Review of the Profile of Ennio Morricone shown on BBC TV in 1995

As there are, no doubt, many fans who didn't see and might never see this very interesting documentary programme I am providing below a summary of what was shown and what was said.

The programme included inputs from the likes of Brian de Palma, John Boorman, David Puttnam, Fernando Ghia, Bernardo Bertolucci ,Gillo Pontecorvo and Prof. Christopher Frayling, author of "Spaghetti Westerns" and the soon-to-be-released biography of Sergio Leone. However, most of the input comes directly from the Maestro himself. He speaks in Italian but subtitles are provided.

The programme opens with shots of Ennio at his desk interspersed with scenes/music from his most popular movies such as OUTIA, OUTIW, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso.

It cuts to the Forum Studios in Rome in 1995 where Ennio is in a recording session for Sostiene Pereira. We are told that he started composing at age 6 and there are pictures of him as a boy. His father played trumpet in night clubs and Ennio at age 14 went to the Santa Cecilia Conservatoire to study trumpet. When his father became ill Ennio took his place at the the clubs at night whilst continuing his studies during the day.

He also studied composition which, apparently, for a trumpet player was a bit of scandal in those days. Later, he composed some classical pieces and there is a short excerpt from his "Sextet". He then became rather well known as an arranger rather than a composer. In the 50's and 60's he did hundreds of arrangements of popular songs. There is a film of an interview he did previously where he explains how much he likes to put new and different sounds into musical pieces, things like typewriters and tin cans!!. The interviewer asks him to demonstrate the typewriter. We hear a piece of music and then Ennio leans over and "plays" a very old-fashioned typewriter in time with the music- a hilarious sight!!!

Ennio says that one piece of music he was excited by was Der Freischtz by Weber and he concedes that it is possible that the hunting themes therein may have inspired his western scores.

Apparently, Sergio Leone was asked to consider Ennio for his Fistful of Dollars movie. They met and Sergio listened to two previous western scores which Ennio had recently done, Duello Nel Texas (Gunfight at Red Sands) and Le Pistole Non Discutono (Guns Don't Argue). Sergio HATED both of them.

Now comes the interesting bit. Ennio proceeded to put a record on his player, a song sung by an American called Peter Tevis, which Ennio had arranged. The backing for this record sounds exactly like we hear in Fistful. Sergio LOVED this and asked Ennio to throw a melody over it - the rest is history.

The next scene in this programme is one I will always treasure. It is a home video of Ennio sitting at the piano playing the main theme from OUTIA. Leaning on the piano listening is Sergio Leone himself. The year? 1989, the year Sergio died. The piano music fades and the orchestral version takes over as we see an old school photo of boys about 11 or 12. The camera zooms in on three boys. The one on the left is Sergio and Ennio is the one on the right. This is such a poignant moment for those of us who are captivated by the Morricone/Leone partnership.

Next we see some footage from the set of OUTIA. Robert de Niro is acting out a scene to the pre-recorded music being played on set, something which appealed greatly to Bobby D. This music, apparently was composed SEVEN years before the movie was made!!!

The Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo explains that he asked Ennio to score Battle of Algiers for him but, since his (Gillo's) contract stipulated that he also do the music, it had to appear as a joint effort. He sent Ennio four notes and Ennio composed a little tune with these which is superb - those of you who have seen the movie will know what I mean.

The programme returns again to the Forum Studios where Ennio is making a point very forcibly to the musicians about the score when there is a very loud sneeze heard from one of them. Ennio turns around with a huge smile on his face but doesn't stop making his point.

Back at his home, Ennio tells us (with the beautiful oboe theme from SACCO AND VANZETTI in the background) that he does not compose at the piano like many composers but at his desk making notes.

Bernardo Bertolucci tells us that in the magnificent score for 1900 (Novacente) Ennio, without realising it, has composed 2 or 3 Italian national anthems!!!

In Casualties of War Ennio viewed the rough cut and then chose the pan pipes. He likened the shooting of the girl off the railway bridge to a little bird being shot in flight and crashing to the ground and the pipes were ideal to convey this. When the pipe players (The Clemente Brothers) received the score their immediate reaction was that this was crazy, their pipes were never intended for this. Brian de Palma, the director, explained that what you get from Ennio is often completely different from what you expect. But it worked.

The programme now switches to a shot of Ennio conducting his "CANTATA FOR EUROPE" (1988). He explains that in 1980 he cut down on his film scoring to concentrate on concert work. He further reveals that he stopped working for American movies because they wouldn't pay him his worth - he says he is very shy about talking about money but the bottom line was that he was being paid exactly the same as some of the not-so-good composers.

The Mission changed all that. After this great success he was always paid the maximum for US movies. David Puttnam explains that they asked Ennio just to look at the rough cut. He was enthralled with the movie, so much so that he said that he felt that the images were so strong that he couldn't do justice to it. However, with more persuasion and a few dollars more, he agreed. Ennio reveals that the "Gabriel's Oboe" theme was "conditioned" by the positioning of Jeremy Irons' fingers on the oboe when he first encounters the natives after climbing the falls!!!!

The programme concludes with David Puttnam stating very forcibly that, for The Mission, Ennio was 'grotesquely' robbed of an Oscar. No right-thinking person would disagree with this but Fernando Ghia, producer, has the final word. "It was very, very disappointing but then, The Mission music lives on and, rightly, is acclaimed as one of the finest scores ever composed for the movies.

That's about it. If anyone would like to ask any questions on this programme please email me.


© Pat Cleary 1998