RIP John Barry

Good film music enhances movie scenes. Great film music takes a good, bad or indifferent scene and lifts it into the stratosphere. Really great film music does that and is also enchanting to listen to in any context. By that measure, John Barry is one of the best film composers ever.

He might have lacked some of their complexity, but in emotional and melodic terms he is very much on a par with the greatest film composers of all time, including Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Bernard Herrmann — and their music charted much less frequently. John Barry could write a complex, soaring pop hit that might make Burt Bacharach jealous. He wasn’t afraid to be over-the-top when the job called for and embraced a certain level of kitsch where appropriate. He didn’t over-value subtlety.

Mr. Barry died yesterday in New York from a heart attack at age 77, not super young but another twenty or thirty years of his presence on the planet would have been nice, too. Even today, when many young film viewers are only barely aware that some guy named Sean Connery once played James Bond, if I ask almost anyone to think of “spy music,” they’re probably going to think of either the actual music from the early James Bond films or music heavily influenced by it. That’s just scratching the surface.

Barry evoked beauty, longing and mystery for all kinds of films. His 111 composing credits included Oscar-winning scores for “Out of Africa,” “Born Free,” the colonial war classic “Zulu,” his groundbreaking combination of scoring and music supervision on “Midnight Cowboy,” the cult fantasy-romance, “Somewhere in Time,” a now very obscure 1972 live-action musical version of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Richard Lester’s masterpiece, “The Knack and How to Get It.” Other scores include “Dances With Wolves,” “The Lion in Winter,” and the three movies that starred Michael Caine as anti-Bond workaday spook, Harry Palmer. Barry had the spy market cornered, and he was one very cool cat.

If you’ve never heard his fascinating and funny 2004 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross where he discusses “million dollar Mickey Mouse music,” now’s a good time. As you can always bet on, there’s much more at MUBI and be sure to check out this anecdote from Sir Michael about being present at the creation of a pop masterpiece. After the flip, just a few somewhat random clips of some of Barry’s best.

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TV/media in the 2000s: 10 (or so) key voices in left/right political media

Politically speaking, the aughts have been one long, strange trip. Just think about what we’ve seen this decade: a disputed presidential election in 2000, the largest terrorist attack in world history occurring on U.S. soil in 2001, followed by two wars, the partial erasure of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, a congressional changing of the guard, the election of the first African-American president as well as the first with a foreign-sounding name, and the probable passage of a health care package which, depending on your point of view, is either historic, a mystery, a bit of a sham, or the first step on the road to a Stalinist U.S. of A.

Bubbling beneath all of this has been a series of remarkable changes in the world of media — television, movies, radio, and this thing we call the Internet — that have had a fairly profound impact on politics and, therefore, on real life. What follows are my choices for the ten most interesting and/or influential figures in the realm of political media. To try and slightly compensate for my obvious liberal bias (my side is far more facty, I tell ya!), I’ve got five spots each for conservative and liberal media figures respectively and I’ll be alternating and counting down from the bottom.

#5 Conservative

Trey Parker and Matt Stone — It’s possible that most regular viewers of “South Park” have little idea that Parker and Stone are self-described Republicans and I’m sure most of you don’t think of it as that much of a political show, even though rather subtle and often quite penetrating and/or infuriating thoughts about politics run through many, if not most, episodes. That’s because, like all great satirists, they are just as good at poking holes in the pretensions of their own side as that of the opposition, and their social liberalism puts them so at odds with the increasingly extremist faction that now controls much of the Republican party that some could easily mistake them for liberals. Actually, right now it’s easy to imagine them ditching the party indefinitely, along with any number of smart fellow conservatives who have already done so publicly.

parker-stone

Still, conservative and/or anti-liberal messages are often found on episodes of “South Park,” including attacks on such personal friends of the pair as George Clooney. Indeed, as early as 2001, famed blogger Andrew Sullivan described himself as a “South Park Republican.” (Sullivan is now one of those smart conservative ex-Republicans I mentioned above.) And, of course, there was no stronger, and certainly no funnier, attack on the antiwar efforts of the American left than “Team America: World Police” which had marionette versions of Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, and Janeane Garofalo working in tandem with North Korean madman Kim Jong-il in his plans to destroy Western civilization.

Since the film’s release in 2004, more doctrinaire conservatives have tried to follow suit with such liberal-bashing comedies as “An American Carol” and “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” a truly wretched attempt to craft a conservative alternative to “The Daily Show,” but only Parker and Stone have been able to bash liberals and their ideas and make targets like Alec Baldwin love it.

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