British composer John Barry — who is being honored with the Ghent Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement award and whose music will be performed live at the fest Oct. 23 — reinvented the action movie score in the 1960s with his music for James Bond. And when he was done with that, he reinvented himself, segueing from “million-dollar Mickey Mouse music” (as he once labeled his own Bond scores) into a grandly romantic style that garnered a bushel of laurels in the 1980s and ’90s.
Barry’s sweeping orchestral themes for such films as “Out of Africa” and “Dances with Wolves” might have earned him accolades and awards, including five Oscars, but it was the Sean Connery 007 films that first catapulted him into film-music prominence, notably “Goldfinger” — whose hit soundtrack displaced the Beatles at the top of the Billboard charts in 1965 — “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”
The now 76-year-old composer’s unique combination of pop, jazz and orchestral sounds created a musical style that continues today under the baton of successor David Arnold (who has done the last five Bonds and acknowledges Barry as the architect of the Bond sound).
“He’s one of those people who’s able to encapsulate a whole two-hour experience, sometimes with only one or two melodies that are absolutely perfect, indelible, for the movie,” says fellow Oscar winning composer Elliot Goldenthal (“Frida”), who will be in attendance when Barry receives his Lifetime Achievment kudo at Ghent’s World Soundtrack Awards. “That’s a unique talent, without being over fussy. He has all the technique that he needs to be complicated and yet having the will power and the skill to come up with these sometimes monumental, sometimes subconscious, rarified themes.”
Barry won a Grammy for “Midnight Cowboy” and, as if to prove his Oscar-winning choral score for “The Lion in Winter” was no fluke, went on to write the music for other period epics including “The Last Valley” and “Mary, Queen of Scots.”
The romantic side of Barry, who moved to the U.S. in 1975, began to emerge with his hugely popular 1980 score for “Somewhere in Time,” followed by the sultry sounds of “Body Heat” and the melancholy “Out of Africa.”
In recent years, Barry has been content to create concept albums (“The Beyondness of Things,” “Eternal Echoes”), conduct the occasional concert of his own music and enjoy semi-retirement at his home in Long Island, N.Y.