Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Born Free (My Father's a Doctor)

If this guy hadn't lived, we would never have been able to sing that little parody as kids.
John Barry


With the possible exception of John Williams, Barry was the most recognizable name in the movie composing business. His work as a bandleader in his native England brought him to the attention of the producers of Dr. No, and his scoring of that early James Bond flick was the beginning of a long association with the franchise. He provided music for 12 Bond films in all, including Goldfinger; producer Harry Saltzman called the title song the worst song he had ever heard. The soundtrack album went to #1 in 1965. Barry does not, however, receive credit for the highly recognizable guitar riff which launches every Bond film, that honor goes to composer Monty Norman.

Barry's non-Bond work included lush scores for hugely romantic, adventure-filled epics, as well as a few smaller films, and even some TV themes (his work on The Pretenders! back in the 60s is still well regarded). He won two Oscars (for Best Song and Best Score) for Born Free, and won another Oscar for his chant-ridden score for Lion in Winter.
He disagreed with Sydney Pollack regarding the music for Out of Africa; the director wanted a score based on African native music, but Barry insisted the film was instead a love story between two people. The result was another lushly romantic score and another Oscar (and a Grammy, too). John won his fifth Oscar for Dances With Wolves, again resisting the obvious. Instead of basing his music on the sounds of native Americans, he recognized that this story of a stranger encountering a new world must have music which reflected the loner's outsider impressions of that world. This soundtrack album also won the Grammy.

In addition to those mentioned above, Barry won Grammy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and The Cotton Club. His popular score for Somewhere in Time was nominated for the Golden Globe, and additional Oscar noms came with Chaplin and Mary, Queen of Scots.

It is from that last film that this week's Dance Party springs. The historical Mary Queen of Scots has always held a fascination for me. She ascended the throne of Scotland at the ripe age of 6 days, and was shipped off to marry the future king of France before she was seven years old. That marriage was endured despite the mother-in-law from hell, Catherine De'Medici, and ended with the death of her husband from an ear infection (and some nasty business with undescended testicles), so she returned to Scotland as a teenager. She married her bisexual cousin and had a son (the future James I of England - don't get me started on HIM), then her
philandering husband was murdered by her own advisors. She was deposed by her bastard half-brother and raped by her third husband, who imprisoned her until she miscarried twins. She made a daring escape to England, hoping for help from her cousin Elizabeth I, who promptly imprisoned her for 19 years before executing her. How could that story turn into such a sludge-fest of a film? Mary Queen of Scots the movie is pretty starry, with Vanessa Redgrave in the title role, and Glenda Jackson, doing her familiar Elizabeth the First bit, but the movie comes off as little more than a history lesson (and it's pretty lousy at that, too, as it takes lots of dramatic liberties).

Ah well, whatever. The clip below opens the film and was shot at the Ch√Ęteau de Chenonceau in France, with Redgrave, uncharacteristically willowy, crooning a sweet tune about joy and death, to the first of Mary's three husbands, Francis II of France. I find this an interesting song, as composer John Barry put music to a sonnet written by Mary herself in the 16th century. It would have been fun if the song had won the Oscar, with Mary Queen of Scots as lyricist. Tuesday will mark the 424th anniversary of Mary's execution at the hands of Elizabeth I, so to celebrate that fun fact, and to commemorate the death of John Barry (who died last weekend), here is Vanessa extolling the joys of death: