Thursday, November 30, 2023

Morricone at MoMA: Ennio

He worked with American icons like Clint Eastwood and Chet Baker, but Ennio Morricone is just about everyone’s favorite Italian composer. He scored over 500 films and to his credit, Giuseppe Tornatore squeezes as many of them as he can into his two-and-a-half-hour documentary, including several of his own. Fans of the maestro should be reasonably happy with the completeness of Tornatore’s Ennio when it screens as part of MoMA’s Ennio Morricone retrospective.

There is a lot more to Morricone’s career than his Spaghetti Western soundtracks, such as Sergio Leone’s
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, but those films are definitely the entry point for many Morricone’s admirers. Taking a chronological approach, Tornatore goes back to Morricone’s origins, starting with his John Cage-ish avant-garde ensemble work and his prolific pop arrangements for RCA Italy.

Of course, there is ample discussion of his Western scores and his Giallo work (specifically with Dario Argento, who appears at considerable length). There is also due consideration of Bertolucci’s
1900 and Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, which were savaged during their original truncated American releases, but both films and Morricone’s scores received rapturous critical praise, once they could be appreciated in their entirety.

Tornatore spends a fair amount of time on his own
Cinema Paradiso, but it is justified. Somewhat reasonably and logically, Tornatore’s focus is rather Italian-centric. Even though some casual listener/viewers might not recognize several of the Italian films he incorporates, the music they feature and the visuals they accompany are boldly striking.

From an American perspective, probably the most glaring omission is John Carpenter’s
The Thing (duly screening at MoMA), which was a throwback to Morricone’s experimental roots. However, it is rewarding to watch Morricone reflect on and conduct his 9/11 memorial symphony. Indeed, the maestro (who died just prior to the documentary’s debut) comes across as a decent fellow, as well as a great artist. Tornatore focuses on the professional side of the man, but he explores just enough of Morricone’s private life (he was beloved by his wife, but his musician father’s own insecurities led to tension between them).

Tornatore recruited an accomplished battery of talking heads, including Eastwood, Argento, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Roland Joffe, Quentin Tarantino, jazz musician Pat Metheny, and himself.
Ennio is quite a bit longer than what you would expect from this kind of doc, but much of the music truly rhapsodic. Recommended as a portrait of the composer and a viewing list of films to discover, Ennio screens this Saturday (12/2) at MoMA.