Sir Ken Adam, 1921-2016

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Dr Strangelove, 1964.

It’s an oft-repeated truism that Ken Adam had a greater claim to the success of the early Bond films than Sean Connery. His sets gave an other-worldly and luxurious charm to situations and characters that would otherwise have appeared mundane. He ignored convention and crafted spaces that were impossibly grand and fantastically beautiful. And yesterday, at the age of 95, he died.

Ken Adam’s death came as a particular shock to me, especially a day after the loss of legendary music producer George Martin. Both of these men created art that has become very dear to my heart. Ken Adam’s sets were an inspiration to me as a child – he built worlds where anything seemed possible and relished in the magical potential of cinema. From the huge, cavernous SPECTRE base in You Only Live Twice, or the super-tanker interior from The Spy Who Loved Me, Adam’s buildings defined many of my formative years. It is thanks to this German-Jewish refugee that my love for James Bond, and cinema as a whole, was nourished. It is unlikely that without him this blog would even exist.

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You Only Live Twice, 1967.

As I grew up I was able to appreciate Adam’s work in more complex films, particularly in collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, and it is here that you will find his finest achievements. The war room from Dr Strangelove has become an iconic symbol not only within cinema, but as an image of the cold war in all its insanity. The production design in Barry Lyndon, another Kubrick production and one of my favourite films, has a sense of authenticity and immersion that is un-paralleled. It was for this film that Adam won his first of two Academy Awards. He should have won more, but at least we may be glad that his art received proper recognition within his lifetime.

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Barry Lyndon, 1975.

Outside of cinema, Ken Adam was a courageous, warm, and impressive individual. He was one of the few German citizens to serve in the RAF during the Second World War, helping to bring about the end of a regime which forced him to leave his homeland. In interviews and articles, Adam’s passion for life and cinema shines through above all else.

Writing this short piece, I’ve found myself fighting back tears. I can’t help but feel foolish; crying about the death of a 95 year old I never met and probably didn’t have very much in common with. But perhaps this, more than anything, illustrates a life well lived. Surely our greatest wish is for our brief existence to have meaning for others, and Ken Adam’s time on Earth certainly meant a lot to me.

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