February 2, 2011


Spy Vibe celebrates composer John Barry (1933-2011) this week: The Ipcress File (1965). Released the same year as yesterday's The Knack...And How To Get It, The Ipcress File remains one of John Barry's best-loved scores. This is an outstanding, Cold War classic by key members of the James Bond team (Harry Saltzman, Peter Hunt, Ken Adam), who united to bring Len Deighton's Harry Palmer to the big screen. Actor Michael Caine was able to return to the main role through a series of films over the years.

The film is sometimes referred to as an anti-Bond project because it offered the 007 team an opportunity to tell a darker, less sensationalized spy tale. Although the plot involves thrilling conventions, including missing scientists, moles, and a sci-fi-like brainwashing chamber (!), it ultimately finds its anchor in the working-bloke character played by Caine- a stark contrast to the larger-than-life James Bond. Barry contributed his usual atmosphere and intrigue. The soundtrack is described well in this review from the BBC: "And this soundtrack is all about that contrast too, despite the fact that Barry would famously score both. The music has echoes and strains of Barry's brilliant themes for Bond, but is far less bombastic. Appropriately, it's darker, more reflective. There's even that contrast within the main theme, between the lush vibes, strings and harp, which perhaps allude to the exotic thrill of spying but really just provides a bed for the spare, fragile flute lines, and then, majestically alone and utterly haunting, the distinctive sound of the cymbalom, a hammered stringed/tuned percussion instrument (of Hungarian origin I believe). This contrast continues throughout: between up-tempo sensuous jazz and sombre, brooding, menace." Spy Vibe's John Barry obituary here.

The Ipcress File will screen this week as part of the Mostly British Film Festival in the Bay Area. Thursday Feb 4th is a British Noir program with Get Carter (7pm) and The Ipcress File (9:30pm) at the Historic Vogue Theatre in San Francisco. The Ipcress File will also screen at 7pm on Tues Feb 8th at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

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