WASHINGTON -- Do you have what it takes to be James Bond?
You can test yourself at the new exhibit “Exquisitely Evil: 50 years of Bond Villains,” which just opened at the International Spy Museum.
The character of James Bond was created by the late British writer Ian Fleming, a former Naval Intelligence officer during World War II.
“When Ian Fleming wrote his books, in particular when the books began to be turned into films, nobody knew anything very much about British intelligence at all,” says Dame Stella Rimington, former director general of the British Security Service MI5. “In those days the government didn’t even acknowledge that MI6 existed, so the films came into a sort of blank world, and told us that British intelligence contained men wearing black ties and dinner jackets and looking extraordinarily elegant and drinking martinis, shaken not stirred. I do believe that people actually thought that was true for a good long time.”
New eras, new villains
Starring six different actors over 50 years, the 23 Bond movies have always changed their villains to suit their times. Megalomaniacs, evil global tycoons, men set on wiping out all of mankind, and, on a more personal level, disaffected secret agents have all run up against Bond — and failed.
This exhibit tells their stories.
“Exquisitely Evil” starts with Fleming artifacts, including a one-of-a-kind walking stick with a golden-eye grip. Props from all the films are represented. Many will remember the steel teeth belonging to Jaws from Moonraker, elaborately handled torture knives, and a model of the Aston Martin DB5 first driven by Sean Connery in Goldfinger.
“James Bond’s films exceeded by several billion dollars all the other franchises in Hollywood history,” says Milton Maltz, who founded the International Spy Museum 10 years ago.
His original concept for the museum was that it be about espionage in the real world, not fiction. So, along with Bond, “Exquisitely Evil” includes 15 video clips from former CIA agents including Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by the George W. Bush administration, and Robert Baer, author of See No Evil, explaining how intelligence gathering really works.
License to kill? Truly?
Rimington says, “As the films have moved on, the world has moved with them, and they’ve moved with the world. So with the latest film, Skyfall, it’s a very different, different picture that’s presented.” The closing room is devoted to the dangers of modern-day cyber-warfare.
Museum goers will enjoy the interactive exhibits. There’s “Can you hang?” where you can test how long you can hang onto a metal bar — which starts to slowly turn after a certain point.
Anna Slafer, director of the museum, says they wanted to make people “reflect on ‘how have I been affected by fiction over the years.’” One question from an interactive poll is “007 has a license to kill. Do you think that real intelligence officers have a license to kill?”
About that question: At a hearing in 2006 on the death of Princess Diana, a former director of the British secret service, Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, said the agency did have the authority to use “lethal force” to safeguard the nation’s security. But Dearlove, known as “C” during his spy days, denied the notion, bandied about at the time, that the agency was somehow tied to Diana’s death.