Monday, June 27, 2022

film review: Ennio



Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

ChinoKino score:A

Review by Allan Tong

If you don't know the name Ennio Morricone, you have heard his music in films such as Malena, The Mission, In The Line of Fire, The Untouchables, Days of Heaven, Once Upon A Time In America, and the one that launched him internationally, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The Italian trumpeter and classical composer scored over 400 films in his 91 years and is considered the greatest. Morricone collaborated with director Giuseppe Tornatore on 1988's Cinema Paradiso, which was was a Valentine to cinema. So is Ennio, which Tornatore made as an obvious tribute to Morricone. The result is an essential documentary about the Maestro and the mysterious, but powerful art of creating music for film.


The strength and structure of Ennio lies in the subject itself who freely shares his life story from his childhood in Rome. Morricone wanted to be a doctor, but his father ordered him to take up the trumpet like he did in order to feed his family. Hungry years inevitably dawned, which did not satisfy the young trumpeter. Morricone studied classical composing which was unusual for a trumpet player. Versed in Verdi and Mozart, of course, Morricone surprisingly admired avant-garde musician John Cage who was infamous for making music out of ordinary sounds. Morricone's gift for melody, his classical training and his affection for experimentalism gradually made its way onto Italian, TV then film.

However, highbrow classical musicians, including Morricone's teachers, regarded composing for film and TV as prostitution. Ashamed, Morricone hid by adopting pseudonyms for his early scores. That changed when he reunited with former classmate Sergio Leone who went on the to create immortal spaghetti westerns, culminating in 1966's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Overnight, Morricone became the hottest film composer in the world.

Ennio works best by letting Morricone talk. A shy man, Morricone is passionate on camera explaining how he approached various films. Notable works are the Dario Argento horror films of the early 1970s where Morricone took a completely different approach by ordering his musicians to improvise based on basic themes he wrote while scenes from a film played. Several directors are interviewed, but one who stands out is Roland Joffe who recalls inviting Morricone to score his film, The Mission, released in 1986. Morricone was so moved to tears by the film that he declined the job, explaining that his music could not enhance an already great film. Soon after, an idea for a simple flute line struck Morricone and he reversed his decision. (Astonishingly, Morricone didn't win the Oscar that year.)

Scores of former collaborators in Italy and Hollywood and admirers including director Wong Kar-Wai praise The Maestro, but too often they get in the way of this film. Yes, we know Morricone was great, so let his music speak for itself. Though Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simenon, bassist of the Clash, are great (I love them), do we need them in this film? That's the only flaw to Ennio, which generously showcases the music and movies of its subject across 156 minutes that never feels too long. Ennio is the perfect way to kick off this year's Italian Cultural Film Festival in Toronto and must be seen by anyone who loves music or movies.

No comments:

Post a Comment