Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

…James Bond

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“This dream is for you, so pay the price.”

After waiting two long years, I was prepared to love every single second of the fifth season of Mad Men.  And love them I did, particularly the very last seconds of the season.  “You Only Live Twice” is one of my favorite James Bond themes from one of my favorite Bond films so I was cringing in period-fetish-induced pleasure as Don Draper ordered a signature old fashioned in that smoke-filled bar while Nancy Sinatra crooned away. (Did he, or didn’t he have a threesome?)

Play this song while you read the rest of this post.

While I sadly bid adieu to Mad Men, I was at least able to satisfy a Bond craving with LACMA’s most recently opened show (no, Levitated Mass does not count as a show—and after years of defending the rock and slot I was tragically underwhelmed), the overly-smartly titled: …James Bond.  The show’s existence was a surprise since it never appeared on LACMA’s website as an upcoming exhibition nor in LACMA’s advance exhibition schedule.  Is LACMA ashamed of this seemingly fluffy exhibition? – It shouldn’t be; the show is perfectly fitting for the museum while it rejuvenates its film program (and as it continues to woo the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to be its renter).  People love James Bond and certain people *raises hand* are fanatics for James Bond opening sequences—the content of the show.

…James Bond is co-organized by LACMA and LMU’s School of Film and Television and timed to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond Franchise.  The opening sequences play on several small and one large screen in a hallway-sized gallery that has been painted an unnecessarily bright red.  All 22 Bond films are included so the show is not about a curated selection.  What is the purpose then of doing an exhibition like this, especially when you can find all of the Bond opening sequences (most in HD) on Youtube?

Seeing these sequences in the institution (yes, that thing everyone in grad school seemed to hate despite being so very much a part of one) is less about creating context or serious academic exploration, and more about celebrating the artistry behind the Bond openings.  The consumption of this show in the museum (rather than on a computer screen) is a validation of these sequences as a specialized art form, and highlights a film legacy that both pioneered and continues to advance the specific time-based medium.

Consuming all the Bond opening sequences as a series reveals how little the imagery of franchise has changed over a half century (girls, guns and diamonds make for strong branding people), but simultaneously also reveals how the execution of this imagery has changed over the decades.  This change is obvious through two elements: the visuals and the sounds which make the Bond opening sequences glittering, sexy time capsules.

The opening sequence of Bond #2, From Russia with Love (1963), began the tradition of projecting imagery onto naked ladies—a technique also used on the golden girls in Goldfinger (1964). From projectors we advanced to lasers projected on tits and ass in Octopussy (1983).  This led to black lights and florescent paint in A View a to Kill (1985). Doesn’t that one look like a Rihanna video?  In the 90s, graphics leapt forward, although the opening sequences of GoldenEye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) seem crude now, lovable only in a nostalgic kind of way.

We are now in the era of the Craig, Daniel Craig.  I unabashedly proclaim that Casino Royale (2006) is my favorite film EVER. (Craig’s second outing as Bond is noteworthy only for its usage of the Palio di Siena and a staging of Tosca at Seebühne.)  These most recent Bond films continued the tradition of commissioning amazing musical tracks to accompany their opening sequences. This musical heritage includes songs by big-name artists (Duran Duran and Madonna) as well as surprising artists (Sheryl Crow anyone?).  I could and have listened to “You Only Live Twice” on repeat, but am currently debating if I love “The World Is Not Enough” by Garbage more.  It’s a complicated decision.  Like the Bond franchise, it is a balancing act/dilemma between being respectful and referential while striving to be forward-thinking, contemporary and sexy.

– H.I.

P.S. How excited am I for November 9!?

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