Before Ennio Morricone, the chilling sounds of a whiplash, the beats on a tin can or a whistled tune were hardly ever considered worthy of being part of a film soundtrack, especially for a mainstream film. With those, he created tunes that would be identified in any corner of the world, as the soundtrack of Spaghetti westerns. Yet, these form just a small chunk in Morricone's story, which is exhaustively chronicled in Ennio: The Maestro, the documentary on his life which is being screened at the 14th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).
The fact that the documentary was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, who has collaborated with him in several films, including the classic Cinema Paradiso and knows his working style inside out, has gone a long way in adding to the depth of this documentation effort. It begins from his early days, following in the footsteps of his father as a trumpeter, playing in clubs and parallelly getting the best of grounding in Western Classical Music from the masters in Italy.
This grounding in "serious" music would lead to a certain inferiority complex for the first few decades of working in films. His peers from that circle as well as the man who taught him initially looked down on his compositions for films. The man himself was faced with many dilemmas as to whether the music that he is making is worthy enough. All those doubts would end in the later decades, with even his detractors expressing openly the fact that they were wrong in not identifying the genius of his movie scores earlier.
By Morricone himself
Although there is a crowd of talking heads in the documentary, including everyone from Clint Eastwood to Bruce Springsteen and Hans Zimmer and John Williams, the most revealing comments about his music are made by Morricone himself, in footage shot just before his passing away in 2020. It is sheer joy to listen to the man vocally reproducing his classical tunes and explaining the brilliant thought process that went behind each of them. From Sergio Leone to Bertolucci, he had disagreements with every filmmaker, when it comes to the music that is suitable for a specific scene. He was not someone who would mechanically reproduce what he was asked to. Rather, he had an acute awareness of what tune would fit each scene, which can be felt in the scores he has done for over 500 films of every imaginable genre.
The film also touches upon collaborations with musicians like Joan Baez and a host of Italian singers, as well as the many albums he did to satisfy his non-mainstream musical leanings. His wide-ranging impact is evident in a wide genre of musicians who are still influenced by him. Not for nothing does a band like Metallica still open their concerts with their version of Morricone’s composition Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Ennio: The Maestro is certainly a worthy tribute to a man who defined the sound of cinema over several decades.