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1990 John Barry Interview

Here’s a 1990 interview with John Barry about Dances With Wolves for, I presume, a press junket, by a longtime entertainment journalist, Bobbie Wygant.

The video runs 12:36 but it’s only six minutes long—it’s the A camera and B camera angles, back to back.

This came to my attention from Stephen Woolston at the John Barry Appreciation Society Facebook group.

I enjoyed seeing Barry being so in command and articulate about his process. This was not long after he nearly died from a health drink rupturing his esophagus.

Incidentally, I don’t think we’ve ever learned—what the hell health drink was that, anyway? A 1990 New York Times piece says: “He attributed the rupture to a health-food beverage he had been drinking regularly for six months, but he refused to identify the product because of a pending lawsuit. He had four major operations in 14 months, one to ‘replumb’ his esophagus with a piece of his colon. He said he was functioning normally now.”

Hope he won the lawsuit!

He mentions that he composed and recorded around 20 minutes of themes as a demo (with piano, flute and percussion) to start the process with Costner—and that Costner asked to change only the theme for the wolf, to make it more hesitant. I’ve probably read that before, but it’s interesting to contemplate.

I think the thing about John Barry that is most misunderstood is how precise his themes are. There’s a tendency to think—because his work is so stylistically unique, and especially in his later years became so slow and deliberate—that the themes and cues are interchangeable.

Possibly to some extent that’s true, in similar projects...but really, it’s not. Not at all.

Each melody is so precisely hand-crafted—you couldn’t just swap Out of Africa, Somewhere in Time and Dances With Wolves. They would sound wrong.

Sometimes it comes down to a chord, or a single half-step in the melody, but each theme is unique to its picture. The King Kong love theme has a brilliant simplicity. Dances With Wolves has an Americana flavor.

This is to say nothing of something like The Black Hole, where he conjures, well—a black hole, with that relentless, swirling 3/4 groove.

To strip something down to only its barest essentials, and have it connect to the emotion and concept you want—that is the very definition of composition. It is so very difficult and under-appreciated.

I did, by the way, enjoy going through Bobbie Wygant’s YouTube channel. There appears to be a junket interview with just about every major and minor movie star from the 1960s through 2011.

These aren’t especially candid interviews—because of the nature of movie publicity—but it’s still interesting to see the various baby-faced celebs try their best to promote their projects, and occasional exhibit human behavior in the process.

I also found interviews with Mancini (Dear Heart, The Great Race, and a 1985 piece), Danny Elfman (Darkman), Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz (The Prince of Egypt) and Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line and a 1992 piece).

Very grateful to Wygant and her producers/station for archiving these and making them available! (A sort of odd experience watching her grow old and young and old again, depending on what video you watch.)

Star Trek fans: there are a ton of interviews with the TOS and TNG stars! (They have a playlist for Star Trek, but it’s incomplete. Type “Star Trek” into the search engine to get the TNG movies, as well.)

And here’s a rarity—producer Robert Justman in 1969, with his classic handlebar moustache, talking about the show he did right after Star Trek, Then Came Bronson.

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