Aug 7, 2012

R.I.P. Marvin Hamlisch

Numerous outlets today are reporting the death of film composer Marvin Hamlisch at the age of 68 following a short illness. Hamlisch is the only composer to date to receive a Best Original Score Oscar nomination for his work on a James Bond movie. In fact, 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me earned Hamlisch two nominations at the '78 awards—Best Score and Best Song (along with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager) for the Carly Simon classic "Nobody Does It Better." Both were also nominated for Golden Globes that year, and his score earned Grammy and BAFTA nods as well. (Hamlisch won the Oscar in 1974 for The Way We Were.) Looking back, it's a little hard to see how the music in The Spy Who Loved Me garnered all those accolades when none of John Barry's more timeless Bond scores were ever Oscar-nominated, but Hamlisch achieved exactly what he set out to do with the music for that film: he created a more contemporary sound for 007. Personally, I love his disco take on the famous James Bond Theme in "Bond '77." However, what was cutting edge contemporary in 1977 now sounds awfully dated compared to Barry's scores. But can you imagine The Spy Who Loved Me without its iconic music? I can't. "Journey to Atlantis," in fact, is probably one of my favorite individual cues in the entire series. It's playing in my head right now, and no doubt will be for at least the rest of the day.

While he only did one Bond film, that wasn't the end of Hamlisch's association with spy music. In 1989, he penned an equally of-its-time but far less memorable score for the John Travolta spy comedy The Experts. Twenty years later he made a triumphant comeback by providing an absolutely perfect score for Steven Soderbergh's Matt Damon spy comedy The Informant!, this time not by harnessing a contemporary sound but by revisiting the Seventies sound that earned him all those accolades for The Spy Who Loved Me. Deadline reports that the composer was set to re-team with Soderbergh on the HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.

Hamlisch created a unique score for one of the very best James Bond movies. He also wrote the music for one of the best songs, which provides a fitting epithet which I suspect we'll see used today in many obituaries. Because when it came to that specific sound, nobody did it better. Marvin Hamlisch will be missed, but always remembered his unforgettable contribution to the James Bond legacy.

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