Ennio (2021)

April 17th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Giuseppe Tornatore | Doc 157′

Ennio Morricone was one of cinema’s best loved and most prolific composers. Giuseppe Tornatore captures his complex romantic spirit in this warmly nostalgic tribute that also celebrates their own working relationship that started with Cinema Paradiso (1988) and continued for many years. In his lifetime Morricone scored over 500 movies, one year alone completing 18 films. 

The biopic straddles film and musicology enriched by a treasure trove of excerpts and the stars that brought them to life praising Morricone’s charisma and single mindedness and describing their own experiences with a man whose modesty contrasted with his prodigious talent to amuse. The final half hour does feel repetitive with its endless clips of concert performances which add nothing to the party, and almost fly in the face of the composer’s lowkey sense of style.

‘The Maestro’ is pictured in his palatial home relaxing in a armchair as he talks expansively about a career that started with his training to be a doctor before his father, a professional trumpeter, persuaded him to become a musician.

Times were hard and the family struggled during the Second World war years when Morricone played for a pittance writing dance tunes before a classical path at the Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory would see him training under the respected teacher and composer Goffredo Petrassi who would strongly influence for the rest of his career.

Working with an avant-garde collective inspired by John Cage allowed Morricone to develop his creative inventiveness using a variety of sound effects using tin cans to the famous whistles and even typewriters to produce his unique sounds during the Sixties in scores often inspired by Bach toccatas, but the bread and butter came from TV work where he was often uncredited.

Morricone often felt he was letting his classical training down preferring to remain in the background with his iconic scores for Westerns, but they allowed him to expand his contacts, and it was here that he would forge a long lasting working relationship with Sergio Leone, one of his old schoolfriends, he would go on to score all Leone’s films after A Fistful of Dollars. 

A Fistful of Dollars (1963/4) provided a springboard for other Western projects where he insisted on having control of the score, even when Leone proposed additions from another movie. He even replaced his mentor Petrassi on John Huston’s The Bible (1966), a moment he still considers regretful, and where he is uncredited. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) followed and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968). He turned down an offer from Roland Joffe saying he couldn’t score The Mission (1986) without ruining the aesthetic appeal of the images, but then went on to enhance the epic. It was nominated for that year’s Oscar but missed out to Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight, which was not an original score, and therefore not really eligible for the category. 

This is a film that somehow benefits from its plethora of talking head stars: Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone,  Dario Argento all make valuable contributions along with Bernardo Bertolucci and Bruce Springsteen. Even the elusive Terrence Malick gives his two pennyworth on working with the maestro in Days of Heaven, who received his first Academy Award nomination for the score. The only regret during his prodigious output is that he was unable to score A Clockwork Orange for Kubrick after a misunderstanding with Sergio Leone deep-sixed the collaboration, Leone claiming Morricone was too busy with his score for A Fistful of Dynamite, which was apparently untrue).

Tornatore really gets to the heart of a genuine and deeply sensual man who clearly lived for his music at a profound level and found happiness in his marriage to Maria who provided an invaluable sounding board throughout his career and got him his first job at RAI.

Ennio provides a rich vein of lesser known Italian films from the Sixties – Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Love Circle, Alberto Lattuada’s Fraulein Doctor and Liliana Calvani’s I Cannibali (1970) as well as classics such as Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country, Bertolucci’s Partner; Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Leone’s 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America (still considered his best) whetting our appetite to re-discover these and fully appreciate how his compositions add another dimensions to cinema, Sidelined at the Academy Awards for many years he finally struck gold with Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, at 90. MT


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