THE queen is not the only one to celebrate a jubilee in 2012. It is 50 years since James Bond, another British icon, first appeared on screen. Age has not wearied the dashing spy, though his hair colour, accent and taste in women, cocktails and tailoring has changed. In celebration of 007’s glamour and gadgetry, a retrospective opens at the Barbican in London on July 6th, the first leg of a three-year international tour.
The Bond films are the longest-running and (adjusting for inflation) most lucrative franchise in cinema. Their success depends on updating each one for its time while remaining pleasantly removed from reality. Ian Fleming’s much darker novels, on which the film character is based, presented a world of champagne, fine food and foreign travel far beyond the reach of most readers. As such things became ordinary, the films came to feature ever glitzier frocks, outlandish sets and whizzy gadgets.
Each instalment holds a mirror to the fears of a generation. The villains eventually leave Russia, get hold of nukes and set up terrorist cells. But the films—and the exhibition—take in shifting social mores too. Pussy Galore is unforgettable for many reasons, but when “Goldfinger” came out in 1964, she was one of the first leading women to wear trousers on screen. Although Bond still likes a tipple, there is no sign of the 70-a-day cigarette habit he sports in the 1953 novel “Casino Royale”. A few of his high-tech toys have helped to launch commercial products, including the first digital watch in “Live and Let Die”.
Bond is not an establishment figure, says curator Bronwyn Cosgrave. Rather, he is “a wild card with a better suit than everyone else”. Though some of those suits were tailored in Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, and although the films are Hollywood productions, 007 remains essentially British. The 23rd official Bond movie, “Skyfall”, to be released this autumn, seems to sell Britishness more strongly than ever: the trailer features skyscapes of London, coffins draped with the union flag, and action sequences by St Paul’s, Big Ben and the Tube. In the year of the London Olympics the spy has finally come home.
From The Economist, HERE.