In Memoriam: John Barry (1933-2011)

on February 01, 2011 by Todd Gilchrist

On January 30, 2011, film composer John Barry passed away at the age of 77, leaving behind one of the most vast and accomplished bodies of work in film history. Barry is best known for helping create the "James Bond Theme" which was used in almost every installment of the Bond franchise, as well as the Oscar-winning music he created for Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, The Lion in Winter, and Born Free, for which he won Best Score and Best Original Song. His work has influenced and inspired composers and filmgoers for more than 50 years, and he ranks among the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrman and Jerry Goldsmith as the most prolific and important composers of film music in the medium's history.

Barry had only done three features and some television work before working on Dr. No, the now-historic 1962 film that launched the Bond franchise. Although he was largely responsible for the film's iconic theme music, composer Monty Norman was awarded credit for the piece due to pre-existing contracts, and he frequently defended his work on that theme, including as recently as 2006. While some ambiguities remain (Norman was awarded sole credit in a 2001 court case, but it's telling that Norman was never rehired, while Barry went on to compose scores for the majority of the other Bond films.)

While Barry continued to work with the Broccoli family on subsequent Bond installments, he produced music for other spy-themed films, including The Ipcress File and The Quiller Memorandum. The music from The Ipcress File has since been sampled heavily by hip-hop and electronic artists, as have a number of tracks from his Bond scores. Check out a clip of Grantby's "Timber," which samples "007 And Counting" from You Only Live Twice:

Meanwhile, John Barry continued to work in a variety of genres, winning his first Academy Award in 1968 for The Lion in Winter. Although his contributions were uncredited, his work on the score for John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy helped define and encapsulate the film's story of a cornpone Texan who forges an unlikely friendship with a sickly but street smart urchin. A few years later, his work on Peter Yates' The Deep would further capitalize on his pioneering use of synthesizers and combine the influence of disco and electronic music with classical compositional techniques.

Interestingly, it was Barry's work on one of his last Bond pictures, A View To a Kill, which first attracted my attention. Although I was only 10 at the time, his score gave the otherwise uninspiring film a dynamism and an energy that would have otherwise been absent. In particular, his piece "That Fatal Kiss" remains one of his most distinctive and evocative pieces of music. Meanwhile, his Oscar win for Dances With Wolves only reiterated that he was a creative force to be reckoned with, even more than 30 years into his career.

His subsequent work has been decidedly lower-profile, but kept in the same spirit and quality as his earlier work. His last official score was for the 2001 film The Enigma, although his music is frequently sampled or referenced in other films, such as when the animated feature Madagascar used his theme for Born Free. He will be remembered as an enormous talent and a prolific performer.


Tags: John Barry, James Bond, 007, The Lion In Winter, Born Free, The Deep, Dances With Wolves

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