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Bond composer David Arnold on the film that inspired him

By: Rob Coppinger
Published:
2014-01-27
FSWL contributor Rob Coppinger attended the British Film Institute (BFI) screening of the 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice with composer David Arnold introducing the film.

“There is a shop assistant I owe a very large drink or a very small house too,” David Arnold, five times Bond movie composer mused when talking about how he got the job to compose for Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). “[Bond producer] Barbara [Broccoli] told me the story that what actually happened was she was in a record shop buying up scores to lay up against the film just to see who they might want to score it and the shop assistant said, ‘you're buying a lot, what are you doing,’ and she said, ‘getting some stuff for the next Bond film,’ and he said, ‘you should listen to David Arnold then’”.

David Arnold BFI You Only Live Twice
Sitting wearing a The World Is Not Enough (1999) cast and crew branded hooded top, Arnold was speaking on his birthday, on 23 January, at BFI Southbank in London, which was screening You Only Live Twice (YOLT) as part of its Screen Epiphanies series – talking to notable people working in film about what inspired them. Apart from Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough mentioned above, Arnold has scored three other Bond films to date (Die Another Day 2002, Casino Royale 2006 and Quantum of Solace 2008), and YOLT was his inspiration.

A young boy, Arnold had seen YOLT on a rickety old projector with a single speaker under the screen at a Royal Legion club Christmas party. “It was the first one I saw. You have an experience with a James Bond film at the cinema and it becomes your favorite one, I don’t think it is necessarily the best one but it is my favourite one. And I think it is down to the fact that it was the first one I saw at the cinema.” For Arnold, seeing within the first five minutes of YOLT, James Bond being murdered and, “a giant spaceship eating a smaller spaceship,” was enough to make him a, “dyed in the wool,” fan from then on.

Before getting the Bond composer job he had won a Grammy for his work on the Hollywood science fiction film Independence Day. “I think Independence Day did a huge amount of business and my Grammy for the score and I went from being the next John Williams to the next John Barry, as I was doing a Bond film,” said Arnold.

However, even before getting the 007 job Arnold’s Bond fandom had expressed itself through his production of his own tribute album, Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project – with his own money. “In 1995 I recorded three songs out of my own pocket, I did You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever with Dave McAlmont, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) with Propellerheads,” but the reception was rather cold. “Then I took them round to record companies and asked if anyone was interested and people weren’t that interested, so I carried on and did a few more. It took 18 or 19 months from when I decided to do it, to when it was released.”

Arnold later found out that Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli used the Shaken and Stirred album’s version of the OHMSS theme as a temporary track for the car park chase sequence in TND. But long before TND, Arnold had also made it clear to MGM, the Bond franchise's often troubled studio, that he was interested in working on a 007 film.

He had scored the MGM film Stargate and as Arnold explained, “I knew John [Barry] wasn’t doing it [GoldenEye]. I spoke to MGM about GoldenEye when Stargate came out and they called me in to look at the first teaser trailer for GoldenEye as they knew I was a Bond fan, and it’s the one where Pierce Brosnan walks in and shoots and the letters spin round.”

However, MGM had already signed Eric Serra for Goldeneye, but Arnold made it clear, “I told them if John [Barry] wasn’t to be involved [in the next one] I’d love to do it.” Arnold was eventually introduced to Barry by the famous The Beatles producer, George Martin. According to Arnold, he continued talking to Barry for the rest of his life. Barry died in January 2011.

Reflecting on it all, Arnold said: “When you think how long this thing has been going, it's extraordinary and me as a seven or eight year old watching this [YOLT].” And would he compose for Bond again? “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

David Arnold BFI You Only Live Twice
Editor's note:
Click here to watch a video from the event.

The David Arnold event was part of BFI's monthly Screen Epiphany series which is a Members exclusive held at BFI Southbank. Previous guests in the last year have included James Franco, Yoko Ono, Edgar Wright, Cillian Murphy and Paul Greengrass.

Some of David Arnold's soundtracks is available to purchase in FSWL's music shop.

Written by Rob Coppinger. Copyright © 2014 From Sweden with Love.

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