Monday, January 31, 2011

John Barry (1933-2011)

John Barry (1933-2011)
My favorite element of the 007 movies--besides the women--is the score music. John Barry, who died earlier this morning at the age of 77, wrote 11 of those 007 scores and made them so enjoyable and listenable outside the context of those movies. It's hard to listen to Barry's rousing and cool On Her Majesty's Secret Service main title theme without going up to a mirror and kneeling and pretending to aim a gun--just like what Danny once did on Hustle when he rehearsed a heist to the tune of Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme blaring from a stereo.

I'm sure Barry would have rather been remembered for more than just Bond, so I'll mention that my two favorite non-Bond pieces of score music by Barry are the entire score from 1965's The Knack... And How to Get It and the theme from the Roger Moore/Tony Curtis buddy detective show The Persuaders!

"Another of the great composers has left us," tweeted Bear McCreary, who's currently scoring NBC's The Cape. "I'm cranking up The Black Hole in your honor."

Besides The Black Hole (an example of great opening title theme, schizophrenic and uneven movie--when I was a kid, I thought the Black Hole coloring book was more fun), I'm also fond of Barry's themes from The Ipcress File, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy and Game of Death.

Barry also appeared on-screen as orchestra conductors in a couple of movies he scored. He cameoed in the 1968 Michael Caine heist flick Deadfall, which Fox Movie Channel aired last week, and The Living Daylights, his final 007 project (the above photo is from his Living Daylights cameo). Barry's musical output dried up in the late '90s (his last screen credit was the 2001 WWII codebreaking thriller Enigma), but British musicians kept alive his work by sampling some of his film themes. Mono sampled an Ipcress File cue in 1996's "Life in Mono," Fatboy Slim crafted a memorable hook out of the guitar riffs of Barry's first major film theme, the 007-esque Beat Girl theme from 1960, in 1998's ubiquitous "Rockafeller Skank," and Robbie Williams introduced the You Only Live Twice theme to a new generation in 1998's "Millennium" (seven years later, another of Barry's Bond themes got a similar introduction to a new generation when Kanye West sampled "Diamonds Are Forever" in "Diamonds from Sierra Leone").

Vanity Fair's intriguing profile of Barry from two years ago offers great insight into what made Barry tick and why everyone from his Out of Africa boss Sydney Pollack to Michael Caine thought of him as a man with the Midas touch, especially when it came to music.

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