Bond and beyond: Remembering John Barry

For many the composer, John Barry, who died last month aged 77, helped define James Bond on film more than Connery, Moore or Brosnan ever did. What he did was the provide the glue that not only holds the entire Bond franchise all together but also transcended whoever happened to be playing Bond, whether it be for the seventh and final time, with Roger Moore in A View To A kill, or George Lazenby, for his one and only time, with the rarely equalled On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score.

For me he will forever be associated with 007 but through that association I discovered his other work and scores for films that took in everything from Raise the Titanic and The Black Hole to High Road to China and even Howard the Duck, Bruce Lee’s Game of Death and the Hasselhoff Italian Star Wars cash-in, Starcrash.

Barry won five Oscars, including doing the double on Born Free, taking a gold statuette for both best score and best original song. But he not only never won for Bond, he was never even nominated for Bond, criminal when you think of the powerful and memorable scores to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger.

The latter did have the prestige of knocking The Beatles off the top of the album chart in the US, no mean feat, almost unthinkable when you consider it is a film score. John Lennon may have claimed he was bigger than Jesus, if that’s the case then Barry was the God of film music.

In the first of a two part exclusive interview, Dean Newman talks to John Barry and film score expert, Mike Copping, who is one of the top John Barry collectors in the country, about Barry’s defining movie music moments.

DN:     Barry produced 11 Bond scores, how do you think he felt being so closely associated the series?

MC:     I think he was always grateful to the Bonds and he always thought that they were filmmaking at their highest quality, in terms of technical quality, even if it wasn’t always with the writing in some of the later ones.

DN:     I really love the score to A View To A Kill and think it really raised the quality of a somewhat creaky Roger Moore.

MC:     I’d say that in a good film, most people won’t notice whether the score is bad or not, with a bad film, a good score can actually elevate it, and some films that unfortunately Barry did, the three main science fiction films that he did: Starcrash, The Black Hole and Howard the Duck fall into that category. His musical presence leant a certain class and elegance to the proceedings.

Another film where this was definitely the case was the much maligned Raise the Titantic. The film got universally bad reviews but any review that said anything positive about it more often than not said that one of the pluses was the music. Thematically, elements of the scores to Moonraker (1979), The Black Hole (1979) and Raise the Titanic (1980) are very similar in their tone and feel.

If you listen to the opening bars of Raise the Titanic and listen to the opening frames of the overture from The Black Hole they are very, very or just slightly similar, but so is deep space and the deep ocean as featured in both aforementioned films

DN: What films did Barry win his Oscars for?

MC: With Born Free he won the double, he also took one home for The Lion in Winter, which really foxed everybody as by then everyone pretty much associated him with Bond and didn’t realise that a lot of his training had a lot to do with choral music and big orchestral stuff. And perhaps most famously he won for Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves. (DN: All featuring animals in some way shape or form in their titles or content).

He also received nominations for Mary Queen of Scots and finally Chaplin in 1992.

DN: I find it astounding that he never even received a nomination for any of his work on Bond!

MC: I agree with that very much so, how can you have movie musc that defines a separate genre almost, and is so influential and it doesn’t get a nomination when you get things like For Your Eyes Only (by Rocky composer Bill Conti) and the 70s funked up The Spy Who Loved Me both get nominations.

DN: How can they nominate them but not Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Sectret Service or Diamonds Are Forever?

MC: On Her Majesty’s is just phenomenal. Barry said he pulled out all the stops on that one and I think he felt he over egged it a little but he was over compensating because he didn’t think Lazenby was particularily good so he had to ramp up the Bond elements.

We Have all the Time in the World transcends the film.

DN: In fact the same can be said of many of Barry’s scores, that they transcend the film they were initially intended for and I’m talking beyond Bond here with the likes of the John Dunbar theme from Dances With Wolves and his work on the little seen but well-loved Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

MC: That’s right. Somewhere In Time is technically an SF film even though it’s primarily a love story. Trouble is it’s also widely known as a chick flick, a phrase I hate,

Christopher Reeve projects himself back in time to meet Jane Seymour after falling in love with a photograph of her (her character was an actress) in a Hotel museum devoted to a Play House.

Barry supplied a very romantic score which was more popular than the film, and it has been used at weddings and all sorts of special occasions, and is regarded as a classic.

Next time: Dean discusses two of Mike’s favourite John Barry film scores.

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