Legendary British film composer John Barry died in New York yesterday at the age of 77.
Barry was the winner of five Oscars for his work on Born Free, Lion in Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, was nominated for countless more accolades, and is most widely known for his scores on many of the most popular James Bond films. Regardless of whether or not Barry actually composed the famed James Bond theme song, it is his orchestration of that theme that wove it into our cultural consciousness. Goldfinger would have been enough by itself. But his range soared, as far even as counterculture classics like Midnight Cowboy, sentimental guilty pleasures like Somewhere in Time and, surprisingly enough, romantic comedies like Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married. (And, for an 80s child like me, the man is also responsible for one of the best tunes of the decade, the James Bond theme song for A View to a Kill— which is also one of the best videos of the decade, thanks to Duran Duran!)
Just like John Williams or Henry Mancini, a John Barry score instantly conjures up more than a memory– it recreates the wonderment of our first experience with the film and, in many cases, becomes our emotional our connection to it. His harmonic, soaring orchestrations transcended the ordinary by defining characters, capturing mood– embodying the story.
My first live experience with John Barry’s work was with Dances With Wolves (1990). That dark theater. The seats rumbling with the sound of a horse pounding across the screen, its rider, John Dunbar, on its back, arms outstretched…
The beauty is in the moment, the power was in the direction– but the music made it magic. Movie magic.
I think you’ll find the same true of nearly all of Barry’s creations, from the beloved Out of Africa to Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (the score of which, notwithstanding Downey’s performance, was the best thing about that film).
According to the BBC, Barry’s son-in-law remembered him as a “wickedly funny man” whose “passion, genius and sense of humour will be terribly missed by his family and friends”.
And, it must be added, by movie fans the world over.
This fan video on YouTube features a really exemplary collection of Barry’s most potent film scores— I invite you to pause and take a listen. And remember the first time you heard these unforgettable pieces… remember who you were then, where you were then, and how they made you feel.