Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday Ennio!

Last Monday one of the all time great film composers, make that musicians, celebrated his 80th birthday. I refer to none other than Mr. Ennio Morricone, and I humbly would like to wish him compleanno felice.

The one aspect of Morricone's legacy that sets him apart from other such distinguished composers as Bernard Hermann, Nino Rota, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Maurice Jarre, insert your personal favorite here, is his expansive variety. Throughout his career he's worked on projects ranging from hundred million dollar epics to the smallest micro budgeted exploitation flick, the lightest comedy to the darkest thriller. And as he reaches octogenarian status he shows no signs of laying low, he has five upcoming projects listed on IMDB and rumors are swirling that he will score Quentin Tarantino's next film, the much anticipated WWII saga Inglorious Basterds.

Here are five examples that in my estimation best display the man's varied talents.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Of course any discussion of Morricone work has to start with his collaborations with director Sergio Leone. Perhaps the "Ecstasy of the Gold" sequence of G,B, & U is a bit obvious (a remix of the track is currently featured in a David Fincher directed NIKE commercial featuring LaDanian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu) but standards are standards for a reason. I could have just has easily placed the entire Once Upon a Time in the West score or the opening to A Fistful of Dollars here.

The Battle of Algiers

Stylistically you cannot get much further from Leone's over the top cinematic playfulness to the docudrama form utilized by Gillo Pontecorvo in Algiers, but Morricone proves just as adept at handling both, providing a pulsating militaristic march.

The Exorcist II: The Heretic

Sometimes Morricone's score is the major highlight of the film, as is the case with his psychedelic score for John Boorman's much maligned, but occasionally interesting-in-a-gonzo- sort-of-way sequel to The Exorcist.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Morricone collaborated with Italian giallo filmmaker Dario Argento three times (the "animal" trilogy) in the 1970's, the first team-up, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage set the bar for the other two films, the score incorporates sounds as disparate as sharp angled free jazz and the melodic, yet haunting, suite featured in the above clip with the delicate sound of a woman humming and lala-ing.

Of course I just scratched the surface of Morricone's nearly fifty year career, and could have easily included such other inventive and lively music pieces as the ones that accompany the following films:

For A Few Dollars More, Navajo Joe, Danger: Diabolik, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Duck You Sucker!, Days of Heaven, Le Professional, Machine Gun McCain, John Carpenter's The Thing, Once Upon a Time in America, The Mission, The Untouchables....and on and on.

Notable albums for starters:

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack
Ennio Morricone Anthology: A Fistful of Film Music--a great two disc, 45 track career retrospective compiled by Rhino Records that spans his career from his first Leone score to the 1991 Pedro Almodovar film, Tie Me up! Tie Me Down!

For more adventurous listeners I recommend:

Ennio Morricone/Dario Argento Trilogy--collects music from Bird, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Cat O' Nine Tails

Crime and Dissonance--another two disc compilation, this one collected by Faith No More and Fantomas vocalist Mike Patton for his record company, Ipecac, features some of Morricone more obscure and experimental works. 

Further reading:

His wikipedia page.

An article written by Video Watchdog editor and Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark author Tim Lucas with special attention to the music accompaniment to the McBain massacre in Once Upon a Time in the West.

1 comment:

Mummbles said...

still going strong at 80, thats cool. He really has some memorable scores, good article.

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