00 Saturdays Week #26 – Octopussy Music Review

“On an all time high,
We’ll take on the world and wait.
So hold on tight, let the flight begin.”

It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This week, I’ll be discussing the return of John Barry and his music for Octopussy.

Theme Song

If we think way back to the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, John Barry was presented with a little bit of a conundrum – how the holy hell do you fit that title into a theme song?  Well, he was given the go ahead to simply use an orchestral piece for the theme and used the love ballad “We Have All the Time in the World” later in the movie as Bond courts Tracy.

So, how do you think he fits the title Octopussy into this song?

As you can tell, I’m being facetious.  There’s no way you could stick the word Octopussy in a song and 1) have it be taken seriously and 2) be able to sell it as a single and play it on the radio.  Smartly, the lyrics, by Tim Rice, who would go on to win Oscars for Aladdin and The Lion King with Alan Menken and Elton John, respectively, makes no reference to the particularly cheeky title character.  Instead, it focuses on very romantic music and lyrics.  It is meant to kind of mirror how Bond and Octopussy do seem to actually fall in love with each other in the movie.  The song really works well with that early 80s light rock sound in contrast to the new wave sound that was quickly starting to gain a lot of popularity and would take over pop music by the mid-80s.  (Also, totally hold that thought for two weeks from now.)

The song is sung by Rita Coolidge.  Coolidge was a popular singer and could write some songs too.  However, she hardly received songwriting credits when she probably should have.  She was the first to perform the song “Superstar” which would later be a huge hit for The Carpenters.  She is the true, uncredited writer of my all time favorite piece of instrumental music ever – the piano exit to the Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton’s band) song “Layla”.  She did do a lot of music with her husband during the 70s, Kris Kristofferson, but also worked with a ton of really influential singers and songwriters throughout her career.

Coolidge was an established act and that helped “All Time High” spend a month at the top of the Adult Contemporary charts.   While it never enjoyed the high chart positions that “Live and Let Die”, “Nobody Does It Better”, or the next song in the series, nor did it enjoy award nomination or recognition, it’s a fairly worthy entry in the long list of theme songs.  The smooth saxophone opening is quite nice and is a pretty relaxing and sentimental piece of music.

Score

John Barry returned to the series after clearing up some tax troubles that kept him away from two of the last three films (he was only able to do Moonraker because the film was made in France and not the United Kingdom).  He had some work cut out for him.  Normally, he’d try to find something relating to the location or the themes of the film itself to fill out the score of a Bond film.  However, he didn’t exactly feel that traditional Indian music was conducive to action scenes and would be a poor fit.

Additionally, there was that rival film, Never Say Never Again, coming out later in the year.  To solve both issues of not really being able to use Indian sounds and put a real stamp on this being the OFFICIAL Bond film of 1983, he sprinkled the “James Bond Theme” music throughout the score.  Much like how he used a much more bombastic score for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to make sure people remembered this was BOND people were seeing, even if it wasn’t Connery in the role, he was doing it again.  But this time, it was to remind people that Connery wasn’t the official Bond anymore.

Overall, I am not entirely sure this is as great of a score as his You Only Live Twice or Moonraker scores, or the previously mentioned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it does its job.  Between the heavy usage of the theme song and the instrumental version of “All Time High” it works for the film that does seem to rely a little bit on the romantic relationship between Octopussy and Bond.

The Opening Title Sequence

Maurice Binder did not use Rita Coolidge’s image during the opening credits as he did with Sheena Easton and “For Your Eyes Only”.  However, he does do something that will be his calling card for the final four credits he worked on for the series.  He uses actual models that we can see their faces often throughout the sequence.

He also uses this little laser image of Bond’s silhouette, the 007 logo, and the octopus cult tattoo and runs it over a woman’s body a couple times.  It’s so very 80s.  The primary use of silhouetted models is done with what appears to be figure skaters spinning and embracing to, again, accentuate the romantic angle of the theme song and the two lead characters’ relationship.  Another cool thing he does is have an image of Moore with arms wrapping around him like the Hindu Goddess Durga who has eight arms to carry various weapons to defeat an enemy.  In this opening, the arms wrapping around Roger Moore are holding guns similar to what Maud Adams used in the climax of the movie.

Binder also reuses some of his acrobatic silhouettes from the Moonraker opening.  This helps with the acrobatic performers from Octopussy’s circus.  Much like Moore himself, it’s clear that Binder may be showing some age too, relying more on visible models in mostly stationary positions as opposed to cleverly (barely) disguised nudity in silhouette with a bunch of acrobatic movement in contrast to bright colors.  Binder was approaching the last few years of his life so it was clear he was trying to stay consistent with his past titles, but it also feels very different and the lack of complexity or brightness might be an indication that ideas were beginning to run thin.

Much like the movie itself, it’s probably more of a nostalgic appreciation that I have for these last few Binder title sequences more than their actual quality.

Join me next week for a look at the final Roger Moore Bond film, A View to a Kill.

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