1. I am a Michel Legrand fan
2. I am a James Bond/John Barry fan.
I was very excited at the prospect of Sean Connery portraying James Bond again way back in 1983. Roger Ebert himself called it a "minor movie miracle". How much fun could he have with the role again after being absent so long?
When it became clear that Barry would refuse to take part due to misplaced (in my opinion misplaced in view of how he has been treated since) loyalty to the producers of the original series - I wondered like everybody else - WHO could fill his shoes. Cut to the chase. Michel Legrand was chosen. That really didn't bother me. Barry has a style of jazz that is personal to him and so does Michel Legrand. Both are masters at arrangements of all kinds of orchestral instrumentation. Both have music that is exciting and melodic. What's to fear?
Fast forward. I attended the World Premiere of the film Never Say Never Again which was also attended by Connery, Carrera, Caine, Rhonda Fleming and a host of other luminaries. I was high on life. I even got to pee with Caine and Connery. (That is another story for another time.) In the audience during the film Caine and Connery sat three rows behind me. A weird thing happened. Nothing. No audience reaction! Even to the funny parts. It was a vacuum. Strangest thing I've ever been a part of while in a packed house with lots of excitement in the air. What was going on? Years later I can guess.
1.With Connery in the role - I for one - and others - expected the originator of the role to kick Roger Moore's butt with a scintillating movie that showed the other guys how it is done. It didn't happen.
2. The ‘FORM’ wasn't observed. The original series has a form to it - a kind of dogma that has been engrained in the fans and we've come to expect it. Didn't happen. It was more of a pale imitation of form. (More about this later.)
3.The ‘plot’ wasn't allowed to stray far enough from Thunderball (as an officially allowed remake) to be very compelling. Instead - it wasn't even as interesting as Thunderball.
4. The music was, WAY, WAY different!
Now I professed at the beginning of this post to be a Legrand fan. I am and I was. I thought his score was just dandy for Never Say Never Again - but, not as JAMES BOND music! In fact - it was alienating in the same way that, years later, another composer would alienate fans by being sooooo different. Legrand wasn't copying Barry. I praise him for that. Legrand has integrity and talent - no need to enter into stylistic plagiarism. David Arnold did a bang up imitation recently - but, it deeply troubles me (on another level which is irrelevant) that he cannot successfully do his ‘own’ thing and make it work without stepping into Barry's skin. (That's a different can of worms which we'll ignore for now).
So Michel Legrand did his take on Bond and it didn't work. Why why why? I think it is only partly Legrand's fault. 50% of the problem is mysterious fandom. And - ready for this? I think it ties in to recent arguments about ORIGINAL vs. Re-recorded scores. When you cannot divorce your mind and your emotions from the original you just cannot accept anything new or different! So - as Bond fans and as Barry fans -we had a level of NON-acceptance which Legrand could not hurdle. Can anybody? David Arnold found a way to gain acceptance. But - not on his own terms. At least as far as originality is concerned.
Barry has written some silly songs for the James Bond movies. But - the style and bravura arrangements and performances WORK dammit! NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is no more/less ludicrous than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. But - one works and the other doesn't. I purposely picked the worst Barry song I could. Lulu is herself doing a kind of Shirley Bassey put-on in her performance. The lyric is not the best of the series. The arrangement is not the purest Barry/Bond. However, there is an absurd stylistic bravura that SELLS the song - I'll call it pure audacity! It is a sure-footed second rate song that has great charisma and drive – and - most importantly to fans - it sounds James Bondish. NEVER SAY NEVER doesn't have an edge. It doesn't have a powerhouse performance. It doesn't have a wicked Bondian spirit. It fails. End of story.
What James Bond needs and what John Barry gave the series is a kind of playful, yet deadly seriousness. His scores have an ingenuity about them as well. His Bond scores are like crossword puzzles. The Main Theme is spelled out here and there; horizontally and vertically in the most oddball modalities. He takes a piece here and a piece there - and weaves it into a whole made up of easily recognisable parts. Barry constantly self-references the Bond Theme and the Main Title. You know where you stand. The instruments are familiar. The rhythms are familiar. The C minor7th/9th chords comes along right on schedule. Yet - the score is new and fresh.
Michel Legrand scored the film as though it were a European spoof of a spy movie made in the late 60s. There is never the feeling that anything is serious. It is tongue-in-cheek always. Where Barry would be ‘serious’ - Legrand would be hip. Where Barry would be outrageously sinister - Legrand would be fey. You see - the personality and temperament are quite different. I think the secret of John Barry's personality is that he – HE IS James Bond! Look at his lifestyle. He has the best of everything. He has the best looking women, the best clothes, the best cars - the international globe-hopping and YET-he is strangely anonymous. In the movies James Bond is well known by reputation - but, he is a Secret Agent. Odd! How many people on this planet really know who John Barry is?
Since Barry is Bond and Michel Legrand is not - how could it ever work? Soooooo, we end up hating Michel Legrand's score. Undeservedly in many ways. Deservedly in others. A fan cannot change his love-affair with authenticity. A good copy is still a copy. Bond is an original. Barry is an original. Legrand is a European romantic and not a cool super sleuth. I rest my case.