet with 007 engraved upon it, or the actual metal teeth from the decidedly un-fishy henchman "Jaws."
Among those bringing the exhibit to Toronto was fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave and her fellow co-curator, the Oscar winning costume designer Lindy Hemming. Cosgrave is a native of Toronto, and helped push the Barbican to pair with TIFF for the North American run of the exhibit.
I asked Jesse Wente, Head of Film Programmes at Lightbox, what he thought of the show. His enthusiasm was contagious: "As someone who has loved Bond since I can remember, it satisfied all of my geek desires!" I told him I was a big fan of the "underwater Loti," and he laughed, saying "Bond has always been a big predictor of technology, like cell phone technology, yet we're still waiting for the supercar submarine. I've got to get mine!"
I asked him to name one of his favourite elements of the show. "The thing that I spent a lot of time with that I hadn't expected was the mock-up of the sinking Palazzo from Casino Royale." This production model demonstrates the gimble used to sink the mansion during the epic finale of that film, and is but one of several unique production artifacts well worth studying.
Jesse talked about working with the guest curators to "cherry pick" the original exhibit to fit the space, choosing "the best items to really show the journey that tells about Bond and culture." This also results in some items unique to the Toronto show, including all the elements from Skyfall. "We're thrilled, any time it gives us a chance to show off one of Javier Bardem's wigs? Well, we've got to do it!" Amen, friend.
When introduced to Lindy Hemming, she proved to be a lovely, gregarious woman with a hearty laugh. Upon introduction, she seemed delighted when she thought that my name was "Jason ScreenAnarchy." We both agreed that this would be the name "for a good Bond character," and that she was "going to write in to the producers and tell them to use it!"
Having designed for five Bond films, from Golden Eye to Casino Royale, I wanted to know what her biggest challenge was in designing for the world of 007. "My biggest challenge was to bring back the effortless elegance of Sean Connery, but for the 90s, which is when I started doing it. I was given perfect material in Pierce Brosnan, I have to say."
Hemming touched on one of the more tacit elements of the Bond films that may be lost on international audiences, the notion of the British class system that very much plays a role in how Bond interacts with society. "To go back and think about the clothes that a man like Bond would own ... When it was written, it was very simple to understand him, because Fleming was of his class, and he wrote him as an amalgam of all the men who would dash through the war office and be gone on adventures."
Hemming continues, "When the first director, Terence Young, got his hands on the material, he was a tank commander, had been in the war, he knew what kind of guy he was. So I think the inspired choice of Sean Connery, in the hands of these two guys who were the real class, and Sean Connery wasn't, there was a dynamic setup between Connery's animalistic, working-class guy and their choice of his tailoring, placing him, and directing him how they thought he should behave. There's a tension there, which is why Connery, and that Bond, broke out of the screen and became an icon almost immediately."
Hemming thinks that "one of the main secrets to the success of Bond is that it's owned still by the very people that had it from the beginning, and they do understand the whole system out of what Bond springs." Asking her about the newer films, she says: "What we're seeing with Daniel Craig is a new incarnation of Bond. I think in Casino Royale it started, in Quantum of Solace it got a little lost, but in Skyfall we've got a Bond for two thousand and...[laughing] whatever the year is!"
I asked her directly how much these type of conversations and philosophical musings go into her work for designing for Bond, for the Christopher Nolan Batman films, and so on: "With me they're always going on! That's all I'm interested in. I'm interested in why people wear the clothes, and why they look like they do. I'm very interested in people's silhouettes, and how you can alter that in a person by dropping the waist, raising the arm hole, making the trousers too small, too long. All those things, for men and women, are completely riveting to me, and tailoring is a great assistant."
"When you tailor someone's suits you can make them look ridiculous or wonderful, you can really change what the person looks like. I think Daniel Craig now as Bond is a kind of Bond for the times that we live in, because he would not be sitting quietly in a naval office anywhere, or waiting to go off on an odd mission. If he was that man now, he would have been in Afghanistan, he would have been in Iraq, he would have been in Ireland, and all those things would make him into a harder, meaner inside kind of guy, which is what he's playing."
I asked her whether she could still watch a film without obsessing about costume details. "Yeah, if the movie's good enough. That's how I know in a way, if I sit absolutely still, and it's coming to me, I know that it's really good. If I'm not caring if the costumes are any good or not, then I know it has worked!"
Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style opens on October 25, 2012 at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.