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Score Card


Ennio (2022)

One of the great clichés available to the critic is the term “roller-coaster.” This is normally interpreted to mean that the film in question is a fast-moving, exhilarating experience with lots of emotional ups and downs. To this control freak – who’d rather undergo a marathon screening of all the “Fast & Furious” movies than go anywhere near a theme park – “roller-coaster” conjures up an entirely different meaning. It infers that the film is terrifying, nausea-inducing and only to be undertaken in order to impress somebody that you find attractive.

“Ennio” is in itself a bit of a roller-coaster but for different reasons. It starts calmly enough with the aged maestro Ennio Morricone undertaking his morning exercises – including press-ups that many men a third his age could not manage or be bothered with. But then the brakes are off and we are zipping along through the great composer’s life in a blur of archive footage, movie clips and so many different talking heads offering up opinions and anecdotes that it’s hard to keep track of who’s who, even with the captions. “Game of Thrones” was a comparative cakewalk next to this. One emerges from “Ennio” disoriented and slightly breathless.

The issue with “Ennio” is that the great man lived a life way too big to be crammed into the film’s two and a half running time. If the next “Mission: Impossible” is considered complex enough to warrant two parts, then God knows the life of Morricone certainly does. “Ennio” is a good documentary, but it crams so much information into the viewer’s brain that there are times when one might scream “stop the ride, I want to get off.” All the ages of Morricone are touched upon – the boy forced to learn the trumpet by his father, the jazz band member skillful enough to be able to hit on chorus girls mid gig, the classical arranger who found his way to RCA where he took frothy pop songs to previously unimagined heights with his arrangements, the experimenter inspired by John Cage into forming his own surrealist group and, of course, the greatest film-score composer ever to wave a baton at an orchestra.

No doubt many viewers will be waiting for the distinctive coyote howl inspired sound that marked Morricone’s arrival onto the international stage. He already had a plethora of film music on his score sheet by that point starting with “The Fascist” in the 1960s. But it was his collaboration with old school friend Sergio Leone on “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” that really captured the imagination of the filmgoing public and inspired no less than Bruce Springsteen to go out and buy his first soundtrack recording, momentarily exchanging rock and roll for whips and whistles.

Morricone’s relationship with directors crops up several times during the documentary. Along with Leone there is also Sergio Corbucci, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino to name but a few. Giuseppe Tornatore – the man who penned this love letter – is there too thanks to his and Morricone’s collaboration on the magnificent “Cinema Paradiso” – amongst others. These marriages were not always so happy, right from the off when Morricone’s first Hollywood score – John Houston’s decidedly overambitious attempt to put “The Bible” on screen – was eventually rejected thanks to a spat between RCA and producer Dino De Laurentiis. From then on a familiar pattern emerged: A director would think they knew more about film music than Morricone; the composer would fly back to Italy in a huff; the director would inevitably realize he’d made a big mistake before begging the maestro to return.

Other conflicts are covered – notably the composer’s own inner struggle with the idea shared by several of his classical contemporaries – that writing music for cinema was somehow beneath him. In particular, his need to have his talents acknowledged by his mentor Goffredo Petrassi. Then there is Morricone’s obvious irritation at the distinct lack of attention from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Sure there was an honorary Oscar in 2007 but he was old by then and the Academy didn’t want Morricone dropping off his podium empty handed. It was not until “The Hateful Eight” in 2016 that they finally handed over the best music prize to a man who should already have had a houseful of Oscars. Way before Will Smith went potty mouthed and slap happy, the Oscars have always been a bit embarrassing.

If you are a fan of Morricone then you should really watch this film. But you don’t need me to tell you that. If you know little about the composer beyond nah-nah-nah-nah-naaaah, nah-nah-naah then you should probably watch it too as it will make you want to track down more of the maestro’s incredible work. That Morricone was a genius – a man who could come up with a score while paying his gas bill – is beyond dispute. To paraphrase the producer David Puttnam, even if you have issues with the existence of a God then listening to the music of Morricone could make you change your mind. Although, there is some quite nasty imagery in “Ennio” – with Morrcione’s scores sometimes accompanying scenes of murder, execution and the hacking off of limbs. A perfect illustration, perhaps, of both the appalling depths and the sublime heights that humanity can reach.


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