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Ennio

by Glenn Erickson Jun 22, 2024

Morricone fans and students of music will discover a real treat in Giuseppe Tornatore’s exhaustive, comprehensive epic documentary of All Things Ennio. With Il Maestro’s full cooperation, we get a life history and direct coverage of his greatest accomplishments, and the ‘musique concrète’ ethic that inspired things like coyote screams in ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.’ We also hear from an army of admirers and collaborators, but it’s the music that knocks us out — it’s an artist’s life turned into a full-on concert.


Ennio
DVD
Music Box Films
2021 / Color + B&W / 2:39 widescreen / 156 min. / Street Date June 25, 2024 / Available from Amazon:  DVD;  Blu-ray.
Starring Ennio Morricone; Alessandro Alessandroni, Dario Argento, Joan Baez, Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, Walter Branchi, Caterina Caselli, Enzo G. Castellari, Liliana Cavani, Marina Cicogna, Edda Dell’Orso, Sergio Donati, Clint Eastwood, Marco Tullio Giordana, Phil Joanou, Roland Joffé, Quincy Jones, Kar-Wai Wong, Barry Levinson, Andrea Leone, Raffaella Leone, Claudio Mancini, Terrence Malick, Pat Metheny, Giuliano Montaldo, David Puttnam, Bruce Springsteen, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, Giuseppe Tornatore, Lina Wertmüller, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Mario Caiano.
Cinematography: Giancarlo Leggeri, Fabio Zamarion
Film Co-Editors: Massimo Quaglia, Annalisa Schillaci
Researchers: Luca Rea, Romilda Boffano, Beatrice Kildani, Antonio La Torre Giordano, Giorgio Federico Mosco, Lorenzo Quagliozzi
Executive Producer: Kar-Wai Wong
Produced by Gabrielle Costa, Peter De Maegd, San Fu Maltha, Gianni Russo
Written and Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

I can’t imagine that Music Box films really needs to do much to publicize this picture:  all the typical fan needs to know is that a documentary about Ennio Morricone exists, and they will find a way to see it.

We were sent a DVD to review, which is my mistake, not theirs; I didn’t know a Blu-ray existed. I’ve seen the show on a paid streaming outlet, and it will look and sound fine either way.

How many of us have stacks of old Morricone albums on our shelves?  Back in the day, the soundtrack section in even a small record store would have a separate bin devoted to his work. My personal shelf of Morricone CDs became some of the most oft-played. Not having done a lot of reading on movie composers, I knew what fans on the street knew: the Sergio Leone classics had made Morricone internationally famous, but as a classically-trained composer he felt resentment because they kept him from being recognized for other music. Seeing those westerns now, for the 10th and 20th time, we almost respond to them as a visual accompaniment to a Morricone music concert. It’s not really much of a stretch — for several of the pictures Leone let the music dictate the images.

Ennio is a lengthy, music-filled interview documentary, skillfully edited to avoid becoming a stack of talking heads. It would be easy to string together exerpts from movie scores, add some film clips, and just let a few notables blab about Morricone greatness. Instead, we get solid insights from people that know what they’re talking about.  Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore ( Cinema Paradiso,  Stanno tutti bene,  The Legend of 1900) lets Morricone tell the story in his own way. Old and energetic, the composer explains what he was doing at times of his life: his family situation, his music teachers and his big influences. His is an odd, meteoric rise through the world of pop music in all its forms.

Musical geniuses explaining their work seldom seem humble, and Morricone is no exception — he’s quick to let us know about his accomplishments and innovations. The difference is that we hear no exaggerations. He explains when things went wrong, when the career timing was off, and how he felt when his music college teachers dismissed his film work as junk. He still seems hurt by the repeated awards snubs by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In a year in which his music for Roland Joffé’s  The Mission  ) was clearly superior to everything else nominated, the Academy voters handed the Oscar to a movie that adapted existing jazz music.

Of course, Oscar wins were never the final mark of excellence — Hollywood history is packed with glorious stars and fine actors that were never nominated. We fans of Ray Harryhausen and Roger Corman felt gratified when they were gifted with special Oscars and special recognition. Too many greats passed away in obscurity, while Ray and Roger got to take what Randall William Cook called ‘victory laps.’  Ennio Morricone was given that honor as well.

We were first attracted by the purity of Ennio Morricone’s music, pulling personality and sentiment out of individual instruments, such as those heard in his  Chi Mai, which in 2021 made for  the most impressive funeral march we’ve ever heard.

What surprises us is that Ennio holds our attention even when Morricone describes his fascination with music in technical detail that only a musically-literate viewer could follow. He gives us an excellent introduction to the concept of experimental ‘musique concrète.’   Not that long ago I assumed that Morricone’s use of unusual sounds was his idea of a joke — one of the first albums I bought,  The Sicilian Clan, used these ‘boings’ in an entirely eccentric way, and not for humorous effect. Ennio explains that the ‘concrète’ ethic was always there, what with the Leone tracks punctuated with whistles, whip cracks, and other odd noises.

Morricone himself provides the central autobiographical thread, explaining how he began orchestrating for pop singers, which helped get him into movie work through ballads for westerns. The man expresses himself very clearly. When he describes what’s special about his work, we sit there nodding our heads. We’re also highly entertained, listening to some really great material from the middle ’60s. The pop song  Se telefonando is sensational, and Tornatore illustrates it with a dynamite clip from an RAI broadcast.     Not being music majors, we can’t say we fully follow his analysis — tapping his fingers — of ‘tone changes’ and ‘stress’ in Mina’s vocal performance.

The film clips take us from other pop singers, to Morricone’s ‘sung’ main titles for Pasolini’s Ucellacci e uccellini, to the Leone greats and forward through scores of soundtracks deemed particularly important or career-changing. We’re never given a clip for its own sake — everything is organized and edited to make a point.

Ennio mentions several instances of having to put his foot down, with film directors that didn’t understand his function. We hear the political, artistic, and sometimes subversive stories of why Morricone was dropped from some films, like John Huston’s  The Bible. He says that an underhanded move by Sergio Leone cheated him out of a chance to do Kubrick’s  A Clockwork Orange.

More than one director incurred the composer’s wrath by screening films with temp music, as a ‘creative guide,’ or by asking him to adapt music by others. That faux pas also made Bernard Herrmann raise holy hell. Director Elio Petri considered replacing his main title theme for  Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. (   )  We get to compare the substitute cue with Morricone’s eccentric, irreplaceable composition.

Plenty of stars pop up to praise Morricone, but Tornatore throws a wide net among less-famous creative associates, key players in the Morricone story. Eastwood, Tarantino are there of course, but also composers, music mixers, music producers, and scores of Italian genre directors, the kind that we expect to see in disc featurettes for Italo westerns and obscure Euro horrors. All are floored by the man. There is so much good and significant film music to cover, that Tornatore skips over the tracks for his own films. We hear the stories behind the tracks that everyone knows, but Ennio also takes time out to show how Morricone solved a tough music problem for the very obscure  Allonsanfan, a grim story of failed revolutionaries (recently reviewed).  Morricone turns an actual folk dance into an extravagant ritual, with his musical reinforcement to generate a rebel spirit that the movie might otherwise not express.

At 156 minutes, Ennio might be best seen in two sittings. We don’t want to complain, but the only quibble is that the windup has too many glowing endorsements from too many celebrities. But the excellent editing never expects us to take their praise on faith alone, or to lead us by the nose to any particular conclusion. We are happy to see that Morricone was greatly loved. From what we see of his family life, he had an ideal partner in his wife Maria — they were inseparable through 64 years of marriage.

 


 

Music Box Films’ DVD (it’s available on Blu-ray as well) of Ennio looks fine in its ‘scope dimensions. Graphics and clips from TV and film are handsomely integrated. The audio is 5.1, in Italian, and the subtitles are really easy to follow.

Music box augments the presentation with a director interview, a ‘bonus’ deleted scene and a thing called an ‘office concert’ the composer is encouraged to play some music on his piano. The film is much more than worthwhile — it makes us want to hear our Ennio Morricone favorites all over again. No embarrassment here, just enthusiasm.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Ennio
DVD rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Featurette Supplements:
Interview with director Giuseppe Tornatore
Behind the Scenes: Ennio’s Office Concert
The Democracy of Sound Deleted Scene
Theatrical Trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One DVD in Keep case
Reviewed:
June 19, 2024
(7147ennio)
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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cadavra

Couldn’t help but notice that it completely skips over DUCK,, YOU SUCKER. Did Morricone really hate the score that much?

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