Thoughts on Ennio

I had to opportunity to go and see Ennio, the documentary on Ennio Morricone released last year, so I took it.

It was a beautiful movie. Then again, I don’t think you need much to make a good movie about Ennio Morricone. Apparently you need time (the footage was shot over six years, which was a little weird as some talked about the man in present tense, while others in past tense, as he died during the process) and good editors and that’s it. I mean, the music speaks for itself.

But there was one thing that stood out for me: There was some footage of Quentin Tarantino claiming that Morricone will be remembered forever. Morricone himself thought Tarantino was being hyperbolic and noted that they should wait 200 years before claiming that.

This is actually something I think about every now and then. Not necessarily Morricone, but I do wonder about who of the current or recent artists will be remembered in a hundred or two hundred or a thousand years. It’s just so hard to say. People generally don’t realize that people like Shakespeare and Beethoven were considered common or even low-rent in their own day. The room where da Vinci’s Last Supper mural was located was actually used by Napoleon’s troops as a stable in the late 1700s. They weren’t seen as prophetic masters, who will shape the future of their respective arts.

So, will school children in 2222 be learning about Ennio Morricone or will they be trying to figure out the secret meaning behind the music of Beyonce and the movies of Michael Bay? (Note: I have nothing against Beyonce and while I don’t like Bay’s movies, I do like his auteur spirit.)

One key question here is whether movie composers will be remembered at all. Well, if they are, that’s probably Morricone’s personal achievement. The score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is just so unique and memorable that people just had to take notice of these people for the first time. Would Howar Shore, John Williams or Hans Zimmer done the same thing? Or would we have at some point realized the value of Bernard Herrmann for Hitchcock? Obviously we can’t really know.

I’m not even sure we should pay that much attention to music in movies. Sure, the music is important and we definitely shouldn’t be underestimated, but that is different from being the thing you remember. I don’t want generic scores either and I have been fairly open about being a huge fan of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (which has been my favorite film for a very long time), so the score hasn’t spoiled the film for me.

Also, he has a bit of problem in the immortality sense in that he mostly worked in Italian, which automatically disqualifies him from many things. He only received six Oscar nominations for his work (finally winning 2016 after hundreds of movies), because while eligible, Italian movies are not noticed very easily where they need to be noticed for Awards consideration. And while Awards are in many ways meaningless, they do sort of guarantee interest in certain movies in the future as well. At least to a point. It’s not necessary, but it is helpful (Kubrick is still widely remembered even though his only Oscar win was for special effect on 2001).

Morricone did compose a lot of other musical works besides movie music as well, but these are not widely known. Neither is that kind of music even noticed outside of academia, so that’s not a good way towards being remembered.

I don’t even think Morricone really wanted to compete with the old masters. To me he appears to have worked, because he loved it. He could have retired decades ago with a remarkable legacy and probably enough money, but he still worked while way over 80. In the movie he always seemed a little uncomfortable with the attention he was getting. I mean, he could come out in his 80s in a tux to conduct an orchestra and still be treated like a rockstar, and yet he felt a little hesitent to face the audience. He also talked about being ashamed of doing film music, when he could have been making something his teachers from his conservatory days could be proud of.

Still, he ended up working in movies, because unlike most composers of the day, he was not from a rich family and actually needed to work in order to feed his family, not just sit around experimenting in the hopes of receiving positive comments from a very insular group of classical composers.

So, is Ennio Morricone going to be remembered for all time? I wouldn’t bet on it just because of his chosen discipline, but if there is someone from his chosen discipline that will be remembered, it will probably be him with his huge body of work, but the fact that so many of his movies are Italian, that is also going to be a limiting factor in this sense. He has never scored a huge movie like Star Wars, so Williams has an edge in that regard over Morricone.

One last note: I went to see this in a small local art house theater. I was surprised to see so many people there. Not that there was a huge crowd, but I’ve been in a “crowd” of two or three people quite regularly, so a dozen or so people are a good crowd for this place, especially for a documentary.

Also, Finnish people are generally very silent and respectful in theaters, especially in this theater, where no-one leaves before the end credits are over. But you could audibly hear reactions to the movie. You could hear laughs and gasps and sobbing. People were actually invested in the movie in a way you don’t often see.

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