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Tribute to Sir Ken Adam and his James Bond films

Art Directors Guild Awards 2013

In 1962 Ken Adam designed “Dr. No,” the first Bond. It was a relatively low-budget spy film from a popular series of novels.

How special a film did anyone expect? Did the audience expect that white dungeon of Dr. No’s, with the huge circular ceiling grille, the polished stone floor — and the tiny spindly wooden chair? Why did Sir Ken give us this German-Expressionism-meets-futurism-in-Technicolor world in order to reflect Dr. No’s combination of menace and good taste.

Lots of other good-looking pictures were released in 1962 — “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” “The Longest Day,” “Lolita,” “Hatari,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and some Elvis movies — but, unlike “Dr. No,” none of them opened to an audience that had never before seen anything quite like what it was seeing.

In 1964, Adam had a bigger canvas: “Goldfinger.” This time out he set the look for stylish, cool, high-design filmmaking that has stood ever since. The centerpiece, of course, is the film’s Fort Knox set — a melding of a Piranesi-esque prison and ’60s futurism. You have to go back to 1936’s visionary “Things to Come” — directed William Cameron Menzies, who was also the production designer on “Gone With the Wind” — to find something as grand. But “Things” was a fantasy; “Goldfinger” felt real and the audience bought it.

Other top films of 1964 — “A Fistful of Dollars,” “Marnie,” “Fail Safe,” “Zulu,” “Topkapi” “Seven Days in May” and more Elvis pictures — all take place in a more traditional, less visually novel, universe than “Goldfinger.”

“It’s one of those films that make the cinema move forward,” said Italian director Federico Fellini at “Goldfinger’s” Rome premiere. “As the years go by, and we honor the beauty of Sir Ken’s work, we must also remember how brave, and inventive, and original the work was in its time.

As it happens, one other 1964 picture was also different, stylish and innovative: the outlandish but still frighteningly believable “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” with its iconic war room. The production designer: Ken Adam.

Muto’s credits include “Species.”

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