Ken Adam: the man who created the visual style of James Bond
He fled Nazism, served in the Royal Air Force and left an indelible mark in Hollywood with his work as a designer on the 007 franchise and films like ‘Dr. Strangelove’
“The cinema is there to heighten the imagination; I have always tried to make sure it does so.” So said German-British production designer Ken Adam, who passed away in 2016. You can see through his work how he put this maxim into practice: his designs were ambitious and inventive, always taking advantage of wide spaces and plays on perspective. He is remembered primarily for his work on the early James Bond films. Adam was, according to MGM, responsible for “creating the visual style” of the franchise, because in addition to the sets he also designed many of the secret agent’s gadgets, such as the ejector seat in 007′s iconic Aston Martin.
Adam’s contribution to cinema, however, is far from limited to James Bond. This is displayed in The Ken Adam Archive, a collector’s book (which goes on sale in April) edited by Taschen together with the German Cinematheque, to which Adam donated a selection of more than 5,000 of his works, both published and unpublished, in 2012. Among Adam’s thousands of sketches, one stands out, of a certain “war room,” which would become one of Stanley Kubrick’s most famous film sets in Dr. Strangelove. According to Rainer Rother, artistic director of the German Cinematheque, Adam’s philosophy was that of a “larger than life” design, and in his drawings one can “appreciate the details and steps of his meticulous creative process.”
His life, although discreet, was as monumental as his work. As a young man he fled the Nazi regime with his family and, after settling in the UK, served in the Royal Air Force during the war. He got his first job in film working as an art assistant and the rest is history: more than 70 movies and two Oscars place him at the very top of a profession that took a long time to earn its deserved prestige. Others came before Ken Adam, but he lifted them up.
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