I grew up watching James Bond movies on network television but I did not truly become a fan until I saw my first 007 film at a theater — 1987’s “The Living Daylights.” Seeing the Bond world’s exotic locations, elaborate stunts, and cool cars and gadgets stretched across the big screen made this film even more thrilling than those I had seen on TV.
Consequently, I was excited April 19 to see a special effects shell of an Aston Martin Violante from “The Living Daylights” on display with the ongoing “The Birth of Bond: Casino Royale at 60” exhibit at the University of Illinois in Urbana.
During this road trip, I also attended the 15th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival at The Virginia Theatre in Champaign. This experience rekindled my love of seeing movies on the big screen, and it renewed my appreciation for everything the late film critic did to help organize the festival and restore this 91-year-old theatre.
I viewed the Aston Martin driven by Timothy Dalton’s Bond at the Spurlock Museum’s “Unconventional Bond: The Strange Life of Casino Royale on Film,” the fictional gambling parlor that was the namesake of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel.
The Spurlock exhibit tells the story behind the three very different movie versions of “Casino Royale,” — the 1954 CBS TV movie, the 1967 psychedelic spoof, and the 2006 official Bond film that reintroduced 007 with Daniel Craig as the iconic spy. The tale of how “Thunderball” was later remade as “Never Say Never Again” is also part of this exhibit.
Several Bond posters and movie props are on display, including tennis shoes worn by Sean Connery in the opening scene of “Never Say Never Again” and a bloodied tuxedo worn by Craig when he crashed his Aston Martin in “Casino Royale.”
I was particularly interested to see the contents of tragic Bond girl Vesper Lynd’s purse on display. The contents include a seashell that Craig closely examined in “Casino Royale” and a hand-written letter from Lynd’s mother, which can be read within the display case.
Bond fans still have time to view the U of I exhibits. The Spurlock exhibit will remain on display through June 16, an exhibit on Fleming’s literary works will be at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library until July 12, and an exhibit on Bond music will be at the Sousa Archives and Center of American Music until March 14 of next year.
After visiting the Spurlock Museum on April 19, I headed over to see “Julia” at Ebertfest. The screening included an appearance by the film’s star, actress Tilda Swinton.
Swinton told the audience beforehand to, “Enjoy the ride!” She was right, “Julia” was a roller-coaster ride. She played an amoral alcoholic who kidnaps a boy from a wealthy family for ransom. Gradually, this woman develops maternal feelings for the boy and strives to protect him from the unsavory people they encounter while on the run.
While watching “Julia,” I occasionally looked at the long rows of movie-goers in The Virginia’s balcony. I noticed that many of them, like me, were leaning forward on the edge of their seats. The shared experience of watching a well-attended film in an old-time movie palace produces an almost palpable energy that is difficult to replicate elsewhere.
Famed film critic Roger Ebert, an Urbana native, was an active proponent of The Virginia, where he noted in his written introduction to this year’s festival that “my father saw Harry Houdini perform onstage.” His festival has helped raise money and attention for efforts to restore the theatre to its former glory.
The Virginia boasts a screen that is 56 feet wide by 23 feet high, within a two-level auditorium that has ornate plaster work decor. This year’s festival showcased the newly restored theatre, including rediscovered paintings from the 1920s on the ceiling. The Champaign Park District owns and operates the theatre, providing screen and stage entertainment throughout the year.
Organizing future festivals will be a challenge without having Ebert around to “handpick” the eclectic mix of films for the lineup and to provide clout for bringing in top Hollywood artists as special guests.
Still, Ebert’s widow, Chaz, and other festival organizers have voiced their commitment to keeping the annual event going. Ebert’s work on behalf of The Virginia will ensure that the festival has a home and that area movie-goers can still experience a film on a truly big screen. Thank you, Mr. Ebert.
This column and previous entries in the series can be found online at www.facebook.com/RobStroud.DayTripper.
Contact Stroud at email@example.com or 217-238-6861.