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Silver Linings Playlist: John Barry

Silver Linings #14

Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings where I honor the maligned, forgotten, and ignored.

There are many elements to movies that largely tend to be ignored by the average viewer and only noticed by film students, professional critics, or total geeks.  How many people do you know that would pay attention to the editing, for example?  One of those elements that fade into the background for the average movie-watcher is the film's score.  I consider that tragic since, when done right, the background music can be just as important as the actors onscreen.  The right melodies can establish the setting, create the mood, and even tug at the audience's heartstrings.  A great composer can make a great film a masterpiece and can even buoy a lame film.  After all, John Williams' "Dual of the Fates" was one of the saving graces of The Phantom Menace.

One of those unsung heroes of the film industry was the late John Barry, who passed away in 2011.  He is primarily known for composing one of the most iconic tunes in movie history, the "James Bond Theme".  I knew that he was responsible for a large number of the scores for the 007 films, but, before I looked him up, I was unaware of just how many great scores he penned.  He was responsible for nearly a hundred film scores over his lifetime, along with scoring TV shows and stage musicals.  His work is phenomenal and deserves to be recognized.  So, today, I'm paying tribute to his work by naming my picks for his ten best (in chronological order).  These comprise a wide range of motifs to spotlight his versatility.

'Zulu' (1964)

If there's one word that can often describe John Barry's work, it would be "epic".  This thunderous theme was the perfect way to set the tone for an epic war film, and the rest of the score kept up the audience's morale for the long haul.

'Born Free' (1966)

It's a shame that Matt Munro's lyrical version of "Born Free" is often used as a joke now, as it overshadows the sweeping score of this drama about releasing a lion raised in captivity back to the wild.  The strings just grab you while the winds provide a grand scale as huge as Kenya itself.

'Game of Death' (1978)

John Barry and Bruce Lee were a match made in heaven.  While much funkier than the scores he produced in the 60s, it gave a wonderful Asian vibe and still felt huge while providing the intensity befitting the definitive kung fu master.

'Somewhere In Time' (1980)

As known as he was for grand scale, his score for the Christopher Reeve romance film Somewhere In Time showed how effectively he could do low-key.  The main theme powered by a solitary flute is one of the most powerful themes I'd ever heard.

'Body Heat' (1981)

I could've imagined John Barry doing the scores for film noir if he was around in the 40s.  He had certainly proven it with the sultry score he composed for the Kathleen Turner thriller Body Heat.  This score is one of the most effective mood-setters I had ever heard.

'Out of Africa' (1985)

Grand scale may seem cheesy for a romance film, but it worked gloriously for Out of Africa.  As the film recounted a short-lived but passionate romance, the largess brought the fire to accent that on screen.  Barry's scores were always a perfect fit for the movie involved, and this one proves it to a tee.

'A View To A Kill' (1985)

Of course, I had to put one of his James Bond scores here; I could've easily filled the list just with those.  In picking one to feature, I decided to listen to my personal bias and choose the one for my all-time favorite Bond movie.  As much as people like to rag on A View to a Kill, even they couldn't deny Barry's score was exciting and more varied than one would expect.  Even his instrumentation for Duran Duran's awesome theme song was absolutely epic!

'Howard the Duck' (1986)

Wait!  Don't crucify me yet!  Yes, I like the infamous movie Howard the Duck.  Shut up; I have my reasons.  Leaving out Thomas Dolby's lame theme song, Barry's score is jazzy and lush while pumping up at just the right times.  Even if you can't stand the film, the score is amazing to listen to.

'Dances With Wolves' (1990)

With his lush arrangements, it's amazing that John Barry didn't do more westerns.  That genre demands grand scale, and he delivered big time with Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves.  The violins complement the brass sections unbelievably well.  This is music that's absolutely perfect for when you're riding through the open prairie.

'Chaplin' (1992)

The Robert Downey Junior biopic about Charlie Chaplin didn't need grand spectacle to grab people, and John Barry understood that. His simple piano-powered melodies were as pleasant and soothing as Chaplin's films themselves. This score actually COULD'VE worked for Chaplin's movies themselves; I can't think of higher praise than that.

I know I left out plenty of John Barry's work.  What's your favorite?  Let me know, and take care!

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