By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on March 31, 2016
One of the most distinctive and successful composers till date, Ennio Morricone has broken several norms and conventions which composers tend to follow. Morricone fused the beauty of non-instrumental sounds with enchanting melodies and created some of the most memorable movie soundtracks of this century.
The Italian virtuoso has more than 500 scores to his credit, which include a large number of unforgettable and captivating compositions. There is also a staggeringly large number of his scores that may have not have got their due, but nevertheless are immensely charismatic and memorable.
Born in Rome, Morricone became synonymous with Spaghetti Westerns, thanks to his unforgettable partnership with his classmate and filmmaker Sergio Leone - who is best known for reinventing the Western movie genre.
Morricone's scores are also known for their classical pop elements which integrate melodies, guitar riffs and drum rolls and enthrall viewers in a way only a few things can. Having shot into the limelight with his score for The Dollars Trilogy, Morricone went onto influence a generation of musicians and bands such as Hans Zimmer, Mike Patton, Metallica, Primus and many others.
It was tough to handpick the best works of a composer whose career has spanned over 5 decades and helped to make some of our favorite movies even more memorable. It also was tough to choose between the scores he composed for Leone’s westerns, all of which are equally delectable. But we have tried our best, trust us :)
Besides the obvious inclusion of spaghetti westerns, the compilation includes a list of scores composed by Morricone for a diverse genre of films including gangster films, giallo thrillers, suspense and horror films.
The list includes 10 Morricone soundtracks loved and revered by film and music enthusiasts the world over.
The Man With No Name trilogy revolutionized spaghetti westerns like no other trilogy did. It also initiated an unforgettable combination of Leone’s dramatic direction, Clint Eastwood’s raw and gritty acting and Morricone’s composition. Each of these movies (A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More & The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) have soundtracks that are peculiar and were not associated with westerns till then.
In the trilogy, Morricone used whips, drums and harmonica to heighten the tension at the right moments without relying on an orchestra. It is also rumored that Leone left extended scenes intact, so as not to cut Morricone’s work.
The soundtracks in the trilogy namely ‘Watch Theme’ from A Few Dollars More and ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly use surreal melodies mixed with guitar riffs to showcase the psychology and bravery of the protagonist along with the ruthless atmosphere they are surrounded with.
Brian De Palma’s classic on Al Capone and the alcohol prohibition won immense acclaim, thanks to its stellar star cast that included Robert De Niro, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner among other big names. Be it the scene with the baseball bat or the iconic shootout scene at the union station, The Untouchables kept audiences on the edge of their seats with its intense and gripping sequences. What added to this intensity was Morricone’s use of jazz trumpets with drum beats and melody in its entire soundtrack; the most memorable being the ‘Machine Gun Lullaby’ used for the union station scene.
Surprised as to why these movies are listed together? What connects these movies is the soundtrack that tries to convey the same emotion: melodies of anguish that showcase various sentiments attached to Italy.
Film enthusiasts regard Cinema Paradiso as a great film due to its simplistic yet realistic portrayal of human lives besieged by tragedies and triumphs within the context of a vocation. Devoid of expensive special effects, gratuitous sex & violence, Cinema Paradiso is charming yet a bitter sweet and an uplifting film.
For a tale which talks about the various facets of human life, Morricone’s theme track compresses all the plausible feelings.
Malena showcases the heartbreaking story of a young boy falling in love with an older woman during the World War II. Morricone strikes the right balance through his music which transports the viewers to Sicily, where the movie is set.
Morricone and Leone fans might be appalled to see Once A Time In The West at the fourth place. But when it comes to Morricone and Leone's unforgettable partnership, the rankings don't matter, trust us. The legendary composer used the grand Italian opera to showcase the emotional quotient in the film.
The theme song and ‘The Man With The Harmonica’ are infused as a narrative fabric that shapes Once A Time In The West as a timeless classic. Leone replaces words with music and conveys much more in return. This facet is best proven by the melancholic harmonica tune used prominently in the score. Leone’s magical direction matched with Morricone’s brilliance creates an amazing sense of revelation among the audience.
John Carpenter's The Thing is regarded as one of the best horror films to be ever made. The film creates an eerie atmosphere which uses gore, paranoia and intensity to a great effect. Complementing this intensity is Morricone’s soundtrack which creates an equally cold, robotic and menacing effect. It is rumoured that Carpenter was disappointed with Morricone’s work (surprising isn’t it?), which led to a major chunk of his music being left out of the film.
Wondering what happened to the soundtrack that was left out? Well, these tracks which include ‘Eternity’, ‘Bestiality’, ‘Despair’ and ‘The Search’ were used for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, - the film that helped Morricone win his long pending Oscar. This was Morricone’s first score for a Western film since Buddy Goes West (1981) and the first for a Hollywood production since Ripley's Game (2002).
Days of Heaven is often regarded as one of the best films of Terrence Malick. Richard Gere’s brilliant performance backed by Morricone’s soundtrack elevates the film with emotions that is showcased brilliantly with some great cinematography.
Morricone foreshadows tragedy with his music by delicately infusing it into the theme of the film. Interestingly, he also received his first Academy Award nomination for this film.
The original installment from The Cuchillo Trilogy, Sergio Sollima’s western classic is well crafted, stylish and loaded with surprises. The film follows the structure of a road movie which brings substance to a genre that’s often concerned solely with appearances. Morricone’s soundtrack uses a simple guitar riff that resembles a galloping horse, which showcases the theme in a very subtle manner.
Directed by Don Siegel, this American- Mexican classic had two elements that stood out – Clint Eastwood in the role of a cowboy and Ennio Morricone’s music. The pleasant yet hilarious western offers its viewers a visually stunning experience, thanks to the Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa’s camerawork which showcases the arid terrains beautifully.
Complementing the cinematography is Morricone’s melody which uses a flute and acoustic guitar to create the right bit of tension required for this western. This piece was also used by Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained and Hans Zimmer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows.
The Sicilian Clan saw Morricone break his usual convention of composing soundtracks for spaghetti westerns. The crime film had some excellent set pieces made with plenty of style, with Morricone’s soundtrack being the highlight.
The score also gave an expression to Morricone’s soundtracks for gangster films, which he extensively used in The Untouchables and Once Upon A Time In America.
Italian horror master Dario Argento’s debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage single-handedly paved way for the Italian slasher-thrillers that are commonly known as giallo. In the creepy and frightening film, Morricone used sound to infuse a new kind of eeriness among viewers. The Italian master used frightening jazzy scores to bring out a new dimension to the giallo genre.
Did your favorite soundtack make it to the list? Do let us know with your comments.