Dances with Wolves is 25 years old this year, 25 years, wow a quarter of a century. Seems unbelievable don’t it, and it was this movie that got John Barry back into the public gaze after being absent due to illness, but saying that I don’t think he was ever forgotten, how can you forget a man that had given us so much with his iconic and haunting themes for TV and Film, and his upbeat pop tunes of the 1960,s. We all knew he would return but were not sure when or with what masterpiece in tow. DANCES WITH WOLVES is for me personally one of the great westerns but a western with a difference, it has heart and so much soul and is saturated in emotive qualities, the acting and direction being superb and the story line riveting. Of course John Barry was no stranger to westerns having scored two in the 1970,s (THE WHITE BUFFALO and MONTE WALSH) he was also not unfamiliar with big screen blockbusters and adventures, but was also able to create intimate and small scale scores. DANCES WITH WOLVES proved to be a project that would require all of Barry’s experience and expertise. The movie and also the score proved to be a runaway success. There have been various releases of the soundtrack, I think three in all over the past 25 years the last being an expanded version of the score on Sony music soundtrax, that contained 24 cues and had a running time of 76 mins. As it is the 25th anniversary this year maybe we can expect version 4,with extra cues, but if not that’s ok with me I am more than happy with the most recent edition of the soundtrack. The wolf TWO SOCKS theme still gets to my emotions and makes the hairs on my arms stand on end, a gentle and soft theme filled with melancholy, tenderness and playfulness and one that underlines the friendship between man and a wild animal, and the animals undying loyalty and friendship till the end. (Maybe that’s why I seem to prefer animals to humans nowadays?).
John Barry’s score is epic in every sense of the word, filled with lush themes, dramatic passages and lilting but alluring tone poems that tinker with the heart strings and stir up every sentiment and emotion possible. Grand, imposing, romantic, wistful and sweeping, the score for DANCES WITH WOLVES is a classic. THE JOHN DUNBAR THEME for example is a flawless and lingering melody, in fact the entire score just oozes melody and rich thematic material, Barry’s unmistakable style being present throughout, the movies vast and expansive landscapes requiring a score that contained more than just one core theme but a multitude of themes to accompany each character and underline and support the many scenarios. Brass, strings, a fleeting use of harmonica, percussion, woodwind, piano and choir combine to create one of the composers longest scores and also probably his most emotive work. John Barry gave the western film a new musical style when he scored DANCES WITH WOLVES, he created something that was and remains special and dear to all who love movie music and the music of John Barry.
It seems an age since ALICES ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND was released, I am of course talking about the 1972 version which starred Fiona Fullerton as Alice and contained a charming score by John Barry with original lyrics by Don Black and also lyrics by the tales author Lewis Carroll. Originally released on the Warner Brothers label and presented in a gatefold album cover the score for me was an instant hit, the film however was not that well received, why? I don’t really know, I have always thought it was a fair re-telling of Alice’s adventures in a fantastical and somewhat madcap world. Fullerton who’s suitably childlike and innocent performance was supported by the cream of the British acting fraternity, with Peter Sellers, Michael Crawford, Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore, Hywell Bennet, Michael Horden, Spike Milligan, Robert Helpman and Flora Robson among others adding their wealth of experience to the proceedings. The movie had in its cast what was effectively the who’s who of BRITISH ACTORS. Robert Helpman was superb as the Hatter, Michael Crawford turning in a convincing performance as the manic white rabbit and Flora Robson truly regal and pompous as the Queen of hearts. Barry’s score was in one word ENCHANTING his melodic and haunting themes accompanying perfectly the mad hatter, the white rabbit and of course the Cheshire cat and the Queen of hearts with her obsession for lopping off heads. It for me underlined the utter lunacy of what was going on plus it supported the dramatic and at times more serious pieces of the film and enhanced and accompanied the young girl Alice on her voyage of discovery in wonderland. There have indeed been other versions of the story most famous probably being the Disney animated movie and then numerous TV adaptations and more recently Tim Burtons take on the story, which was more outlandish, dark and curious than Curioser if you see what I mean. The soundtrack was thankfully released on compact disc a few years ago by Film Score monthly and also included Barry’s soundtrack for Richard Lester’s PETULIA. ALICE is a score that I return to regularly to bathe in the warmth, simplicity and light of Barry’s magnificently soothing and harmonious score. I suppose it takes me to my own wonderland for a few minutes at least. The lyrics by Don Black are too alluring and attractive and fitted perfectly in with the words of Lewis Carroll which were also set to music by Barry, carrying out a particularly fine job of underlining the DUM AND DEE sequence.
The highlight of the score however must be the two main songs which for me are CURIOSER AND CURIOSER and the beautiful THE ME I NEVER KNEW with I’VE NEVER BEEN THIS FAR BEFORE coming a very close third. It is the fragility and the delicate aura of all of these songs with Barry’s tantalising strings augmented by woodwind and underlined by a whimsical and childlike backing that seems to drift and rise creating a peaceful and carefree mood. Then there is comedic atmosphere created by THE PUN SONG, YOU’VE GOTTA KNOW WHEN, THE LAST WORD IS MINE and the complicated and at times confusing THE MORAL SONG. Yes this is a musical but it is also a John Barry score and one that if you have not heard it will be a surprise and a delight and if you already have it you obviously know what I am saying. Barry at his best.