Happy Crazy 88th, il Maestro!

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It’s probably a generally unhealthy and insecure way to have an opinion but as a general rule for me, if Mike Patton adores an artist, I’m probably going to love the hell out of him or her too.

Fortunately, I knew of Ennio Morricone before I even heard of Faith No More and I’m damn sure even if you haven’t heard Morricone’s name, you would recognize one of his scores. It’s one of the most recognizable motifs in all of cinema, bruh. It’s something that is quoted time and time again in movies just for the fun of it, starting with wild coyote scream that kicks it off and the guitar strum that sounds like its strings just boiled under the white hot Texas sun.

Yep, a long-time collaborator of Sergio Leone, Morricone’s work with the Italian director’s spaghetti Westerns is the stuff of legends and his score for The Good, the Bad, the Ugly is possibly the most recognizable film score that isn’t composed by John Williams. And that theme is not even my favorite work of his…

Metallica (spoiler alert in case you don’t get the name of this site, I am a Metallica fan) often opens their concerts (which I’ve attended twice now in my life, if you must know) with what is my favorite work of Morricone’s career, “The Ecstasy of Gold” also from The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. Just by itself with no accompaniment, it’s a heavenly choir of the most moving kind that wraps you around and builds up until it shows you the damn meaning of the word “climax”. It is the perfect way to pump someone up to inspire them, or to soundtrack a bandit’s frenzied lunatic race through the end of his journeys like in the film.

I’ve already waxed over my personal feelings over one of my favorite movies, The Battle of Algiers and probably brought up Morricone’s contribution as well, but I think it is worth doing so again when regarding how he recognizes the essential percussive element in translating a military or troop at movement intending to kill first and ask questions later. Obviously so much so to the point that Quentin Tarantino himself used the theme later on for his own guerilla army flick Inglourious Basterds.

Hell, even in movies that are absolutely unsalvageable, Morricone dives in to try to rescue them from themselves, like in John Boorman’s insane Exorcist II: The Heretic or the “you seriously expect us to take this seriously?” of Orca or the really obnoxious comedy of My Name Is Nobody. Hell, in the latter score, he’s able to manage to make even something so obviously meant to feel clumsy and flaccid feel heroic and stand-up when it’s time to gallop with the bass (of course, he uses some Wagner for help with that). In the former, he just does what he knows best: allow a female voice to lead a brass section to relaxed yet airy tones while underneath a chorus of light strings cover it (and he has some pretty dizzy out there stuff for The Exorcist II too, but I’m gonna stick with my favorites).

As My Name Is Nobody shows, even when Morricone was being derivative, he could still be on fire by knowing where imagination and where familiarity should come into place and having often just the right balance of both. In Once Upon a Time in America, his gift is to make us recognize the places Noodles revisits and gives them an aural nostalgia that taps into our own memory of songs we all know and love attaching the sentiment we already have to them to memories we don’t even get to live yet. If that doesn’t tell you the power of cinema, I don’t know what will! (This works so well in fact that given how much of the 4-hour runtime of the most-common cut of Once Upon a Time in America is spent making atmosphere for the film with slow shots, I think it could go with some cutting, though not to the infamous degree of its less-than-two-hours original cut. I’m sure such an opinion would have me drawn and quartered in the film lovers’ field, but there it is)

The only thing tougher than being sort of conservative in how many of Morricone’s works I flaunt is not showing you some of the most spoilerific scenes of Leone’s best picture in my opinion, Once Upon a Time in the West, for the score is almost certainly part of the amazing power of many of these moments and so I must settle for letting you sink into the theme of the great film and implore you watch it. All I will say is, you will never be able to look at a harmonica again without a deep sadness entering you.

But hey, it’s fine to just show you the music because a lot of these work without it. I mean, I can say I still haven’t seen The Mission in my life but I still find its theme replayable in my CD collection. It’s just too epic to leave alone and it shows Morricone’s ability to play into the grandioseness of classical music phrasing rather than just remaining on his personal jazz roots.

But it’s always when he’s at his most minimalist like with Leone that he’s at his best and he can be pretty unrecognizable at times. I swore on my soul until I was proven wrong that John Carpenter himself provided the bass-heavy yet subtle tones of his famous horror remake The Thing to accent the tension and paranoia amongst its characters and lo and behold, I found out upon my second viewing I was wrong. But maybe that’s because I shut the movie off as soon as credits began, I was only young in Algeria and had to walk back to my grandmother’s place in the middle of the night and that score kept me shuddering all the way along with the movie attached to it.

It’s one of the many uncharacteristic Morricone works in his career and one thing that can’t be denied is his willingness to experiment. Hell, just look at how off-kilter his score for A Fistful of Dollars is, it’s arguably the only original element in the whole uncredited Yojimbo remake. Or of Duck, You Sucker with its mechanical banging and clanging off-set by a light whistling tune.

Since, I got two of Leone’s Dollars trilogy mentioned, I may as well give you the single best thing about For a Few Dollars More as well, with El Indio being given such a tragic broken score to play along with any shot involving his pocketwatch and invoking just exactly what evil must have been commit to put this watch at the center of the film without us even realizing.

Last year, Morricone won his first competitive Oscar after 69 long years of legendary work for his score on long-time admirer Quentin Tarantino’s nihilistic western The Hateful Eight and my does his sound on that promise a lot of the doom and death that follow in that movie, especially in its languous opening credits alongside a cross nearly submerged in snow.

This is all just a long as damned way of saying that I truly admire Ennio Morricone’s work as one of my favorite composers to have ever graced cinema with his musical genius, basing so many of his compositions of the ratatatatat of jazz drums or blaring of the jazz trumpet and recognizing that in itself as

And so in a week with many low points, like the results of our already messed-up election or the news of Leonard Cohen’s death, I think it is necessary to force a high point for me and that may as well be celebrating the long and fully-lived 88 years of Morricone’s life on 10 November 2016.

Grazi, Maestro!

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I call bullshit AF.

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