Monday, January 31, 2011

Film Composer John Barry dies at 77 by Ivor Casey

FILM music composer John Barry has died at the age of 77 from a heart attack. For over forty years the alluring strings to the dramatic brass of his resplendent compositions lit up the silver screen. In 2008 he was invited to host a concert celebrating his music at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I was very fortunate to have been in attendance on this occasion and it is an event which will resonate with me for the rest of my life. What follows is an amended version of my report on that concert in June 2008.

'John Barry: The Man with the Golden Touch'

This was John Barry’s first time performing in Ireland, having been invited to be the guest of honour by RTE Lyric FM’s Aedín Gormley, for the channel’s Movies and Musicals programme. As the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra took their places, Ms. Gormley opened the show, introducing the evening’s line-up, followed by John Barry himself. The composer walked on stage cheerfully to a rapturous and passionate applause, took a bow and without hesitation, guided the orchestra into his sensational theme to Goldfinger. Keeping, at first, to the James Bond films, which catapulted him to fame, he followed this performance with We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Unfortunately but understandbly as the guest of honour, John Barry departed the stage to view the rest of the evening from the balconey with his family. He was replaced by the excellent conductor Nicholas Dodd, who took over for the rest of the night. Dodd is also associated with the movie business, having conducted the orchestral scores for the last four James Bond films, as well as other Hollywood hits such as Independence Day and Godzilla. He has mastered a deep understanding of the music of John Barry and was the ideal candidate for the concert, as he energetically conducted the orchestra through many of the exquisite compositions from the great composer.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, lead by Alan Smale on violin, were also at the top of their league, as their renditions of the music were orchestrated flawlessly. Performances included the histrionic score to Zulu, the poignant theme from Somewhere In Time, the moodiness of Midnight Cowboy, the wondrous melody of Born Free and the sensuous sounds from Body Heat, to name just a few. The audience were left enraptured as the music ventured through a range of emotions, inspiring adrenaline and melancholy. The highlights of the event could be found in two of Barry’s greatest works, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, delivered in all their lush and thrilling grandeur.

John Barry was born in York, England and now lives in Oyster Bay, New York. He was the son of an Irish born cinema owner and it was the experience and atmosphere of being around movies which inspired Barry, who decided early on that he wanted to compose movie music. He studied music under Stan Kenton and after a three year stint in the army, he began the ‘John Barry Seven’, a rock ‘n’roll band in the 1950’s. Having become acquainted with the rock ‘n’ roll musician Adam Faith, who went on to star in the film Beat Girl, Barry was granted the opportunity to make his movie soundtrack debut.

This lead a couple of years later to an offer of working on the music for the first James Bond film Dr. No, in 1962. This was to be his breakthrough moment as he went onto compose the music for a further eleven Bond films, which helped elevate him to the legendary status which he hails today. However, it is outside of the James Bond recordings in which Barry’s accolades and genius have reached their highest levels. He is the winner of five academy awards, two for Born Free and one each for The Lion In Winter, Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves.

Unfortunately Barry has been somewhat misplaced by Hollywood in recent years with its drift away from the melodic splendour and feeling, as found across all of his work. Barry feels that many, often wonderful, film composers today fail to compose melody, which he finds important in a great soundtrack composition. While his work not only incorporates some of the greatest melodies ever written, the emotion behind his music takes on a mythical quality of special symbolic significance, with a deep resonating narrative of passion, pathos and poignancy. Barry exudes the rare ability to strike at the very core of human emotion.

At the climax of the evening, John Barry was invited back on stage, more than once, to another resounding applause and standing ovation, where he conveyed his gratitude for the wonderful reception and was presented with a crystal bowl on behalf of Lyric FM. Although movie music history has many great composers who have created spectacular melodies, it is the combination of melody and tenderness which nobody has perfected quite like John Barry.

John Barry is a musician who goes beyond the realms of the movie business, to being possibly the greatest classical composer of our day. It is such attributes that John Barry retained until his death today which indeed make him the man with the golden touch on music.

- Ivor Casey

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Return of TV's Super-soap Dallas! by Ivor Casey

Today it may seem like one of those old shows deliberately avoiding an integral examination of society and class or the subordinate. However when the oil-baron super-soap Dallas first hit TV screens over 30 years ago it did manage to break down barriers for popular culture, besides bringing its audience into unequalled escapist fantasy. Now almost twenty years since it last aired, it has been announced that a new series of Dallas, focusing primarily on the next generation of characters, is in the pipeline. Once again, TV viewers confined to their homes due to the recession, just like in the 1980s, will be brought into a surreal world of glamour and absurd yet delicious drama and plot lines. 

In Spring of 1978, a five episode pilot was screened and after proving popular the first season was commissioned to begin in September. Lasting 13 years Dallas became the most successful television series of all time, gaining over 350 million viewers world-wide. Its plots and success made news headlines and it became one of the most talked about entertainment sources for a decade. Especially with the “Who Shot JR?” plot which set the trend for all TV cliff-hangers since.

It is now seen as the foremost example for academic critique of American cultural imperialism and hegemony, with its original series referred to as 'a cheap TV show dumped on developing countries'. Nevertheless Dallas did and still does manage to help people put aside their troubles for an hour and see the fun side of extreme wealth, or maybe even the actually unglamorous side as the wealthy constantly appeared to be up against some troubling experience after another. Nothing like it had ever been on television before and never had a weekly series been an event. Revolving around the feuding Ewing and Barnes families Dallas incorporated everything desired for a passive entertainment TV show, with greed, power, murder and deceit. It was clearly politically incorrect and it certainly favoured chauvinism, but it managed to break some social barriers, even if it didn’t use the platform it held for many positive and constructive reasons. In Ireland conventional parents and priests ridiculed its content as blasphemous for its high pitched sexual innuendo, too liberal for TV. However, its massive popularity here conveyed an ever changing Ireland. Its main reason for such hype and controversy was the sexually rampant and shrewd businessman, JR Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, who is reported to be reprising his role in the upcoming series. It was JR and his company, Ewing Oil, that became the centre focus for the show as it emphasised how successful businesses can achieve. With ferocious greed, back-stabbing, ruthlessness, walking over your own mother to get ahead, the show detailed key ingredients of corporate success. JR was a corrupt, evil and manipulative womaniser but this made his character all the more appealing.

It could be found that an ideology representing capitalism and self made millionaires, glorifying the so called ‘American Dream’, suggested to the viewers around the world that you could have whatever you wanted, once you worked hard for it under a Capitalist system. Dallas was followed by similar dramas such as Falcon Crest and Dynasty which followed a parallel pattern. With regard to social themes, while Dallas stayed away from racism it failed to ever include a main character of any minority group or race other than Anglo - Caucasian men and women. The main characters were the apotheosis of the white, heterosexual, western male. It can be argued that the series was mainly about the oil business but that it also managed to cover topics not common in TV dramas prior to this and included stories, if only ever briefly, involving homosexuality, affairs, mis-carriages, ill-health, down syndrome, divorce and extra-marital sex. A two hour episode in 1980 dedicated a story to the matriarch of the drama, Miss Ellie, played by Barbra Bel Geddes, being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to undergo a mastectomy. However, possibly the most ever current of social issues raised in the series was the alcoholism of JR Ewing’s neglected wife, Sue Ellen, played by Linda Gray. One particular plot line, which highlighted the effects of alcoholism at its very worst, showing its victims on the brink of death, helped raise the show above the candy floss delights of wealth and power. Sue Ellen was frequently shown as the down trodden and unfortunate wife of an evil man.

Nothing has replaced Dallas with its original and classy technique of mixing glamour and wealth with tension and grandiose suspense. Although most soaps are cheap and fatuous, with low production values, Dallas was shot like a movie. Dallas was expensive, hard-hitting and intriguing entertainment, with very little as equally stylish made since. What remains to be seen is if the new series will live up to the original, which has found a whole new generation of fans due to its regular repeats across TV and the successful sales of all its seasons on DVD. Besides Larry Hagman, the new Dallas is reported to have Patrick Duffy on board as Bobby, as well a possible return for Linda Gray as Sue Ellen. The show will also star Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe taking the reins of the new generation. It will begin filming closer to summer with a screening in Summer 2012.

- Ivor Casey