When I heard that John had died Jan. 30 at 77, I instantly recalled his tune for The Quiller Memorandum, which is probably not one of his better-known scores. I can remember where I was when I first heard it, much as I can remember where I was the first time I heard his music for Born Free. Here's the thing: I cannot remember the stories of those movies in detail, but I remember the tunes. Sometimes the reason we have such deep and lasting emotional connections to movies is the music, and everything that made the mood of those movies work was from John. The melody is what keeps you tied to a movie forever, and he wrote some of the greatest melodies.
My favorites are more obscure than Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves or the James Bond film scores for which he was so famous. I will admit, though, that we looked at On Her Majesty's Secret Service when we were doing Inception and were just blown away by the musical innovation. I loved Hammett and the way John created a melancholic and nostalgic sense of time and place. I also loved Zulu; the whole score is based on one short motif, so strong and so bold.
Like the work of all good composers, everything John wrote was elegant and came from his own point of view. He was a Yorkshire man, and even in his brightest work, you could always see the moors and the fog. Even his cheeky stuff had an underlying darkness.
John was part of a particular era in London, an era when the city had so much to say to the world. Ridley Scott would tell me how he used to hang out at John's recording sessions. He'd say, "Wow, John Barry's doing a session. Maybe we can sneak in and hear something." But for me, it was more like, "Maybe I can sneak in and learn something." I learned from him that moody is good. There haven't been that many deserving film-music legends. John truly was one of them.
Zimmer composed the Oscar-nominated score for Inception