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David Poland

By David Poland

John Barry Was 77

Best known for The Amorous Mr. Prawn, John Barry…

Actually, Barry did that film when he was 28. It was released the same year as his first Bond film, which was also the first Bond film, Dr. No, for which he didn’t receive credit. Monty Norman did. Barry went on to score, with credit, all the Broccoli Bond films through The Living Daylights in 1987.

He won 5 Oscars, but was never even nominated for a Bond, the thing for which he was best known. His Oscars were bookended, in a striking coincidence, with animals… his first for Born Free and his last for Wolves and those who Dance With Them. He also won for The Lion In Winter and Out of Africa… and the song, Born Free. His last credit is for Madagascar 2 (they used his song).

For a guy who was known for soaring themes (and animal films), he also worked a lot with the playful Richard Lester. Donner, Roeg, Yates, Vadim, Coppola, Attenborough, Pollack, Wenders.., the list is wide and varied. There are cult classics like Somewhere In Time and The Black Hole There are career starters, including the most surprising omission from his Oscar resume, his unforgettable score for Lawrence Kasden’s debut, Body Heat. And there are some of the great bombs, from Dino’s King Kong to The Scarlet Letter to Howard The Duck.

He made some beautiful music for us to consume while our eyes were occupied and our hearts were open. He went right for those hearts… some said too much. But he made those strings sing and helped us get lost at the movies. He will be missed.

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10 Responses to “John Barry Was 77”

  1. Randy says:

    Great tribute. He was one of the best. His name is spelled “Barry,” btw.

  2. christian says:

    Best Film Composer Ever.

  3. Un-RetiredLexG says:

    Re-posting from elsewhere, but Barry was my favorite composer, so worth repeating:

    Barry could make “The Specialist” sound as lush and classical and stirring as “Dances With Wolves” or “Out of Africa.” There’s countless movies that take on this epic romanticism almost entirely thanks to Barry’s contribution, from the ’76 “King Kong” to “Indecent Proposal” to “Enigma.” Or “The Black Hole.” Or “Game of Death.”

    Of course the Barry Sound strikes a primal chord in me because I grew up on Bond, so in some subliminal way pretty much any strain of any great Barry score has a sibling sound somewhere in a Bond score. But his work in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” or “Moonraker” is as lush and singular as just about anything he ever did. Also kind of neat that his beloved “Midnight Cowboy” theme (one of his best) has the same basic progression, albeit slower, as the title theme to “You Only Live Twice.”

    And that bit in “Moonraker” where Moore is walking through the rain forest and comes upon Drax’s lair– Barry could take a straightforward bit like that in the goofiest Bond movie ever, and make it sound like most haunting and romantic thing possible.

  4. Kerry Frey says:

    Just one clarification – 1973’s Live and Let Die was scored by George Martin and not John Barry.

  5. leahnz says:

    aw, another legend leaves us. thank you, mr. barry, for bringing your amazing talent and ear for beauty into the lives of so many to enjoy and treasure, peace be the journey.

  6. Joe Straatmann says:

    On that note, The Spy Who Loved Me was Marvin Hamlisch and For Your Eyes Only was Bill Conti. Regardless, awesome career and awesome music,and he will definitely be missed. My most recent memory was when I revisited Howard the Duck and was shocked to be hearing John Barry being as serious business when Jeffrey Jones was chewing up miles of scenery and spewing cheesy effects as when the SPECTRE satellite was about to start World War III in You Only Live Twice. I actually enjoy Howard the Duck as a, “What were they thinking?!” kind of bad movie, but his straight-laced score actually added to the amusement, and I think it was intentional. It’s especially amusing considering he was teamed with the in-movie all-female rock band with songs penned by Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby.

  7. Martin S says:

    Besides Bond, I love his score for Dino’s Kong. When I finally found an Italian import CD in mid-90’s, I think I dropped 28 without batting an eye.

    Great interview with Barry, if they didn’t replay it tonight.

    Re: Classic Bond. Connery’s the last one standing, isn’t he? Moneypenny died last year or so. Peter Hunt passed two or so years ago. Llewelyn was killed in a tragic car crash.

  8. Un-RetiredLexG says:

    Hey now…

    I had to look it up to be sure, but Bond directors Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert are still with us, as is Ken Adam.

  9. Geoff says:

    Wow, this is a big one for me – I LOVE the pop music he contributed for the James Bond movie, most of them are on my iPod.

    Yeah, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t do the scores for all of those movies; his stamp is still on every one, including all of the recent ones that David Arnold scored.

    I put him up there in the echelon of post-’60’s composers that have had the most influence: John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, and Danny Elfman. One of the best things about Inception was that lush score – probably the best John Barry score never composed by John Barry. And not a big fan of Dances With Wolves (I know, how unusual for some one to say on a movie blog), but his score was the best thing about it. Think of all the composers that owe him a debt besides Hans Zimmer – Michael Giachhino, Giorgio Moroder, Harold Faultemeyer (think about it), Alexander Desplat, etc.

    But I would also confidentally say that Barry has influenced a ton of post-punk pop music, the more obvious ones: Eurythmics, Moby, Nine Inch Nails, Prince, New Order, Coldplay, Blur, Rihanna (Have you heard her latest album?) the list goes on and on…..many of my favorite bands of recent years. Lush strings, increasing tempos, etc…..not to be crass, but the man created music designed to get laid to.

    Beat you to it, Lex…….

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

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