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Spies spied on: from James Bond to Edward Snowden, from Mata Hari to Hedy Lamarr

2023-06-29T11:09:38.059Z

Highlights: The exhibition 'Top Secret. Cinema and espionage' delves into the fruitful feedback between secret seekers and the audiovisual. From the first sentence of Casino Royale, the first novel starring James Bond, to the last interview published in EL PAÍS with Edward Snowden. 270 pieces from 30 private collections and institutions: film posters, drawings, paintings, videos, installations, fragments of films, original film costumes such as Daniel Craig's tuxedo in Casino Royale. And there are the jewels: a poison-tipped umbrella with which the Bulgarian secret services murdered a dissident in 1978; watches with recorders.


The exhibition 'Top Secret. Cinema and espionage' delves into the fruitful feedback between secret seekers and the audiovisual


From "The smell, smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. The erosion of the soul produced by the big bets then becomes unbearable" to "I have not made public anything that endangers people. I think European governments are afraid of me" There is not only a time jump of more than six decades, but also a huge journey between fiction and reality. A journey between the first sentence of Casino Royale, the first novel starring James Bond, which its creator, Ian Fleming, published in 1952 and thus began the legend of the glamorous spy, to the last interview published in EL PAÍS (in September 2019) with Edward Snowden, CIA computer security expert and author in 2013 of one of the largest leaks of state secrets in history when he took out the program of mass surveillance on a global scale by the CIA and the US National Security Agency. For some, a hero, a whistleblower; for others, a villain, a sneak.

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This game of mirrors, this double face of espionage, who is a spy and who is spied on, who is a patriot and who is a traitor, is at the base of Top Secret. Cinema and espionage, the exhibition that starts at the CaixaForum in Madrid his Spanish stay (later he will go to Barcelona, Zaragoza, Seville and Valencia) and that comes from the French Cinémathèque. Top Secret talks about real espionage, which generates glorious fiction and how both have fed each other. As happened with the Mafia and The Godfather (Italian-American criminals decided to adopt the ways and costumes with which they appeared characterized on screen), espionage and cinema have been communicating vessels since the birth of the second, to the point that, during the Cold War, the secret services of each side watched the films created by their opponent to elucidate their mood and learn from their methods.

Delving into the philosophical, "the actors spy to build their characters and the spies have to interpret in their covert missions, certain devices of film espionage and the technology used in real life by the secret services have ended up being the same, and even the directors use sound and image recording systems to stage what they want to tell, like the agents," explains Alexandra Midal, professor of art and design at HEAD University in Geneva, who curated the exhibition with Matthieu Orléan, from the French Cinémathèque.

Part of the exhibition focused on spies, with the bust 'Extase' (2020), by Nina Childress, which pays homage to Hedy Lamarr, in the foreground. Jaime Villanueva

In the exhibition, complete and very enjoyable, you can see 270 pieces from 30 private collections and institutions: film posters, drawings, paintings, videos, installations, fragments of films, original film costumes such as Daniel Craig's tuxedo in Casino Royale, historical documents and numerous authentic espionage gadgets. And there are the jewels: a poison-tipped umbrella with which the Bulgarian secret services murdered a dissident in 1978; watches with recorders; cigarette cases, bags (the only piece from Chinese espionage) and lighters that hide cameras; a pipe with a poisoned dart; one-dollar and one-ruble coins with compartments for microfilm; a tomavista that actually takes pictures on its side; a hat with a pistol strap designed by the British MI6; shoes with retractable blade, and the lipstick Kiss of Death, so named because it hides a single-shot pistol of the caliber 6 mm.

Real spy devices. In the center, a tomavista that actually takes pictures on its side (hence it is open); and on the right a women's bag from the Chinese secret service that hides a camera. Jaime Villanueva

Also personal albums of the authentic Mata Hari; Stasi makeup outfits (the fearsome secret services of the German Democratic Republic), and all kinds of message encryption machines: from the mythical Enigma of World War II to the Soviet Fialka, whose secrets Western agencies never managed to reveal. "If it's here, it's because of Stéphanie M., a collector who has bought material on the black market in the Baltic States, moving in the shadows with great care," says Midal, in another metaphorical game of Chinese boxes: to acquire espionage objects you have to behave like spies.

The art installation 'Probably Chelsea', in which Heather Dewey-Hagborg builds 24 completely different faces of Chelsea Manning, from DNA donated by Manning herself and generated with algorithms. It shows that DNA is not used to recreate a face. Jaime Villanueva

The exhibition is divided into five blocks: Espionage and cinema, a history of techniques; Clandestine of the great wars; Cold wars and gentlemen; Terrors and terrorists (1970s to the present day), and All spies? The citizen spy: future prospects, probably the section that will cause the most fear in visitors, given the realization of the impossibility of avoiding being analyzed and spied on. Among the pieces, there are 16 works of art.

One of the art installations occupies a room: it is Probably Chelsea, in which Heather Dewey-Hagborg builds 24 completely different faces of Chelsea Manning, from DNA donated by Manning herself and that were generated with algorithms. They represent an obvious demonstration that DNA does not serve to recreate a face. Four drawings by David Lynch address the complexity of the human mind, a painting by Andy Warhol (Star) portrays Greta Garbo as Mata Hari, and the tour opens with an immense chandelier, the work of sculptor and filmmaker Cerith Wyn Evans, whose on and off narrates, in Morse code, the essay La part maudite, by Georges Bataille: It is as important to spy as it is to send the message.

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Another more curious installation delves into how easy it is to obtain personal data. A briefcase with rubber stamps with the ten fingerprints of a senior official is the result of a 2006 French artistic investigation: its author approached a book signing of his country's interior minister, and with a fountain pen stole his data. Minister's name? Nicolas Sarkozy.

One of the latex heads that imitate the face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Total Challenge', where he gave life to a double agent. Jaime Villanueva

Modern espionage emerged in the late nineteenth century, and that's why the Top Secret ride starts at that time. One of the commissioners' intentions is to desexualize the work of spies, whose work has been marked by the legend of the Dutch Mata Hari and the myth of the Honey Pot, the honey trap, the use of sex to access state secrets (the Honey Pot can also be between homosexuals, but that resource did not appear in the cinema until well into the twentieth century). The spies of the big screen have been for decades more femmes fatales than effective officials of the security forces, very far from reality.

And among those industrious spies were famous artists, such as Marlene Dietrich or Joséphine Baker, who during World War II collaborated with the Allied side. Or Hedy Lamarr, researcher and inventor, a Renaissance woman who made her living as a movie star... and that is why he participated in films of the genre analyzed by the exhibition, such as The Conspirators (1944), by Jean Negulesco, or the comedy My Favorite Spy (1951), with Bob Hope.

As a great example of the symbiosis of spy-reality cinema, a fragment of The Spies (1928), by Fritz Lang, shows the character of a Russian agent named Sonya Baranilkowa. Sonya/Sonja would be the nom de guerre adopted by the German Ursula Kuczynski, a selfless mother of a family in Oxford who passed nuclear secrets without ever being arrested. In 1950 she managed to travel to East Germany and become a writer. Thus was born the myth of Sonja, the most successful communist spy of the twentieth century.

One of the walls of the exhibition, the one dedicated to the Eastern bloc during the Cold War. In the center, umbrella with poisoned tip with which the Bulgarian secret service killed a dissident in 1978.CaixaForum

Beyond the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock and the character of James Bond, two milestones of espionage in cinema, in Top Secret there are 90 videos of films and television series, seven of them Spanish. The Filmoteca Española and the Filmoteca de Catalunya have contributed these fragments, to Spanishize a sample that reflects the fundamental work of Juan Pujol, Garbo, during the Second World War. For better or worse, there is no trace of Mortadelo, Filemón and their agency TIA, nor of Commissioner Villarejo, the king of wiretapping.

In its move from Paris, the exhibition has lost some contributions of the fruitful French spy genre and a very curious piece that attracted attention in the French capital: a rat-bomb, false in its animal aspect, real in its criminal element. "Their fragility has prevented their transfer," explains Orléan. It does hang on a wall the promotional poster for international sales of Argo, the fake film whose fictional filming served as a cover for the CIA to enter Iran and rescue six compatriots hiding after the seizure of the US Embassy in November 1979. The film version, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, of that operation won the Oscar for best picture in 2013.

Exit of the exhibition, where the visitor discovers how they have spied on him on the tour. Jaime Villanueva

The ending leaves a bitter aftertaste to the debate about whistleblowers in the twenty-first century. For some, the English term refers to snitches and snitches; for others (and that includes the curators of the exhibition), it refers to whistleblowers or whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, whose work cements freedom and democracy. They are the last dams against the disappearance of privacy in digital times, a treasure that has not even been maintained during the exhibition: in the end it is revealed that visitors have also been spied on: the digital world knows no borders or secrets.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2023-06-29

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