Monday, January 31, 2011
John Barry, R.I.P.
Via Kimberly Lindbergs, I just learned the famed British composer died of a heart attack at the age of 77.
He won Oscars for his scores for Born Free, The Lion In Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, but it is his gorgeously moody and atmospheric scoring of the James Bond series that will probably be his most lasting legacy. A contemporary of the Beatles and a habitue of a London nightclub scene dominated by the gangster Kray brothers, Barry brought to bear upon the 007 films a jazzy youthfulness and sense of dangerous sonic glamour that immediately elevated the (initially) low-budget series into something elegant, strange and sophisticated; Sean Connery may have "moved like a jungle cat," according to Bond producer Harry Saltzman, but he wouldn't have registered as nearly the same sort of bad-ass without Barry's persistent bass-lines and growling guitar providing the soundtrack for such choreography.
But Barry's Bond work wasn't just about masculine cool and tight action: while it was his Oscar-winning scores that sometimes displayed a more sentimental side, his Bond work was also capable of a startling tenderness, never more so than in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a suite from which can be heard above. It's certainly gained in reputation over the last forty years, but OHMSS got a mixed commercial response in 1969, not only because of the shift from Connery to George Lazenby, but because its differently stretched narrative, amber-glow cinematography and very human heart offered a striking change in the way the series had balanced character, plot and spectacle to that point (it's one of my favorites in the whole series). At the center of these shifts-- both pushing boundaries and holding it all together--is Barry's rich, fuzzed-up score, full of pulsing rhythm lines, plaintive horns, thick (but not treacly) string sections and a gentle spaciousness that reflects the film's desire to let its characters breath a bit between the action set-pieces. "No matter how ridiculous the action on the screen" Barry said in a 1987 interview with Starlog magazine, "always make it sound like a million bucks." R.I.P., John Barry.