During the Soviet era, watching a James Bond film could lead to a jail sentence. Despite the ban, many were able to catch bootleg copies during the thawing of the Cold War in the 1980s. This developed into a Russian love affair with the foreign agent.
In 1964, when the James Bond movie From Russia With Love was packing theaters in the United States, Moscow and the West were locked in the deep freeze of the Cold War.
Fast forward half a century. Relations between Moscow and West are again in a deep chill - this time over Russia’s arming of rebels in Ukraine.
But disregarding geopolitics, Muscovites are streaming to a new museum show here called “Designing 007.”
Five floors and 500 props, sets, gadgets and costumes draw crowds to the Multimedia Arts Museum.
“Really huge, a lot of visitors, around 15,000 in three, in four days,” said Katrina Inozemtseva, the curator of the Bond show in Moscow.
She says we are far from the 1980s when Soviets secretly watched Bond movies on smuggled video cassettes.
“In one of the most popular [Russian] social networks - the VKontakte - the group of Bond fans - is more than 20,000 people,” she said.
For Soviets, James Bond offered an exciting window on the forbidden West.
“My childhood, beginning from the ‘70s and ‘80s, in the Soviet period, we were fond of James Bond. For us, it is just like a surprise from heaven. Every new film from James Bond, we watch on TV tape, video tape,” said Danila Matsokin, who came to the Bond show with his wife and 6-year-old son.
Gaiane Danilian says Bond movies radically changed her world view when she was a teenager growing up in Moscow in the 1980s.
“The idea of beauty of adventures, and freedom that was motivating Russians to watch that movie, and style. For Soviet people, unfortunately, they were not able to be part of that. So, in a movie, they thought they brought a dream into their life,” she recalled.
Now a grandmother in New York City, Danilian says James Bond contributed to her decision in 1992 to emigrate to the United States.
“Women are so beautiful in this country and they were always looking forward to being part of nice environment. With the movies, James Bond especially, they brought their fantasies, as they are part of this beautiful, untouchable world. They brought all these dreams - true,” she said.
Daniel Kovtun, a 21-year-old Moscow economics student, came to the show with his girlfriend. He says the James Bond sex appeal lives on.
“He is very rich. He is very cool. For the girls, he is a real man. He has weapons, cars, lots of money. He has a lot of adventures. So this makes him very interesting,” he said.
In Moscow, it is clear from the young Kovtun and the elder Danilian that James Bond fantasies cut across borders and generations.
Cold War or no, it is clear that the James Bond fantasy remains strong, for Russians, and for Americans.