Friday, March 11, 2016

Godspeed Sir Ken Adam

Sir Ken Adam, the production designer best known for his work on the James Bond movies as well as such films as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and Barry Lyndon (1975), died on March 10 2016 at the age of 95.

Sir Ken Adam was born Klaus Hugo Adam  on February 5 1921 in Berlin. His mother ran a boarding house while his father ran a clothing store specialising in haute couture. Young Mr. Adam attended the Französisches Gymnasium Berlin. It was in 1934 that the family fled to England in the wake of the Nazi's rise to power. He attended St. Paul's School in London and then the University College London and Bartlett School of Architecture with the goal of becoming an architect.

With the outbreak of World War II Sir Ken Adam joined the Royal Pioneer Corps. In 1940 he joined the  the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was only one of three German-born pilots to serve in the RAF during the war. Among other things during the war, he supported ground troops at the battle of the Falaise Gap.

Following the war he broke into film, working as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman (1948). In the late Forties he served as a draughtsman on such films as Brass Monkey (1948), Third Time Lucky (1949), The Queen of Spades (1949, and Golden Arrow (1949). He served as assistant art director on the films Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949) and Eye Witness (1950).

During the early Fifties he continued to work as an assistant or associate art director on such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), The Crimson Pirate (1952), The Master of Ballantrae (1953), The Intruder (1953), Star of India (1954), and Helen of Troy (1956). His first work as a full-fledged art director was on Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), although he was uncredited. For his work on the film he was nominated for the Academy Award for Oscar Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour along with James W. Sullivan and Ross Dowd. He served as an art director on Night of the Demon (1957), The Angry Hills (1959), The Rough and the Smooth (1959), Let's Get Married (1960), and The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).

The Sixties saw what was possibly Sir Ken Adam's most famous work. He was the production designer on the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962) and during the Sixties served as production designer on the Bond films Goldfinger (1964) Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967). James Bond movies were not the only Ian Fleming property on which Mr. Adam worked. He also served as production designer on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), the film very loosely based on Ian Fleming children's book of the same name. For that matter, James Bond movies were not the only spy films on which he worked. He also worked on the first two films featuring Sir Michael Caine as spy Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File (1965) and Funeral in Berlin (1966). Aside from his work on the Bond films, Sir Ken Adam's best known work may have been on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which included the rather impressive War Room. During the Sixties he also worked on such films as Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), In the Cool of the Day (1963), Woman of Straw (1964), and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969).

During the Seventies Sir Ken Adam worked on two more James Bond films: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979). He was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for The Spy Who Loved Me. Mr. Adam won the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for his work on Barry Lyndon (1975) with Roy Walker and Vernon Dixon.  He also worked on such films as Sleuth (1972), The Last of Sheila (1973), Salon Kitty (1976), and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).

In the Eighties Sir Ken Adam worked on the films King David (1985), Agnes of God (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), The Deceivers (1988), Dead Bang (1989), and The Freshman (1990).  In the Nineties Sir Ken Adam was nominated for the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Addams Family Values (1993) with Marvin March. He won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for The Madness of King George (1994) with Carolyn Scott. He also worked on the films The Doctor (1991), Company Business (1991), Undercover Blues (1993), Boys on the Side (1995), Bogus (1996), In & Out (1997), and The Out-of-Towners (1999).

Sir Ken Adam's last film was Taking Sides (2001). He worked on the video game GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, which was released in 2004.

Sir Ken Adam was quite possibly one of the greatest production designers of all time. With the James Bond films he virtually invented the cinematic cliche of the master criminal's vast, secret hideout. His designs for SPECTRE's secret base in You Only Live Twice would set the tone for nearly all supervillain hideouts to come. His designs for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb remain among the most iconic in film history, particularly the War Room. It is difficult to understand how he was not nominated for an Oscar for the film.

While Sir Ken Adam was at home creating huge, futuristic sets such as the War Room in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or the various secret hideouts in the James Bond movies, he was also capable of subtler designs. He was particularly talented as art direction for period pieces. His work on such films as Barry Lyndon (1975)  and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) remain a benchmark in production design to this day. What is more, he could do work for any time period, whether it was 1000 BCE (as in the case of King David) or Nazi Germany (as in the case of Salon Kitty). Sir Ken Adam created some of the greatest production designs in film history. For that he will be remembered.

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