Diamonds Are Not Forever: visual and narrative excess and deprivation in the James Bond franchise

Curator's Note

Among the most recognizable features of the long-running series of James Bond films, are the elaborate and over-complex lairs of the villains. From the outset in the first film adapted from Ian Fleming’s novels, Dr. No, we are given a lavish mise-en-scene that denotes the excessive nature of the character, also of the nature of villainy itself. We are told from the moment we see Dr. No’s operation that this is a man of overblown taste and wealth that quite likely results from his criminal enterprise. We are to equate the very notion of excess in regards to the notion of criminality on the grandest scale. How often do we see entire islands bought and paid for, and turned into bases for the ranking figures of vast organizations like Spectre? There is nothing particularly radical about this line of thought in regards to excess and the criminal in the James Bond films, as this aspect has received some attention and has been spoofed in numerous other media. These villains are excessive in both narrative, and in the visual style with which they are presented.

What has notably bee missing from discussions of these films, is the converse element of mise-en-scene in regards to MI6, the British Secret Service of which James Bond, 007, is a part. MI6 headquarters is almost entirely depicted in two rooms: a reception area and M’s office. All are earth tones and relatively sparse. The comparison between MI6 and the lairs of the villains is stark and represents a dichotomy between the law-abiding and those that opt to break it. Furthermore, it is key to note how often the villains are presented as being quasi, or outright, ethnic in nature, in juxtaposition with the droll British MI6. The hints of colonial past is present and seeks order as opposed to the unchecked extravagance of the villain in these films.

James Bond himself, the titular spy, is the lone figure that can traverse this divide, and can seemingly, seamlessly slip into either position. This is, essentially, what makes him an effective spy. However, it is always fleeting. Bond never keeps what he attains. Even the women who he ends up with are but momentary pleasures before he is thrust back into the sparse world of MI6. He may dally with the excess, taste it in baubles and frills, but ultimately for James Bond, diamonds are not forever.

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