Geoffrey Macnab: John Barry was every bit as vital as a star director
Tuesday 01 February 2011
Soundtrack composers take great pleasure in startling their audiences by working against the grain. They'll choose unusual instruments and turn genre conventions on their head. John Barry – one of the greatest movie composers – did this regularly. It's a measure of his genius that the effect was never jarring and that his scores defined the movies every bit as much as the direction or performances.
Take The Ipcress File (1965), in which Michael Caine played the crumpled spy Harry Palmer. For this score, Barry opted to use a cimbalon. The effect was every bit as mesmerising as the Anton Karas zither on the Harry Lime theme in The Third Man.
The Ipcress File score, with its echoing brass, was lilting but deceptive. There was a hint of mystery and menace about it. The setting may have been Sixties London but that wasn't where the music seemed to come from. Barry may have played rock'n'roll and his band might have backed Adam Faith but that didn't lead him to make glib swinging Sixties references.
For another thriller, The Quiller Memorandum, he chose a barrel organ. He was a pioneer of the Moog synthesizer too, using it both on On Her Majesty's Secret Secret Service and for his score for TV's The Persuaders.
His lovely harmonica theme for Midnight Cowboy added pathos and a sense of yearning to a film set in a very sleazy and downbeat milieu. At the same time, he was capable of writing martial scores, full of pomp and ceremony, as he did for Zulu, or rousing arrangements, reminiscent of the old Hollywood scores he so admired (for example, for Born Free or Out Of Africa.)
Without John Barry, would the James Bond series ever have become the worldwide phenomenon that it did? Barry's music played as important a part in defining the Bond brand as the gadgets or stunts. It was also a point of continuity. Whatever digressions the series made, whatever its occasional false steps, the Barry music gave the Bond films both dynamism and gravitas.
Barry arranged, conducted and performed as well as composed. He was hugely admired by his peers, young and old. The five Oscars he won and the multiple other awards showed the esteem in which he was held.
Last year, when he won World Soundtrack Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ghent Festival in Flanders, he was too ill to attend. A concert was held in his honour. The programme, which included excerpts of his music for everything from Goldfinger to Dances With Wolves, from Body Heat to The Lion In Winter, underlined just how rich his legacy is.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Spiritual leader allegedly manipulated 400 men into removing testicles to be 'closer to God'
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies: Georgian guide to London sex workers acquired by Wellcome Collection
House of Cards season 3: Claire Underwood is based on an eagle, says Robin Wright
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut