Friday, February 04, 2011

John Barry, RIP

With the passing of John Barry earlier this week at age 77 from a heart attack, the world of cinema lost one of its most creative and influential musical scenarists. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Barry's contributions to movie music over the last fifty years reshaped our conception of the sweep and majesty with which the orchestral component can imbue a film.  Nominated for five Academy Awards and winner of five (his last for Dances With Wolves in 1990), and composer of two of my fave scores for underrated movies, the 1977 remake of King Kong and Disney's 1980 spectacle The Black Hole, Barry's most lasting contribution to cinema may well be his work as arranger and composer on the vast majority of James Bond movies from the series' birth in 1962's Dr. No to his last hurrah with 1987's The Living Daylights.

For a quarter-century, Barry guided 007's musical identity, seamlessly navigating changing tastes and styles while still keeping Bond uniquely Bond. And though he didn't create the signature theme that identifies the character (that honor goes to musician Monty Norman), he did imbue the jazzy riff with a life of its own, weaving it into the musical fiber of his twelve Bond contributions and inextricably linking it with Ian Fleming's famous creation. Indeed, Barry shaped the series' identity in so fundamental a way that whenever it veered too far from the template he introduced (whether with Marvin Hamlisch's disco-pop The Spy Who Loved Me score, or Eric Serra's failed synth score for GoldenEye), it just felt...off. The lasting impact of Barry's contribution to the 007 canon can be heard in every note from current Bond composer David Arnold (in a post he's held since 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies).

Here's a medley of some (though nowhere near all) of his most memorable compositions, a wonderful tribute to a true genius:


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