Bond's bad guys
It's appropriate that there is a Jaguar XKR convertible at the entrance to the International Spy Museum's “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains” exhibit.
Any authentic trip through the world of MI6's finest, James Bond, requires visuals — the cars, the girls, the guns — that shake and stir.
But the ambitious new Spy Museum exhibit — the entire first floor was redone to accommodate the 110 Bond artifacts — largely plows through the sensual, thrill-retentive, kitschy elements of the Bond franchise to focus on something bigger. We'll call it primordial geopolitical anxiety.
You've got a deep-seated doomsday fear nibbling at the edges of your Western consciousness? The 23-movie James Bond franchise has a villain for that.
In 1962's “Dr. No,” Julius No, of the diabolical criminal enterprise SPECTRE, plots nuclear chicanery from his hidden, technology-filled Caribbean lair, with the fate of the U.S. space program hanging in the balance. The film premiered less than two weeks before the Cuban missile crisis triggered 13 days of brinksmanship involving a real-world nuclear threat. The “Cold War Power Plays” section acquaints us with Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who, through seven movies — including “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever” — explores themes of economic sabotage and nuclear proliferation.
Other sections include “Drugs and Thugs” with the ruthless Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga in 1973's “Live and Let Die,” said to be modeled after the Harlem heroin dealer and crime boss Frank Lucas. And “Cold War Castoffs” includes North Korean secret-agent Zao, who drove the XKR in 2002's “Die Another Day.” There are the “Murderous Monopolists of the Information Age.” There's the rope used on Bond by the terrorist banker Le Chiffre, who's got a rare condition that makes him cry blood in 2006's “Casino Royale.”
And the machete and sting-ray whip that narco-kingpin Franz Sanchez, from 1989's “Licence to Kill,” used on his girlfriend.
Blanch, shudder, cringe.
Bond villains are reflective, and, sometimes, predictive of the anxieties of their times. “That's what give the movies a lot of their power,” says Alexis Albion, a guest curator for the exhibit who served on the 9/11 Commission. “They are drawing from real-life fears. ... They are anchored in a sense of real threat.”
Bond creator Ian Fleming visited the Soviet Union in the run-up to World War II and worked in British naval intelligence during the war. The ethos, themes and tropes of the Bond intelligence world draw from the reality of Fleming's firsthand knowledge.
If Bond fans are prone to sudden and powerful nerd-outs, it is partially due to that compelling intersection of fantasy and real-world spycraft.
“It's because he fills a vacuum in terms of public understanding about intelligence,” says Mark Stout, Spy Museum historian. “He is the public face of the private world of espionage.”
The exhibition includes Jaws's metal teeth from “Moonraker” and Goldfinger's shoes, mixed with Bond clips, book and film quotes and videos. There are sidebars on animal assassins, faceless minions and torture. And, commentary demonstrating the intersection between Bond and life includes Dame Stella Rimington, former director of Britain's MI5, talking about Bond's relationship with M in “Casino Royale,” and former CIA operative Valerie Plame talking about maintaining your cover.
Toward the end of the exhibit, the “Weapons of Mass Disruption” room questions our readiness for cyberterrorism, interspersed with a somber-looking President Barack Obama giving a news conference on the nation's readiness for a cyberattack. It's the scheme portrayed by Silva in “Skyfall,” the newest Bond movie, and it's the latest Western primordial fear.
“Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains” runs through late 2014 at the International Spy Museum, 800 F St. NW in Washington. Details: 202-393-7798 or www.spymuseum.org
Lonnae O'Neal Parker is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers Lookahead: Previewing Sunday’s game vs. Cleveland
- Wedding aboard Pittsburgh’s Gateway Clipper ends in arrests
- Housing market remains ‘disaster’ in Westmoreland County
- Unlike years past, strength of 2014 Steelers could be offense
- Pittsburgh police force’s diversity worsens since ACLU filed discrimination lawsuit in 2012
- Virginia GOP Senate candidate Gillespie piles up mileage in pursuit of Warner
- Moon girls team is savoring a return to big-school soccer
- Bitter loss fuels Kiski Area boys soccer
- Campus visit sells 4-star Ohio recruit Hall on Panthers
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu made 1st-time captain; Roethlisberger named for offense
- Pa. judge identified who denied Trib request to view sexually explicit emails circulated in AG’s Office