“Ennio” Review – The Hollywood Reporter
Of all the filmmakers who are in debt to the great Ennio Morricone, few surely owe as much as Giuseppe Tornatore: 1988’s Paradiso Cinema was a crowd pleaser for many reasons, but would have had a harder time becoming a worldwide hit without Morricone’s romantic and nostalgic score. Tornatore has worked with the composer on several occasions after this first collaboration, and is well positioned to offer the career cap. Ennio, which comes barely a year after Morricone’s death.
Fortunately, the film is more than a recap of the greatest hits (and at nearly three hours, it better be): in addition to meticulous musicology, it offers genuine engagement with a complicated, endearing character. and stubborn and self-effacing. , whose inventiveness changed both his favorite field (“absolute” music) and that of film music, he only entered reluctantly.
The bottom line
If a film composer demands such an epic documentary, this is it.
The maestro sits onscreen for much of the film, alert behind his giant glasses, telling stories about a career he intended to be entirely different – even after giving up on childhood ambition to be a doctor. (His father, a professional trumpeter, insisted that little Ennio follow the same path.)
Morricone recalls the humiliation of playing for food during the occupation of Italy in WWII. His peanut playing experiences may have left a visible mark, as when he enrolled in a program to study composition, the young man was initially only allowed to write dance tunes. . Morricone needed the approval of his mentor, composer and teacher Goffredo Petrassi – he still remembers the grades he got on his assignments – and he made strides in academia, ultimately helping to form a avant-garde collective inspired by John Cage.
But he also still did commercial work, staying awake all night to make arrangements for TV shows that didn’t name him. This led to arrangements for pop singers, and Tornatore shows us many pleasing examples of what Morricone’s contemporaries describe in interviews: where previous arrangers simply wrote orchestral parts to follow the chords of a song, he was inventing something new, giving orchestras a lot more to do. , and adding things that no pop producer at the time would have imagined using, from cans to typewriters.
The film’s brief but delightful tour through these bing-bongy pop tunes, enriched with interviews with Italian stars like Gianni Morandi, suggests that a very enjoyable film (if this one is aimed at a smaller audience) could be achieved over these years alone. But that’s not what we’re here for, of course. It’s time to start whistling.
Morricone composed scores for two westerns under a pseudonym, not wanting to be associated with the genre, before teaming up with Sergio Leone. (The two were surprised to realize that they had been classmates in elementary school.) The director took him to see a photo of Kurosawa to explain what he had in mind, and the rest didn’t is just spaghetti.
The doc is watching a handful of dollars is the first of several places in which Morricone explains how he borrowed from his own work, repurposing an arrangement he made for a country song. His work on this film is also a key example of his commitment – but not the first, as we’ve heard before how he vowed he would leave his conservatory if they didn’t let him study with Petrassi. When Leone intended to use a Degüello from another film in a key confrontation scene, Morricone was so offended that he threatened to resign. Leone stepped back.
Morricone would lose some artistic conflicts, but it seems that these were often occasions where he underestimated his own work. When he sent Brian De Palma nine victory theme ideas in The Untouchables, he told the director, “Please don’t pick number six.” But number six is in the movie, and it’s hard to imagine any music that would serve the stage better. He also initially refused to write music for The mission, claiming that Roland Joffé’s images were so beautiful it could only make matters worse. (Again, Ennio: Wrong.)
But for serious self-mockery, you have to hear Morricone claim that he “hates melody.” Other composers interviewed here (tons, inside and outside the film world) are amazed at this idea, coming from someone who has created so many memorable tunes. But there are only a limited number of ways to order the tones, and Morricone says calmly, “I think we have no more melodic combinations.” Luckily he had so many other typesetting tools to work with.
As the film chronicles its growing success and collects the awe-inspiring observations of admirers (including Bernardo Bertolucci, Pat Metheny, Hans Zimmer and Bruce Springsteen), we hear both general speeches on music theory and a surprising number of specific anecdotes – how a protest chanted in the streets influenced a score; how he worked the letters BACH in another. For moviegoers, there are some enjoyable stories about his experiences working with Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Dario Argento – but not, sadly, with Stanley Kubrick, who wanted Morricone to score. A clockwork orange. Obviously, Leone torpedoed this by lying to Kubrick; it was the only job Morricone regretted not getting, he said.
There is so much to enjoy here that we are way past the two hour mark when a viewer begins to observe things that they would be willing to be without. We could easily have gotten by with half as many scenes of Morricone on tour, directing his most famous work for an audience the size of a rock star. Perhaps we don’t need so much gruesome footage to remind us of what inspired his “Voices From the Silence,” a reflection on the 9/11 attacks. And while we’re in the mood for some fine-tuning, can we do something about sloppy subtitles, which sometimes even scramble the English-to-English transcription and misspell more than one last name? (Although they’re at least consistent on that front, with multiple references to a director named “John Houston.”)
But none of this diminishes the fun of spending time with a man who continued to work at the highest level until the end, ultimately winning the Oscar he coveted (for The Hateful Eight) when he was pushing 90. Ennio Makes you want to watch dozens of movies again, dig up more for the first time, and scour the internet for Italian pop records that may never have been released on these shores. Thank goodness Mario Morricone dissuaded his son from going to medical school.