MAGNIFICO OESTE. MEXICAN WESTERNS.

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I am not being unkind in any way when I say that we do not often consider films that have been made in Mexico. Which is an oversight by all of us because there have been a number of movies of note that have come from there. The Mexican film industry has its origins as far back as the nineteenth century. The then President Porfirio Diaz saw something in cinema that he thought maybe could help his career as a politician. So, he encouraged the production of short movies as far back as 1896.

 

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He utilised film to document his presidency in which he was often portrayed as the perfect head of state. When the Mexican revolution started in 1910, both Mexican and foreign film makers produced silent movies that would show the outside world the violent events that were taking place in Mexico, focusing upon both government and revolutionary leaders. But from 1915 onwards Mexican cinema would alter and concentrate more upon films that had a storyline whether that was fact based or fiction. Major Mexican productions although few and far between have influenced and also gained accolades within the global film industry. The Golden age of Mexican Cinema as it was referred to was between 1933 and 1964, and during this period Mexican movies would dominate The Latin American industry of Pelispedia.

 

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Mexico also has twice been honoured at the prestigious Canne film festival, winning the highest award. The movie MARIA CANDELARIA (1946) won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film and in 1961 the movie VIRDIANA garnered the Palme d’Or. Making Mexico the most recognised Latin American country in the film making arena. Only last year in 2019 the film ROMA attracted much attention from critics, film makers and audiences around the world, becoming the first Mexican motion picture and the fourth Latin American film to win the Oscar for best foreign language film. It also was recognised with the BAFTA for best film at The British Academy Awards.

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However, for this article I would like to go back a few years to the  1940.s initially and then into the 1960.s and onwards into the early 1970’s. The purpose being is to focus upon Westerns that have been produced by Mexican filmmakers, we all talk about and are aware of The Italian made western and of course the sagebrush sagas that were created in Hollywood. But, Mexican westerns are rarely even glimpsed at, or if they are very little is said about them which is something of a travesty because these productions were very entertaining and also quirky. Which can also be said for TURKISH made westerns, which we may discuss at a later date.

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One of the early Mexican westerns was released in 1943, CUANDO HABLA EL CORAZON was directed by Juan Jose Segura and starred Pedro Infante, Maria Luisa Zea and Victor Manuel Mendoza. The film mixed action and drama with musical numbers, it opens in 1905 but we are soon catapulted forward to 1915, when we see that a friendship is being put into jeopardy by a mutual enemy of the two friends in question, this spiteful individual attempts to cause a rift by disclosing some mischievous and damning information. The film is filled with intrigue, action and some fairly sprightly songs. A number of these musical westerns were produced both in America and Mexico and it was the Mexican productions that always seemed to come out better containing the right balance of music, songs and romantic drama.

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The musical score and songs were the work of composer’s Ernesto Cortazar and Manuel Esperon. Cortazar was born in Tampico Tamaulipas, Mexico on December 10th, 1897, he was a writer as well as a composer and was known for NOCHES DE RONDA (1943) and LA MUERTE ENAMORADA (1951).

 

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He passed away on November 30th, 1953 in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Esperon, was born Manuel Esperon Gonzalez on August 3rd, 1911, in Mexico Distrito Federal, Mexico. He was a prolific composer and penned nearly a thousand songs, winning many awards for his work. He and his long-time collaborator Ernesto Cortazar wrote the Mexican section for the Disney animated film THE THREE CABALLEROS which was released in 1945.

 

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Walt Disney himself asked the composer to become involved on the soundtrack of the movie. He won the Silver Ariel Awards in 1947 and 1955 for his songs, CANTACLARO and CUANDO ME VAYA respectively. Esperon, was the son of an engineer, his musical influences came from his Mother who was a concert pianist. He had a formal musical education in Mexico and once he graduated began to perform as an accompanist for silent movies in theatres. He then began to work as an arranger and an orchestrator, but in 1933 broke into writing music for films, in his career he wrote many songs that would become standards and scored over five hundred motion pictures. He became known for being able to incorporate Mariachi styles of music into his film scores and became much sought after by many in the film industry to work on their projects. He passed away on February 13th, 2011, in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.

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It may be also worth mentioning a Mexican production that was released in 1936, LETS GO WITH PONCHO VILLA VAMONOS CON PONCHO VILLA was I suppose an anti-hero picture, because rather than showing the audiences how wonderful the leader of the Mexican revolution was, it focused upon the brutality and the cruelness that Villa inflicted on his own people as well as his enemies.

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The movie, which was directed by Fernando Fuentes, starred Domingo Soler as Villa, the film tells the story of a group of friends who decide that they will join Villa and his revolutionary forces. But what they think will be an adventure turns into something of a horror tale, as they are shown the reality and the brutality of war. Villa displaying no respect or regard for his men’s welfare and lives. The film had two endings, which at the time was something new, the first version of the films end shows a surviving member of the group of friends returning home totally exhausted and disenchanted with Villa and the revolution. The second ending to the movie which was not discovered for many years returns to the home of the sole surviving friend ten years on, Villa attempts to recruit him once again for the cause, but the man refuses as he does not want to leave his family, Villa has his wife and daughter killed, the man then tries to kill Villa but is himself shot dead by one of the revolutionary leaders men.

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Villa then takes the man son with him to fight for the revolution. When the film was released it was a failure, many refusing to believe that the great Poncho Villa was the tyrant that he was portrayed as in the picture, but in later years the movie gained much recognition and is often said to be one of the best Mexican movies made. It was part of a trilogy of movies the others being EL PRISIONERO TRECE and EL COMPADRE MENDOZA. Music for LET’S GO WITH PONCHO VILLA was the work of Silvestre Revueltas, who also made a cameo appearance in the movie.

 

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The composer was known for his chamber music, Ballets and orchestral works, and was an accomplished violinist and conductor. He was born on December 31st, 1899, the composer/performer began his musical career late in life and started to become involved more in his music when he was the associate conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra a post he held from 1931 to 1934. Before this he had played violin in a theatre orchestra in San Antonio and had been a conductor of a small orchestra in Alabama. He studied music in Chicago and Texas adding to his basic knowledge which he had gained in Durango and Mexico City. Revueltas style and sound is for want of better words innovative and absorbing. He at times displayed an abundant gift for creating complex and colourful musical compositions. Often evoking the style and musical prowess of the likes of Stravinsky. He would also often integrate into his works fragments of music that were linked with the Mestizo culture, using elements of folk songs and dances to fashion music of great variety. The composer encountered problems with alcoholism towards the end of his life and ended his days as a teacher in the Conservatory in Mexico City.

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Stepping forward to the 1960’s for the next example and to 1964 when, EL REVOLVER SANGRIENTO or THE BLOODY PISTOL was released. The film directed by Miguel M. Delgado, was a dramatic western, which starred Luis Aguilar. Lola Beltran and Flor Silvestre, the music was composed by Antonio Diaz Conde, who had by the early 1960’s already established himself as a prolific writer of film scores, composing more than 100 soundtracks from 1942 to1964, and in later years his total output was a staggering 277 scores for the cinema. This western focuses upon a silver handgun which has a curse placed upon it and follows its life in the hands of various owners.

So, a western essentially with mysterious and dramatic undertones. Antonio Diaz Conde, scored numerous Mexican produced westerns including, UNA HORCA PARA EL TEXANO and ARRIBA LAS MANOS TEXANO both released in 1969 and DUELO DE PISTOLEROS, EL SECRETO DEL TEXANO and VUELVE EL TEXANO from 1966, but the composer also wrote the music for films that were looked upon as drama and adventure movies in Mexico which would probably be thought of as westerns outside of the country because they were set in the period of the Mexican revolution, a period which many of the Italian produced sub- genre of films associated with the spaghetti western entitled the Zapata westerns such as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, THE FIVE MAN ARMY and A PROFESSIONAL GUN were also set.

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These included, VALENTIN DE LA SIERRA in 1968. Although the composer worked on many western film’s he was never one to be type cast in any way, he wrote the music to a wide variety of genres, these included romance, sci-fi. Crime and police dramas, horror, musicals, film noir slanted dramas and period adventure tales.

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He began to score films during the early 1940’s with his last assignment in 1974 being a vicious and brutal western entitled LA CHOCA, which was a story of revenge, where the titular character a woman, carried out a brutal vengeance upon the men who had killed her family, and at the films conclusion is the only one left standing, walking off into the sunset to hopefully a new life. Scenes of rape and gratuitous violence filled the movie, the opening theme was tailored to these events with a brass led piece that accompanied scenes of murder and of wild animals hunting and attacking as the title credits rolled and before the film had actualy started. It is a rather dis-jointed movie which contains what I think were unnecessary scenes mainly of the leading lady in a state of undress in water that basically filled time rather than adding anything to the story, but maybe there was some sort of underlying purpose or a hidden message within these and I missed it I am not too sure. The score however is a powerful one which at times resembles the work of both Italian and Hollywood western soundtracks.

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The composer combining urgent brass passages with a lilting and more folk orientated style. The tense and commanding opening music is somewhat reminiscent to the cue THE BATTLE from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA by Morricone, with pounding percussion and jagged brass underlined by strings that at times evoke the hissing of a snake and heighten the sense of tension to a peak.

It is a staggering fact that the Mexican film industry produced a few hundred westerns, but they were not as successful as their Italian or German made counterparts outside of their country of origin, maybe this was due to poor distribution in territories beyond Mexico. Because it was not down to these pictures being in any way inferior to the Spaghetti or Sauerkraut westerns, in fact many were more entertaining and inventive with ther storylines, and the musical scores to were as innovative as their Italian counterparts, but probably in a different way. I have just scratched the surface of the surface with these few examples, but I hope that my ramblings might inspire you to go and check out the Western Mexican style and whilst there also explore the Horror films that were produced by Mexican filmmakers. Another collection of movies that will entertain and surprise.

SOUNDTRACK SUPPLEMENT 3.

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Normally soundtrack supplement is a feature that I do here on Movie Music International that gives a brief outline on various soundtracks by different composers, not full reviews but just a few lines on each so that the collectors are aware of the scores. This time the entire section is dedicated to one composer who has been working steadily in film and TV for several years. His soundtracks have been issued on the BSX label and others, but it is BSX or Dragons Domain who have issued the majority of them recently. Louis Febre is a composer many will probably be aware of via his connection with the SMALLVILLE TV series.

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But it is surprising that he has written so much music for both the small and big screen. The composer was born in Saltillo Mexico on June 21st, 1959, he wrote his first piece of music at the age of just eight, which when he was studying piano at a conservatory in the North of Mexico. In the early 1970’s Febre’s family re-located to Los Angeles, and he was encouraged to continue his studies there also. His tutors in the United States were Francois Regnat and Robert Turner. The young musician went from strength to strength with his studies an began to take formal education in music under both Frank Campo and Lorraine Kimball, whilst receiving his musical education Febre composed a few Chamber works as well as more large-scale pieces. During the early 1990’s the composer landed a position at a B Movie company which was called PM Entertainment, it was here that the composer decided that it was writing music for film was what he wanted to do as a career.

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In 1996 he was mentored by composer John Debney, and this proved to be a fruitful and a rewarding collaboration for both Febre and Debney. Febre worked with Debney on the feature length TV movie DOCTOR WHO (1996) which got the young composer noticed and led to him writing his first TV score which was THE CAPE, an assignment that earned him an Emmy for best Dramatic Underscore in 1997. As his career progressed Febre enjoyed much success writing for films such as TOWER OF TERROR a Disney production and SWIMFAN.

 

 

He also received acclaim for his music to a handful of straight to DVD or Video movies of SCOO-BE-DOO one of which SCOO-BE DOO AND THE ALIEN INVADERS garnered him an Annie Award in 2001. In the same year he was awarded a Pixie for his music to THE REVENGE OF THE RED BALOON which was an independent short movie.

 

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Febre also collaborated with composer Steve Jablonsky on the first series of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and later as an orchestrator and additional music composer hooked up with John Debney again for CATS AND DOGS, CHICKEN LITTLE and JIMMY NEUTRON. He also collaborated with Mark Snow on various episodes of THE X FILES as well as writing music for DISNEY WORLD TOKYO.


In 2009 he wrote the score for a low budget sci-fi movie entitled ALIEN TRESPASS the film which was based upon the B movies of the 1950’s failed to get a favourable reaction from audiences and critics alike, but Febre’s score was as they say mentioned in dispatches and critics compared it to the style of Hollywood giant Bernard Herrmann. But it is SMALLVILLE that many associate Febre with, after the composer Mark Snow departed the series in season six, Febre was asked to become the main composer for the series. The composer added a more personal and intimate sound to the series and as the character of Clark Kent began to develop more so did the composer’s music, becoming more complex at times and also eventually working towards a theme for the central character. The composer’s more recent assignments included additional music composer for Mark Isham on Disney’s TOGO. (2019) and also as orchestrator for John Debney on THE NEGOTIATOR or BEIRUT as it was originally titled in 2018. Febre also worked on the TV reboot of CHARLIES ANGELS as well as writing the scores for the TV updating of THE FUGITIVE for CBS.

DRAGONS DOMAIN RECORDS have, released a Louis Febre collection volume one, which includes two sores, THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EDWARD D. WOOD JNR (1996) and BIGFOOT THE UNFORGETTABLE ENCOUNTER (1994). Both are entertaining works from the 1990’s and the first has to it an almost John Barry/Jerry Goldsmith sound. It is rich in thematic material and also lends itself well to the movie, which is a documentary, as well as standing alone as an incredibly melodious and affecting work away from the images. The composer employs a kind of proud and inspiring air to the proceedings with sumptuous sounding synth strings if that’s possible? Plus wistful and subtle woods and on occasion a haunting trumpet solo performance that has a martial style to it adding melancholy to the work. The score also has to it a mysterious and quirky feel and sound, which given the subject of the documentary is understandable, at times these little expressions and phrases lean towards the comedic but are wonderfully entertaining and absorbing. The music displays a light but at the same time sad persona, reflecting I suppose the life of the filmmaker. The documentary highlights Woods well known 1950’S productions, which for all the wrong reasons went down into cinema history. GLEN OR GLENDA, JAIL BAIT, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, and the infamous PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

All of which were looked upon as terrible films when released, but maybe in the ensuing years attained a cult status because they were so bad that people began to love them rather than loathe them, maybe because of the obvious passion Wood had for film making even if he did not have the budgets to transfer what he could see in his mind’s eye on to the screen.

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Febre’s score is an accomplished one and when watching the documentary one can feel the melancholy and the emotion via his melodious and lilting tone poems. The second score that is represented on this collection is a film that Febre scored whilst at PM ENTERTAINMENT.   BIGFOOT AND THE UNFORGETTABLE ENCOUNTER tells the story of aa young boy who becomes friends with the much-documented forest legend BIGFOOT. The boy decides that he must help the creature escape the bounty hunters who are tracking him. The score is a delightful work that enhances and supports this family movie romp. Filled to overflowing with syrupy but at the same time attractive themes, the composer again utilises strings and horns that are further embellished with woodwind to score the film, of course there are a number of more dramatic elements introduced, as the hunt for the creature begins to take shape, again a effective work and also one that is a pleasure to listen to away from the movie. The composer achieving the correct balance of light and dark, with romantic sounding passages being fused with slightly apprehensive and action laced interludes, but nothing to dark or foreboding.

 

The next score by Febre is FISTS OF IRON, the film which was released in 1995 was one of the many that were released during this period that dealt with kickboxing, Karate and other martial arts. To be fair it is not an awful movie, with the action being relentless from start to finish. It has a storyline that also is fairly typical of these types of films, a greedy and bloodthirsty villain is responsible for the death of the films central characters best friend, so the hero sets out to have vengeance for the death of his friend.

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The movie stars Michael Worth the good guy and Matthias Hues, as the not so good guy. What happens? Well maybe I don’t really need to tell you. The score released on BSX records digitally is a mix of styles and sounds and although largely dramatic and action led it still contains some good solid thematic material on which the composer builds the score, there are a number of almost grandiose moments within the score, the composer utilising a fusion of symphonic and synthetic performances to create a powerful and high octane work. I suppose there are a number of affiliations with this and other soundtracks that were around in the 1990.s which relied on the electronic sounds and layers rather than conventional instrumentation and musical colours.

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But this does not mean that the score was not an effective one, however I would not say that it is a soundtrack I could sit down and listen to without watching the movie, even though it does have a few jazz orientated moments that lead into the central theme for the movie and for a movie that was not exactly high profile the composer wrote a lot of music for it. Dramatic and action led for the majority of its duration with a handful of cues that can be put into the apprehensive category stylistically again I was reminded faintly of the style of Jerry Goldsmith when he worked on thrillers such as BASIC INSTINCT, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER and MALICE, Febre, fashioning effective fleeting musical moments via breathy woods and underlying swirling but subdued string effects and for those reasons I would say that this is probably a score that you would return to a few times after your initial visit. THE SECRETARY is another in a batch of releases from BSX that are available digitally and once again the style and sound achieved by Febre is filled with foreboding and virulence, I already mentioned the similarities I thought he had with the style of Jerry Goldsmith on a few of his soundtracks, THE SECRETARY is another work that displays these traits, Febre creating deliciously dark and richly sinister sounding pieces, that are haunting and unsettling. BASIC INSTINCT again comes to mind, but there is also a masterful touch that can be likened to that of Bernard Herrmann, the composer concocting a visceral and sinewy work which for me did bring to mind VERTIGO the strings conjuring a sense of menace and purveying an atmosphere that is unnerving.  is a score that I would recommend, I love its edgy and subdued persona, one for the collection, I think.

 

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In 1994 Febre provided the score for the sci-fi picture T FORCE. Set in the near future the movie focuses upon a Cybernaut unit called T FORCE, which has been ordered to be disassembled after one of their missions which was a hostage situation goes badly wrong. The robots in the unit however take things into their own hands and see this action as a threat to their existence, thus go on a killing spree. Enter then Jack Floyd a police lieutenant and one Cybernaut who has remained loyal to his human masters to stop the T. FORCE at all costs. Febre’s score is in my opinion better than the movie it was written for. A largely synthetic score, with little conventional instrument performances here and there to enhance it and give it a more depth, it is a driving and relentless work. But even though electronics have the lion’s share of the score the composer still manages to create numerous fast paces action cues which have to them thematic qualities. The music actualy helps the movie look a little better at times or at least eases the disappointment some for anyone watching. So, if you are into your action scores this is probably one for you. Again, a digital BSX release.

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I have to say that Louis Febre is a talented composer and seems to be able to turn his hand to any style and genre of film. The final soundtrack of his I am going to look at is A TIME TO DIE which is a thriller/mystery that was released in 1991. The soundtrack has been given a digital release by the BSX label, and is a more upbeat and up-tempo score, with the composer utilising an interesting array of percussive elements throughout. There is a definite electronic sound here, I say this because within this score more than any of the others I have listened to it is more obvious that it is a score realised via synthetic means. Again this does not mean that the score is any less worthy or indeed any less enjoyable to listen to, Febre makes interesting use of keyboard, percussion and a dusting of piano solo performances within the work, the piano adding a chilling and somewhat uneasy atmosphere to the proceedings. In fact, the majority of the soundtrack has the listener sitting on a knife edge the music building and falling to create an atmosphere that is dark and tense. Its, probably not until we hear the end credits that the tension is relieved a little with a nice flowing and easy going saxophone solo that is accompanied by laid back percussion and piano, but this soon alters and as it reaches its conclusion slips back into a more menacing mood. The scores I have mentioned are all released by BSX and DRAGONS DOMAIN records, check out their website for more delicious scores to add to your collection.

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https://buysoundtrax.myshopify.com/collections/dragons-domain-records-1

LOCKDOWN CHAT 8.

 HOLLY AMBER CHURCH.

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Talented and inventive composer Holly Amber Church talks about being on  lockdown for COVID 19. 

I am guessing you are on a lockdown or at least part lockdown, how has this been for you and are you managing to write any new music at all?

I am in a lockdown situation in Los Angeles currently. It’s strange how quickly things turned and how this feels like the new “normal” now, but I am grateful to have a roof over my head, food to eat and healthy loved ones. I have still been writing some new music during all of this but I will admit that my productivity is not what it normally is as I am so distracted by the news or trying to order groceries online now (and mostly spending hours searching for Lysol or some other disinfectant online too).


What music have you been turning to mostly during the Pandemic and the lockdown?
I have mostly been turning to music right now that makes me happy or peaceful, so a lot of Disney music or Hawaiian music (and I also love some good vintage “tiki” music like Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman).


Have you been watching what we refer to as classic movies ,or are you taking this time to check out more recent releases and maybe looking at shows or films that normally you would not?

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It’s interesting because I have been mostly turning to classic films that I love or have seen before right now because they make me happy and there’s a sense of comfort to them. Again, a lot of Disney and Muppets. I do have some more recent films that I would like to check out during this time though too.

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Whats the food and supplies situation been like for you?
Getting food and supplies around LA has been interesting but not impossible. We’ve mostly been ordering groceries through delivery services or via Amazon but as many know that can be interesting and a lot of the time you get half of what you placed in your order because they were out of stock. I am just grateful to have whatever we can get.

 

 

As well as audio and visual entertainment have you been reading anything at all?
I did finish a book last week that I really enjoyed called “The Science of Monsters” by Kelly Florence and Meg Hafdahl.

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Do you think that after this Virus has been beaten that the world and the people in it might be a little different in their behaviour towards each other and also the planet and animals?

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I hope that some good can come out of this virus in that we don’t take things or people for granted ever again. I think we’re also seeing the effect that people staying home more has had on the environment around the globe and I hope that people will take that to heart and we can think about our impact and what we can do in the future to be kinder to each other, the animals and the environment.

GIANNI FERRIO. CREATING A STYLE.

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“START PRAYING COS THIS GAMES FOR REAL, THE STAKES ARE HIGH ITS MY TURN TO DEAL, I WISH YOU LUCK IT’S THE LAST ROUND TO GO, SURE’S TOUGH TO LOSE GUESS YOU’RE TO KNOW. I PLAY’S THIS GAME TO WIN”.

The opening lines for the song THE LAST GAME, which was from the spaghetti western SENTENZA DI MORTE, (SENTENCE OF DEATH). music by Gianni Ferrio, vocal performance by Nevil Cameron. The soulful and smouldering jazz infused cue, was something a little different in the spaghetti western music genre, but there again Gianni Ferrio never did seem to conform to the perimeters of the SOUND of the Italian western, and out of the majority of composers that were involved in the creation of the Italian western soundtrack with its distinct sound, Ferrio I think was the exception as in not going with the majority.

 

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His western scores often being a fusion of the old style western as fashioned by American composers in Hollywood and a sound that was partly Spaghetti as we know it plus Ferrio’s own style, which often included the utilisation of jazz undertones, and a more contemporary overall musical persona.  Which was also a style that was employed by fellow Italian Maestro, Piero Piccioni, the thing is that this way of scoring a western worked, and it gave the quirky and gimmicky productions from Cinecitta an even more distinct flavour and musical aura, the jazz elements not sounding out of place at all. Like many other composers involved with the scoring of Italian produced westerns, Ferrio would very often utilise a song as the opening track, it was at times thought that the use of a vocal was something that non Italian cinema audiences would welcome and in effect would make the music and the film itself more acceptable to the American market.

 

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It worked in the majority of cases but on occasion, it did fall flat and have no influence whatsoever, this was I think mainly due to the lyrics which were from time to time translated directly from the Italian into English, and this is when the saying it got lost in translation comes to mind. Prime examples of an Italian western song would for me be, FIND A MAN from QUELLA SPORCA STORIA NEL WEST by De Masi, ANGEL FACE from A PISTOL FOR RINGO by Morricone, I MUST GO from UCCIDI O MUORI by Rustichelli and DJANGO by Luis Bacalov. Ferrio had a style that maybe was not as grandiose or operatic as composers such as Morricone, Nicolai, De Masi and Bacalov to identify just four, but his style and the placing of his music in films was effective and memorable.

 

Ferrio also conducted the majority of his western scores, whereas other composers would from time to time have a conductor such as Bruno Nicolai, Gianni Dell Orso. Willy Brezza and Gianfranco Plenzio.  I would not say that the western scores of Gianni Ferrio were as powerful or as well structured as the work of say, Morricone within the genre, but they still managed to enhance and support the picture in question and became part of spaghetti western music history. Even though Ferrio would employ a jazz orientated style to many of the western movies he scored, he would also utilize instrumentation that we as a cinema going audience would associate with the genre of the western film whether it be Italian or American made. Harmonica, guitar, galloping passages and kind of home on the range sounding strings that were homely and laced with brass that could either be restrained, proud or racing and urgent.

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One of the best Ferrio western scores must be FIND A PLACE TO DIE, which is on a par with his soundtrack for PER POCHI DOLLARI ANCORA (FOR A FEW EXTRA DOLLARS). FIND A PLACE TO DIE however, is a score that combines elements of the Hollywood western score as realised by the likes of Bernstein, Tiomkin, Newman and Morross and fuses these with a more Spaghetti sound, plus there are elements that lean towards a faintly jazz style influence, and of course songs, yes more than one in this case. Both of which are good. JOE’ CERCATI UN POSTO PER MORIRE aka-FIND A PLACE TO DIE was originally issued on one side of a CAM LP way back in 1968 (MAG10.018).

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I still have a copy in my collection today, it was paired with Carlo Savina’s score for another western entitled JOKO INVOCA DIO ,,,E MUORI (VENGEANCE), that contained a song penned by Nico Fidenco. Ferrio’s music for FIND A PLACE TO DIE, is nothing short of stunning. It oozes with drama and is filled with numerous and varying themes. In my opinion it is the best of Ferrio as far as western scores are concerned. It is certainly a prime example of how this innovative composer added his own musical stamp to the Italian western genre and score.

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The quality of the music is testament to his inventiveness, and this can also be said for his soundtrack to another western, AMICO STAMMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO aka FRIEND STAY AWAY or THE BALLAD OF BEN AND CHARLIE which was directed by Michele Lupo in 1972. Looked upon by many as a new take on the TRINITY movies it starred Guiliano Gemma and George Eastman. Ferrio combined a pop sound with that of ragtime and jazz to realise an effective and entertaining score. One track DIXIEBAND resembling sections of Burt Bacharach’s THE OLD FUN CITY from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, the composer also integrated a more sinister and dramatic sound into the proceedings which contained certain elements of the spaghetti western sound.


But Ferrio was not a composer that would be influenced greatly by other composers contributions to the genre, he very rarely enlisted the whistle within the framework of his scores, and although choir did feature at times it was not ordinarily to the heightened degree of other Maestros such as Fidenco, Savina, Orlandi and their like. Although saying this there is a particularly nice cue on AMICO STAMMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO which features boys voices in the form of Y CON UNO DOS TRES, which concludes with baritone voices adding a touch of comedy to the work. Ferrio also includes an array of percussive instrumentation which at certain points is embellished by a fuzzy almost rock sounding electric guitar and breathy woods in the style of Lalo Shcifrin, which are more prominent in the cues, TEMA DI PERCUSSIONI and OSTINATO PATETICO. The score also had a sweet and romantic theme for the female character in the movie, with strings purveying a melancholy theme in the cue ADDIO SARAH. The soundtrack was issued on LP in 1972 by Cinevox records, and in later years received a re-release on the same label to compact disc.


Within this western score by Ferrio more so than others he penned we also hear the more melodic side of the composer and catch glimpses of themes or at least fragments of themes from non-western soundtracks such as LA CALANDRIA and to a degree THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND OF CAPTAIN NEMO. The composer utilising harpsichord flourishes to great effect in the more romantic and less dramatic sections of the score. A BULLET FOR SANDAVOL to contains an interesting score, released in 1969, and directed by Julio Buchs the movie starred Ernest Borgnine, the movie was also known as LOS DESPERADOS in Spain and Portugal. The score was a little more downbeat than other Ferrio westerns, with the composer utilising various percussive instruments and experimenting with brass sounds that were had an echo effect to them. There was also a sense of the grandiose purveyed in the action cues, with strings, brass and percussion being employed to create exciting and fast paced interludes. But, still there was a trademark sound beneath it all, with Ferrio’s use of breathy woods and percussion that are supported via harpsichord present at key points within the score. Spanish guitar too was brought into the equation which added a certain authenticity and melancholy to the work.

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It is certainly a more dramatic and less theme led work than the other western scores I have highlighted, although it does have its moments that are thematic. Originally issued on a Cinevox LP record the score received a CD release again on the same label, with a further expanded version of the soundtrack being made available in the mid 2000’s which included a handful of outtakes including a five-minute suite. Ferrio made some original and interesting contributions to the spaghetti western genre, FOR A FEW BULLETS MORE, FASTHAND, MASSACRO AL GRAND CANYON, EL DESPERADO, CALIFORNIA, DJURADO, and the excellent scores for PER POCHI DOLLARI ANCORA ( FOR A FEW EXTRA DOLLARS) (1966) which was co-written with Morricone, I say co-written but this was a Ferrio score with one composition from Morricone the majority of the score being undiluted Ferrio.

 

Check out the powerful opening theme entitled DIAMOND its breath taking, with its trumpet solo and commanding percussive support driving strings and flawless choral work. and UN DOLLARO BUCATO (ONE SILVER DOLLAR) (1966) which contained the song A MAN A STORY in which the composer utilised whistler, choir and a more traditional spaghetti sound if there is such a thing as traditional in the scoring of Italian westerns.

 

Ferrio was also responsible for the score for an early Italian/Spanish western which was a comedy, GLI EROI DEL WEST is probably a soundtrack that ONLY Ferrio completist would listen to let alone purchase, let us say that it was not just the comedy that did not cross over well to non-Italian audiences.

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Gianni Ferrio worked on many genres of movies in his illustrious career, with westerns making up but a small percentage, but this small number of scores within a genre that effectively altered the way in which the western was made in the future and also influenced the way in which music was used in movies, are a long standing testimony to his talent and evident gift for writing for the cinema and at the same time creating a style within a style.

 

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LOOKING BACK AT MORRICONE.

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Il Maestro Ennio Morricone has played such a profound part in nearly every one’s life. His music for the cinema is iconic and haunting, from the savagery and the raw energy of his scores for the Italian made western to the romantic and emotive strains of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, THE MISSION and the simple but affecting themes from CINEMA PARADISO. This composer deserves the title THE GENIUS as it is plain and simple that he certainly is.

 

I began listening to Ennio Morricone back in the mid-1960s I think I was around 11 years of age when I first discovered his music, and ever since have not tired of hearing it in the form of new compositions and of course the classics such as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, LOVE CIRCLE, COME MADDELENA, LA CALIFFA, IF THERE WAS WORK WHAT WOULD I DO?, DESERT OF THE TARTARS, WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS etc.

 

But it was the 1960’s that were the most fruitful and also the most engaging, with so many themes and scores making an appearance it was like it was something new had been written every day. INCONTRO, LA COSSA BUFFA, DEVIL IN THE BRAIN and so many more, filled to overflowing with a rich and vibrant sound that was inventive and innovative. As a composer he introduced many to the sound of the cinema and also inspired a whole new generation of film music collectors, composers and performers. Morricone’ distinct style at times I suppose verged upon the experimental and also the avant garde, writing as many atonal and dramatic pieces as he did melodic and thematic interludes. It was most certainly the music for the Italian western that brought him to the attention of cinema audiences, and also it was this genre and its music that many still remember him for, although the composer himself would probably disagree with peoples opinion as in recent years he has dismissed this part of his career apart from the Leone examples. When Morricone began to his cut their proverbial musical teeth as it were, there were so many other wonderfully original composers emerging onto the film music scene, and it was in the Silver age of the film score that the likes of Legrand, Lai, Barry, Williams and Goldsmith began to attract the attention of cinema audiences, critics and film music collectors alike. So, it is a testament to Morricone that his music stood out on occasion above the compositions of these his extraordinarily gifted peers. I was looking through my collection of Morricone, and I think the score that attracted me mostly then as it still does now was and is THE SICILIAN CLAN.

 

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It’s a score that I had on LP on Stateside records in the UK in 1970, (SSL 10307) and as soon as it was made available on compact disc by CAM in Italy I purchased it. Its also a score that has never been released as an expanded or definitive edition, probably because there was no more music available, it’s a short work, but one that makes an impact both on and off screen, its one of those scores that you can listen to and appreciate just as much, in fact if not more as stand alone music.
There have been a number of Compact Disc releases of the soundtrack, and some have improved marginally on the sound quality, not that it was inferior in any way, The central theme is an attractive and haunting one, the composer repeating a simple 4 note motif over and over, and adding to this strings that build into the beautiful ITALIAN THEME. The score is made up of themes for the central characters, each and everyone of them being vibrant and having to it a zestful and energetic musical persona. TEMA PER LE GOFF and TEMA PER NAZZARI E DELON etc, the composer was in my opinion at the height of his musical prowess during the mid to late sixties and into the 1970’s. Audiences had loved his western scores and were now beginning to appreciate that Morricone was not a composer that could be easily typecast, the Maestro creating soundtracks that would become classic and iconic examples of film music.

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METTI UNA SERA A CENA is another such example of Morricone at his most prolific, again a score filled to overflowing with rich and affecting thematic material. It’s a weird thing that when one listens to soundtracks by Morricone from this period, we hear so many themes within one example, METTI UNA SERA A CENA is a prime example of this, there must be at least nine principal themes. Which would be hard to even contemplate nowadays, as we all are aware that contemporary film music rarely contains a theme does it. The soundtrack was issued by CINEVOX on LP in 1969 and then later the soundtrack got a UK release on CBS in 1970 with the title being changed to LOVE CIRCLE. For this recording the tracks were slightly different and lyrics were added by Jack Fishman, whether Morricone was aware of this I do not know, but for these tracks the vocals were performed by THE MIKE SAMMES SINGERS, who at the time were associated more with the world of easy listening, I think the idea was that the songs HURRY TO ME which was a vocal of the central theme from the movie and FOOTSTEPS a vocal version of the cue UNO CHE GRIDA AMORE were both released on a single 45rpm would be big hits in the charts of the mid-sixties. The single was released on CBS as a promo for radio stations, on a white label with an orange A on it. HURRY TO ME being the A side, with FOOTSTEPS on the flip, the artist credited on the single was not Morricone nor was it Mike Samme but the name of BRUNO NICOLAI was used, of course Nicolai conducted the original score in Italy. The songs were credited to Jack Fishman and E Morricone, which was typical of Fishman as Roy Budd found out to his cost. I cannot be sure if this was ever commercially available as I only had the promo. In later years CINEVOX re-released the soundtrack onto CD with a version of HURRY TO ME performed by THE SANDPIPERS. The expanded version on CINEVOX is certainly the best release of the score, containing nineteen cues, and today remains one of Morricone’s most loved scores.

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L’ASSOLUTO NATURALE is another wonderful example of the work of morricone from the sixties, again released in 1969 on the CINEVOX label, it is another theme laden work, that is literally crammed with sensual, sublime and tantalising music, with each cue being of a quality that they could each easily be a central theme for a movie in their own right. Morricones easy going yet highly absorbing and effectual opening theme sets the scene perfectly for what follows, again it is an entertaining and classic work that became one of the key works of the Maestro in which he combines a rich and melodic air with slightly atonal pieces, the opening theme or at least elements of it running throughout the work acting like a glue binding the remainder of the soundtrack together.

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Another such score from the same year by Morricone was LA MOGLIE PIU BELLA or THE NICEST WIFE now correct me if I am mistaken, but I had this just as a single, with the main title on the A side and TEMA DI FRANCESCA on the B side, there was as far as I know not an LP of the soundtrack, but a compact disc was issued in the 1990’s on Cinevox which included fourteen cues from the score, although the movie was a violent one and the majority of Morricones score was action led and at times quite unlistenable away from the film, there were also some striking Morricone moments of melody present.

 

 

 

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THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE for me is yet another masterful score from Morricone, its childlike yet icy and disturbing musical aura purveys a sense of dread and confusion at times, the lilting melodies and serene sounding female vocal being comforting and safe, but all the time disguising the fact that there is violence and evil present. Released in 1970, this Italian Giallo directed by Dario Argento is a highly regarded piece of cinema, the soundtrack was issued on Capitol records in the U.S.A. and also on CINEVOX in Italy both albums containing eleven cues. Later editions of the soundtrack also released on vinyl contained the same cues with a few only having nine cues. This was Morricone at his atmospheric best, utilising eerie sounds and tortured and sensual female voice to create an atmosphere that was thick with menace.

 

STUDE

 

A score that in my opinion is always overlooked is DEATH OF AN IMPORTANT STUDENT, released in 1972, IMPUTZIONE DI OMICIDIO PER UN STUDENTE to give it its original Italian style, is a fest of Morricone magic, an upbeat and strong opening theme performed by Massimo Ranieri and a collection of great themes that make up an entertaining work, the original LP record which I still have was released on the CGD label in Italy, the soundtrack was not re-released until 1998 0n the Screen Trax label containing the same tracks as the original album, then in 2013 GDM also reissued the score. It’s a soundtrack that I have to say I do not listen to often enough, a gem from the 1970’s with some excellent choral work courtesy of IL CANTORI MODERNI and Alessandroni and I am of the opinion it is a key score within the Maestro’s extensive body of work.

 

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The final soundtrack I wanted to highlight is from the 1972 movie INCONTRO, this is a very different sound to that of the previous title, although strong it is more romantic and also has to it a greater abundance of fragility and emotion. The film tells of an affair between a young man and a married woman, Morricone’s romantic and lilting score brought much to the production, the central theme being a blue print for many other works that the composer would pen in later years, CINEMA PARADISO being one of these. Again, filled with a vibrant and overwhelming sense of emotion the music fills the movie and the composer paints us a picture of love Italian style. This is also another short score from the composer, its simple but affecting themes oozing quality rather than quantity. This is a must have soundtrack, but one that again can be overlooked.

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