‘Ennio’ Review: Morricone and His Mastery of Film Scores

by The Technical Blogs

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Days of Heaven,” “Before the Revolution,” “1900,” “The Untouchables,” “Kill Bill,” “Django Unchained,” “The Mission,” “The Thing,” “Fists in the Pocket,” “The Battle of Algiers,” “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,” “Bugsy,” “Bulworth,” “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” — if you’ve watched a movie in the last half century there’s a good chance that you’ve heard music by Ennio Morricone, the titanic Italian composer and arranger who helped define films as we know and hear them.

When Morricone died at the age of 91 in 2020, it seemed almost hard to believe given how expansive his reach had been and, well, how long he’d been part of my movie life. (His death was announced with a statement he titled: “I, Ennio Morricone, am dead.”) When I was a kid, we had an LP of his soundtrack for Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Burn!” (1970), a period epic about a British intelligence officer (Marlon Brando) who’s sent to a fictional Portuguese colony to stir up trouble. A audiocassette of the soundtrack is stashed somewhere in my house; every so often, I listen to it on Spotify and am again transported by Morricone’s soaring music.

In “Ennio,” a lively, absorbing documentary about the composer, Morricone discusses his work on “Burn!” and so many other films. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, it is a crowded, hyperventilated portrait stuffed with archival and original material, including interviews with Morricone shot in 2015 and 2016. Like several other filmmakers, Tornatore worked repeatedly with Morricone, a partnership that began with “Cinema Paradiso” (1990), the director’s soppy heart-tugger about a friendship between a theater projectionist and the boy he schools who becomes a filmmaker. It’s perhaps no surprise that “Ennio” is another cinephilic paean.

With help from Morricone, whose interviews anchor the documentary, Tornatore ably fills in the composer’s family history, though the details become sketchier as the musician’s fame steadily grows. Morricone’s father, Mario, was a trumpet player, and soon Ennio was playing it, too. He began composing music as a child and studied it formally at a conservatory in Rome, where one of his teachers was the composer Goffredo Petrassi. A force in Italian modernist music, Petrassi became a towering figure for his student, the embodiment of a serious patrimony that seemed (to some) at odds with Morricone’s commercial work.

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