Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Ciao, Ennio

Ennio Morricone, the composer of 400 film scores among them The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Mission and the remake of The Thing died on July 6. One of the great composers for the movies, what would the Spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone be without the iconoclastic musical scores that Mr. Morricone created. He turned the American West into a landscape where duels turned into operatic arias. It was never about the gunshots, but instead about the long moments leading to the gunshots that both Leone and Morricone relished.

So close was their partnership (only equaled perhaps by Eisenstein and Prokofiev in Alexander Nevsky) that Leone created sequences just to feature the inventive music of Mr. Morricone. Just think of that marvelous sequence in Once Upon a Time in the West when mail-order bride Claudia Cardinale arrives by train to meet her future husband and his family, who have all been already gunned down by bad guy Henry Fonda. The sequence is pure Morricone: wordless, lyrical. It makes time stand still.

But he could turn from the baroque excesses of some of his western scores to the minimalism of John Carpenter's The Thing, where two beating chords, like an alien heartbeat is the driving music motif in the film:

But perhaps, arguably the most memorable Morricone composition is his score for The Mission, Roland Joffé's 1986 film about the Jesuits and their efforts to convert the Guarani people of South America. I remember quite well Oscar night when Morricone was nominated for this brilliant score. He did not win. Clint Eastwood's Charlie Parker biopic, Bird, with music by Lennie Niehaus beat him. I was disappointed, I'm sure Mr Morricone was, even more so.

The last time that American audiences were treated to a Morricone score was in Quentin Tarantino's western The Hateful Eight. This award winning score was the first time that Mr. Morricone had composed music for a western since 1981.

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