John Barry died on Sunday, and I wanted to take an opportunity to mourn the loss of one of the greatest composers in motion picture history.
The first time I attended the Oscars was in 1991, where my then wife, Kim Basinger, and I were asked to present the Oscar in the category of best original score, which went to Barry for Dances With Wolves. It was a great thrill for me, as I had long admired John's scores and who, at that point, had already received four Oscars (Two for Born Free, both score and song, The Lion in Winter and Out of Africa.)
Barry's career is a phenomenon. John is often cited as the composer of legendary songs and scores for the James Bond films. Beginning with earlier Bond films like Dr. No and From Russia With Love to his most memorable titles like Goldfinger, Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever, to collaborations with rock artists like Duran Duran on A View to a Kill, Barry's music is as much a component of the Bond legend as Ian Fleming himself, and Bond actors like Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. You can play just the first two notes of the arrangement of Goldfinger and know right away that Shirley Bassey's famous vocals are coming.
Barry, however, is also responsible for clearly what are some of the most gorgeous, sensitive and ultimately effective scores in movie history. Films like Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Midnight Cowboy, Inside Moves, Body Heat, Frances, The Cotton Club and Indecent Proposal, all elevated by John's contribution.
In a career of such breadth, it's hard to pick a favorite. Yet, I actually can name one, and easily. Finding an appropriate musical complement to the story of Isak Dinesen and her romance with both Kenya and Denys Finch Hatton to accompany the work of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, cinematographer David Watkin and writer Kurt Luedtke, and Sydney Pollack's incredible direction, is Barry's greatest achievement. John's score for Out of Africa is extraordinary. My favorite movie score of all. Ever.
The great John Barry passed on Sunday on Long Island. Thanks to him for his magnificent contributions to film.