I spent last night doing some digging through my audio collection for Marie. We had been talking about eating beans the way Terrence Hill does it in My Name is Nobody – with obvious delight, big mouthfuls off a wooden spoon straight from the pan, chewing mouth open and eyes shiny. The conversation led to the movie’s brilliant musical score and logically drifted towards Ennio Morricone’s genius. I promised to make her a compilation.
So I opened iTunes and began browsing. I was there for an hour. His music grips me. It is closely associated in my heart to all kinds of memories, not only specific images and moods from the movies but also bits and pieces of my own colorful childhood.
In those days my parents had very eccentric musical tastes, especially my dad. I didn’t grow up listening to the hit parade or even to much so-called popular music. Instead the house was filled with the sounds of Spaghetti Western and other movie soundtracks, national anthems, Russian Army Choirs, Tahitian folklore, Mexican mariachis and the like. No wonder why I got such an early taste for travels. Later, my very first record purchases, back in the days of vinyls, were Jean Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe and Oxygen. Then I discovered Kraftwerk and Radioactivity. But I digress.
I can still vividly remember pretending to play my imaginary harmonica in the searing heat of New Mexico, my back against the bleached wall of a train station (played by my bedroom sliding door in Antibes), hat lowered onto my forehead to hide ever-watchful eyes, revolvers in their holsters adorned with Marlboro stickers (I didn’t really know about the evilness of smoking then, and they had a cool cowboy as a logo), a sheriff’s star pinned on my sleeveless leather jacket right next to the gaping (and dutifully painted in red) whole of an old bullet wound. The music of Morricone gave it all such intensity that like most kids playing roles, I just believed it was real.
I think that composing the soundtrack of a movie is a sacred art. While excellent movies have sometimes survived without any music worth remembering, a great soundtrack almost invariably accompanies the ones I have liked most, the Ah! Movies as Anna would have called them in Fynn’s book. Think of The Big Blue, Dune, Star Wars, Empire of the Sun, all of Sergio Leone’s westerns, Frantic, Rain Man, Little Miss Sunshine, La Chèvre, Les rivières pourpres, they all have such powerful scores. Then sometimes a good soundtrack manages to lift an otherwise ordinary movie out of the ditch, as in The 13th Warrior, Immortel (Ad Vitam), Ghostbusters, Saturday Night Fever…
A musical score is the ultimate mood setting tool. It doesn’t say much by itself but can reinforce camera work and acting with either incredible punch or exquisite subtlety. It gives a movie its soul, a story its background and the audience, an anchor upon which to base memories. And I think very few composers have ever been as good and prolific at it as Morricone is. He has something like 400 scores to his credit and is still going.
The award-winning Italian composer scored milestone movies such as all of Sergio Leone’s westerns, The Mission, The Untouchables, Sacco & Vanzetti, Frantic, the three French La cage aux folles, episodes of the cult British sci-fi TV series Cosmos 1999, as well as an incredible number of Italian movies. He even had an asteroid named after himself (jealous tone.)
Of course, as always, this is all art and as such, subject to the requirements of personal tastes. My Ennio Morricone compilation might just turn out to be a flop. With movie music as with everything else, you like it or you just don’t.
My dear Marie has very diverse cinema tastes and simply adores old movies. She is able to find in them and extract the very essence of film making, the raw matter of acting and actors – as in “the way they were before technology took over the industry and replaced talent with special effects and ideology with budget”. I, on the other end, am a child of the 21st century and tick to the impact of an overall experience – technique, editing, creativity, decors, effects, image quality, photography, music, sound clarity and stereo or surround level, adventure content, escapism, dream value, virtual reality achieved, and yes, acting, too. I need my movies to transpose me, literally, into another world, another person’s shoes, and as such, they must engage all 24 of my senses. To me, old is usually less interesting because the technical flaws prevent me from completely immersing myself.
But yeah, French cinema had its giants, too, and I do enjoy a good dinosaur-movie now and then. Jean Gabin, Yves Montand, Alain Delon, Lino Ventura, et les comiques aussi, Tati, Fernandel, Bourvil, de Funes, they all deserve to stand proudly among the ranks of an army of Audrey Hepburns, Humphrey Boggarts and Charlie Chaplins…
In the end, it’s all about magic, and for magic to be real, one must believe. I’m would guess Morricone always has.
Silent golden movies, talkies, technicolour, long ago
My younger ways stand clearer, clearer than my footprints
Stardom greats I’ve followed closely
Closer than the nearest heartbeat
Longer that expected, they were great
Oh love, oh love, just to see them
Acting on the silver screen, oh my
Clark Gable, Fairbanks, Maureen O’Sullivan
Fantasy would fill my life and I
Love fantasy so much
Did you see in the morning light
I really talked, yes I did, to Gods early dawning light
And I was privileged to be as I am to this day
To be with you, to be with you.
Jon Anderson and Vangelis – The Friends of Mr. Cairo