There is a tradition, one could even call it a genre now, of films (often horror films) supposedly cut together from actual documentary footage.  It pretty-much began with Cannibal Holocaust in 1980 and then there were a few variations on the theme – such as the simulated live TV broadcast Special Bulletin (1983) – which is, if you’ll pardon my vernacular, fucking excellent - then there was the Belgian black comedy Man Bites Dog (1992) but, of course, the genre found its feet when The Blair Witch Project (1999) made almost $250 million on a $25,000 initial investment.  

You remember Blair Witch and its disappointing sequel, well, funnily enough ...

Those numbers meant that a lot of companies tried to tap into that vein of hand-held, low-cost productions making massive profits, but no one really managed to strike it lucky.  The Spaniards got it right with Rec (2007) but that was in Spanish so a lot of horror movie fans (who particularly enjoy the genre cos it doesn’t require a lot of reading) didn’t see it.  Indeed, only now has there been an explosion in the numbers of such films being made since the steam-roller success of Paranormal Activity in 2009.

Now, like the fly of bad ideas heading towards then windscreen of inevitability, we have Paranormal Activity 2.  Like the first film, it purports to be a documentary assembled from video footage taken by the family in the haunted house.  Quite early on it teases you with a sub-title telling you that this was sixty days before one character’s death.  One way to take that is “Ooh, there’s going to be a death”; another way to take it is “Oh, we’ve got to wait sixty days for the death”.  I know which thought crossed my mind.

Is that Yvette Fielding lurking in the doorway there?

The Rey family live in one of those impossibly huge houses that movie characters live in; y’know, the ones who never seem to go to work and yet are loaded with dough.  They have a pool and a nanny for their new baby.  Daddy, Daniel Rey, seems to be batting way above his average as he looks like a middle aged truck driver but his wife is a lot younger and glamourous … er than you would expect.  I guess that’s the appeal of a guy who can afford a house with a pool.

At one point, the smug gits have their house ‘burgled’ (lots of furniture is thrown about but nothing, curiously, is stolen) so they install a CCTV system and this, then, provides the bulk of the footage for the rest of the film.

We get a few subtle hints that all is not well … a door left mysteriously open, a pool cleaning machine that won’t stay in the pool but, by and large, you get 45 minutes (or almost exactly half the film) of sod all happening.

When stuff does start occurin’, we get tantalising hints but, as often as not, the camera cuts away to a frustrating view of someone somewhere else in the house missing all the action.  Just like we are.  Then there’s a few moments when you wonder why there is a camera there at all because, let’s face it, even people who feel that life doesn’t happen unless it’s been photographed and Facebooked, can’t be arsed to video everything.  “Ooh, I just heard the dog yelping downstairs, quick, switch on the video camera before I go off to investigate but, whatever I do, don’t switch on any lights.” 

The only real scare tactic this film has is the cattle-prod.  Essentially it’s lots of things going bump.  Long static CCTV shots of nothing happening in perfect silence are suddenly punctuated by a massive and very loud crash.  This is, of course, going to make all the teenage horror movie newbies jump out of their skins and into the arms of their dates.

When the cameras go infra-red, the film suddenly has the aesthetic of those appaling Blue Peter Goes Ghost-Bustin’  type programmes that are so scary they are on (the ironically named Living channel) in the mornings.

So, all in all, this is a fairly uninspired retread of the first film, but it does, at least, abide by the first rule of sequels by having more of the same – so there are several shocking events that happen right at the end and, to be fair, the last ten minutes or so are pretty effective.  My only problem was the hour-and-half of tedium I had to sit through to get there.

Dir: Tod Williams
Stars:  Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden
Dur: 91 mins (theatrical) 97 mins (‘unrated’)
Cert: 15


I do like Steampunk, which is the flip-side of the zombie/vampire coin ... where they are the trendiest manifestations of the horror genre at the moment, steampunk is the genre du jour within science fiction.

I enjoy its mix of nostalgia, romance and hard science.  I love the airships.  Thanks to the pioneering work Michael Moorcock did with his Oswald Bastable book, The Warlord of the Air (1971), steampunk's signature has become the airship and I'm all the more grateful for it - for if there were ever a vehicle that encapsulates nostalgia, romance and hard science ... the airship is it!

Cinematically, I don't believe Hayao Miyazaki's depiction of this has been bettered.  His 1986 film Laputa: Castle in the Sky (aka Laputa the Flying Island aka simply Castle in the Sky) features jaw-dropping flying sequences which, at the time, sparked my imagination like few films ever had.  Miyazaki's imagination simply did not obey the laws of physics and this was all, it's possibly worth mentioning, before the rise of CGI.

You get a flavour of this in the original Japanese trailer for the film - but there's no substitute for watching the full thing, which is freely available now.

I also particularly like the way Philip Reeve explores the aerial possibilities of airships in his Mortal Engines books, set in the far-flung future where our scientific achievements are pored over by their archeologists.

All of which is by way of introducing this pop video by a reasonably obscured performer, Ben Lovett.  First, we have the video itself, a gorgeous, moody, ethereal depiction of many Steampunk tropes.  Unlike Miyazaki, this is heavily dependant on computers to achieve its effects, but they are no less beautiful for all that.

Now, to get an idea just how much work went in to creating this, essentially, ephemeral piece of commercial art, the makers have provided, firstly a making of ...

... followed by a dissection of the actual effects shots which show just what a labour of love this was, as the animators clearly did far more work and created far more detail than was strictly necessary.

And, if you are wise enough to want some old-school Miyazaki in your life - feel free to click this, buy the disc and Amazon will pay me a few much-needed, gratefully-received sheckles:


So, you’re going to see a Pegg/Frost movie!  You’ve seen their other two and, therefore, you know what to expect: good character development, a very British sense of sarcastic irony mixed with a very American love of geek-lore, all mixed-in with wit, originality and topped-off with some classic quotes.  Yes?  No.  Not so much.  Not this time.

The boys managed to catch lightning in a bottle twice, with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) (I mention the names purely for the benefit of those who’ve spent the last decade off-planet) so there was high expectation that this, their first American film, would be three for three. 

Apparently, when they were getting ready to shoot this, all the way back in 2009, Messers Frost and Pegg were saying it isn’t officially part of what Wikipedia is proud to ennoble ‘The Blood and Ice-Cream Trilogy’.  No, no, that will be The World’s End apparently.  So, this film, which is only now seeing the light of day nearly two years later, is a side project. 

Why?  Well, because Edgar Wright wasn’t involved.  Instead, Paul was directed by Greg Mottola who was responsible for those culture-expanding comedies Superbad (2007) and Adventureland (2009).  I don’t like Superbad and Adventureland.  I’m sorry, but I don’t.  I’m not sixteen.  To be fair, I didn’t find films like that funny when I was sixteen and they were called things like Porky’s and Last American Virgin (both 1982).  So, Mottola’s films are not aimed at me.  I get that.  But Frost and Pegg’s previous films were absolutely aimed at me.

So, where did it all go so … meh?  Well, it’s difficult to point to any one ingredient; the film just lacks the spark of creativity and vitality that marked their first two movies together.  One is forced to conclude that Wright did far more than just point the camera!

Pegg and Frost auditioning for The Hobbit

But, now I’ve sufficiently dampened-down your expectations, it’s time to mention that the film isn’t actually bad.  It’s still an entertaining and enjoyable watch, just not in the same league as … Well, you get the idea.  Can you, as one of my friends put it, sense the damned faintness of the upcoming praise?

Paul begins by establishing (re-establishing, if we’re honest) the geek credentials of the two protagonists as they visit ComiCon, then venture out into the wilds of America, failing entirely to communicate with the humans they meet.  They are geeks, after all … And English geeks at that!

They bump into your text-book grey alien, who tells them he is the titular Paul, and he hitches a lift with them.  To begin with there is a certain amount of friction between them but, of course, you know, by the end, they’ll all be best buds after sharing their transformative experience … This is a road movie, after all.  Along the way, they teach a devout Christian to swear, are pursued by a posse of rednecks, learn some important truths about the government’s UFO conspiracy and finally come out of their shells.
Rogen found the UFO Plan Diet was working a treat
Of course, a road movie needs a few chases, and chases need bad-guys:  Step-up Jason Bateman, on fine form as the steely-eyed Federal Agent, Zoil, who is hot on Paul’s heels.  He is abetted by the Laurel and Hardy of the Secret Service, played by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio (both of whom arrived with Mottola).

Then, of course, there is Paul himself, voiced by another Mottola crony, Seth Rogen.  Rogen’s laid-back, foul-mouthed, little-grey-guy is consistently the funniest thing in the film; which is a problem because, as we know, Seth Rogen isn’t funny.

Where, I think, the biggest difference between Mottola and Wright’s styles can be seen is in that humour.  Here the steady stream of dick, ass and “we’re not gay” jokes is occasionally interrupted by a big slapstick moment, whether it be a punch or a pratfall.  Shaun and Fuzz both had their fair share of slapstick, but leavened that with a verbal dexterity and wit that this film simply lacks.

However, what it loses in belly-laughs, it gains in nice ideas – such as the notion that Paul has been scientific advisor to Hollywood’s science fiction films since the 50s.  With this in mind, Frost and Pegg have been very respectful of their source material, lifting entire scenes from CE3K (1977) and ET (1982) as well as Starman (1984) but only so these add to their own story.  They also pack in a few funny reversals in the film’s last few minutes, just to remind you that they can still surprise you!
Frost and Pegg, unashamedly making films for themselves.
Simon, Nick, I’m sorry … It’s not you, it’s me.  I’m sure it’s just my dysfunctional humour circuits.  Maybe Rogen really is a genius and I just can’t see it because of his proximity to the eclipsing mass of Adam Sandler.  I don’t know.

I do know that, while I felt the film was a pleasant diversion and will have fanboys reciting “Three tits … Awesome” for years to come, its greatest achievement was that it left me with a burning desire to dig out my BluRay of CE3K and watch it all over again.  So, y’know, that’s something.  Isn’t it?

Dir: Greg Mottola
Stars: Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, oh, and those guys who wrote it.
Cert 15
Dur; 104 mins


Here’s a thing …

Music mash-ups are, in case you don’t know, where someone takes two or more pieces of music and mixes them together to produce a chimera which is a separate beast but has elements of both (or all) its parents.  Ideally, they should work as pieces of music in their own right, but they also offer up the enjoyable experience of allowing you to play ‘spot the sample’.

Now, the same aesthetic is often employed to the visual medium as well, using the editing software that is easily available these days.  Let’s face it, if this were not so, there’d be precious little on YouTube.

Well, movie trailers are fair game for this and fans with an exhaustive knowledge of film and a lot of time on their hands, have been putting together faux movie trailers for years.  The results are often indifferent at best; but sometimes the care and attention the fans lavish on these short films pay dividends and produce wonderful, hilarious, intoxicating ‘what if’ scenarios.

Such as, what if Steven Spielberg decided now was the time to do a sequel to E.T.:

Isn’t that fantastic?  Utterly convincing.  If that were a pitch it would be green-lit and in our cinemas summer 2012.  Click on the video, go to his YouTube page and give the guy some encouragement, I’d love to see what else he comes up with.

Here is a slightly different take on the same idea – but this is a CGI animation which is delightfully impressive.  It imagines a mash-up of two of 1968’s sci-fi events and yet is a short film in its own right:

But now we come to a man who has, in a very short time, elevated this to an art-form.  He creates trailers for all-to-recognisable films from the geek generation using nothing but footage from films from classic Hollywood.  His conceit is that the early films of Spielberg and Lucas weren’t just inspired by the movies they saw as children in the fifties – they were actual remakes of the films he has ‘unearthed’.

He calls his trailers ‘Premakes’ and they verge on the genius.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the work of Ivan Guerrero:

Okay, you get the idea?  Ivan’s mission is to make an instant-gratification, short-term-memory culture care about old movies and, therefore, he also takes the trouble to tell you where he finds his material, in the hope that his viewers will pick up some of the old films for themselves:

Now we move onto an even better example:

Lucas has always been open and honest about the inspiration he took from Flash Gordon; this video makes that overt from those who refuse to believe.  Again, he provides us with his sources, showing the pain-staking shot-for-shot work he does:

And finally, what I consider to be his masterpiece, the 1951 version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, starring Charlton Heston:

Isn’t that extraordinary?  I particularly love the fact that he has converted this to black and white, because I have always maintained that Raiders, one of my absolute favourite films, looks even better in black and white.  It’s mostly made of an all-but-forgotten 1954 film called Secret of the Incas, but here’s the original footage in detail:

Now, if you want to know more about the intriguing Secret of the Incas, there’s a fansite dedicated to it here.

Meanwhile, Ivan’s own site is here.  And his YouTube page is here.  Wander over; tell him The Cellulord sent ya!

So, can you find any equally cool examples of this fan-driven art-form?  Share them with us in the comments if you have!  Cheers.


You know the moment ... Indy is standing in The Map Room, his wooden staff is just the right length and, as the sun rises, a beam of holy light tells him exactly where he can find The Ark of the Covenant.  John Williams' best score soars to a spine-tingling climax and, if you're anything like me, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

Well, last night, I was wandering through the website feeds that tumble into my Facebook account and noted one from the very excellent /Film entitled Listen to 12 Hours of François Truffaut interviewing Alfred Hitchcock.  Cue holy light.  Cue violins.

See, more than twenty years ago, when I was at college and first discovered that one could actually study films, the first film we looked at was Psycho and, upon visiting the college library and discovering a whole shelf of books about movies, the first I checked-out and read was by François Truffaut, about his idol Alfred Hitchcock.  The book was simply called Hitchcock by Truffaut at the time, although it is now known as A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock (which it absolutely isn't, but still ...).

I knew Truffaut.  Or, rather, I thought I did.  I'd seen him act in CE3K (1977) and watched at least one film he'd directed: Fahrenheit 451 (1966).  I'd never heard of La Nouvelle Vague at that point, but simply to think that a maker of films could also be a fan of them was a revelation to me, and the insight one director could bring to the work of another was inspirational.  A battered, old, third-hand copy of that exact edition now has pride of place amongst the hundreds of film books that crowd my shelves.  It was my introduction to the head-swimming world of film analysis and critique.  And you never forget your first!

The book is, essentially, an extended conversation between two cinema giants conducted in 1962 when Hitch was still at the height of his considerable powers and Truffaut was just approaching his ('62 is the year Jules et Jim was first released).  I don't think either of them would have claimed that they were equals but, as time passes and Truffaut's body of work grows in esteem, the gap between them narrows.  One could only imagine what the actual conversation was like before it was filtered, edited and transcribed into the printed text.

Well, now we need to speculate no more.  The tapes have turned up and quietly, inconspicuously, they have been appearing on the internet.  Indeed, they've been sitting there since 2008 on a cultural blog with the delightful name If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats, just waiting for the world to discover them.  The blog is oddball and wonderfully funny and, now I've discovered it, I'll be returning often!

It seems that these treasures were stumbled-upon by the curators of another cultural commentary site, Open Culture who discovered that the audio files had been gathered together by the editors of the Hitchcock Wiki here, and are now also available for download.

Thanks to the frenzy of interest this revelation has engendered, these download sites became massively over-loaded and crashed.  But, as I found when I visited another site carrying the story: Filmdetail, there are plenty of mirror sites so, if you want them, go hunting, you'll find them.  I did.  No Nazis, no snakes.

Twelve hours of unguarded discussion with the notoriously deceptive and mischievous Hitchcock is an extraordinary find.  It's cultural value is almost beyond calculation for students and lovers of film.  Now that this material is out there, it won't be long before someone provides a translation of the French elements, and other people will find uses for this audio ... DVD audio commentaries, perhaps?  They will certainly become an essential teaching tool for the next generation of students learning that it’s okay to study film.

I can't begin to tell you how excited I am by this.  I certainly know what I'm doing this weekend ... I'll be spending it with Hitch!

François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and translator, Helen G. Scott in 1962


The unique 'Best Film Nominee' illustration from the BAFTA brochure beautifully evokes the feel of the film

True Grit ends as it begins, with a consideration of death.  Beyond any of the individual characters it introduces us to, then dispatches, the death the film is really concerned with is the death of The Old West.

I must confess a vested interest.  I have written extensively on The Coens in the past and consider them to be the greatest film-makers working today.  That puts a real burden of responsibility on them which, at least so far, they don’t seem to have buckled under.  Whew.  They can be very variable in their output, ranging from the world-beating magnificence of No Country For Old Men (2007) to the good-natured eccentricities of Burn After Reading (2008) via the simply incomprehensible A Serious Man (2009).  One never knows which way the pendulum will swing, will their next film be a screwball comedy, a fantasy or a gritty crime drama.

Well, True Grit is, as its title might suggest, a very gritty, very dramatic film heaving with crime.  It features career-defining performances and is purely and simply majestic.  Although the year is yet young, this is the film of the year and I don’t see anything coming over the horizon to challenge that.  Except maybe Twilight.

The film’s extraordinarily evocative opening shot fades in gradually, like a developing photograph, an old photograph, shrouded in shades of sepia.  It is accompanied by the narration of an old woman, looking back at her lost youth, her lost father and, of course, the lost West.

How does the saying go?  ‘In the midst of life, we are in death’.  Well, that is definitely the case for young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who, at the tender age of fourteen, finds herself taking on the responsibility of dealing with her father’s estate after his violent and untimely death.  She very soon finds herself sleeping with corpses at the mortuary and, as her quest to avenge her father develops; pretty much everyone she meets is murdered or maimed.  But then, this is a revenge tragedy and, as the name suggests, they rarely end happily. 

That's one bad hat, Hailee

Mattie describes her night in the mortuary as being “… like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones” but, unlike the bones in the Bible story, these skeletons don’t come back together with tendons and flesh and skin.  However, when Mattie later finds herself surrounded by more bones, they do come to life in a very Biblical way.

Commentators wiser than I have noted that, in the Old West, what literacy there was likely came from reading the only book everyone out there was likely to encounter: The King James Bible.  It would influence everything, from the way people thought to the very words they spoke, and so it is here.  The Coens have long demonstrated a love for precise, often complex, occasionally arcane dialogue and this film gives them ample opportunity to indulge that love, with poetic, florid and deliciously illustrative language issuing from practically every mouth.  I won’t steal the best lines; feel free to discover them yourself.

So the film is rich with its Biblical texture and atmosphere heavy with death.  Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is a man steeped in death.  He is described, before his entrance, as “a pitiless man, double tough …” and, when he does appear, he is being grilled in a court about the twenty-two men he has killed in his four years of duty as a Marshall.  This is why Mattie chooses him to be the agent of her vengeance; she wants an irredeemable man with no fear of killing.  

A pitiless man and double tough, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

Mattie herself is utterly merciless in her determination, she destroys a poor horse-trader by out-witting him with her remorseless logic and rapier-sharp mind and, when the Texas Ranger, Le Boeuf (Matt Damon), introduces himself by entering her bedroom, he is proud and preening and patronising and she effortlessly outwits him, though only half awake.  This not simply a quest for blood for Mattie, her revenge is philosophical, even intellectual … She discusses with Rooster the definition of malum in se, a crime which is wrong in itself, a crime which is, essentially, against God’s Law.

Her two adult protectors have far simpler motivations than she, pride in LaBoeuf’s case, cash money in Rooster’s.  Out on the range, the two cowboys bicker like little girls while the little girl with them is the constant voice of maturity reason, but that’s fourteen-year-olds for you.  When he is alone (and at a good distance from a gin bottle) Rooster gets to show her his considerable tracking skills while they ride through an ever-changing landscape, as though passing through the levels of Hell, taking them ever nearer to Mattie’s prey, the cowardly murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).

As usual in a Coen film, the violence is sudden, messy and definitive and the resulting corpses are generally treated with a cold disregard.  As Rooster ruminates, when considering the four men he has killed, all lying on the frozen ground: “They wanted a decent burial; they shoulda got themselves killed in the summer”.

Without wishing to discuss the film’s dénouement in too much detail, it is fair to say that it is satisfyingly bloody and Biblical, and leads to Rooster taking on a burden of responsibility which, before meeting Mattie, he probably wouldn’t have shouldered, and which earns him the redemption he doesn’t particularly want.

I love the period feel the publicity people have given to the teaser posters.

And so, our tale of the Old West ends as it began, bathed in sepia light and fading into memory.  This leaves only the film’s coda – and the point where this version and the John Wayne original part company most significantly – which considers how, by the early years of the 20th century, the legends of the Old West, such as Cogburn, Younger and James, have become a sideshow attraction.  An ignominious reward for those who carry the wounds of a nation’s birth-pains.

Once again, the Coens have hewn-out a masterpiece.  Every line of dialogue, every moment, is rich with detail and significance and I am sure that deeper layers of subtext will offer themselves to me as I re-watch the film many, many times over the coming years.  It needed brave directors to take on territory already charted by Henry Hathaway and, as for the main role … The Duke won his only Oscar for this role, although it was really in recognition of his whole career … Possibly the only man big enough to fill those boots was The Dude, fresh from winning his own career Oscar. 

Bridges’ performance retains the gruff exterior of Crazy Heart’s Bad Blake, but, unlike that role, Rooster is utterly incapable of communicating his feelings.  This comes across by turns as hilariously funny and deeply tragic when, for example, his desperate insecurity in front of LaBoeuf drives him into a destructive drinking binge.

But the performance of the film and, to my mind, the performance of the year, is Hailee Steinfeld’s.  She is the age Jodie Foster was when she was Oscar nominated for Taxi Driver (1976), and has a similar towering confidence on screen.  This will take her a long way and, if there’s any justice that doesn’t have to be taken at the muzzle of a gun, it will take her all the way up to the podium to accept her gold statue on Sunday the 27th.

Dir: Joel Coen
Stars:  Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Dur: 110 mins
Cert: 15


Here's a thing.

Back in the days when I taught Film Studies, one of the subjects that proved most illuminating to my students, (because it was something that, by and large, they hadn't noticed) was the function of female characters in films.  Pretty much the only positive female roles they were aware of, are Sarah Connor in The Terminator films (1984 and 1991) written and directed by James Cameron and Ripley in Aliens (1986) ... written and directed by James Cameron. Even my female students were not conscious of just how universal is the subservience of female characters.

Well, I've just discovered something that would have really helped them understand - and will again if I ever find myself standing before film students.  It's called The Bechdel Test.  It's been doing the rounds for twenty-five years now, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only just stumbled onto it.

It began with cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her strip Dykes To Watch Out For, more particularly, this strip:
Bechdel's website is here and her blog is here.  Go have a look, especially if you think all comics need capes or sword-wielding children.  S'alright, you can thank me later.

Anyway, I found her work through the Bechdel Movie Test list which is a wiki listing, as you may have gathered, films which meet the stringent Bechdel criteria:

Does a film feature 1: at least two women who 2) talk to each other about 3) something besides a man?

You'd think such films would be easy to find but, sadly, they aren't.  Have a look at the list, it's here and it makes no value judgements about the quality of the interaction between women, which means you may well have issues with some of the films which qualify.  One of the more recent entries, 127 Hours, for instance, do the two girls Aron meets in the desert really say anything of substance to each other that isn't about him?

But the ambitions of The Bechdel List seem to be mostly to acknowledge the presence of women in non-subservient roles whenever they occur.  That is how poor a representation women receive, it's worth noting a woman in a pro-active role whenever it happens, however briefly, irrespective of context and, because of the work in the list, you can see just how rare significant female roles are.  Sad but true.

There is a fantastic illustration of this here, courtesy of Feminist Frequency, who have also created this very helpful and very simple video.  Click and play:

And I found all of this in response to a fascinating article which discusses why the typical Hollywood outpourings are deliberately and persistently designed to appeal to a male audience and why they would be demonstrably more successful if they were more inclusive and appropriate to a female audience as well.  Both Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) were designed with both a male and particularly a female audience in mind and they are respectively the biggest and second biggest grossing films at the moment.  They are both, of course, written and directed by ... James Cameron.  Notice a theme developing here?

The article is here on Lucy Vee's essential Write Here, Write Now blog.  Have a read.  Have a chat in the comments box.



I thought long and hard about whether I should write about John Barry.  Is it distasteful to be singing his praises in the past tense today, when we could so easily have done so in the present tense yesterday?

I have decided that it isn't.  Whilst we who didn't know him cannot (and should not) mourn as his family mourn, we can take a moment to celebrate his achievements, now that his labours are at an end.

John Barry, the quiet, unassuming Yorkshireman, wandered into film composition almost by accident, through his association with the singer and actor Adam Faith.  He was still in his twenties when he was asked to arrange and, essentially, 're-mix' Monty Norman's theme to Dr No (1962).  This would prove to be the defining moment of his professional life.

The authorship of that piece would eventually come to be something of a thorn in Barry's side since the composer credit has always been given exclusively to Norman, yet a significant part of the tune's enduring success must be put down to the instrumentation chosen by Barry.  But, I guess that's the difference between composing and arranging.

Here is an interesting editing exercise where one James Bond fan has taken Norman's original Eastern-influenced version and mixed together a couple of Barry's prior arrangements, to demonstrate quite why he chose to arrange the music the way he did.

Barry had learned the important difference between arranging and composing and was soon brought back by the Bond film producers to work on the next Bond film and every subsequent one until The Spy Who Loved Me.  His enduring legacy with these films was to give them an elegance and a legitimacy which, to be fair, they didn't all deserve!

Here's a perfect example, a masterly score for a ... meh ... alright film:

These eleven Bond movie soundtracks - with their accompanying hit songs - would be enough for any career, you would think, but Barry went on to win five Oscars for his non-Bond work.  That's the same number as John Williams!

The Academy particularly appreciated his romantic work, like Out of Africa (1986) and Dances with Wolves (1991), soundtracks that demonstrate a real elegance.   But, for me, the tracks that The Oscars didn't recognise are the stand-outs, such as the deceptively simple and laid-back theme to Midnight Cowboy (1969) - which did, at least, win a Grammy:

Some films just demanded the kind of epic qualities that few composers were capable of providing (especially in the 60s when lush orchestral scores were a dying art), but Barry was always there, ready to take a huge, heroic film and raise it to mythical proportions.  Zulu (1964) is, simply put, one of the greatest British films ever made and this is in no small part because of Barry's majestic score:

His reach even extended to TV where he gave the Roger Moore / Tony Curtis vehicle The Persuaders an air of exotic mystery which the show itself couldn't really maintain:

In fact, that seems to have been one of the constant themes (if you'll pardon the pun) running through his work ... It elevated the films it was part of to a higher state of being.  This is never truer than with what is, I think, my absolute favourite Barry score, for the indifferent Disney flop The Black Hole (1979).  First we have the triumphant, militaristic fanfare, a spectacular way of showing John Williams that he couldn't quite have it all his own way in the late 70s:

Followed by the piece wherein Barry's trademark measured, deliberate pace perfectly represents the largest spaceship ever seen slowly manoeuvring in space, and does it all with a dignity and elegance far beyond that which the film-makers deserved ...

Finally, I can't finish without remembering at least one of those exquisite Bond theme tunes ... Almost every one of which has entered the public consciousness in a way few other pieces of film music have managed.  Obviously, Goldfinger is the standard against which all others are compared, and that's exactly as it should be, but I have always had a real soft spot in my heart for this:

Now, here's a thing.  David Arnold, who was Barry's own choice to replace him as Bond composer, has written a delightful tribute to the great man here, and has also asked THE question of the day, over on Twitter: "Shall we try to get the sublime "we have all the time in the world" to number one this week? John Barry and Louis Armstrong"   He's @ if you want to go off and do something rash like follow him but, before you do, why not go and visit your local music website and download 'We Have All The Time in the World'.

Go on, 89p to elevate the charts to a higher state of being!  Bargain!