Know Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest music composers of the last 100 years


The documentary about Ennio, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the man who made ‘Cinema Paradiso’, was screened at the Kerala International Documentary and Short Film Festival.

If you knew very little about Ennio Morricone, unquestionably one of the greatest composers who lived in the last 100 years, Ennio, a 150-minute documentary on him, will open up vast musical and cinematographic horizons. Much of film music history falls directly on screen, and you’ll wonder where to start catching up – the vast amounts of mind-blowing music he left behind (500 of them for films and over 100 classic works) or the films themselves. The movies and its visuals are so intertwined with Ennio’s music that it seems hard to separate them once you’ve seen them unfold. The documentary, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore – the same man who made Cinema Paradiso (another film for which Ennio composed the music) – is a comprehensive and absolutely gripping account of the life of the maestro, screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).

Even if you’ve never heard the name Ennio before, chances are you haven’t listened to one of its many popular background tunes. Just listen to the theme of The good the bad and the ugly – Clint Eastwood’s 1966 Western – and you would know. He appears – Clint does – during the documentary, as one of the many people who talk about their work with Ennio or share their appreciation for the composer. Clint and director Sergio Leone had worked together on a number of westerns in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and Ennio was inevitably on board for almost all of them. They were classmates, Sergio and Ennio, and had a long association that lasted until Sergio’s death in 1989.

Ennio lived longer, until July 2020, when the news of his death – resulting from injuries from a fall – shocked the very large number of admirers around the world. His work continues to influence musicians of many varied genres – lead singer and writer of heavy metal band Metallica, James Hetfield, among them. They opened each of their shows since 1983 with ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ by Ennio de The good the bad and the ugly.

Watch: Trailer of Ennio

Ennio may have started with a trumpet – passed down by his trumpeter father with the advice to use it to support the family – but the maestro didn’t stop there, of course. He trained with Goffredo Petrassi in Western classical music and became a regular on the stage. Petrassi and several other classical musicians despised Ennio when he started composing for films. Even Ennio felt “guilty” about it, he says in the documentary. He would tell his wife Maria at the start of each new decade that he would quit within the next 10 years, but couldn’t. In the end, “I stopped saying anything,” he says in the documentary.

Giuseppe’s method seems simple enough – just let the man do the talking and let others comment on each of his famous works, interspersing some movie scenes and the music. But oh no, it’s much, much more than just unveiling a beautiful life lived. The music holds you tight, as even the words they speak turn into melodies. Which really makes you wonder how everyone who talks about his music remembers every note so well. It was not only this great composer who could remember each of his vast collection of pieces, but also the people who worked with him. Directors hum the tra-la-las and pum-pum-pums used for a certain situation in a certain film. It’s like dialogue flowing from screen to screen as Ennio starts humming, and the others finish, for that matter.

Ennio’s very expressive face is a puddle when he recalls the moments that pained him. It’s as honest as it gets, without watering down the bitterness. If he didn’t like a song he liked, he just says so. And then to add, “but of course it’s the song that the director chose”. Humor flows, like all other emotions.

Watch: Ennio Receives Academy Honor Award

However, the Oscar came far too late. There were several nominations – six, in fact – before he won the award for his score in 2016, for a film by Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight. They realized it was getting late in 2007 and presented him with the Academy Honorary Award, one of the speakers said. At that age – he was almost 80 then – it was not expected that he would continue to compose as he did. But Ennio continued, wonderfully. His whole life was music, says a speaker. It wasn’t, you’d feel it, when you see the way he talks about Maria, the woman who stayed with him through it all, and to whom he started playing the songs he composed from first hand, for an honest opinion. The man was full of love and full of feelings. He must be, if he could make music like that.

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