Somewhere In Time and John Barry

February 1, 2011

I am so sorry to have heard that John Barry died on Sunday.

John wrote the amazing score for Somewhere in Time (which I produced) that quite literally changed the film’s destiny.

When we showed the original cut of the film to the executives at Universal in late 1979, the response was, to say the least, underwhelming. It was only the first cut and it was definitely too long, but the response we received was pretty devastating. In fact, Ned Tanen, the head of production at Universal, told us that sitting through the film “felt like having to hike through the Mojave desert at high noon.” As Ned had quite literally saved my movie career after my former boss Ray Stark had tried to blackball me in the film industry, Ned’s verdict was doubly hard to experience. (The rest of that story is told in Chapter 9 of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood.)

Anyway, we were all devastated. To make matters worse, the film was immediately taken off the Universal release schedule and we entered a pretty awful limbo period of wondering how to get our film released.

Fortunately, our wonderful director Jeannot Szwarc and our incredibly talented editor Jeff Gourson set up camp in the editing room and completely reedited the film, eliminating about 45 minutes in the process.

And then Jane Seymour recommended that we show the film to her friend John Barry.

John was a hugely successful composer and we didn’t have the budget to hire him, but he came to see the film as a favor to Jane. When the film finished, John turned to Jeannot, Jeff, and I with a huge grin on his face and said simply “I’ll do it…and I’ve got it.”

A few days later, we were summoned to his rented home in Beverly Hills and he played that haunting theme for us on his piano. I’ll never forget the feeling of hearing that music for the first time and knowing what an impact it would have on Somewhere in Time.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We were all amazed and upset that John didn’t get an Academy Award nomination for his music for Somewhere in Time. Unfortunately, the film itself was not well-received by both critics and the industry itelf when it was first released and I think that hurt John’s chances.

A few years later, I was a bit dumbstruck when I heard the theme that John wrote for Out of Africa because it sure sounded an awful lot like Somewhere in Time. I tracked John down and he was laughing as he picked up the phone. “I thought I might hear from you guys!”, he said. Sure enough, he had done a massive amount of rearranging and of course added new themes and more, but the Somewhere in Time theme certainly resonated through much of the Out of Africa score. Listen to them together some time and hear for yourself. I always thought that it was wonderful for John to have done that. Hey, after all, it was his music!

John Barry was a delightful, charming man and a brilliant composer. He will be sorely missed.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Derocher February 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I’m so glad you posted this, Stephen. John Barry’s theme for “Somewhere in Time” was truly magnificent, capturing the period and the romance, and making me feel the depth and tragedy of the love portrayed. If any movie makers want more scores like this, check out Tim Janis’ gorgeous, sweeping compositions: timjanis.com

As I watched “Love, Actually” for the umpteenth time over the holidays, I wondered, “Why do I cry EVERY time?” I’ve seen it so often, I know all the lines. I realized it was the longing and beauty in the “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong that got me. Every time. Transcending logic, that melody goes straight to my heart.

Cheers to Mr. Barry, Mr. Janis, Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Zimmer, Mr. Williams and all the wonderful composers who help us feel something deeply when we watch the movies. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Terry Herbert February 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I , too, am saddened by the passing of John Barry.

He wrote the beautifully mesmerizing score for “Somewhere In Time” not long after he had lost both his parents over a short period of time. He credited grieving for his parents as the reason he could write such a deeply emotionally moving song. I, like every one else, have felt it strike harmonious, empathetic chords in my heart, deepening my involvement as I watch the “Somewhere In Time” movie.

Thanks for telling the story about how he incorporated the SIT theme in “Out Of Africa”, Stephen. I’ll have to rent the movie again, just to listen for it.

There is so much inspiration behind John Barry’s melody, I have often played it while writing, and will attest that it has increased my creativity during the development of a screenplay of my own, set in a similar genre.

In short, John Barry was a musical genius in every sense of the word.

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