The great Ennio Morricone has died. He was 91. He was the greatest and most influential film composer of the 20th Century – his work carrying on into the 21st Century, which was when he was finally honoured with Academy awards – far too late. But Hollywood was somehow irrelevant to Morricone. He stayed in Italy. That’s where he lived and worked, no move to California, no interest in learning English, no coffee-catchups and fresh-pressing meetings. If you were lucky enough to have The Maestro score your film then you were one of the hundreds and hundreds of filmmakers blessed with the work by an angel and a hero.
I can’t remember when I first heard Morricone – but I do know that a double compilation of his music stretching from 1966 to 1987 is one of my all-time favourite albums by anyone; one of the CDs I’ve listened to more in this world than any other – one of the actual CDs I still own. And cherish.
Over the last decade I have thought – often – about how to write or speak about Morricone. Oh, his name comes up all the time in my back-pages – I’ll still and always buy a film score on vinyl if I see his name attached; don’t need to know anything about the movie…
But it’s all just tiny pebbles. Impossible to build a tower in tribute to this genius. The lasting monument will always be his music.
Last year I started listening to the early works – I was planning a spoken feature on RNZ about his life and career. But where do you start? And how? This article was republished in tribute and it features 25 of his greatest cues. It’s a starting point. One of so many. My starting point was that compilation I mentioned, which is why I return to it.
In recent years I’ve found many new favourite Morricone scores – or moments within scores – but obviously the ones with the biggest impact are his soundtracks for, in no particular order, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, The Thing, Casualties of War, The Untouchables, Once Upon A Time In The West, A Fistful of Dynamite, In The Line of Fire, The Legend of 1900, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
And of course I’m only just scratching the surface.
His 1972 score to Un Uoma Da Rispettare (The Master Touch) is like he just casually invented moments that people attribute to the likes of Burial and Aphex Twin a full 40 years earlier. It also made me seek out a film to see that I had never heard of…other times, you’d watch a film that was fairly forgettable – Jack Nicholson’s hammy turn as a werewolf in Wolf say, and you’d hold on to it because of The Maestro’s music made for the movie.
I can’t think of a musician and composer I was more constantly aware of – I mean outside of Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
For me Morricone was the reason I love film music; he was the conduit for me to appreciate classical music – instrumental music outside of jazz (and yes, of course he was well versed in jazz too, as it happens).
Which just reminds me that another of my favourite Morricone scores is his work for the 1978 film Il Vizietto (aka La Cage aux Folles, aka “The Birdcage”).
Impossible to know where to start. Or where to end.
But it’s always a time to dive right in.
Right now there are tributes galore – and it’s not exactly a sad time, in that he wasn’t taken too soon. He was 91. And had been in poor health so he is at peace now. He had been so prolific that his work ethic alone was reason enough to champion him. And no one person could ever get to the end of his output. You can’t clock Morricone. Just when you think you have the indicators of his style you hear something outside of the many things he was known for.
There he is as the king of Spaghetti Westerns – yet that totals about 5% of the work he did. There he was recognised for the greatness of delivering a score for Quentin Tarantino late in life, but he had worked with so many iconoclastic directors (John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Terence Malik, Sergio Leone…)
Through influence alone he has provided the soundtrack to our lives.
You will read so many better tributes to the man all over the internet. But I had to say something. His music continues to mean so much to me. Go well. In peace.
R.I.P. Ennio Morricone