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Thursday, January 23, 2020

John Barry - Composer

John Barry ( November 3, 1933 - January 30, 2011 )

John Barry is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and talented composers in cinema's history. He is most famous for his themes to the James Bond movies and his scores to Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves but his body of work extends well beyond these films. Bearing the true mark of a great composer, his scores are quite capable of standing on their own, apart from the film they were written for. 

"Ever since I was a child I've considered poetry and music to be two twin sisters, completely inseparable. Over the years I've always tried to develop a poetic universe of my own, not only for filmmakers but, through their films, for audiences too." - John Barry

When one thinks of film composers, it seems that John Barry's name was always ranked at the top, but few realize how great was the shift he had chosen to make in the persona he would assume in the music world. 

John Barry Prendergast was born in York, England in 1933 and spent his childhood working in a chain of cinemas that his father owned. He took up the trumpet when he served in the British Army and shortly after his discharge formed his own band - The John Barry Seven. The young Barry was greatly influenced by American jazz and rock n' roll and he wanted his band, modeled after Bill Haley and the Comets, to usher in a new era of music; of vibrant and youthful jazz and swing beats. Between 1957 and 1960, the band had a number of hits that were released through EMI's Columbia label and these were formative years for Barry himself. He loved arranging and composing music and other groups were asking him to arrange their music as well. 
EMI later hired Barry to arrange orchestral accompaniment for many of the studio's other signed artists, including teen sensation Adam Faith. When Faith was asked to make his first film, Wild For Kicks aka Beat Girl ( 1960 ), Barry came along to compose, arrange and conduct the score. This began a forty-year career in composing for films. 

Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman caught wind of the young Barry's arranging talents and asked if he could work his magic on a theme for the first James Bond film they were making - Dr. No ( 1962 ). Monty Norman's opening theme needed some extra punch so Barry was paid £250 to rework it and was also given a promise to be contacted if another Bond film was to be made. Barry went on to write the scores for 11 Bond films, including the themes to Goldfinger and Thunderball

The success of his work on From Russia with Love ( 1963 ), Zulu ( 1964 ), and King Rat ( 1965 ) skyrocketed him to musical stardom. Barry was no longer the leader of a youthful rock n' roll band. Now, his music represented the "new sound" of film and by 1972 he was dressed in white tie and tails conducting The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the Filmharmonic concert at the Royal Albert Hall, sharing the stage with the great Miklos Rozsa. 


Barry composed so many excellent scores throughout the 1960s and 1970s ( Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Deadfall, King Kong ) as well as the themes to the television series Vendetta, The Persuaders!, and Orson Welles' Great Mysteries. In the 1980s he was composing one beautiful theme after another, including the romantic classics Somewhere in Time and Out of Africa. His composing talent remained in high demand until his death at the age of 77 in 2011. 

Throughout his career, John Barry earned six Academy Award nominations, four BAFTA awards, ten Golden Globe awards, and won four Grammy awards. These were well-deserved accolades for such an accomplished composer. 

Signature Style

Barry's trademark stamp of excellence is a unique mixture of lush strings, very precise harmonic mechanisms and jazz elements. His melodies are often sensuous and usually involve complex key shifts. Barry was influenced by his love for jazz, big band music, and Russian romantic composers. Quite an intoxicating combination!


The Noteworthy Five

Goldfinger ( 1964 ) - This was the theme that set the bar for all James Bond films to follow. It was bold, brassy and extremely classy. The golden voice of Shirley Bassey increased its worth tenfold. 

Born Free ( 1966 ) - The theme to Born Free is a lovely musical salute to freedom and the yearning wild animals have for their native habitats. It sounds beautiful whether it is performed strictly as an instrumental or sung by the English singer Matt Monro. Notice how the french horns majestically sound the "Born Free" notes as the Columbia logo appears on the screen just prior to the introduction of the melody. 

The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) -  Like his score to Zulu, The Lion in Winter is very menacing and yet it captures the atmosphere of its medieval setting beautifully. Without the presence of Barry's score, this film would be dreary indeed. The version linked here is an easy-listening adaptation by Percy Faith but Ferrante and Teicher also made an excellent cover on their album "Listen to the Movies".

Out of Africa ( 1985 ) - This one is truly breathtaking. The main melody does not make its entrance until nearly a minute and a half into the theme yet that seems to matter very little since the orchestration is so lush and sweeping. Like Bernard Herrmann, Barry loved french horns and used them profusely. 

Dances with Wolves ( 1990 ) - The John Dunbar theme to Dances with Wolves is one of those melodies that most everyone instantly recognizes, regardless of whether they have seen the film or not. The movie is set in the American West during the time of the Civil War and so John Barry implements motifs that evoke traditional American folk tunes, yet always remaining distinctly Barry in style. 

Highlights from his Discography

  • Zulu ( 1964 )
  • Goldfinger ( 1964 )
  • King Rat ( 1965 )
  • The Ipcress File ( 1965 )
  • Born Free ( 1966 )
  • Deadfall ( 1968 )
  • The Lion in Winter ( 1968 )
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service ( 1969 )
  • The Last Valley ( 1971 )
  • Mary, Queen of Scots ( 1971 )
  • Love Among the Ruins ( 1975 )
  • The Day of the Locust ( 1975 )
  • King Kong ( 1976 )
  • The Black Hole ( 1979 )
  • Somewhere in Time ( 1980 )
  • A View to a Kill ( 1985 )
  • Out of Africa ( 1985 )
  • Dances with Wolves ( 1990 )
  • Chaplin ( 1992 )

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


What a happy guy! What is he grinning about? If you know the film, you know what he is looking at. Go ahead and share the name of the movie this fellow appears in...just type the film title in the comment box below. 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Art of Kim Novak

Last Sunday, the CBS Sunday Morning show aired a segment about Kim Novak and her rarely publicized hobby: painting. The beautiful actress - who is best known for her roles in Picnic ( 1955 ) and Vertigo ( 1958 ) - uses art to relax and to express herself. As she writes on her website, “I never dreamed of becoming an actress or a movie star. As a young girl I won two scholarships to the prestigious Chicago Art Institute where I hoped one day to become a great artist."

Ms. Novak left Hollywood in the late 1960s to focus on art and continues painting to this day, at the age of 86. Her work was recently part of a 2019 exhibition at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. The exhibit describes her work as "impressionistic and surrealistic, [having] a dynamic effect where surrealism meets traditional realism".

It was an interesting Sunday Morning clip ( you can view it here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-art-of-kim-novak/  ) and after watching it, I wanted to see more of her work. Fortunately, she shares many of her paintings on her website - https://www.kimnovakartist.com/ - along with verses that she wrote to go along with them. 

Her paintings have a Southern Californian air to them and flow in all directions, much like the tide hitting the sand upon a beach. They are bright and colorful and feature a lovely mixture of pastels and watercolor. Ms. Novak is a wonderful example of someone staying true to their first passion and following their dream.

All images were obtained from Kim Novak's website where prints can also be purchased.

The Magic of Music

Finding the Way Back Home
Transformation - Nelson Mandela
Vertigo - Vortex of Delusion
River Dancers
The Tides of Humanity
Self-Portrait

Monday, January 13, 2020

From the Archives: Paradise for Three ( 1938 )


Mary Astor and Frank Morgan, two great actors, are pictured here in this origianl publicity photo from the delightful MGM comedy Paradise for Three ( 1938 ). Mary Astor as Irene attempts to woo the elderly Mr. Tobler ( Morgan ) on their holiday in the Alps.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Moon-Spinners ( 1964 )

In 1963, Hayley Mills, one of the most popular child stars of the decade, set off for Greece to star in Walt Disney's family-friendly adaptation of Mary Stewart's thrilling novel "The Moon-Spinners".

Mills stars as Nikky Ferris, a young girl who is traveling throughout Europe with her Aunt Frances ( Joan Greenwood ) to record folk songs for the BBC. They arrive at The Moon-Spinners Inn on the island of Crete where they stumble into a dangerous web of intrigue involving a handsome young Englishman ( Peter McEnery ) and a desperate jewel smuggler named Stratos ( Eli Wallach ).

The Moon-Spinners is a delightful mystery-adventure that combines an exciting plot with marvelous Cretian atmosphere. In fact, it is the location filming and exotic setting of The Moon-Spinners that truly lends the film its appeal. 

"They cannot have lied. The stars cannot lie." - Stratos
"Everybody lies when it serves their purpose, even the stars." - Madame Habib
Mary Stewart was a prolific British novelist who developed the romantic-mystery genre. Her books, most of which took place in exotic locations throughout Europe, always featured a young heroine who would find romance in the midst of a dangerous situation. 

Hayley Mills was quickly growing out of her childhood film roles and this was an ideal production that helped transition her into more mature teen roles. Her character Nikki is head-strong and capable, yet vulnerable enough to need to be rescued by the handsome tourist Mark, portrayed by Peter McEnery. This young English actor was making his American film debut in The Moon-Spinners and - while he didn't have the charm of James MacArthur or Kurt Russell - he was perfect for this role. Disney liked this affable young gentleman so much that he starred him in another feature the following year: The Fighting Prince of Donegal. 

Like most Disney films, The Moon-Spinners features an excellent cast of supporting players. Eli Wallach, with his dark glaring eyes, is ideal as Uncle Stratos, a "much lousy man" who would willingly commit murder in his desperation for wealth. The beautiful Grecian actress Irene Papas is given a small but memorable role as Stratos' sister, the owner of The Moon-Spinners Inn. 

Joan Greenwood, with her delicious purring voice, is Nikki's aunt. She spends most of her vacation worrying about Nikki's whereabouts, not even knowing that there is a crime being committed right before her eyes. Also in the cast is Greenwood's husband Andre Morrell in a brief part as the captain of The Minotaur, the fabulous yacht owned by Madame Habib, a role that was portrayed by the great silent film star Pola Negri. Walt Disney personally coaxed her out of retirement to make an appearance in the film and she delivers a grand performance.
John Le Mesurier is perfect as the English consulate who lives in a palatial manor overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with his discontented wife, the tipsy "Angel of Eastbourne" portrayed by Sheila Hancock. Paul Stassino ( Thunderball ) is once again playing a villain but most entertaining of all the secondary roles in that of Alexis, delightfully portrayed by Michael Davis. The young Greek lad who aids Nikki and Mark in their escape is actually an American boy! Fancy that. 

The Moon-Spinners is a family favorite in our household, a film that we always seem to watch shortly after New Year's Day. It is unlike other Disney films of the era because it doesn't feature much humor or any musical interludes but it does feature plenty of adventure ( the windmill escape and the fantastic ride through the King Minos parade in a hearst are highlights ) and a memorable musical score by Ron Grainer. “The Moon-Spinners Song” is especially lovely, evoking the sounds of a traditional Greek folk melody. It was written by Terry Gilkyson and is beautifully performed over the title credits by Gilkyson, Carson and Van Dyke Parks and other members of the folk group The Easy Riders. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

To You a Happy New Year! ( 1964 ) - British Pathe

Happy New Year to all our readers! We're bidding farewell to a grand old year - 2019 - and looking forward to a bright and beautiful 2020! A new decade!
The celebrations are underway in New York City but we are taking a look back at a New Year's Eve celebration that took place 55 years ago in London. Albert Hall to be precise. 

This 2-minute British Pathe news clip shows a number of English film personalities enjoying a night out at the famous Albert Hall where the annual New Year's Eve party is taking place....and a few revelers having a splash in the fountain at Trafalgar Square. 
They all seem to be having a good time and we hope you are, too. We wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! 

Click here to watch To You a Happy New Year ( 1964 )

Similiar British Pathe clips:

Brrr Happy New Year - Britain on Ice ( 1962 ) - 3:59
Happy New Year! ( 1965 ) - 7:17
New Year Show ( 1969 ) - 1:13

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The North Avenue Irregulars ( 1979 )

"Are you a minister or Batman??" 

Reverend Mike Hill ( Edward Herrmann ), the newly appointed minister at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, takes on the role of a crimefighter when he discovers that there is organized crime going on right in his parish community - illegal gambling. Helping him in his fight against the mob are five spunky women from the church activities committee: Vickie ( Barbara Harris ), Jane ( Karen Valentine ), Mrs. Carlisle ( Virginia Capers ), Claire ( Cloris Leachman ) and Rose ( Patsy Kelly ).

All of this gang busting upsets Anne ( Susan Clark ), the daughter of the former minister at North Avenue, who believes that the minister has no business using the church for personal or even city issues. "This is a matter for the police!" she exclaims. But how can one call on the police for help when even they are turning their eye away from the illegal gambling?

Walt Disney Pictures released a number of really fun family comedies in the 1970s and The North Avenue Irregulars is one of the best of the decade. It boasts a highly amusing script and tight direction by Bruce Bilson, but what really makes the film stand-out is the great cast, most of whom are character actors. The "church ladies" are exaggerated characterizations for sure but that is what makes them so fun to watch, especially when they are played by the likes of Barbara Harris and Virginia Capers. They are asked to trail men who may be taking the daily collections from the various bookie joints to "the bank" ( the main headquarters of the mob ) and so, armed with walkie-talkies, they follow them up and down the various side streets of Los Angeles. 
Most of the film takes place outdoors in and around the Los Angeles area and we get to see some great footage all over the city, including Burbank and Pasadena. It is like stepping back in time seeing Ralph's supermarket, car dealerships, pubs and other local businesses.
Other great character actors in the film include Michael Constantine and Steve Franken who play the Treasury Department agents that ask the Reverand for his help in smashing the gang, which is led by none other than Frank Campanella. Alan Hale Jr. has a wonderful guest role as a bookie known as "Harry the Hat" and the great Carl Ballantine plays a pants presser who operates the "front" for Harry. Also in the cast is Cliff Osmond, Herb Voland, Douglas Fowley ( as Patsy Kelly's fightin' Irish husband ), Ruth Buzzi, Dena Dietrich ( excellent as Jane's mother-in-law to-be ) and Louisa Moritz. 
Because of these talented actors the film is chock-full of wonderfully humorous little scenes, such as when Virginia Capers "trails" one of the pickup men on foot while pushing a baby carriage. Another great moment is when Reverend Hill asks Cloris Leachman if she is free that evening and tells her to meet him in Room 402 at the church. She gets dolled up thinking he wants to take her on a date...until she opens the door to Room 402 ( the children's Sunday School room ) and sees five other church ladies sitting on the little kid chairs waiting to hear what Reverend Hill called them there to discuss about the church. "My, how pretty you look!" they exclaim. Such good fun. 

The North Avenue Irregulars was based on the 1968 book of the same title by Reverend Hill which was an account of real-life events that happened to him when he took over the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Rochelle, New York, although it was naturally fictionalized and embellished to add humor. The title is a play on Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars, a group of ragamuffins who help gather information for Holmes. Overseas, the movie was released with the clever title Hill's Angels.