James Bond villains are the heroes of new exhibit
Where would James Bond be without Dr.No, Goldfinger or the statuesque May Day? Agent 007 may be a hero, but in this new exhibit in the US capital the bad guys are the stars of the show.
"Exquisitely Evil: 50 years of Bond Villains," which opened Friday for a two-year run at the International Spy Museum, recounts a half century of these infamous adversaries, from Dr. No in the 1962 film of the same name, to Raoul Silva in Skyfall, the just-released 23rd Bond film.
Reflecting the real-life Cold War animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union, the evil Blofeld, head of the global crime network SPECTRE, tried to pit the superpowers against each other.
In the 1970s, Karl Stromberg and Hugo Drax threatened the world with nuclear weapons in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, while drug kingpins reigned in Live and Let Die, and License to Kill.
"Where Bond remains the same, over 50 years the villains have changed, they've changed to reflect changing times," said Meg Simmonds, archive director at Eon Productions, the company that makes the films and an advisor for the exhibit.
Well, not changed in all respects, she acknowledged.
Each Bond villain is "wealthy, intelligent, charming on occasion, yet devious, depraved and deranged."
To illustrate each theme, excerpts from the Bond films play next to displays connecting the plot to events at the time the film was made, or to the individual who inspired the character.
The hundred or so items on display include the weapon-concealing high heels of a real-life Rosa Klebb, the deadly spy from From Russia With Love, and the bullet that inflated and exploded Dr. Kananga, the bad guy in Live and Let Die.
Also on display are costumes worn by dozens of anonymous henchmen, though "why minions are so easy to recruit is an open question," the exhibit notes humorously, pointing out "they labor long hours, earn no vacations and the separation clause to their contracts has only one provision: early death."
While Bond may be a poor depiction of the life of a real spy, "he never does anything secretly," former CIA analyst Mark Stout complained, the bad guys are "are exaggerated but most have a basis in reality."
In the most recent films, the heroes take on terrorists, where "you never quite know who is a member and who isn't. That's quite similar to al Qaeda," Stout said.
In License to Kill, the cocaine king Franz Sanchez, iguana perched on his shoulder, was modeled after Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who raised hippopotamuses on his property, he added.
But not all the villains have roots in real life, British espionage expert Chris Moran laughed, citing in particular Jaws, the giant, metal-mouth assassin from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
"When you're seven feet five inches (2.3 meters), it's impossible to operate in the shadows," he grinned.
"Henchmen, to kill spies, need to blend in," he said.
And the femme fatale Bond girls?
"During the Cold War, the KGB and the GRU were regularly sending female agents into the USA and the UK hoping to honey trap civil servants with access to atomic secrets or defense secrets," Moran said, referring to the Soviet secret police and the Russian foreign intelligence service.
The blockbuster 007 movies, full of special effects and cheesy lines, may seem over the top, but real-life villains "are just as bad, if not worse, than Bond villains," said Tony Mendez, whose story inspired the recent non-Bond spy thriller, Argo.