IL DELITTO MATTARELLA.

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Composer Marco Werba is Maestro that has over a number of years has built up a reputation based on his deliverance of highly supportive film scores, in my opinion the composer has in the past two decades been responsible for creating some of the most entertaining film scores as in the music working as part of the film making process, with image and music working closely together, the music creating moods and atmospheres that ordinarily would not have been experienced if it were not for the composers intuitive and innovative use of music. One of the composers most recent scores is for, IL DELITTO MATTARELLA, which is released on Digit Movies, The, film which is directed by filmmaker Aurelio Grimaldi, is the fourth collaboration between the director and composer.

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IL DELITTO MATTARELLA is a tense and consuming drama, that is set against political and criminal backgrounds, and the score by Maestro Werba, is in a word excellent. I would go as far as to say that is probably the composers most accomplished work for cinema, but then again when one looks at and listens to the impressive and varied filmography of the composer, it is difficult to select just one film score as being a stand out item, because all of his scores are highly polished and brimming with outstanding compositions. The score for IL DELITTO MATTARELLA is a powerful one, and contains strident and sweeping thematic material, right from the offset we are treated to an intriguing and commanding musical persona that purveys a dark and forceful atmosphere. Fully symphonic as far as I can tell, the score contains gentle nods and bows to the style of the late Ennio Morricone, but there is also the distinct and wonderful style of Marco Werba a style that dominates and oozes a luxurious and inventive musical personality . It is a score that is overflowing with a rich and vibrant sound. But not all of the soundtrack is dark and foreboding, there is melody and also lighter moments throughout, with piano, cello, flute and guitar being featured as solo instrumentation on various cues. The flawless cello performance is soaked in emotion and melancholy and perfectly complimented by flute, that is gracious and affecting.

 

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Marco Werba

The instruments combining and fashioning a delicate and haunting tone poem that has to it a dark underlying sound, but at the same time is filled with fragility and apprehension. The composer combines and interweaves solo cello, piano and strings in SICILIA 1980, to create a sense of tension, and also utilises a small string ensemble that underlines and compliments guitar and cello in the cue INCONTRO 1 and 2. To choose just one cue within the score s being more prominent than the other, would be impossible, because the entire soundtrack has to it an imposing quality, and an attractive and entertaining style.  Recommended no question.

SOUNDTRACK SUPPLEMENT TWELVE.

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I must start with something of a negative observation about some of the recent release of soundtracks. I went through a lot of titles and I found it very difficult to pick out anything that I thought was remotely melodic or indeed verging close to being original or interesting. So as a result, the supplement this time might be a little brief. It’s a funny thing that there are two soundtrack releases in this instalment that are I suppose new releases but are taken from movies that were both originally released in the 1970.s. TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA by Ennio Morricone from 1970 is given a deluxe two disc release that contains the film score and also the remastered LP tracks.

 

 

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Then we have, MAN AT THE TOP from 1973. I have always liked the music of Roy Budd and when this was announced was really pleased that at last this score would be available. The style employed is I have to say typical of the sound and style that Budd utilised throughout his career. A mix of jazz, easy listening and the dramatic. I was also happy because it was to be a Caldera release, a label that have done Budd and many other composers proud in recent years. MAN AT THE TOP is certainly no exception to Caldera’s rule. The score is in my opinion superb and also in my opinion rivals the composers work on GET CARTER and other scores such as THE BLACK WINDMILL. Ok, GET CARTER was something of a ground-breaking score for the composer and it is also the soundtrack that always seems to be associated with him. But, I plead with you to take a listen to this latest Budd release, as I know that you will not only enjoy it immensely but will be left wanting more and return to it many times after the initial listen. The Main Title, for me has a kind of Barry-esque sound to it, the composer employing cymbalom in a slow and melancholy fashion. I always remember Budd’s stirring and attention-grabbing music for THE SANDBAGGERS where he also utilised the instrument, it’s a sound that instantly raises your attention, with the opening theme for this movie benefiting from its deployment in a subtle and sombre fashion. I have to draw comparisons to John Barry’s THE WHISPERERS in which Barry utilised a similar paced theme, Budd revisits the central theme a number of times throughout the score,  underlining the cymbalom performance with guitar and adding strings to support it and allow the theme to develop more. In the track THE JOURNEY CONTINUES, the composer again utilises the core theme and adds to this an upbeat tempo plus punctuates with piano, which although upbeat also purveys a mood that can be looked upon as being dark and threatening.

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The remainder of the score, is quite understated, with the composer providing easy going or lounge infused tracks that are jazz orientated, as in the cue BEDTIME, and also this is the style that is present in the cue INTO THE WOODS, although this does take on a slightly more dramatic or mysterious sound as the piece develops before returning to a melodious theme for strings that is filled with a romantic air.  There is also a pleasant sounding Bossa Nova, in which the piano takes the lead, the ambience and sound achieved for me resembles that created by Antonino Carlos Jobim, it has the sultry and polished style which we associate with likes of Jobim and of course Roy Budd. This is a soundtrack I would recommend that you check out. Presented well by Caldera and hopefully this won’t be the last Roy Budd treasure to be uncovered and released by the label.

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From a soundtrack recently released from 1973, to one that has also received a remastering and has been given its first official release onto CD by La La Land Records. TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA was originally released on MCA records back in 1970, and much later was issued on a compact disc which also contained Morricone’s score for DAYS OF HEAVEN, the disc which was on the Legend label from Italy, has always been seen as a bootleg, and one has to admit the sound quality on the release was not brilliant, but TWO MULES did come off far better than DAYS OF HEAVEN which was distorted and at times muffled. But, the Legend CD was better than nothing as they say. Thankfully, those lovely people at LA LA LAND records, have done Morricone proud with this release. We are treated to the film score tracks which are on disc one, plus on disc two a remastered bright and clear sounding edition of the LP tracks. Released just eight days after the death of Il Maestro Morricone, this I felt was a fitting and poignant tribute to a composer who invented so many sounds and styles, and also was prolific in his writing for film. The first disc opens with the film version of the main title theme, as always Morricone provided us with an interesting and also an innovative style, with guitar acting as a background to woods that mimic the sound of a mule, add to this a nuns chorus, and various wood instruments mimicking animal sounds such as birds like a chorus of wildfowl that eventually reaches a crescendo as the dark sounding string underline and rise leading into a full working of the central theme, which itself subsides and then tails off ending with just an uneven sounding guitar solo ambling till the cues conclusion. Track two, DYNAMITE, is a tense affair and was not on the LP release, this is the scene where Sister Sara is being molested by bandits, and Hogan. Clint Eastwood’s character comes to the rescue, dispatching them quickly and then to flush the last one out throws a stick of dynamite into the mix.

Morricone’s music is tense and jagged, with taught strings, virulent sounding woodwind, and strummed guitar and banjo being utilised to add even more tension. Track three is also a cue not heard on a recording before, SARA’S A SISTER is heard when we see Shirley Mc Laine in her nun’s habit for the first time and she attempts to bury the victims of Hogan’s bullets. Disc one is a superb release and contains twenty-one tracks from the score, which also include cues that were not used in the film, so this is a full representation of the Maestro’s score. It is wonderful to finally have this Morricone American made western score at last in full and on Compact Disc. LA LA LAND should be applauded for this release, it is an essential purchase, presented tastefully, with brilliant sleeve notes by Jon Burlingame, this is one that you must add to your collection ASAP.

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GREYHOUND is an Apple+ television production, and on seeing the first few teasers I thought this looks fake, I mean I know they cant actually use battleships etc, but surely the FX could have been a little more convincing? Blake Neely is a composer I have enjoyed listening to in the past, but sad to say on this occasion, I found the score too synthetic, to soundscape rather than soundtrack. Its made up of not drones but just sounds and layers of sounds which I felt were not musical enough, Ok yes some of the cues work within the context of the drama but I have to be honest and say I would not go out of my way to listen to it again.

 

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The score for JAPAN SINKS 2020, fares slightly better, but only a fraction, composer Kensuke Ushio has fashioned a more synthetic than symphonic score for this animated feature, and yes there are some nice moments within it, but again I was not impressed by the use of sounds, which are certainly not musical in any way. There are, however, some attractive piano performances on the score, but once again too electronic, too soundscape not enough melody or thematic material.

 

 

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To the film OPEN 24 HOURS next, a horror score by the unstoppable Holly Amber Church, now this is more like it, a real sense of the sinister and the malevolent is conjured within the music. Released in 2018, the score has only just been released, and I have to comment ad say it was worth the wait. This is a wonderfully atmospheric work, overflowing with apprehension and a foreboding but at the same time has a delicate aura that is woven throughout. The composers work always reminds me of Chis Young and also the early works of Marco Beltrami, the films She has worked on are very rarely big budget affairs, but that never affects the quality of the score that is produced.

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OPEN 24 HOURS is again a wonderfully rich and darkly driving work, from the composer. It has a mystical and mysterious sound within it, and also a relentless and unforgiving mood that is relayed via the sinewy and robust strings, the percussive and brass stabs which are elements that are in turn complimented by touches of melancholy and hints of fragility. Recommended.

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MONEY PLANE is a heist, thriller movie, which has an effective and pulsating soundtrack provided by composer, David Bateman, a fusion of both electronics and symphonic combine to create a score that is actually really good indeed. The composer realises a tense and nervous atmosphere via imaginative use of strings, that are punctuated and supported by percussion and guitar. The guitar solo in the cue SHARKS I felt was reminiscent of Beltrami’s guitar rift in the SCREAM movies, modern and bluesy, with a hint of Italian western. The score for MONEY PLANE is non-stop, its entertaining and runs at a fairly swift pace, thus remaining interesting throughout. It is also filled with themes which is something refreshing these days. If I had to compare the work with anything, I would say think, MOMENTUM by Laurent Eyquem.

 

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So, maybe things are not all bad for this edition of Soundtrack Supplement. Next up a score that you might have missed and again a soundtrack that is from movie released in the 1970’s. THE AMAZING MR.BLUNDEN is the work of Elmer Bernstein, a ghost story set in Victorian England. Released in 1972, the movie was directed by well known British actor Lionel Jefferies, who also directed THE RAILWAY CHILDREN two years previous. The score by Elmer Bernstein, was not typical of the sound or indeed that style that the composer had often employed in earlier films and TV shows, it was a more reserved and delicate sound that the composer utilised, creating lilting melodies and charming nuances that underline and also enhance the story as it develops. The composer using piano, woodwinds, strings and harp to fashion a quintessentially English sound, that is rich in melodic and thematic content, but at the same time oozing a mysterious air. The score was always on fans wants lists and was eventually released on compact disc by INTRADA records in October 2019. It is like so many releases these days a limited edition, so I wish you luck in tracking one down.

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Patrick Jonson’s score for THE LOST FOREST has some beautiful moments to it,  again it’s a score that is realised with synthetic sounds, but the composer handles these well and combines them in such a way that they have a soulful and grandiose sound, one knows they are samples and electronic instrumentation, but because of the way the composer uses all the elements fusing them and ensuring that each of them compliment each other, the end result is a score that is affecting. I loved his score for VIRUNGA back in 2015, which had heartrending passages and delicate compositions that were filled with melancholy, poignancy and raw emotion. Maybe check out THE LOST FOREST and while your there see if you can sneak a listen to VIRUNGA.

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With the passing of the great Ennio Morricone, I feel I have to maybe point you in the direction of something that he composed in 2016, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, THE CORRESPONDENCE, contains a emotional sounding score.

Like other Morricone/Tornatore collaborations, it has not only a poignant but beautiful soundtrack, but one that is filled with a feeling of things being right and as they should be. I realise that Morricone is always associated with Sergio Leone and is probably better known for his westerns scores than anything else, but his working partnership with filmmaker Tornatore, was in my opinion so special, the director and the composer, just seemed to know instinctively what was expected of them, images and music are as one and that is how it should be. Check out this masterpiece.

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IL MAESTRO ENNIO MORRICONE, MUSIC MEMORIES.

PART TWO.

SO MANY SCORES, SO MANY GENRES, SO MUCH ORIGINALITY.  

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As discussed in part one of the Movie Music International tribute to Ennio Morricone, the western was a genre of film which played a large part in the beginning of the composers career, But, whilst scoring these Italian produced westerns the Maestro was also busy creating sounds and styles of music that would complement and support numerous other genres of film. In Part two of the tribute we look at the many other genres that the composer was actively prolific within at the same time as he was working on Italian western scores. Because the western genre and the music of Morricone for this collection of movies was so powerful and different, many people at the time believed the composer was only capable of writing music for westerns. Which of course was not the case, Morrricone’s most fruitful period of writing for film was I would say between 1963 through until the mid to late 1980, s.

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So in this section I would like to attempt to highlight just a fraction of the work the composer did for cinema from his first full score onwards and but also include certain scores from the 1970.s that I consider to be an important part of the composers rise to popularity via his inventive skills. His scoring prowess was utilised by many on a plethora of movies all from varying genres. Morricone provided atmospheric, stirring and romantically laced works for so many Italian and then French and Spanish co-productions, many of  these were not big productions, in fact a number not being released outside of Italy for some years after their original release, they were essentially independent affairs with small or very limited budgets. Critics and fans at times refer to some of these films as soft porn, but I prefer the description of art house or maybe tasteful when discussing these. Either way they were different and for the most part hugely entertaining. The Giallo movie featured prominently within the  composer’s output which can also be said for so many Italian film music composers who were active at this time, if it was not a western they were scoring it was a Giallo or maybe a horror or crime caper.

 

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But like westerns the Giallo films although conspicuous in the composers canon, took up a very small percentage of his filmography, and like the westerns the scores he penned for Giallo’s were so outstanding, that it seemed as if he scored a lot more than he actually did.  Morricone had the edge on many of his fellow composers, because he possessed the ability to create simple themes that became popular and haunting as well as being an integral component of the film that they were written for, he also was not afraid to experiment with sounds and play around with orchestration and utilise sounds both musical and otherwise that normally would not have been associated with the genre, thus Morricone was an innovator and without knowing it created sounds and styles that would forever become associated with specific genres of film. So maybe we should begin with the Giallo and then move onto other types of movies.

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Giallo which translates as Yellow in Italian, was adopted from the yellow coloured covers of books that were published containing stories of mystery and murder and it followed that the Giallo name was applied to movies that were similar or followed the storylines to these books.

So is a Giallo movie a murder, a mystery a horror or a cop-crime drama? Well, I suppose each movie is different but most Giallo,s have elements of all of these as well as having ingredients that could come under the category of soft porn or of an erotic nature. The first Giallo or so it is documented was directed by filmmaker Mario Bava back in 1963, entitled THE WOMAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. From there the interest in these types of films and their unusual mix of plots and scenarios began to grow and attracted the attention of non-Italian audiences swiftly. As the interest in the Giallo movies increased so did the involvement of directors, writers, producers and composers who were keen to make their mark upon this new at times grisly, disturbing and risqué genre.

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A director that comes to mind straight away is Dario Argento, with his THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) for example. I do realise that Argento’s movies of note did not come to fruition until the early 1970.s, but I thought maybe start with Argento and the collaboration he enjoyed with Ennio Morricone. A collaboration that lasted until the end of the 1990.s and although Morricone did not collaborate with Argento on all of the directors movies, the examples he did score are arguably some of the filmmakers best contributions to the genre, with Morricone’s music adding chilling and unnerving atmospheres and also giving the production an apprehensive but at the same time memorable, and theme led musical sound.

REMEMBERING MORRICONE.

Ennio Morricone has been one of the most important composers of film music. My reference models were Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams but Morricone was also fundamental as a reference model for emotional melodic music and experimental avant-garde music. Ennio Morricone moved in different directions: First the classical studies at the Conservatory of St Cecilia, then the arrangements of pop music for singers such as Gianni Morandi, then the writing of music for films, alternating a “conventional” melodic style with an experimental style towards dodecaphonic and atonal music. In one his latest score, for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, which led him to win his second Oscar, was confirmed his “modern” streak and desire to look for new musical solutions.

I met Morricone many years ago together with the Sergio Bassetti, record producer.

Then we at his house together with his son Andrea. The works that I liked most are not those for which he is well known as “Once upon a time in America”, “The Mission” or “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”, but other less well-known works, which captured me for the emotional strength and the ability to “catch you” without being “too sweet “. I refer to “Il Prato” by the Taviani brothers (a beautiful and expressive Renaissance style theme),

 

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“Sacco e Vanzetti” by Giuliano Montalto (A heart-touching music and two beautiful songs performed by Joan Baez), “Orca” by Michael Anderson, (A very engaging music theme and effective dissonant music (for the underwater and dramatic scenes with the Orca), “Mose” by Gianfranco De Bosio (TV series with a very moving theme for choir and orchestra), “Addio fratello crudele” by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (Classy emotional music, with a Renaissance flavor), “The Thing” by John Carpenter (interesting collaboration for an excellent horror movie by director Carpenter, who usually also writes the music for his films. Morricone’s music integrates electronic musical ideas, in tune with Carpenter ‘s previous film scores, but adding a “human” side conferred by atonal interventions of the strings section), “L’avventuriero” (the Rover) by Terence Young (romantic music and dissonant compositions for choir and orchestra), “Days of Heaven” by Terence Malick (a beautiful movie with beautiful music themes), “L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo” by Dario Argento (extremely effective atonal music). For the western genre my favorite is “The Return of Ringo” by Duccio Tessari (a nice theme, also in a vocal version, and symphonic music), as well as the first ones of the series “Per un pugno di dollari“ and “Per qualche dollaro in piu”).

When I learned of Morricone’s death I listened to the music of “Il Prato” and I was moved. We have lost a really important composer.

 

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Marco Werba, Composer conductor, July 2020.

 

 

 

 

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Dario Argento’s masterpiece in my opinion is, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the score by Morricone is superb and has to it a smouldering, seductive and sensual air, the composer utilising female voice to great effect in both melodic and experimental ways. I remember buying the LP record which was on the Capitol label which was an American import. I think it was about the same time as THE SICILIAN CLAN became available on record on the Stateside EMI label. The score for THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE contained music that was so different from anything that had been heard before. Morricone’s soundtrack was like a stalking figure, an icy breath of death and contained a style and sound that we now immediately associate with something that is sinister or harrowing, which is again testament to the inventive mind of Il Maestro.

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He fashioned a menacing work with a sound that is both stressful and tense which clung to every frame of the film, underlining enhancing and also becoming part of the action taking place on screen, Morricone’s music in my opinion took on the role of another character within the movie, it was like the music was telling the watching audience the story and relating to them the torment and the terror via its  tantalising and unique audio.

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But, again the composer utilised a central theme entitled VIOLENZA INATESSA that was just the opposite to the violence and anxiety that was generated within many of the scenes in the movie, again a masterful move by Il Maestro, because at the start the audience were lulled into this false sense of security, what could possibly happen with this beautiful and charmingly childlike theme playing. The same can be said for the secondary theme that Morricone penned for the film, NON RIMANE PIU NESSUNO possess an easy listening or lounge music sound and is the personification of light and comfortable if there is such a thing in musical terms, again the audience are totally unaware what is about to hit them. The cue has to it a chilled samba style, with Il cantori moderni and Edda del Orso on the vocals, its guitar led samba beat could be something that one plays as background music when just chilling on a Sunday afternoon. CORSA SUI TETTI is the cue where we hear the first inclination that this could be a little more ominous, Morricone utilising percussion to great effect, a breathless female voice, muted trumpet, and a succession of la la la la.s performed by an unnerving collection of voices, that weave in and out of the cue. These can maybe be perceived as non-menacing, but the underlying effect becomes unsettling as if an unspeakable act is looming.

The breathless and gasping female voice is heard throughout the score and is effective and affecting as it makes the listener apprehensive, and also uncertain because one is not too sure if this a voice of pleasure or of pain and anguish. Meandering piano is also interwoven into the fabric of the score creating a tense and at times chaotic musical atmosphere. There is no doubt in my mind that THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE would have been a less knife edge mood filled movie without Morricone’s nightmarish sounding music. In many ways this was a pre-cursor for the Maestro’s excellent and inventive soundtrack to THE EXORCIST 2-THE HERETIC, as we can hear in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE sounds and phrases that would manifest themselves in this later work.

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THE CAT OF NINE TAILS or IL GATTO A NOVE CODE (1971) is another Dario Argento movie that is certainly worth watching, although at the time of its release it was not that popular in Europe, in fact it achieved more success in the United States, this is probably because of the cast as in Karl Malden and James Franciscus. The movie which is the second part of the directors sometimes called Animal trilogy, the other two movies being THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, also starred the attractive actress Catherine Spaak, and was adapted by Argento into a screenplay from a story by Dardano Sacchetti, Bryan Edgar Wallace and Luigi Cozzi. The title CAT OF NINE TAILS is no direct link to an actual cat or even the multi tailed whip that is sometimes referred to as this. Instead the title is a link to the number of positive leads that the main characters must follow to solve a murder. Argento himself was not a fan of the movie and has often said it is probably his least favourite work. The score by Ennio Morricone is again innovative and in many ways arguably more inventive than THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the composer employs sinister sounding choir and strings, with off kilter woodwinds underlining and punctuating the proceedings, his use of percussive elements is stunningly effective and he adds to this cracks, muted and straining trumpet, screams and shouts and various other vocal performances that are like musical stabs becoming harsh and discordant, but saying this they work well in creating a dramatic and unnerving atmosphere.

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Like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE the composer also introduces a melodic and haunting theme entitled NINNA NANNA IN BLU, this is performed by woodwind, choir and a wordless female vocal which is again Edda Dell Orso, the simple but beautiful melody is a pleasant and welcome respite amongst a soundtrack that is filled with tense and atonal passages. There is also present what can be described as spidery or shivering sounds that create a tormenting often vexing aura.

 

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In the same year as CAT OF NINE TAILS, Argento also brought to the screen FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. I thought this was a good gripping movie and the score that Morricone fashioned was perfect for the film’s storyline and scenarios.

The plot involves a drummer from a rock band named Robert Tobias, who is followed by a stranger, Tobias however turns the tables, or so he thinks and tracks the stranger to a deserted theatre, but on confronting him finds that he is armed with a knife, a fight ensues and Tobias kills the stranger in the heat of the struggle. Unbeknown to Tobias there is a third person at the theatre who has been taking photographs of the events, Tobias finds himself the victim of blackmail, but the blackmailer is not wanting money to keep quiet.

 

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Morricone composed a tense soundtrack and incorporated a rock infused style and sound into it. The work was filled with wild drumming and Hammond organ, that was laced with fuzzy rock guitar and an upbeat soulful male voice. The work has an atonal style with searing strings, choral work and heavy breathing from female voice in a similar style to that of his THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE soundtrack. Dark sounding piano and percussion join forces to create an ominous aura and these are supported and underlined by woods, strings and subtle use of brass, bass guitar and more percussion that mimics a heart-beat.

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From three classy Giallo’s which are now possibly cult movies, we move to more collaborations between Argento and Morricone, the first being In 1996 for the psychological horror movie, La Sindrome di Stendhal which starred the film makers daughter Asia Argento, The movie was the first Italian production that used Computer Generated Imagery or CGI.  I found the film and it’s subject fascinating and researched the condition further after seeing the movie. The film also featured performances from Thaomas Kretschmann and Marco Leonardi, Stendhal Syndrome is considered by many to be a true condition, which was originally discovered in Florence Italy in 1982. This I think is why the movie is so affecting and impacting, because this is something that occurs in certain people. The psychological condition is one that causes the subject to enter a fugue state displaying memory loss or a blackout, which is thought to be induced by the presence of a piece of art.

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The director has said that he himself experienced the syndrome whilst he was a child on holiday in Greece, he started to climb the steps of the Pathenon but was overcome by a trance that caused him to become disorientated and separated from his parents, which resulted in the young Argento becoming lost for hours before eventually being re-united with his Mother and Father.

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He never forgot this experience and was reminded of it even more vividly after reading the book by Graziella Magherini on which he based the screenplay of the movie.Ennio Morricone by this stage of his career had already composed the scores too many Giallo movies and collaborated with many esteemed filmmakers, Argento being among these. The composer drew upon his considerable expertise and abundance of inventive talent to create a suitably edgy, yet melodic sounding score. I think this is why Morricone’s scores in these types of films work so well, he would often include a childlike theme or sound or at least hints of these, and combine this simple and affecting idea with both eerie and anxious musical personas, the end result was music and sounds that tricked the audience into thinking all was well when in fact it was far from that.

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The composer was in fact informing the audience that things were probably not as they thought they were and to a point warning them that there was about to be a moment of violence or some other chaotic or startling incident.  In the score for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME the composers use of female voice in the opening musical statement sets the scene wonderfully for much of what is to follow, Morricone adds to the vocal performance nuances performed by woodwind and also harpsichord or celeste, that punctuate, extenuate and underline the soprano performance, thus when all the components are combined they create a haunting musical phrasing, which is maybe not that unsettling at first but soon purveys an atmosphere that is richly dark and deeply affecting, creating a mood that is filled with malevolent undertones and sinister connotations. The remainder of the score is more or less an extension of the notions displayed within the opening theme, the composer expanding or at times narrowing these. The composer adds more instrumentation such as a strained trumpet, which sounds  as if it is struggling for breath, this is further underlined by a scattering of brass with wisps of mysterious woodwind and strings that subtly rise and then take a sharp descent to create a sense of bewilderment and fear. Although the central theme is pleasantly repetitive, there remains a virulence and an underlying deep and sinister sound that clings on in the piece, which is why Morricone was and will remain the Master.

 

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In 1998, Morricone scored Argento’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. This would prove to be a very different PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that we were used to seeing on screen but remember this is Dario Argento so things are very rarely normal. The character of the Phantom in this version is not disfigured in any way apart from maybe his personality. It is Paris 1877 and a number of rats save a baby that has been abandoned and left to float down river. These rodents raise the infant in the underground tunnels that are below the Opera de Paris, the child grows into an adult and becomes Argento’s Phantom of the Opera, he murders anyone that dares to wander into the tunnels that are his domain, he treats the humans who dare to enter his subterranean world as they treat rats when they venture above ground killing them brutally and showing no mercy. Julian Sands plays the Phantom who falls in love with a beautiful young opera singer portrayed by Asia Argento, he hears her mesmerizing singing on stage one night and goes to her to tell her that her voice fills him with light and hope. After he leaves the girl, he speaks to her via telepathy, and the couple begin a romantic relationship. So, very different from any other version of the story. Morricone’s score is full of romance and a lush vibrant sound, his heartrending themes ingratiate and support the movie, adding to it a greater sense of romanticism. Sadly, it is probably a score that is at times overlooked, but it is one of the Maestro’s most gracious and is filled with rich and vibrant thematic material having to it a charm and reverence.

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From the ground-breaking directorial skills that we associate with Dario Argento, we move to an American movie which was much anticipated, because its predecessor THE EXORCIST had gone down in cinema history as being the most frightening movie ever made. However, THE EXORCIST ll-THE HERETIC was not scary in that sort of way, the acting was a little frightening as in it was terrible, and the direction too lacked any real fluidity with the storyline lacking in substance, filled with flaws and gaping holes. The cast included Richard Burton no less and also Linda Blair who reprised her role as the troubled Regan. The best thing about the movie was the score, Morricone was well aware of the trouble and the controversy that had surrounded the music for the first movie, but took all of the factors into account and produced a soundtrack that was a mix of styles and sounds both atonal, melodic and ethnic.  The central theme REGANS THEME is classic Morricone, lilting strings, female voice and choir, its infant like sound not only being attractive but at the same time creating an atmosphere that was uncertain and chilling.

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Morricone’s score is a triumph and considering the movie is probably one of the worst ever made, the composer’s soundtrack has survived away from the images of the movie. At times it is a complicated and difficult work to listen to away from the film, but it is still an accomplished work. Cues such as INTERRUPTED MELODY which boasts a romantic violin solo, that is aired three times within the score, the composer adding female voice to one of the arrangements, giving it an even more melancholy and fragile sound.  Then there is the opposite sound of the raw and jagged PAZUZU, both different but also both being the highlights of this score. The track NIGHT FLIGHT is a somewhat mad and frenzied piece, screams and shrieks dominate the composition, with Morricone employing percussive elements and whips cracking and lashing throughout. THE HERETIC won no applause from the critics for cinematic prowess, but the affecting soundtrack remains an accomplished and noteworthy work from Il Maestro.

 

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Staying with horror but going back to the 1960’s and also to Italy for the next example of Morricone’s ingenuity and musical excellence. NIGHTMARE CASTLE aka-THE FACELESS MONSTER starred Barbara Steele and Paul Muller. Directed by Mario Caiano and released in 1965, this was a horror in the style of Mario Bava, with Steele and Muller playing lovers who are discovered and killed by Steele’s husband, but they return from the dead to cause all sorts of problems in a bid to have their vengeance. Morricone provided a serviceable score for the production, with a surprisingly melodic soundtrack, the opening theme for the score, is piano led and is the original arrangement of the theme which Morricone re-orchestrated and re-used in the 1967 Anthony Quinn, Rita Hayworth movie THE ROVER or THE ADVENTURER which was directed by Terence Young. The haunting theme is given a concerto like performance, with the remainder of the score utilising sections or fleeting glimpses of the theme  as well as gruesome sounding organ performances, the central theme re-occurs throughout the work, but is given fresh and vibrant arrangements each time it is utilised.

 

 

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It is this theme that becomes the foundation of the score, Morricone building upon it and layering in more atonal moments as well as mysterious and dramatic content, at times the score has to it a sound and style that we do not ordinarily associate with Morricone during this period of his career, this is certainly a more full on and dramatic based work, again the use of voices conjure up a deep and disturbing sound, that is underlined by more conventional instrumentation in the form of solo piano and a small string ensemble.

 

REMEMBERING MORRICONE.

I have been aware very early of the music of Ennio Morricone: his great themes and lyrical writing have been a strong influence for me and one of his scores is among my favourite’s his fantastic yet less known Mission to Mars score – among many others. There are too many highlights in his prolific career to be mentioned here, and they all have their strong and timeless personality. He was one of the great composers, a true unique voice in film music and will be sorely missed.

 Composer, Maximilien Mathevon.  July 2020.

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Science Fiction too was a genre that Ennio Morricone excelled in, his score for MISSION TO MARS being both dramatic and melodically excellent. MISSION TO MARS was released in 2000 and was the third and final collaboration between Director Brian de Palma and composer Ennio Morricone. The film focuses upon a rescue mission that is sent to Mars to find out what has happened to a previous expedition to the red planet and hopefully bring back any survivors. The film was not that much of a success at the box office, but I cannot understand why this is, I found it to be an entertaining movie and the score that Morricone penned is one of his most harmonious and affecting emotionally. The composers use of fragile yet commanding themes is key to many of the movies scenes and at times the music tells the story rather than the images or dialogue, there was a saying I heard early on in Morricone’s career that he composes “Music For The Eyes”.

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Well this is certainly true in the case of MISSION TO MARS. The score invites the audience into the world of the rescue team, it beckons the audience to investigate and explore the mysterious planet, and it also enhances and ingratiates the entire movie. A HEART BEATS IN SPACE is a beautifully crafted cue, and one which opens the soundtrack recording.

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The style here is of the classic Morricone, which the composer fuses with the style that he employed in assignments such as De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES and CASUALTIES OF WAR, it is romantic but also dramatically powerful having to it an almost operatic persona.

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It’s one of those scores that mesmerizes and entrances the listener, with fragile and delicate nuances introducing and building to grand expressive thematic crescendos. It contains a number of tracks that are what can be referred to as slow burners, the composer adding instrumentation as he guides his composition to its climax, fashioning simple but truly inventive and touching pieces.

 

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Staying with Sci Fi and a movie that probably did not get more than a handful of positive reviews L’UMANOID aka-THE HUMANOID is a totally barmy space adventure, and was an attempt at cashing in on STAR WARS and other STAR WARS clones that were doing the rounds at this time. Released in 1979, this is definitely a case of the music being far superior to the film it was composed for, it’s a surprise to me that during this stage of his career as to why Morricone became involved in such obvious box office flops, this I think is worse than STARCRASH, but the inferior quality of the movie did not stop Morricone fashioning a superbly atmospheric soundtrack. At least Morricone did not attempt to mimic the sound created by John Williams for STAR WARS as John Barry did for STARCRASH failing miserably. The film incidentally starred Richard Keil, who had become popular via his roles in the Roger Moore Bond movies playing the infamous Jaws.

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 L’UMANOID is in fact a very good score, and its also a soundtrack that I would recommend that you listen to away from the film, the composer combines both symphonic instrumentation with electronic and synthetic support which results in a dramatic and melodic work that is enhanced further and given greater depth and stature by the inclusion of electronics. The stirring opening theme, is splendidly powerful and forthright, the composer introducing the piece with electronics that build with gathering percussion into an introduction for commanding brass, that I always think resemble ODE TO JOY but maybe that’s just me. The highlight cue on the soundtrack has to be ESTASI STELLAR which includes a heart-breaking violin solo, that is equal to the composers work on the later CINEMA PARADISO, its another one of those Morricone themes that begins quietly and is an unassuming piece, and then suddenly fills with emotion and swells with poignancy, and totally overwhelms and absorbs the listener.

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It is a soundtrack I could sit and listen to over and over and never tire of it, it has a certain quirky persona to it, but Morricone created some beguiling themes for this less than entertaining motion picture.

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ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE is sadly another movie that was less than welcomed by critics and cinema goers a like, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling it is one of the many movies that attempted to cash in on the success of JAWS and although the film did have some thrilling moments it was a case of the Killer whale out-acting the main players. The only saving grace being the atmospheric and beautiful score that was composed by Ennio Morricone. Atmospheric as in supportive of the action scenes and beautiful because of the haunting Orca central theme. A theme which is given a number of varying renditions, including the vocal version performed by Carol Connor. The film was edited or censored badly when first released which certainly never helps matters, especially if the movie is not exactly Oscar material in the first place,  Morricone’s music helped a little to prop up the production, but can a good score save a bad movie, NO! I think the answer is in this case. The score contains numerous tense and dark sounding cues, which are done in the true Morricone tradition, the composer adding a greater depth to the scenes unfolding on screen, and also bringing some sense of credibility to the movies somewhat thin plot. Television presenter Chris Kelly in the UK was so impressed with the score for the film, that he featured a section of the movie which included Morricone’s music on his show called CINEMA back in the late 1970’s, mentioning Morricone by name, which in those days was very rare.

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Compared with scoring movies it was not that often that Ennio Morricone ventured into scoring TV series, but when he did the results were always effective, and I am not talking of his CHI MAI theme from MADDALENA being used for a BBC series, but original scores and themes for television. GOTHIC DRAMAS, was a series produced in 1977, and directed by Giorgio Bandini, the series was aired by RAI UNO and achieved mild success at the time of its broadcast. Morricone had worked in TV before GOTHIC DRAMAS, and during the 1970’s he was responsible for writing the titles music for the American TV western THE VIRGINIAN which had undergone something of a facelift and was re-titled THE MEN FROM SHILO. The composer also scored the mini-series MOSES THE LAWGIVER in 1975, which became essential viewing throughout Europe. The production was quite lavish for television, with companies from England and Italy collaborating to bring it fruition, Burt Lancaster starred in the title role.

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GOTHIC DRAMAS was split into four episodes, these went under the titles of KAISERSTRASSE, which was based on stories by Hans H Ewers. MA NON E! UN VAMPIRO? (BUT IS SHE A VAMPIRE) Which was constructed around a Sicilian fable written by Luigi Capuana; LA CASSE DELLA STREGHE (THE HOUSE OF WITCHES) based upon three works by H.P LOVECRAFT and DIARIO DI UN PAZZO (DIARY OF A MADMAN) which was an adaptation from the works of Gogol. The scores that Morricone created for the series cannot really be described as being rich in thematic content or filled with lush musical passages, on the contrary the Maestro wrote a largely atonal score for each episode, it also took on the guise of a somewhat modernist and slightly Avant Garde sound and style, which is a style that is often purveyed in the concert music of the Maestro. Morricone produced an interesting set of soundtracks for the series, each one different, but at the same time containing a sound and distinct musical persona that we associate with the composer which linked all four scores together. The music was as complex and perplexing as the scenes and stories being acted out on screen, underlining, and punctuating each sinister and heart stopping moment. But as always with most Morricone soundtracks there are a handful of less fraught pieces, which act as a calming interlude in a plethora of malevolent and at times eerie cues. These include, LA STRADA DELLA FOLLIA, which is from KAISERSTRASSE, this part of the score opens with an enchanting and mesmerising choir, which has a fragile and beguiling sound to it, the voices being complimented and augmented by the subtle use of harp that is plucked delicately and sensually, creating an atmosphere that is warm and safe.

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The voices soften and eventually melt away, leaving the harp to pick out the central theme that was introduced by the choir.  Also, within the score for KAISERSTRASSE the composer utilises a music box effect, FUORI DALLA REALTA, this is a simple melody, that is embellished by the use of voices, together the two elements are angelic in their initial sound, but at the same time the simplicity and subtlety conjure up a sense of unease. KAISERSTRASSE also includes a barrel organ effect, or maybe a hurdy-gurdy sound, which if I am correct most would associate with a circus or fun fair, but in the hands of Morricone it takes on a more sinister and evil persona, suggesting to anyone listening to the recording that all is probably not well, or as it should be. The effect is recorded with an echo, so it becomes even more of a threatening and foreboding sound.

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The cue entitled PIOGGIA on KAISERSTRASSE is a harrowing and icy sounding piece, performed by harpsichord which undulates in and out of the composition, creating a spidery and otherworldly effect, this is underlined and laced with short sharp stabs and fleeting notations performed by woodwind and strings that are fused with a chiming effect, together they create an uncanny sound that is not only unsettling but one that evokes a mood of desperation and overwhelming apprehension. The second score that is represented on the recording of the soundtracks for the series is from MA NON E! UN VAMPIRO?, this section opens with a theme that I am told opened each of the episodes, this instalment of the series is the only one out of the quartet of films that has any background information available, so maybe this was the most popular? A gentleman, Giorgio, marries a widow and everything as they say is as it should be, the couple have a child, but the boy becomes ill wasting away as if drained of life itself, then the widows dead husband returns from the grave, and it is clear he is the cause of the child’s illness. Giorgio sends for a friend Mongeri who is a scientist that dabbles in vampire hunting! Mongeri dispatches the dead husband by burning him and everything returns to normal, then Mongeri meets a widow and marries and the scenario begins again. The music for this episode is a mixture of styles that include chaotic string performances, choral work and atonal sounds and stabs, but there is also some fragile and beautifully crafted cues for solo violin, violin that is flawlessly performed by Dino Asciolla, who Morricone had turned to before and also continued to work with, Asciolla performed the stunning violin solos for the score to the RED TENT in 1969.

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The performer is also featured in the third score HOUSE OF WITCHES, his performances being fused with chimes, plucked harp, driving tense strings and choir, that are in turn further embellished by harpsichord, solo voice and the sound of a female soprano gently exhaling combined with a shimmering or tinkling effect that makes the listener literally shudder.  The fourth score, DIARIO DI UN PAZZO (DIARY OF A MADMAN) is a score that literally purveys the sound of madness, the harrowing use of voices within the piece is superbly done and is literally insane sounding music. Manic shrieks, tortured voices, laughs, half heard whispers, piercing screams and hysterical crying all come together in a chaotic and mind-bending piece which runs for some 12 minutes, I would not recommend listening to this in a darkened room or alone as it would probably spook you severely. GOTHIC DRAMAS is a look into the highly original and innovative musical style of Ennio Morricone, who we all know was a composer that was not afraid to experiment and push the musical boundaries to the limit, and when he did he successfully enhanced images on screen and at times also created new musical genres.

 

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It is probably only when one sits down and looks at the filmography of Ennio Morricone and also his music for concert hall performance or Absolute Music, that one realises just how great this composers output was, and also indeed just how much he has influenced so many people and not just composers either. Wading through the lists of soundtrack releases and also the directors that he worked with during his illustrious career is quite a lengthy and staggering process. So, from the Horror, the sci-fi and the Giallo we now move to other genres of film that the composer was active within and also genres that he excelled in (so all of them really).

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It was during the period from the 1960’s through to the early 1980’s that it seemed Morricone composed at least two scores a week, that is how great his output was, or that’s how it looked to many collectors. Obviously he did not score two movies a week, but because of release dates and scheduling, the films and the soundtracks all seemed to be released at the same time, so it was at times difficult for collectors to keep pace with the releases. And let us not forget that many movies were released late outside of Italy and this was the same with the soundtracks. There was a rumour circulating in the late 1960’s that Morricone had what was referred to as a library of already prepared scores, which he had written, and would select a score that he thought would be suitable for a certain project.  Again, not true, I think when a composer, director or even a writer becomes this prolific there are bound to be stories that pop up here and there most of which are fantasy. I can recall going to The Arts theatre club in London and buying soundtracks from Michael Jones, who had a great selection in the foyer of the club. SOUNDTRACK was probably one of the first retail soundtrack specialists who also did mail order, and I am of the opinion without people such as Michael at Soundtrack and later 58 Dean Street and John Yap who set up That’s entertainment records in London, we as collectors would have struggled to get our Morricone or indeed soundtrack fix. This is when Morricone soundtracks became popular, which was as we all will agree mainly due to his Italian western scores. But there were many other Morricone scores finding their way to the London shops during this period, METTI UNA CERA A CENA for example, or LOVE CIRCLE as it was entitled outside of Italy.  THE SICILIAN CLAN, CITTA VIOLENTA, LA DUE STAGIONE DELLA VITA, DEVIL IN THE BRAIN, LA COSSA BUFFA, HE AND SHE, SEASON OF SENSES, QUEIMADA, TEOREMA, THE RED TENT, ESCALATION, MALAMONDO and so many more.

 

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So, where to start? Probably at the beginning is a good idea, IL FEDERALE (1961) is looked upon as the composers first full score for a motion picture. In the same year the Maestro scored a TV project entitled ALL’A SCOPERTA DELL’AMERICA, and two shorts, VERRO and VICINO AL CIELO. IL FEDERALE or THE FACIST was a French and Italian co-production directed by Luciano Salce, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and starred ,Ugo Tognazzi . The movie did not receive a theatrical release in the UK and the United States until 1965, which is why many were unaware that Morricone had scored the film, many Morricone fans outside of Italy were under the impression that his first film was A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. IL FEDERALE is not a typical Morricone score, although there are certain references and little wisps of orchestration that would become familiar in later scoring assignments. The Maestro fusing a martial sound with hints of comedic interludes.

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The music for the movie was in fact quite simple, and in places used sparingly. Morricone again collaborated with IL FEDERALE director Luciano Salce in 1962 on the movie LA VOGLIA MATTA or CRAZY DESIRE AKA- THE CRAZY URGE. The movie which was a comedy starred Ugo Tognazzi and is the film credited for launching the acting career of Catherine Spaak, the film was banned by Italian censors initially until they had made what they thought to be appropriate cuts. But even then the movie was thought to be too much for children under the age of fourteen.  Morricone’s score is superbly luxurious and easy going, with beautiful lilting themes that are given a pop orientated sound with clever instrumentation and smooth and appealing thematic content.

We hear for the first time a distinct sound or style that would develop further during the next two or three years. The score also contained a soaring female soprano and a handful of what are source music cues, as well as a romantic sounding song LA TUA STAGIONE which was performed by Male and Female vocalists, the female vocal version in my opinion having the edge and coming across as a sensual and sexy number.

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Again, in 1962 Morricone and Luciano Salce worked together on LA CUCCAGNA- AKA- A GIRL IN A MILLION. The soundtrack was basically a collection of Italian pop songs, with Morricone providing a few instrumental cues, but the songs were all arranged and orchestrated by the composer and he is also credited as having written them. As Italian pop songs from the 1960’s go these are pretty entertaining and have to them the sound and the style that we associate with this era, containing a distinct upbeat tone at times, with electric guitar, percussion and bass being utilised alongside romantic sounding strings, and other vocals having to them a definite crooner element. The instrumental score for me resembled more the style of Nino Rota or even Mario Nascimbene who of course Morricone had arranged film scores for. 1962, was also the year in which the composer collaborated with director Camillo Mastrocinque on two movies, I MOTORIZZATI and DISCOTTENI AL SOLE.

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In 1963 Morricone again collaborated with Luciano Salce, on LE MONACHINE or THE LITTLE NUNS,  it tells the story of two nuns who go on a mission to Rome to ask pilots to stop flying their aeroplanes over the convent where they live, because the noise and vibration from the planes are causing cracks in a sacred fresco. A thin plot but a passable comedy, which starred Catherine Spaak and Didi Perego. The soundtrack was released on the CAM label on an LP record and later a compact disc was released at first on CAM as part of the CAM SOUNDTRACK ENCYCLOPEDIA, and then an expanded version was made available.

It is a pleasant score, with several attractive melodies scattered throughout and as always was supportive and enhancing of the film and its storyline. Again, the composer utilised the music sparingly, but this I think was the charm and the attraction of the score.

 

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1963, was the year in which Morricone scored his first western, DUELLO NEL TEXAS, and also worked on the comedy, IL SUCCESSO for filmmaker Dino Risi, as well as writing the soundtrack for the drama directed by Lina Wertmuller entitled  I BASILISCHI.

 

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Morricone on Morricone.

“All music comes from another and far deeper place that exists beyond the real world of man”.

Ennio Morricone. (from his book LIFE NOTES) © 2016.

(published by Musica e Oltre).

1964, was a landmark year for the composer, he scored ten movies in this year and a documentary I MALAMONDO (FUNNY WORLD). It was the year of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and yielded some inventive work from Morricone that included, EL GRECO, I MANIACI, IN GINOCCHIO DA TE and PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE the latter being directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. In my opinion I MALAMONDO was probably the most inventive score from that year, not including A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The composer creating mad cap sounds, frantic Bossa nova beats and luxurious sounding romantic themes. Even now when I listen to I MALAMONDO I find it entertaining, and although there is a kind of sixties pop vibe to the majority of the score, it is one that stands out within Morricone’s body of work for film, this was the beginning of the Morricone sound, the start of an age of film music that was to develop and progress and will endure for centuries. I MALAMONDO has so many highlight cues that it would be difficult to single out any as being superior to the other, we are treated to the attractive PENSO A TE with its inviting electric guitar solo, and the harmonious and haunting trumpet solo both of which are underlined with percussion and laced with strings to give it a romantic and endearing musical persona. The upbeat and richly percussive L’ULTIMA VOLTA, with choir and sprightly sounding organ, again laced with strings and punctuated by electric bass and vibrant piano with the core theme being manipulated and performed by electric guitar, which itself is supported by flyaway and wistful strings. This is the sixties sound of Ennio Morricone. Plus, the romantically led QUESTI VENT’ANNI MIEI and devastatingly affecting SOSPESI NEL CIELO. Which are both arrangements of the IL MALAMONDO central theme.

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1965, showed no let up in the creative and fertile musical flow of Il Maestro, he worked on eighteen movies in this year, and aswell as two Ringo westerns, directed by Duccio Tessari and a second dollar film FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE the composer also collaborated on BATTLE OF ALGIERS with Gillo Pontecorvo, and worked once again with Luciano Salce this time on SLALOM. The composer also scored HAWKS AND SPARROWS-UCCELLACCI E UCCELLINI for Pasolini. Which contained rather unusual main title and end title themes, where the credits were sung by Domenico Modugno. Inventive as always, the remainder of the score was certainly original, with certain phrases and nuances glimpsing through that we would hear many times in future scores.

 

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I PUGNI IN TASCA or FISTS IN POCKETS is a powerful movie and Morricone’s atmospheric soundtrack assisted in creating many of the moods and atmospheres that were crucial to setting the scenes for this interesting drama. Directed by Marco Bellocchio, and starring Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora and Marino Mase. It was the first movie both written and directed by Bellocchio, and although I do refer to it as a drama, the film also has to it eerie and horrific attributes. Morricone’s score superbly underlines each and every one of the scenarios within the film and elevates them to a greater height giving them more impact, the haunting female voice that is underlined by sharp or jagged piano and harp which are in turn augmented by female choir, purveys a chilling and uneasy air.

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Although only mid-way through the 1960’s Morricone had already established himself as a composer of great talent and also a composer that was able to adapt and fine tune his musical prowess to score any genre of movie. 1966 was a year that displayed this with the composer hitting new creative apex’s with his scores for THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and SVEGLIATI E UCCIDI-WAKE UP AND DIE. The latter being a crime drama directed by Carlo Lizzani. It contained a strong score from the Maestro, and an infectious title song performed by Lisa Gastoni, which was given a handful of instrumental outings, each of which being fresh and innovative, with Morricone arranging and orchestrating them differently for maximum effect. The music is filled with driving and brooding thematic quality, the composer utilises breathy woods, electric guitar and bass, with solo trumpet featuring alongside pounding percussive elements and wordless female voice which is powerful and sensual. One of the highlight cues for me is UNA TROMBA A DALLAS, this incorporates pop driven guitar, percussion and choir which are a background to a stunning trumpet solo. This style of performance and composition was to become the mainstay of Morricone in later scores such as TEOREMA (1968) and VERGOGNA SCHIFOSI in the same year.

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1967 had its moments, with Morricone working on GRAND SLAM, ESCALATION, GARDEN OF DELIGHTS, GRAZIE ZIA and many more, it was also in 1967 that Mario Bava brought to the screen, DANGER DIABOLIK, which starred John Philip Law, and contained the song DEEP DOWN. The film was pretty bad, I think even the Maestro would admit this too, but the music is better. With the composer serving up a fusion of dramatic and up-beat sounds, that at times were easy listening tinged with a rock or pop beat. Either way the music is far superior to the story being acted out on screen.

 

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In 1968, Morricone penned twenty six film scores, it was the year of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN, ECCO HOMO, EAT IT, HEART OF THE MOTHER, THE RED TENT,H25 and METTI UNA CERA A CENA- AKA- LOVE CIRCLE.  This more than any other Morricone score epitomises the sixties, it is a soundtrack that is literally overflowing with rich and vibrant themes, there are just so many, that it is hard to take in on one sitting.

 

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The album was originally issued on Cinevox records, and subsequent other editions appeared in the UK, there was the version on CBS, which we are told contained vocals and choral work by The Mike Sammes Singers, after Jack Fishman wrote lyrics to the two central themes of Morricone’s now classic score, HURRY TO ME and FOOTSTEPS were released onto a single in 1969 in the UK, it is possibly one of the most listened to non-western Morricone albums, the opening theme being one that is now regarded as iconic and one which the Maestro always included in his concert performances of his film music. The original release and the score features, stunning performances from Edda Dell Orso and Il Cantori Moderni, with Alessandro Alessandroni providing a flawless Sytar performance. The film is an erotic drama, or art house sex romp that is stylish and polished. Directed by Guiseppe Patroni Griffi it focuses upon glamourous individuals, the perfect people, who are dressed in high fashion and take part in perverse sexual encounters to satisfy their needs. With the storyline circulating around a writer who has become famous played by Jean Louis Trintignant, who fantasises about his wife (Florinda Bolkan) having an affair with his bi-sexual friend (Tony Mustante). What Trintignant does not know is that his wife and friend have been having an affair for years and have enlisted a third party for their illicit sexual adventures, an actor and a poet played by Lino Capolicchio who at times makes love to Florinda Bolkan in a dark but luxurious basement draped under a Nazi Swastika. Morricone’s score is sublime, it is flawlessly beautiful and perfectly uplifting.

 

Another score from Il Maestro in the same year was VERGOGNA SCHIFOSI or DIRTY ANGELS, which was an unusual but compelling movie, and contained a uniquely inventive soundtrack.  With wordless vocals provided by the wonderous soprano Edda and catchy and upbeat choral work by Il Cantori Moderni, this is a score that is bursting with melodious excellence, it is superbly luxurious and richly thematic and probably amongst the Maestros, top ten film scores, but classic FM, Will never admit this. 1969, was one of the composers most fruitful years as far as innovative and inventive goes, those two words we use a lot when discussing Morricone, but how else does one describe his prolific output and his abundance in talent. Just a glance at the composer’s credits for 1969, and one instinctively knows that there are more iconic scores in this twelve-month period than probably any other within his career. Titles such as, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, GOTT MITT UNS, QUEIMADA, THE SICILIAN CLAN, METELLO, A BRIEF SEASON, LADONNE INVISIBILE, I CANNIBALI among them.

Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto) (1970) [Ennio Morricone]

 

I remember seeing INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION on TV in the UK on BBC2, and straight away was drawn in by not just the images that were appearing under the opening credits but the music, Morricone’s uneven but at the same time haunting theme adding atmosphere and setting the mood before an actor had come onto the screen or one word of dialogue had been spoken. The scene where Gian Maria Volonte who is Rome’s chief murder investigator plants clues at a murder scene, is scored with the central theme or at least an arrangement of it, which in a musical way explains the sequence, it also underlines, punctuates and supports, adding to it a sense of apprehension, and also seems to allow us a little glimpse into the mind of Volonte’s character.  The inspector portrayed by Volonte is due to be promoted, and on the eve of this promotion he pays a visit to his mistress played by Florinda Bolkan, and whilst there, murders her by cutting her throat, he then goes about purposely planting clues that are linked to him, his theory being that he is far too important to be even considered as the murderer even though all the clues point to him. His idea that he is too powerful to even be challenged and above all suspicion. And even though he plants so many clues they are ignored, and another man is wrongly accused for the murder. Directed by Elio Petri, this is a film that once started cannot be stopped or interrupted, the acting, photography, Direction and music work together and bring to the screen something that is not just entertaining but thought provoking. 1969 also gave us the soundtrack for the French crime film THE SICILIAN CLAN, Morricone’s score is yet another example of a soundtrack that can be enjoyed in the movie and also just as much away from the images, the simple but effective four and five note motif that the composer utilises is a stroke of genius, so simple yet so haunting.

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The inclusion of the jaws or Jews harp puts a distinct sounding slant on the proceedings, the score is basically made up of themes for the central characters within the movie and works incredibly well. The movie directed by Henri Verneuil, is probably not one of the film makers greatest but the plot moves along at a brisk pace and keeps the audience focused. Morricone bases his score upon what is called the ITALIAN THEME, and this can be heard at various stages of the movie and appears in a number of varying arrangements, the most prominent being as the films Main theme, performed on piano that is joined by electric guitar and given a brisk but not too fast percussive backing, the four then five note motif establishing itself before being enhanced further by the string section, which play a counter melody creating a stunning and somewhat romantic sounding theme.

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The remainder of the score is a triumph of thematic writing, every track every composition, is outstanding. The work features atmospheric whistling from Allessandro Alessandroni, and has to it an upbeat but dramatic feel, again one of his best.

 

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QUEIMADA is a movie from director Gillo Pontecorvo, it was thought by many to be based upon true historical events, but in fact it is a totally fictitious story. The film starred Marlon Brando, and Morricone’s score is an epic and at times unconventional work.

 

 

Again, the score supported as well as evoking a higher level of atmosphere within the movie, at times the music creating the various moods within the film and relaying the sense of elitist imperialism and the desperation of the inhabitants of the island. When the movie was released in the UK it received very mixed reactions, most of which were negative, this was partly due to the way in which the film had been edited, the story appearing as disjointed, and having no fluidity because of numerous unsympathetic cuts.

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So, we have explored a handful of the Maestro’s soundtracks and the movies he penned them for. In part three we will explore further the music he composed for movies in the 1970, s and also look at his music for the 1980.s. Taking into account his then ongoing partnership, friendship and collaboration with Sergio Leone on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and also looking at his work with Brian De Palma and Roland Joffe on films such as THE UNTOUCHABLES, CASUALTIES OF WAR,THE MISSION, VATEL, AND CITY OF JOY. Also, his blissful and evergreen collaborations with Guiseppe Tornatore will be explored, with scores for films such as CINEMA PARADISO, L’UOMO DELLE STELLE, THE LEGEND OF THE PIANIST, MALENA, and THE CORRESPONDENT. Plus, THE THING with John Carpenter.

 

(C) John Mansell 2020. 

IL MAESTRO, ENNIO MORRICONE. MUSIC, MEMORIES and CREATING A MUSICAL GENRE.

PART ONE.

THE WESTERN. 1963 TO 2015.

ENNIO EARLY

On July 6th 2020, the world lost one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Maestro Ennio Morricone passed-away peacefully at dawn in a clinic in his beloved city of Rome with his wife Maria at his bedside. Morricone who was 91 years of age had taken a fall at his home the week before and was hospitalised with a fractured femur. Although we as admirers of this great Maestro knew that this day had to come, as is does to us all, it was still an immense shock. And I think that is why I never wrote anything until today which is an entire week after his passing, but it is still incomprehensible that the Maestro is no longer with us.

 

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Only two years ago I saw him in concert in London, and although he admittedly looked frail and tired by the end of the concert he was still there on the podium conducting and giving his adoring public what they wanted, which was sometimes referred to as music for the eyes. I for one have been listening to the music of Ennio Morricone since 1965, I was just ten years old when I first heard the whistling theme for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and then later the iconic music he composed for Leone’s second western,  FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the Epic THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. I as a young boy could not have imagined the delights that lay ahead, the discoveries and the inventive and exquisite music that he would produce.

 

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I could also not have imagined meeting the likes of Franco de Gemini and Alessandro Alessandroni the men behind the sounds of the Harmonica on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and the whistling, guitar and choir on so many of Morricone’s scores. It is without any doubt that it is his western themes that he will be remembered for amongst the wider cinema going public, but we as collectors and fans of IL MAESTRO, know too well westerns made up a very small part of his output and also that there is far more to this prolific composer of film scores and concert music.  His music not only underlined and supported every movie and TV show he worked on, but it caressed them and elevated them to become seemingly better movies than many of them were. The composer’s inventiveness and innovative musical skills had the ability to make a poor movie good and a great movie outstanding. So where do you start with a composer such as Morricone, well I think that maybe he would even agree that we have to start with his western scores.

 

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There were a few rules when you were given your golden ticket that allowed you to interview the Maestro, you never entered his study, which is where he worked and composed both his classical and cinema music for. You also never referred to him as Ennio, (why would you) he was and still will remain Il Maestro, The Master, The Genius.  Also, when discussing his film score’s, you never ever called the westerns Spaghetti westerns, Spaghetti was a food stuff and had no relationship with music or westerns. Sadly, this rather cruel name or label for the Italian western genre is an expression I have heard a lot in the past seven days from some who frankly should know better.

 

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Ennio Morricone’s first western soundtrack was for the 1963, Italian/Spanish co production GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS or DUELLO NEL TEXAS which was directed by Ricardo Blasco under the alias of Richard Blasco. The score was a very simple one and also one that really did not stand out as being particularly original, it contained a number of Americanised musical clichés, which even included a title song A GRINGO LIKE ME that itself was performed in a very Frankie Laine style, being more akin to the sound of the Hollywood western scores of the 1950’s. With lyrics that included KEEP YOUR HAND ON YOUR GUN, DON’T YOU TRUST ANYONE, THERE.S JUST ONE KIND OF MAN YOU CAN TRUST, THAT’S A DEAD MAN.  However, it was a serviceable work, and one that is returned to many times by collectors, and when you listen to the work closely there are glimpses of the sound that he would achieve in later western scores.

 

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From 1963 through till 1964 Morricone worked on approx.; fourteen more movies before being offered another western, BULLETS DON’T ARGUE-LE PISTOLE NON DISCUTONO, is one of my favourite Morricone western scores, and contained the haunting vocal LONESOME BILLY, I think I mark it as an important and entertaining work because it came just before A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but the sound that the Maestro created was totally different from the raw and quite sparse sounding soundtrack he would write for Leone’s first sagebrush saga.

 

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1964 was a landmark year for Morricone, this was the period when he began to become noticed, mainly because of his music for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS but also because of the body of work that he was accumulating in the film music arena, it was also in 1964 that he scored movies and other projects such as the documentary by director Paola Cavara entitled  IL MALAMONDO or FUNNY WORLD which is a score that displays the composer’s versatility and also his boundless inventive and slightly eccentric style.

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Other movies he worked on in the same year included, FULL HEARTS AND EMPTY POCKETS for director Camillio Mastrocinque and TWO ESCAPE FROM SiNG SING and THE MANIACS which were both directed by Lucio Fulci. Originally Sergio Leone had not wanted Morricone to score A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, he had heard the composers music for DUELLO NEL TEXAS and thought it to be to ordinary and bland, he was looking for something different, new and fresh, Leone had already turned to another composer to provide the music for the movie, which was Franceso Angelo Lavagnino, who had worked on numerous movies in Italy. Leone, however, began to work on a number of ideas with Morricone. One of these was to utilise the song PASTURES OF PLENTY which the composer had already recorded with vocalist Peter Tevis and had arranged it for the artist when he was at RCA records. But Leone suggested that the composer provide an instrumental arrangement and replace the vocal with a whistler, the rest as we all know is history, the whistler being Alessandro Alessandroni and the choir on the soundtrack being IL CANTORI MODERNI, which at Morricone’s request had been expanded for the score.

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Alessandroni touched upon this in an interview I did with him some years ago.

“I was in Rome doing a television show called CANZONISSIMA. Morricone telephoned me and told me that he had been asked to compose the score for a western film which was directed by Sergio Leone, this turned out to be A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Morricone asked me if I would play guitar on the soundtrack and also he needed me to whistle as well; of course I said yes. Morricone suggested that the choir be enlarged, so we added more vocalists making the choir 12 strong, and this is how IL CANTORI MODERNI was born. I am told that Nora Orlandi had been involved on the score, but I think that this might have been before Morricone was asked to compose the soundtrack. After this first collaboration with Morricone, I worked with him on many occasions and as you know on all types of movies, the choir was also expanded further after this and increased to sometimes 16 members, depending on the requirements of the score”.

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In 1965 Morricone went back to the western genre scoring A PISTOL FOR RINGO and THE RETURN OF RINGO both directed by Duccio Tessari. These two movies contained wonderfully thematic soundtracks, and also two songs that have become favourites of Morricone connoisseurs, ANGEL FACE being the vocal version of the theme from A PISTOL FOR RINGO   with the Vocalist on that song Maurizio Graf returning for its sequel performing the slightly harder edged title number from THE RETURN OF RINGO.

 

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At the time of the film’s release the songs were issued as single 45rpm records, with a vibrantly colourful cover. Which was something that would become the norm in later years when the Italian western genre began to establish itself and the music from them became more and more popular, very often the covers depicting scenes or posters from the movies, or publicity photos of the vocalist dressed up in cowboy outfit. A PISTOL FOR RINGO and its sequel have since they were originally released become cult movies, and for many are in the same league as the first two Dollar movies. Morricone’s scores are too highly regarded, with the second film having a more grandiose sound and containing an epic feel within some sections of the music.

 

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The songs from both of the Ringo movies contained elements of the pop music that Morricone was involved with before concentrating upon film music. Again when he was an arranger at RCA and worked with a handful of popular Italian artists of the period of the late 1950,s through to the early 1960.s, such as Gianni Morandi. Which he continued to do as well as scoring movies during the 1960.s providing memorable musical accompaniments for the likes of Mina and Jimmy Fontana.

 

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It was also in 1965 that Morricone was re-united with Director Sergio Leone on FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The second film in Leone’s first trilogy was more ambitious than the first, and so too was Morricone’s score, conducted by Bruno Nicolai because by this time the composer had become so busy, it had to it a more developed and even more inventive musical persona. Morricone employing the unique soprano voice of Edda Dell Orso, as well as the distinct whistling of Alessandro Alessandroni on the title track and in other scenes that featured the Clint Eastwood character Manco and again IL CANTORI MODERNI were in attendance to create the extraordinary choral performances. The score too had that chiming watch theme, which was more than just a tune on the soundtrack but was an integral part of the movies story-line.

 

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Morricone fashioned the simple chiming melody that would act as a connection between two of the central characters El Indio and Colonel Mortimer. The chimes also acted as a sign that there would be a gunfight or a settling of accounts the chiming watch opening the proceedings and then as it wound down would also be the sign to each protagonist to draw their pistols. The third outstanding piece on the score was THE VICE OF KILLING which featured Edda Dell Orso and Il Cantori Moderni.

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In 1966, Morricone penned his iconic theme for THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY, but this was not the only western that the Maestro scored in that year. It was a busy 12 months for the composer, and included SEVEN GUNS FOR THE Mc GREGORS, NAVAJO JOE, THE BIG GUNDOWN and THE HILLS RUN RED.

 

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The latter I feel is such an underatted work and a score that is at times overlooked by many. Directed by Carlo Lizzani under the alias of Lee W Beaver, this was a great romp of a western tale which Morricone matched and underlined with a brass led theme that was bolstered and given greater atmospheric quality via the earthy and unique voice of Gianna Spagnulo.

 

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THE HILLS RUN RED was essentially an Italian western but also contained several trademarks, themes and banalities that had become synonymous with American produced cowboy films from the time and also from the previous decade. This was also the first western produced by the ever-industrious filmmaker Dino De Laurentis.  Lizanni is probably best known for directing Hollywood heavyweight actor Rod Steiger in THE LAST DAYS OF MUSSOLINI (1977-also scored by Morricone) and for helming a few lesser known Italian movies including the marginally successful western REQUIESCANT in 1967. Morricone’s score for THE HILLS RUN RED is outstanding and although not as epic sounding as THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY is a triumph of film scoring which lends its considerable musical weight to the proceedings, and ensures that one will not forget this movie easily simply because of the score.

 

SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGregors was in essence a rip-roaring swashbuckler of a western, with fights and action galore but very little story-line, it did spawn a sequel which was released in 1967 entitled SEVEN BRIDES FOR THE MCGREGORS which was also scored by Morricone. Both movies were shall we say less than worthy of the Maestro, but still he fashioned scores that stood out, the first of the two containing a rousing march with vocals performed by IL Cantori Moderni and also containing a fast paced piece entitled SANTA FE EXPRESS.

 

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Sadly, neither score has yet seen a complete edition release, but some cues have found their way on to various compilations. 1966 also saw the release of LA RESA DEI CONTI  or as we know it THE BIG GUNDOWN, this is probably the most accomplished non-Leone western and in many opinions Morricone’s best western score. It is literally brimming with inventiveness and filled with vibrant and robust thematic material. Directed by Sergio Sollima who Morricone would collaborate with many times, it is part of what is looked upon as a trilogy of film’s, which includes THE BIG GUNDOWN, CORRI UOMO CORRI, and FACCIA A FACCIA. Morricone scoring two out of the three, the second title, CORRI UOMO CORRI being the work of Bruno Nicolai, but that is something that remains a mystery as in interview Sergio Sollima claimed that the score was composed by Morricone.

But it is a case of if you were not at the sessions then who knows who scored what. However, according to singer Peter Boom who performed the vocals on the CORRI UOMO CORRI soundtrack, Morricone did conduct the score, whilst Nicolai was next door at the forum studios conducting Morricone’s score for the film PARTNER on which Boom also performed vocals. So was it Nicolai or was it Morricone who wrote the score for CORRI UOMO CORRI, well I suppose we can take some comfort in knowing it was not Geoff Love. THE BIG GUNDOWN was released in cinemas outside of Italy as a B feature and was screened alongside the rather awful Dean Martin spy spoof, THE WRECKING CREW,(which ironically had a score by Hugo Montenegro) the version of the film that was screened was edited badly and also cut further by the British censors, it was not until years later that we could see the full version of the movie when it was finally released onto DVD. Morricone’s score positively shines throughout the movie, with the scene where Cucillo is being hunted being particularly memorable. Morricones use of choir, Edda del Orso’s flawless voice, thundering percussion, animal sounds and strident strings all build to a driving brass workout of the central theme, which in a word is brilliant. The score also contained a powerful title song performed by Christy entitled RUN MAN RUN (CORRI UOMO CORRI) which too has become a firm favourite amongst Morricone devotees.

 

Staying in 1966 and moving to NAVAJO JOE which was directed by Sergio Corbucci, and starred Burt Reynolds in the title role. The film was a particularly violent affair, and in the opening scene we witness Navajo women and children being massacred and scalped in plain view. Morricone matched the savagery of the film’s images every step of the way utilising a shrill scream or a succession of these to highlight the brutality of the movie’s story-line. The music was filled with some amazing vocal work by Il Cantori Modern, and featured the gravely and powerful voice of Gianna Spagnulo, with the theme containing thunderous percussion that underlined and punctuated the chanting voices which together acted as support for a striking electric guitar performance. The composer also made effective use of percussion and solo voice performances throughout the score, at times relaying a sense of sadness and mysticism in a handful of cues that purveyed a sound which paid homage to the Native American Indian. NAVAJO JOE is a score that I personally return to many times, simply to marvel at the inventive content of the work.

So 1966, was also the year of Leone’s final instalment of the Dollars trilogy, THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY is as we are all aware a triumph of film making, and we see Leone as more of just a filmmaker here, he is a historian, ensuring that the attention to detail was precise. Set in the times of the American Civil war this is the most involved and arguably the best of the Dollar films. Leone turning to Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach to portray his unholy trio. As the tag line for the movie says, FOR THREE MEN THE CIVIL WAR WAS,NT HELL. IT WAS PRACTISE!  There have been many theories as how Morricone came up with the now iconic theme for the film, Alessandro Alessandroni spoke of this.

 “There were many stories circulating at the time about how the sound came about, some saying that the composer had based them on animal noises such as Coyotes and Wolves, others suggesting that Morricone had got the ideas by listening to native American indian chants, but I can honestly say I do not know how they were conceived. All I know is that the work was all from Morricone”.

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But there was far more to this score than the central theme, Morricone provided Leone’s western with a plethora of thematic material, in fact so many themes that it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that they are all from one score. THE ECSTACY OF GOLD and THE TRIO being stand out grandiose sounding compositions which are heard at key moments within the movie, but then we hear the subdued and almost calming THE SUNDOWN, that too has apprehensive elements, and the cue entitled THE DESERT, which when listened too actually dries the throat and makes one crave water.

 

 

This is Morricone at his best when scoring a western, the music too like in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE transcended the element of being just a background score, it became integral to the film and vital to the development of the story-line of the movie, to the point where the music took on the persona of another character. The theme for the movie was covered by many recording artistes, these included Hugo Montenegro, who achieved a number one record in the UK with his pop orientated version, LeRoy Holmes too covered it as well as devoting an entire side to one of his LP records to the score from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Henry Mancini also recorded a cover of this and other Morricone themes, and in later years Quincy Jones put his own distinctive stamp on the classic western theme, but although all contained various qualities, none of the mentioned artists did it like Morricone.

 

Remembering Morricone.

I met Ennio Morricone twice: the first time I was a student and he was already a legend; the second time that we met was at the press conference of a festival where we were both conducting: I was a young conductor and he was an even greater legend. 

I do not think there is a soundtrack composer who can honestly say that they have not to be influenced in any way by Morricone. The quality and the quantity of his work will remain a target that my generation will never reach. Certainly, he has been the right man at the right time and his outstanding career will serve as a testimony as to what a strong will can do.

 

Thank you, Maestro.

 

Vito Lo Re. (composer, arranger, conductor) Italy: July 14th.2020. 

 

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1967, was just as busy for Morricone as the previous year, in fact it was probably even more so but not with the scoring of westerns so much. He scored just three in this year, DEATH RIDES A HORSE (DA UOMO DA UOMO) directed by Giulio Petroni, FACE TO FACE (FACCIA A FACCIA) directed by Sergio Sollima  and THE HELLBENDERS (IL CRUDELI) which was the work of filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. All three being accomplished but uniquely different works. Out of the three I would say that IL CRUDELI, is probably the lesser known. Again, a case of it being overshadowed by the popularity and success of the Dollar films and of the more high-profile westerns that were released at the time. Morricone’s brooding and at times dark sounding work contains a certain amount of melancholy and is not a work that has a theme that I would say is as memorable as many of his other western soundtracks, nevertheless this is again a quality addition to the composers impressive musical cannon.

 

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Remembering Morricone. Composer Richard Band recalls a meeting with Morricone during the sessions of HELLBENDERS which his Father Albert Band produced.

 

It was 1967 when I was around fourteen years old that I was fortunate enough to be living in Rome, Italy when I walked onto a scoring stage at Fona Roma post production studios to witness the orchestral recording of a score for one of my father’s films. It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but I was introduced to the composer and his two assistants while I marvelled at the fantastic music being recorded for my father’s western. It would be a couple of years later that I was reminded that those three gentlemen were Ennio Morricone and his two writing associates.


While I was more of a young “Rock & Roll” musician at that time it wasn’t until returning to the US in 1971 that I began studying music formally and was lucky enough to get my first scoring assignment for a film in 1978. I was so excited to be recording it in London with an orchestra but It wasn’t until that flight to London that I FINALLY realized how much of a MAJOR influence that original recording session I had witnessed fifteen years earlier had had on me. It was life changing! So here I am now, 52 years and a composing career later to say, Grazie Maestro Morricone and ………thank you dad. May they both rest in peace”.

 

Composer Richard Band. U.S.A. July 7th 2020.

 

 

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Although the western was not uppermost on the work schedule of the composer in 1967, he remained in demand for numerous other genres of film. DIRTY HEROES, GRAND SLAM, THE GIRL AND THE GENERAL and LISTEN LETS MAKE LOVE all being composed in this year, but these are titles we will look at in part two of this tribute.

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To 1968 and the western score became a more prominent feature again in the composer’s workload. He would collaborate with director Sergio Corbucci twice in this year, plus he would score westerns for Petroni, Leone and French film maker Henri Verneuil. And it is the Verneuil movie I would like to begin with, GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN which although is nearly always classed as a Morricone western score and a film that is within the western genre, was in my opinion more of an adventure or historical period piece which just happened to be set in Mexico during the mid-sixteenth century.

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Based upon the novel A WALL FOR SAN SEBASTEIN by William Barby Farherty, the making of the film was considered by many these included  British born Ken Annakin who wanted French actor Alain Delon as the lead, but this was before Henri Verneuil finally took the directorial helm. The cast was an impressive one with Anthony Quinn, Charles Bronson, Anjanette Comer, Sam Jaffe and Jaime Fernandez. The musical score is in my opinion one of Morricones most accomplished and romantic sounding western or western influenced soundtracks from this period of his career, and dare I say it, was a more developed and inspired work than many of his earlier works within the genre, but it is also a very different film from say, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

The exquisite LOVE THEME from the movie is the foundation of Morricones score, this central thematic piece acts as the foundation on which the composer builds the remainder of his work.

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The gloriously melodic theme becoming a soaring and unique listening experience, with the distinct and flawless vocals of Edda Dell Orso making a powerful but at the same time emotional impact. Morricone’s score for GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN in my humble opinion rivals his work on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, it has the rawness and the savagery of the Italian western sound but also has to it a poignancy and heartfelt persona that oozes an emotive and affecting quality which at first stuns and then eventually mesmerizes. Obviously, the movie although being an entertaining one is not in the same class as ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but the music excels throughout adding depth atmosphere and emotion to the proceedings.  The action cues from the score are more akin to the composers sound and style on NAVAJO JOE with dark and dramatic piano forming the foundation of many cues on which the composer constructs a jagged and commanding composition that is a collaboration of brass and strings, with urgent woodwinds adding much to the atmosphere. There are also similarities to the NAVAJO JOE score, in the tracks that underscore the YAQUI Indians within the film. As well as the unique voice of Edda Dell Orso, there are commanding performances from Gianna Spagnulo and excellent choral work performed by IL CANTORI MODERNI, this is classic Morricone.

 

 

The two movies that Morricone scored for Corbucci in this year were THE GREAT SILENCE-IL GRANDE SILENZIO and THE MERCENARY-IL MERCENARIO both are excellent examples of the Italian produced western, with THE MERCENARY belonging to the political western sub-genre or Zapata western within the Italian western collective of movies.

IL GRANDE SILENZIO, is for me personally one of the great Italian made westerns, everything about the movie is polished and it is in my humble opinion probably the best non-Leone made western that has been produced within this genre. Unlike so many Italian made westerns THE GRAND SILENCE a French-Italian co-production was filmed in Italy in the Dolomites and not in Spain, it is set in a snow-covered landscape rather than an arid and dusty one or the mud laden location as in Corbucci’s earlier movie DJANGO.
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The cast is impressive with the lead being taken by French actor Jean Louise Trintignant who plays the part of mute gunfighter named Silence. The movie also starred Klaus Kinski who as always was excellent as the villain LOCO the leader of a band of bounty hunters. The love interest was provided by actress Vonetta McGee who made her debut in the movie. Plus, there were some familiar faces in the form of Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. Trintignant’s character is pitted against Loco and his killers as he defends a group of outlaws who are hiding out in the hills and a vengeful widow played convincingly by McGee.

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The musical score too is outstanding, Morricone applying a soft and highly themeatic approach at times, and again we have the scenario where a softer sounding soundtrack is instrumental (forgive the pun) in making the moments of violence and action even more shocking and affective. The composers opening credits theme in-particular is soothing and calming RESTLESS as it is entitled accompanies Trintignant’s character as we see him riding through the snow-covered landscape with the credits appearing on screen. Strings, Choir and percussion combine to create a haunting melody that is given various outings throughout the movie in differing arrangements. It is in some ways like GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DUCK YOU SUCKER filled with haunting melodies, that are not only supportive of the images on screen but affecting and memorable. Alessandroni also performs Sitar within the score, which is an unusual instrument to utilise on a western soundtrack, but this is the inventive genius of Morricone we are dealing with, Sitar, harp and choir combine at times to create stunning fragments of themes that are a delight.

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THE MERCENARY is a popular example of the Italian western, with Franco Nero Tony Mustante, Giovanna Ralli and Jack Palance, as I have said it is a politically slanted tale and in many ways works on the same levels as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (which Morricone worked as a supervisor on to Luiss Enriquez Bacalov) and to a degree DUCK YOU SUCKER.  The score which is a collaboration between Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, but is primarily the work of Morricone, opens with a pulsating and highly infectious samba infused composition that is introduced by slightly discordant sounding brass flourishes that are supported and enhanced by shouts and shrill whistles and punctuated by percussion and harshly strummed guitar, this introduction builds to a crescendo of sorts and gains momentum as it segues into full on, fast paced and aggressive samba beats which act as a background to flyaway strings that purvey a sound that is full of patriotic Ferber with Mexican sounding choir embellishing and carrying the composition along.

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BAMBA VIAVACE is an energetic and highly charged piece that is a perfect opener for the score and sets the scene for what is to follow. The score for IL MERCENARIO is basically a collection of themes, which relate to the main characters within the movie, it is a clear and effective use of the leit-motif style of scoring which Morricone utilized within many of his soundtracks for Italian made westerns, the opening cue being the theme that accompanies PACO the poor peon who is elevated to a Simon Bolivar status with the help of a foreign Mercenary. Morricone and Nicolai taking it to a greater and more prominent degree within this assignment.

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ESTASI is the first time that we are introduced to the theme that accompanies Franco Nero’s character the Polish mercenary the Polack, which is heard almost every time he is on screen or is about to enter the scene, Alessandroni’s distinct  descending whistle is introduced by a single strum from a guitar and then is interrupted by an upbeat organ solo that is accompanied by guitar, this combination plays out a section of what will become the theme for Curly the villainous and sadistic character portrayed wonderfully by Jack Palance, this theme soon evaporates and we return to a whistling solo which on this occasion ascends the musical scale and then further establishes the Mercenary theme punctuated by echoing percussion and sporadic castanets with underlying strings adding depth and further substance to the composition.  The first of the Mexican vocal tracks that appear on the soundtrack which are in effect source music IL MERCENARIO (Sueno Mejicano 1) is a very laid back almost lazy sounding vocal, there are two other vocals on the disc. IL CANTO A MIA TIERRA (song to my land) and IL MERCENARIO (sueno Mejicano 2).

 

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The theme for Franco Nero is the foundation of the score and Morricone and Nicolai fashion the remainder of the work around this, creating what is now regarded as a veritable masterpiece from the genre of the Italian made western.

As well as the central thematic material for the main characters the score contains a sprinkling of fiesta or Mexican mariachi flavoured cues with a Vienesse style waltz making an appearance in FIESTA (Valzer) which was used for the wedding of Paco and Columba (Giovanna Ralli). The score ends with a crescendo of a composition IL MERCENARIO (L’ARENA) which is heard during the final showdown between Curly and Paco in a bull ring, with the Polack acting as a referee of sorts.

 

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Alessandroni’s distinctive whistle, Soaring trumpet, strident and infectious sounding strings combine with choir and electric guitar to make this a classic piece and a  powerful one that enhances the scene and creates tension and drama. 

 

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Another western that was produced in this year was SKYFUL OF STARS FOR A ROOF-E PER TETTO UN CIELO DI STELLE was directed by Giulio Petroni, and starred Giuliano Gemma and Mario Adorf. The films story-line focuses upon a chance meeting between two drifters, who soon become friends and travelling companions, however the character portrayed by Gemma is being pursued by a deranged killer and his band of cutthroats who feel the need to settle some outstanding scores.

 

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Because of this the other drifter played by Adorf, is also hunted by the band of murderers, the movie is basically a chase western, with Gemma and Adorf’s characters being hunted throughout the west, and experiencing numerous trials and tribulations, until the band of outlaws finally track them down and the outstanding debt is settled once and for all in true Italian western style. Morricone’s score reflects the savagery and relentless pursuit of the band of killers, whilst also has to it elements of melancholy and comedic content that accompanies the two central characters. The work employs banjo and the whistling of Alessandroni alongside choral work and raw and strident strings that are punctuated by brass and percussion. It is a score that although known by Morricone followers is also one that at times does slip under the radar and is probably a work by the Maestro that is not referred to enough.

 

 

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Remembering Morricone.

“Ennio Morricone was a revolutionary from the Cinema, a beacon for all subsequent generations of musicians who have approached the seventh art, indicating the path of solid preparation and rigor as the only possible way to make a significant contribution through the sounds to a film.

I would never have even imagined my profession if as a boy I had not discovered the revolution of Ennio Morricone who forever changed the grammar of the relationship between music and images in a film.

His music had been eternal for a long time, which rarely happens when alive. If not to those who compose absolute masterpieces, which are born immortal” 

Remo Anzovino. Composer Italy July 10th 2020.

 

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1968 was also the year that Sergio Leone unveiled his Masterpiece of a movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. This is probably the most ambitious film that Leone had up till that time been involved with, and Morricone too created a score that is of masterful and mesmeric proportions. Often referred to as Leone’s opera where the arias were stared and not sung. This is I suppose a more polished and classier type of Italian made western, the cast was top-notch, with Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards heading the bill.

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It is true to say that Morricone played a massive part in helping to bring this project to the screen in the way that the director had intended with a score that was soaring, eloquent but also savage and dramatic. The music played an even greater integral role than the Morricone/Leone partnership had called for before and went way beyond the integration of the chiming watch theme in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

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The harmonica theme was vital to the movies story-line and accompanied the mysterious Harmonica character throughout the movie. The story included several flashbacks, which by the end of the film all became clear to the watching audience. There were four themes within Morricone’s work, The Harmonica theme as we have already said, Jill’s theme for the character portrayed by Cardinale, Cheyenne’s theme for Robards, which kind of parodied the music of the old Hollywood westerns, as in a clip clopping sound that was a background to a lazy sounding banjo and whistle and the theme for the villain which included the use of distorted and fuzzy sounding electric guitar, which is heard firstly as the Mc Bain family are massacred at the beginning of the movie, the gunshots ring out and we see three of the Mc Bain family fall to the ground fatally shot. The youngest member of the family a boy comes running out of the house to see what has happened as Morricone’s theme bursts into full flow, we then see a group of men approaching, the same me we know are the murderers of the family.

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The music rises and becomes more strident and Anthemic with a wailing harmonica also joining the proceedings as the camera pans across and round to the face of the central figure of the group, which to horror of many is Henry Fonda sporting his piercing blue eyes. It is said by Fonda that Leone cast in in the role of the villain Frank because he was an actor who normally had portrayed the good guy more often than not in his movies, and the director knew that the sight of Fonda in a long duster coat and two days face stubble would completely throw the audience adding greater impact to the scene.

 

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This is classic Morricone, and also a film and score that probably saw the Italian western come of age and start to be taken more seriously than before.

 

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MORRICONE AND LEONE.

 

After the success of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Morricone became in even more demand from film makers, and in 1969 he scored twenty-three movies, however just two of these were westerns. TEPEPA, directed by Giulio Petroni and THE FIVE MAN ARMY which although an Italian production was directed by Don Taylor. The latter starred Peter Graves and Bud Spencer and is still looked upon as a fairly weak addition to the genre, many referring to it as a Western version of Mission Impossible, which was probably a reference to Graves appearance and his less than noteworthy portrayal of the character The Dutchman.

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Morricone’s score certainly did not disappoint, the opening theme itself being text-book Italian western music if there is such a thing. Guitar, woodwind, shrieks, squeals and whistles fill the piece as it slowly builds and arrives at its martial sounding and vibrant thematic crescendo, that then takes on a different persona and becoming more upbeat and imposing. THE FIVE MAN ARMY was an adventure and a film that one did not really have to think about, it was a brisk paced romp set in the days of the Mexican revolution. The score contained a handful of key themes as in MUERTE DONDE VAS? Which accompanied the Mexican revolutionaries with its proud and patriotic sound. The core theme which accompanied the five heroes and also some gripping and tense cues that acted as a fraught and apprehensive background to the various situations that the five mercenaries became involved in. One of the most impressive cues on the score is THE RUNNING OF THE JAPANESE, which accompanies the running of the Samurai character in the movie as he attempts to catch up with the train that he has fallen from.

 

The composer employs frantic percussion and flyaway woodwind to depict and support the scene, which is impressive to say the least.

 

 

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TEPEPA, or BLOOD AND GUNS as it was known in the United States, starred Tomas Milian in the title role and featured a very small contribution from actor Orson Welles, who apparently only took the job because he needed the fee to fund a new film he was intending to make. Set in the days after the Mexican revolution, the film is another of the so-called Zapata westerns.

 

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As with all of his western projects the Maestro produced a score that not only supported the action on screen but also yielded an entertaining set of themes and a powerful song which was performed by Christy.

The 1970’s dawned and as a composer of film scores Morricone showed no sign of relenting, working on nearly twenty projects for both film and TV in 1970. It was in this year that the composer fashioned a new theme for the established American TV series THE VIRGINIAN, the series already had an established and popular theme which had been penned by Percy Faith, however in season nine of the series, producers engaged Morricone to provide a new theme, which was entitled THE MEN FROM SHILOH. It was also in 1970 that Morricone would score an American produced western, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA starred Clint Eastwood and Shirley McClaine, and was directed by Don Siegal, as I write this tribute La La Land records in the United States have released both the score from the movie and also a re-mastered version of the LP record release, onto compact disc, which is the first time that the score has been officially issued onto compact disc, which is a fitting tribute to Morricone and a delight for his fans.

 

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The soundtrack was released on LP record back in 1970, on the MCA label, but this was a re-recording and not taken from the actual film score, which was something that happened then. The movie, which was produced by Martin Rakin, was seen as an attempt to cash in on Clint Eastwood’s successes in the Leone westerns, which had previously been hinted at in the second rate HANG EM HIGH directed by Ted Post.

 

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TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA however, was a better movie, and Morricone’s expressive and dramatic score worked well in the film and also added more character and atmosphere to the story-line.

 

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The composer also wrote the score for COMPANEROS in this year, which was another collaboration with director Sergio Corbucci, and starred Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance and Fernando Rey, and was in many ways similar to Corbucci’s IL MERCENARIO. With Nero portraying a Swedish arms dealer, who teams up with a Mexican Peon to rescue one of the leaders of the Revolution and along the way getting mixed up in a variety of adventures. The score was based around two central themes for the central characters and at times Morricone parodied his own style, a style that was effective and also familiar with the watching audience. This was especially prominent within the theme VAMOS A MATAR COMPANEROS, with IL CANTORI MODERNI vocalising and Alessandroni whistling and adding a scream or shriek and performing guitar, the composer adding little nuances and quirks of orchestration that can only be the sound and style of Il Maestro.

 

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This theme and also the cue IL PINGUINO were back in the 1970.s released on a single record, which had a striking cover depicting Franco Nero buried up to his neck in the sand. Although probably not one of Morricone’s better western soundtracks, it is still one that oozes that Morricone magic.

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1971 was an incredibly industrious year for the composer, he scored twenty-three movies, but only one western, which was Sergio Leone’s DUCK YOU SUCKER or GIU LA TESTA aka-A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE/ONE UPON A TIME THE REVOLUTION.  The film starred Rod Steiger, James Coburn and Romolo Valli. This was the second part of what was called Leone’s second trilogy which opened with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and later would be brought to completion with the excellent ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.  DUCK YOU SUCKER was in a way Leone’s only Zapata western as it was set in the troubled and violent times of the Mexican revolution.

 

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Originally Leone was not going to direct but act as producer on the project, he also wanted Jason Robards to play the Mexican bandit character Juan, and British actor Malcolm McDowall to take the part of the disillusioned ex-IRA character Sean. But Steiger and Coburn had already been signed to appear and both actors insisted that Leone direct or they would not appear.

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So because the director was unusually unprepared to take on the project, the film did contain many flaws and was not as clear cut as maybe it would have been if the filmmaker had been given more time in his preparation. The film however does have a great entertainment value, plus it dispels the theory that revolution seemingly leads to change that is good.

 

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With Leone pointing to revolution leading towards chaos and uncertainty.  Morricone’s score is again a collection of themes for the films central characters, with the whistling of Alessandroni being utilised once again, and the flawless Edda Dell Orso again providing an exquisite aural experience.

 

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By 1971 the production of the Italian western had begun to slow quite drastically, and in 1972 Morricone worked on just three out of a total of thirty scoring assignments in that year, WHAT AM I DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF A REVOLUTION, SONNY AND JED and LIFES TOUGH–THAT’S PROVIDENCE. The first two titles were directed by Sergio Corbucci, with the third being helmed by film maker Giulio Petroni.

The sound employed by Morricone on these three examples of the Italian western for me had slightly altered to what we were accustomed to as in they were not as raw or inventive, the genre was loosing favour outside of Italy probably because of the emergence of films such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SHAFT and ironically the Clint Eastwood movie DIRTY HARRY. Cinema and the tastes of cinema audiences were changing so the Italian made western began to take a decline in production, Italian filmmakers themselves turning to cop movies or tales of horror. The seventies was also the time of films having song scores that were simply tagged onto the soundtrack of the film in the hope that these would appeal to audiences who would in turn go out and buy the soundtrack album. From 1972 through to 1976 Morricone worked on a staggering seventy-four movies, but during this period would score just five westerns including the three titles I have already mentioned, the composer also scored THEY CALL ME NOBODY and THE GENIUS.

 

After which he did not return to the genre until 1981 with OCCHIO ALLA PENNA or BUDDY GOES WEST, which was a comedy western directed by Michele Lupo and starring Bud Spencer with boxer Joe Bugner in a minor role.

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After this Morricone never wrote an original western score until 2015 when he scored THE HATEFUL 8 for Quentin Tarantino, for which he won the Oscar. Of course, his music from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA and IL CRUDELI was utilised on DJANGO UNCHAINED another Tarantino western.  The demise of the Italian western was a great shame as it had indeed raised awareness and also the public’s interest in the western genre.

But let us not forget that the style of the Italian western which was intended to parody or in effect improve on what Hollywood had previously produced, also ended up influencing the Hollywood produced westerns that followed in the wake of the genre from Italy and were being produced at the same time as the Italian Western was at its height of popularity, films such as 100 RIFLES, BANDOLERO, TAKE A HARD RIDE, EL CONDOR, BIG JAKE, VILLA RIDES, BLUE, THE WILD BUNCH and many more bore signs of influences that could only be taken from the Italian produced westerns, Morricone’s music too played a massive part in the influence of composers that would work on westerns and even in non-western movies the sounds and style of Il Maestro can be heard, if the situation calls for a western sound in say a showdown scenario which proves that the Italian western as a whole was instrumental in inspiring not only filmmakers but composers as well.

 

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Ennio Morricone has scored over 500 movies, with this look at his western scores we have literally just scratched the surface. In part two of this tribute, I hope to discuss the composer’s music for the 1960’s and 1970’s Giallo’s, war and horror pictures plus tales of soft porn, sex and romance, with excursions into historical dramas and adventures. Each score being distinctive, original, and entertaining. Soundtracks such as LOVE CIRCLE, IL MALAMONDO, INCONTRO, ESCALATION, CITTA VIOLENTA, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, THE SICILIAN CLAN, BATTLE OF ALGIERS, ROME COME CHICAGO, HE AND SHE plus so many more.

© 2020 J.mansell/mmi.

WITCH BURNING-A LOOK AT RURAL HORRORS.

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The horror movie is one of the most popular genres of film. We just love to be scared out of our wits, but there are within this genre of ghosts, ghoulies, vampires and zombies a collection of films that belong to a more unsettling sub-genre. The folk-lore or rural horror film has more than likely been responsible for recruiting fans to the genre as a whole than any other section of this style of film. Yes, many love the slasher films, also there are the sci-fi horror films that were so popular in the late 1950.s and through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Plus the Gothic Horrors and the more psychological stories but, movies in this rural collective for me at least, are even more chilling and unsettling than any Exorcist or flesh-eating fest of gore and blood. The rural horror has to it a greater level of authenticity and a deeper and more believable storyline it oozes reality and draws the audience into a world that is sometimes harsh and violent, a world that consists of remote villages, ghostly fog shrouded landscapes and eerie shadowy sets that are scattered with pagan rituals and evil witchery, but also at times it is the people who are seeking out the purveys of witchcraft in these movies that are the malevolent ones. A number of rural horrors have been based upon events that had taken place in 17th century England or in the Americas during the same period, when Witch finders scoured the land all too eager to burn the latest innocent party to be accused of the black arts, whether they be male, female or child and in some cases animals.

The most well-known example of this type of movie has to be Michael Reeves WITCHFINDER GENERAL scored by beautifully by Paul Ferris and starring Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, followed by the German horror MARK OF THE DEVIL, which had a rather unusual soundtrack penned by Michael Holm that at times broke into what sounded like music from a Winnetou western with electric violin performances also being utilised, but there again Michael Holm was not a film music composer, but a well-known German vocalist.

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WITCHFINDER was the far better film and contained a superior score, with MARK OF THE DEVIL taking a gore fest stance, that at times I have to say was gratuitous and stomach churning, the producers of the film taking every opportunity to promote the violence in adverts and trailers for the film. The sequel MARK OF THE DEVIL PART 2 aka- WITCHES was even more gruesome. The score was provided by Michael Holm once again with British composer John Scott contributing some cues. Then there are examples such as THE BLOODY JUDGE or THRONE OF FIRE directed by Jess Franco, with a score by Bruno Nicolai who was Ennio Morricone’s musical director in his early career. Scenes of torture and graphic violence being scattered throughout.


Hammer films also produced a handful of worthy movies that took place in and around rural settings, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, music by James Bernard.

 

 

THE WITCHES, with a score by Richard Rodney Bennett and THE REPTILE with music by Australian born Don Banks for example.

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CRY OF THE BANSHEE too is another such film released this time by Hammer’s U.S.A. based rival American International pictures in 1970, with the film having two scores one by Les Baxter and the other which I am confident was the original score being replaced, this was the work of Scottish composer Wilfred Josephs and in my opinion was a fine work that outstripped Baxter’s. Hammer and A.I.P collaborated to release THE VAMPIRE LOVERS also in 1970 with a score penned by Harry Robinson. But was THE VAMPIRE LOVERS more of a Gothic tale, as opposed to being rural?

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Thinking about this I looked also at TWINS OF EVIL again scored by Robinson and VAMPIRE CIRCUS that had a powerful soundtrack courtesy of David Whittaker, both are striking examples of Hammer vampire movies, and I personally think I would categorise as more rural horrors than Gothic, simply because of their settings.

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A FIELD IN ENGLAND, containing a rather offbeat musical score by Jim Williams is a movie I have watched a few times, but it’s not one that really resonates with me, and I have to say the same about the score. But it is highly thought of in various circles and is an important part of the folk-lore/rural collection of movies. Directed by Ben Wheatley, it was set at the time of the English civil war and focuses upon a group of deserters who leave the battlefield and make their way across country and end up in an overgrown field. They are then snared by an alchemist who forces them into helping him search the field for a treasure that he believes to be buried there. A simple plot you may think, but when you delve deeper into the storyline and also pay more attention to the characters that we are introduced to it becomes clear that this is no simple story with the English civil war being utilised as a backdrop to a psychedelic horror. The alchemist O’Neil we soon begin to see as a representation of Charles the first, or at least the establishment that has sprung up around the incredibly arrogant Monarch, his attempts to enslave and ridicule the Whitehead character in the story and his friends, can be seen as the Monarchies attempts to rule the working class or simple folk of the land.

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Whitehead is a Puritan religious teacher, but because of the way he is treated by O’Neil his mood and attitudes begin to alter, in a very similar way that the British people began to react and eventually rebel against Royalty in the 17th Century. Whitehead eventually turning full circle to become a fearsome warrior in very much the same way that the mild-mannered Puritans turned into a force to be reckoned with as the civil war progressed and eventually emerged as the victors delivering England from the clutches of an uncaring King, who was out of touch with his people.

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THE WICKER MAN, scored by Paul Giovanni, is without any doubt a shining example of British made rural/folk-lore horror, and positively glows when compared to its rather lack lustre re-make starring the dull and uninspiring Nicholas Cage, but for me the original was not as wonderful as many said it was and still say it is, but there again it is all about personal preference. The music I felt did work but is again not a soundtrack I choose to play that often if at all these days. The recording containing dialogue as well as the vocal performances of the band Magnet with just a handful of orchestral pieces, that are mostly drowned out or interrupted by dialogue excerpts from the movie.

THE CRUCIBLE, easily fits into being a rural horror or drama, although it is not a blood spattered tale of witch finding, but more of a cerebral one, which focuses upon accusations of witch craft and the law and its way of handling these and also the fashion in which it punishes individuals. At times this kind of movie succeeds in being more unnerving and conveying a sense of apprehension and dread than all the hangings, burnings and acts of violence that are associated with hunting so called Witches in the 17th century, because they are I suppose more real to a watching audience. I found THE CRUCIBLE to be gripping and engrossing but at the same time it was unsettling and interesting. Of course, the performances of Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen and Paul Scofield helped as did George Fenton’s atmospheric score and the cinematography of Andrew Dunn.

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Looking at this genre of rural horrors, I also think that we can include more recent films such as THE VILLAGE and THE VVITCH. Although THE VILLAGE as many of us are aware has a twist in its tale.

With the 19th Century Village or as we are led to believe it is, in reality being a community that was established in the 1970’s where the inhabitants have come together because of grief related situations, and all agree to live there as if it were the 19th Century away from the ravages of modern life. James Newton Howard’s excellent score received an Academy Award Nomination, the music being filled with tender emotion and pulsating drama, and adding much to the film’s overall atmosphere.

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THE WITCH (2016), was the directorial debut of film maker Robert Eggers, the movie is an impressive and disturbing piece of cinema that at times is so realistic that one feels as if you are actually witnessing the events that are taking place, it is a dread filled story and although a horror movie does not jump out on you as being horrific or indeed gory, it relies instead upon the actions and the scenarios of the central characters evoking a sense of anxiety and fear even at times when nothing menacing is occurring the apprehensive air can literally be cut with a knife. The horror or the dread that is purveyed by Eggers is controlled with precision in each and every scene, teetering on the edge the director utilises the practise of what might or could happen rather than what actually takes place and also relies on the setting of the story to conjure up a sense of isolation and uncertainty.

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Set in the 17th Century, it is the tale of a New England family who decide to leave the relative safety of their fellow settlers to set off into the wilderness, the Father played by Ralph Ineson believes that they have to do this because the settlement and its community are not living close enough to the word of God, he thinks that by going off into the wild countryside he and his family will become one with nature and thus be closer to God. They decide to make their home next to a dark and inhospitable forest and it is soon established that forest contains something more than God’s creatures and plants, there is something that is malevolent residing within the shadows, but what could it be?

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The sight of the forest alone sets the tone of the story line and makes one mind work overtime in thinking up all sorts of unspeakable situations that could happen. It is recognized that there is a WITCH residing within the forest, but it is not the sight of this Witch that is the focus of the proceedings, the movie works because it ponders the question what will this witch do and what is her course of action towards the family if any at all. What also makes the film effective is the excellent cast, none of whom are names within the film industry. The dialogue is speech era- appropriate English which itself is somewhat unnerving and gives the film further credence. The families baby boy is mysteriously kidnapped literally disappearing in front of his sisters eyes whilst she is playing with him, the family become suspicious of the girl and think that she could be the witch, they then in turn become suspicious of each other and start to argue and disagree about everything, the rest I will let you find out for yourselves, but it is a film that will leave you affected and pondering upon the films content long after you have watched it, the aura and atmosphere at times being almost suffocating whilst you are waiting for something to happen. The music by Canadian composer Mark Korven is superbly supportive. The score being totally in tune with the story, it compliments and enhances the imagery on screen perfectly. It is not a work that one would sit down and listen to on a Sunday morning with your toast and tea, or indeed any afternoon or evening, but as film music it works and works extremely well. The composer incorporates strings and choral elements into the work and at times relies on very subdued nuances, clusters or snatches and stabs of music to create suitably unsettling effects and atmospherics. But these are all live performances as the director insisted that there should be no electronic sounds or support.

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The choral performances within the WITCH evoked memories of a TV score from the 1970’s entitled CHILDREN OF THE STONES, which too can be included as a part of the rural or folk lore collective. It was a Harlech Television production (HTV also produced ARTHUR OF THE BRITONS in the 1970’s) that was first shown in 1976, although made for children’s television in the UK it is in my opinion firmly a part of the horror genre, and there were concerns at the time of it first being screened that it was too scary to be shown on a children’s TV slot.

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The uneasy sounding music for the series was the work of composer Sidney Sager, and every time the series is discussed the score and opening theme is always mentioned as being chilling and highly atmospheric. The choral led score was performed by The Ambrosian Singers and has t it a very modern sound as in experimental. As far as I am aware the score was not released on any form of recording, which is a great pity as it is an absorbing and outstanding work.

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A film which Hammer studios produced with vampires at its centre but not the infamous Count Dracula, was VAMPIRE CIRCUS. It is I think one of the finer examples of Hammer films from the 1970’s and combines touches of gothic horror with that of rural and folk-lore inspired elements. The story was inventive and original plus it also contained traditional aspects of the vampire legend and as with many Hammer movies the blood and sex came in the bucket load. It was a gripping film with many familiar faces from Hammer films history on board. The musical score was by David Whittaker who provided the movie with a grandiose soundtrack, that like the film itself is regarded as one of the studios best. Whittaker had previously worked on DR JECKLE AND SISTER HYDE for the studio, which had originally been offered to composer Harry Robinson, but due to artistic differences Robinson decided not to continue with the project. Whittaker’s score was a great success and Hammer’s musical director Phil Martell thought that the composer suited VAMPIRE CIRCUS perfectly, the rest as they say is history.

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VAMPIRE CIRCUS boasted a strong cast, and included Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Thorley Walters, David Prowse (pre-Darth Vader) and a fresh-faced actress Lynne Frederick. Set in Serbia in the 19th Century, the movie had one of the most impressive and exciting pre-credit sequences, for a Hammer production, which is saying something as most of the pre-credit sequences created by the studio were excellent. The folk from a small village called Stetl arm themselves with their trusty pitchforks and other assorted weapons that can inflict horrendous wounds and injuries and attack the castle near their village where the vampire Count resides, they are prompted to do this because a young girl has been taken there and they have had enough of the vampire and his evil ways, led by the officials of the village and the school teacher Muller they head up to the castle and find the Vampire Count Mitterhaus who is with one of the village women (Anna) who was the school teachers wife, She has gone over to the dark side and aids the Count in his everyday needs as in sex and luring children and adult victims to his lair to satisfy his blood lust. She has this day gone too far and lured another girl child from the village to the castle, who the evil Vampire soon drains of blood throwing her lifeless body to one side like a rag doll. The Count and Anna then embark on a rather saucy sex scene, which is stopped midway through by the entrance of the angry villagers. There is a fair amount of fang flashing and hissing as the villagers led by Muller enter the Counts bedroom and he even shows off his bare chest and a rather fetching neck collar, as he plays with a sword, then a few threats are exchanged before all hell breaks loose.

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But the Vampire is not going down without a fight, he dispatches a few villagers by running them through and then bites several others before he is staked through the back and into his heart by Muller, with his dying breath he curses the village and all of the villagers that are there on the day, but not content with that he issues a curse upon the children of the village even the unborn ones, “Your children will die to give me back my life” he spits at the assembled crowd, it is an impressive opening sequence and one that has stuck with me for many years, as the Vampire takes his last breath the villagers force Anna to run half naked between two lines of men all armed with clubs and chains etc, she does this and is being beaten but the school teacher rushes to her aid and shields her from more punishment. She runs off back into the castle and manages to get to the Count and as blood from her wounds drips onto his lifeless body he comes to life briefly and gives her instructions, he tells her to seek out the Circus of Nights and his cousin Emile, she makes her escape just as the villagers set fire to the castle and then blow it up. The castle is destroyed, and the opening credits roll accompanied by the composer David Whittaker’s imposing and commanding soundtrack, which has also been punctuating and supporting the action within the opening sequence. The Castle lays destroyed and years pass. Fast forward now fifteen years and once again we find ourselves back in Stetl.

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The castle has laid in ruins and been overtaken by vegetation and wildlife, but there are rumours that strange noises have been heard from below the ruins. The village is in quarantine there is disease and plague everywhere (sounds familiar) the villagers blame the decaying castle for this and also the Count’s curse. The central government and authorities from other villages set up a blockade manned by soldiers and armed civilians given instructions to shoot anyone that attempts to enter or more importantly leave the village. But to the surprise of many of the inhabitants of Stetl a mysterious and beautiful Gypsy woman manages to get past the blockade and brings with her a convoy of carts and wagons which make up the Circus of Nights, complete with wild animals and acrobats, whilst the village is initially suspicious of these new comers, the village council decide that it will be good for the village and maybe will raise spirits to have the circus there. The circus performers prepare to entertain the village folk and their children, but no one notices that the Gypsy woman who is Anna in another form, who helped the Vampire lord at the beginning of the movie.

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She has in the past decade and a half, given birth to twins who are we assume the children of Mitterhaus. She slips away and goes to the castle whilst the villagers are distracted by the circus, where she uncovers the crypt and sets about bringing the Mitterhaus curse to fruition. So is this Gothic or rural or does it have elements of both, I think the latter either way it is an entertaining horror and has an outstanding musical score, that maybe one day will see a full release, rather than just two bad quality sounding cues which were taken from the DVD of the movie on the GDI VAMPIRE COLLECTION.

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From Vampires to more witchery and black magic in the form of VIY from 1967, there have in recent years been varying re-telling’s of this classic tale, including Mario Bava.s BLACK SUNDAY in 1960, although Bava slightly lost his way and deviated from the original story. The classic horror tale VIY was penned by Nikolai Gogol in1835, and took the form of a short story, it was like many of the stories written by Gogol’s contemporary Edgar Allen Poe regarded as slightly off beat or weird. Today however it is quite tame compared to new editions to the ranks of horror stories and movies and is looked upon as a straightforward ghost story. The film is attractive because it relies more upon the supernatural horror elements and unnerves via atmosphere and story telling rather than violence and bloodletting.

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In the 1960’s the film had mixed reactions outside of Eastern Europe, many western audiences not being in tune with the folk lore and tales of mystery that were commonplace in Eastern Europe. The special effects on the production too were rather clumsy and certainly not industrial light and magic, but again because of the simplicity and the overall artificial look of these they added depth and a sense of otherworldliness to the film. The musical score by Karen Khacaturijan, is a suitably eerie and powerful one, Khacaturian who was the nephew of Arum Khacaturijan, scored several movies in his native Russia. He was born on September 19th, 1920 in Moscow, as Karen Surenovich Khachaturyan. He was a composer and actor, known for Raznotsvetnyye kameshki (1960) and Visokosnyy god (1962). He died on July 19th, 2011 in Moscow. In 1990 there was the Yugoslavian adaptation in the form of the movie A HOLY PLACE, and then another Russian version in 1996 entitled VEDMA THE POWER OF FEAR plus a Korean edition under the title of EVIL SPIRIT in 2008. The original 1967 version and also A HOLY PLACE were almost direct adaptations of the authors story.

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But the latest take on the story released in 2014 after initially being announced for an earlier release, is greatly expanded upon and was presented as a re-adaptation of Gogol’s original ideas. Shot in 3D this is certainly one of those edge of the seat movies that I am sure will become essential viewing for many, filled with stunning horror scenes and superb special effects, a sequel is to be filmed. The musical score is by Anton Garcia who should not be confused with Anton Garcia Abril. Anton Garcia was born into a Spanish family who lived in Moscow in 1965. He began his musical studies aged twelve and in 1985 was responsible for forming the first trash metal band in Russia called SHAH who went on to be one of the most well-known and famous bands in the country. In 1995 the band parted company and Anton started to work as a producer working on over twenty long playing albums and composing several songs that would go on to be great success’s for various bands and solo artists.

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He has also worked as a composer writing for advertisements and in 2000 he began to write music for film. His score is bursting with vibrant, inventive and exciting themes and the best way to describe it is to say that it is a fusion of the styles that have been employed in movies such as VAN HELSING, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and the more recent works of Marco Beltrami and Danny Elfman. It is an unrelenting and highly entertaining work that evokes memories of action and adventure soundtracks of bygone days. The production of the movie VIY-3D was beset by various problems most of which were financial. Cameras began to roll on the Russian, German, Ukrainian and Czech co-production in the early part of 2005 but soon ceased as the production hit problems, filming began again but then was stopped on several occasions due to lack of funds, after a number of stops and starts the movie was eventually completed in the December of 2012. However, it still did not see a theatrical release until the January of 2014 and this was restricted to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
On seeing sections of the movie I was reminded very much of the style of filming that was employed on short films that were part of a BBC series entitled TALES FROM EUROPE, this was a series that showcased many productions from Europe and in particular Eastern Europe. VIY has the same look and atmosphere to it, the film is a colourful, fantastical, mysterious and magical experience that has an aura surrounding it that is attractive and alluring which draws in the watching audience until they are consumed and totally convinced and mesmerized by the events that are unfolding on screen. Set in the early 18th century this richly dark adventure extravaganza tells the story of a cartographer named Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) leaves his pregnant betrothed and her insanely enraged Father (Charles Dance) to embark upon a scientific expedition to create a map of the Carpathians which takes him from Western Europe to the East in which he passes through the dark and mysterious land of Transylvania and over the Carpathian Mountains until he finds himself in the Ukraine.

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Travelling in a driverless mechanical vehicle that is drawn by horses the traveller happens upon a group of monks who relay to him a terrible and unsettling tale about a witch who lives in a village that is nearby and of their companion a young priest who stood vigil over the body of a young girl in a Church that overlooked the village, the beautiful young girl transpired to be a witch and their companion had never been seen or heard of again. The traveller is intrigued by the monk’s tale and decides that he must travel to the village and make a map of it. He arrives at the village and makes a somewhat spectacular entrance by crashing through its gates after being attacked and pursued by ghostly wolves through a thick and fog shrouded forest. Maybe not a true rural or folk horror, but more of a magical fantasy with underlying horror elements.

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THE DUNWICH HORROR, was released in 1970, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, I thought this was a fairly good movie, it had the look of a TV film rather than a feature, it starred Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee and Ed Begley, the music was provided by AIP near resident composer Les Baxter, although I would not categorise this squarely as a rural horror, it certainly has its moments and I for one found it to be entertaining. Stockwell’s character is a descendant of a powerful wizard his Mother is in an asylum.

 

So I suppose this puts him in a good position to be a weirdo that frequents Altars and shrines and other such eerie places and keeps company with some rather strange beings. The score is certainly a highlight of the production, and I would go as far as to say that at times it outshines the action that is being acted out on screen.

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The science fiction horror movie VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED is described by the BFI as being the first great strange village movie, the movie was based upon the novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS and deals with a group of blonde haired children who have been born to human women in the area but they are not them selves human as they are on the earth because of extra-terrestrial intervention.(I am sure you get the idea). This I think is probably one of the most unsettling British movies produced, they are obviously superior to the rural community where they are living, but it works so well because although they are obviously sub human they too belong in the village and are children after all. The musical score is by British composer Ron Goodwin. The film opens with a local scientist Gordon Zellaby having a telephone conversation, part way through he collapses, but it is not just him who literally falls asleep, every inhabitant of the village and every animal all do the same. After a few hours everything returns to normal or so they think. It transpires that every woman who can become pregnant has done just that. So progresses the story with the horrors and the truth about the children unfolding.

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WHISTLE AND I.LL COME TO YOU, is arguably one of the best British ghost stories, which is surprising because there is actually no ghost. However, there is the hint of a haunting by what or who we are not certain, but it deals with a person being terrorised by something, the film was not a feature but made for television. However, because of the quality and cinematic presence of the production it did have screenings in cinemas. And it is an important part of the rural horror collective, there was no score, which in a way made the story that was unfolding on screen more apprehensive and frightening.
A movie I revisited recently was, THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, and although a fairly entertaining horror it is true to say that it probably does not stand the test of time as well as WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but it is still part of the horror genre from that period which is now considered as cult cinema alongside titles such as THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR from the same year and THE SHUTTERED ROOM from the previous year.

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Taking into consideration the wealth of horror movies made during the 1960’s I suppose the film does have something about it to be remembered at all and also to have attained a cult status in later years. It is movies such as this that were the inspiration for later British entries in the form of stylish and disturbing BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW (1971). The musical score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR was composed and conducted by British musician/composer/arranger Peter Knight. Knight was the veritable chameleon when it came to his musical skills and was active and popular within many varying genres of music. During his career he worked with THE MOODY BLUES, PETULIA CLARK, HARRY SECOMBE, TOMMY STEELE, NANA MOUSKARI, THE BATCHELORS, VAL DOONICAN, JUDITH DURHAM, THE MOODY BLUES, THE CARPENTERS, CLIFF RICHARD, SCOTT WALKER and LULU. The score was released on a De Wolfe long playing record as the B side to Paul Ferris’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL alas the score for CRIMSON ALTAR has never been commercially released. Knights score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR is an atmospheric one, the composer utilising apprehensive but at the same time dramatic music to underline the more unnerving sequences and then drawing on his considerable experience within the pop/easy listening world to fashion a tuneful theme that enhanced scenes between the leading man and lady and also infused an atmosphere of calm into the proceedings, which effectively lulled the watching audience into a false sense of security, thus giving the moments of horror a greater impact. It is something of a mystery as to why the score has never been released commercially, seeing a Knight was a popular figure within the world of music and because of the popularity of the movie at the time of its release and also because the music is already in the library of De Wolfe music, maybe it will be a future project for the company, after all it did only take then forty-five years to release WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Knight died on July 30th, 1985.

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Finally mention must be made of BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW, this iconic horror, is I think probably the most malevolent film that I have seen, it has to it a virulence and a stark reality that is uncomfortably authentic. Music was by Marc Wilkinson, the composer creating an unnerving soundtrack to accompany the scenes of sex, sacrifice, witchcraft, and possession that are underlined with harsh and at times sickening violence. Through his work at the National Theatre Wilkinson met Piers Haggard, who was working as an assistant director: the two worked together on the National Theatre production The Dutch Courtesan (1964). Having directed several TV dramas, Haggard was about to direct his first feature film and invited Wilkinson to score. The result is one of Wilkinson’s most celebrated film scores, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971),acclaimed by Jonathan Rigby in English Gothic as “easily among the best ever composed for a British horror film”.

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Wilkinson subsequently gave crucial advice to Paul Giovanni who had been commissioned to score the film The Wicker Man.
and worked again with director Haggard on further TV and film productions, including Quatermass and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.

(c)2020 jdm.