Ennio Morricone

With his work, Tornatore presents not only the great musician, but also the man who “probably had to contend throughout his life with feelings that overwhelmed him and forced him to constantly grow in order to cope with them.”
Enzo Vignoli

With this latest work, Giuseppe Tornatore has succeeded in the small miracle of captivating a wide audience by limiting the concessions that are often made to box-office requirements. Obviously, he received help from Ennio Morricone, an absolute and imposing presence who almost seems to confess himself to an undefinable entity through a long interview with the filmmaker. So much so that the impression can be given that Tornatore merely assembled the considerable material at his disposal. In addition to the first-hand accounts of the musician himself, the documentary offers an uninterrupted roundup of flashes, memories, and testimonies from the countless show business personalities with whom the musician collaborated or perhaps who collaborated with him. 

Poster of the movie Ennio

The main key to the documentary is, in fact, a kind of subservience that the musician’s genius necessarily imposed on those who worked with his music. Morricone probably had to contend throughout his life with feelings that overwhelmed him and forced him to constantly grow in order to cope with them. Humiliation, revenge and the need to break down the sense of guilt that was tearing him apart are the feelings he himself confessed with a heavy heart.


A man of the 20th century, a son of great musical culture, a student of Goffredo Petrassi, a scholar and undoubtedly a profound connoisseur of the History of Music, Morricone perhaps found himself questioning what was happening in that world. Probably not being able to understand what his place should be and, consequently, to ask himself the crucial question: what to do? Hence the humiliation, the probable sense of powerlessness and frustration of the educated man who found himself forced to put his very essence on the line, to deny being an educated person, perhaps even to ask himself what meaning, what value he could give to the word culture. He probably had to choose between an academicism that did not seem to promise any way out and a path that entailed the risks of banality, that of the world of show business, to which one had to bow by accepting compromises and the renunciation of one’s own originality.



Ennio Morricone

He never completely abandoned the first path, although history will hardly remember him for it. He chose, however, the latter, in search of the Phoenix, of a third way (often found) in which he could prevail over what the world of pop music prescribed and largely prescribes to protagonists of little or no value. Their only and easy task is to mesmerize the final user of this mechanism, the audience. But above all, he had to invent a game that he himself would lead and impose on those in his path. Throughout this tortuous process he risked, perhaps unwittingly, entering–as indeed he did–the hearts of many, or entering them through the wrong door. I am reminded of the existential and cultural apprehension–between the facetious and the haughty–of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) who on at least one occasion expressed fear that he had written rubbish, given the success of his music with the public.


Listening to the uninterrupted barrage of enthusiastic reviews from those he met, it would seem safe to say that Ennio Morricone succeeded in fully realizing the goals he had set himself, the achievement of which was essential to his own integrity. Ennio Morricone composed over 500 soundtracks (one can understand the reason for humiliation and the resulting challenges as cinema scoring is about background music which need to meet the expectations of directors: accompanying themes that underline and confirm what appears on the screen, at most leitmotifs that evoke the protagonists of the films). Morricone, on the other hand, was able to impose his artistic will on directors such as Sergio Leone, and managed to make himself indispensable to Quentin Tarantino, who indulged in lavish (and, most likely, sincere) praise of the musician, whom he considered the greatest of all time. Strictly speaking and mutatis mutandis, I am reminded of a line by Massimo Troisi, who said he made his films for Pino Daniele’s music. But Morricone also worked extensively outside the film industry, composing songs that have remained in the collective memory or even just colouring others with orchestrations and arrangements that made his fortune and ensured the success of otherwise negligible musical themes. Morricone had a contradictory attitude towards melody, which he claimed not to love and not to seek out. And yet, how many memorable themes he managed to create, how many pieces of music of which many are probably unaware he composed! In the documentary, one hears him say that he believes all possible combinations have been exhausted. On the one hand, light pop music, festive, Italian and international. On the other hand, art music, so-called contemporary classical music, which is faced with similar limitations and the impossibility of going beyond, unless that beyond implies falling back to and revisiting the stylistic features from a past world, which does not turn out to be past. This was the general picture presented to musician Ennio Morricone. The movie is fast-pace and barely leaves time to breathe. As if to hamper a thorough appreciation of Morricone, the man and the musician. If Tarantino’s hyperbolic appreciations (who sees Morricone as greater than Bach, Mozart, Beethoven) are implausible, it is perhaps possible to venture a partial comparison with the figure of Wagner (1813-1883), who mesmerized an armada of admirers with his total art, his aspiration to fuse all artistic forms into a single project: which he managed to do “with sublime force” and which prevented him from being the greatest “amateur” in music, following Thomas Mann’s judgment mediated by Friedrich Nietzsche. Then, perhaps, that uninterrupted sequence of unconditional praise that emanates from Tornatore’s documentary is a liberating form. The enthusiastic outburst of those who feel freed from the need for (pre)critical judgment or the false acceptance of the absurd contemporary treacle that poisons television screens or football arenas, with grotesque puppets useful for conducting sociological or anthropological analyses, but musically non-existent.


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